Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

23rd February
2011
written by Alden

But Christians are not just recipients of forgiving grace; we are also called to be those who extend the grace of forgiveness to others.

From Brian Zahnd’s Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness. Check out my review of the book at aldenswan.com.

11th February
2011
written by Alden

I really want you to read The Gospel Uncensored, and I’d like you to encourage other people to read it. Why? Because I really believe the Gospel will change lives and revitalize churches—as long as they’re not afraid to trust in God’s grace.

I’d also love to sell a million or so copies, but to be honest, that’s not why I published the book. I don’t know that I will ever earn enough from it to compensate for the time and expense that went into it, although it would certainly be nice. I really believe in its message, and I want you to read it. If I could afford to give you all a copy, I would. However, the best I can do is to let you download the free study guide and point you to the Amazon link in the sidebar, where you can buy it at a pretty good discount. I make less that way, but I’d rather have you read it than make a few extra cents.

 

The 70 Days of Grace Challenge

Because I’m convinced the book will change lives and revitalize churches, here’s my 70 Days of Grace Challenge: Just give me 70 days. That’s 10 weeks, or less than 1/5th of a year. Gather a group of 6 or 8 people, whether it’s the church board or a group of dedicated pew-sitters. If you’re really brave, get your whole church to do it. Get your discount books and the free Study Guide, and read through and discuss the book. Then, let me know how it went. If you want to try a more accelerated schedule, you can double up on the lessons and do it in 5 weeks.

70 days (or 35 days)—that’s all I ask.

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9th February
2011
written by Alden

I’m serious—some people will absolutely hate this book.

When Ken began preaching the sermon series that inspired The Gospel Uncensored, word spread. Soon, there were beaten-down and abused people everywhere. We had perhaps the most messed-up church in town, but only because that’s the kind of people the Gospel draws.

Many pastors hated it, because the Gospel is by nature subversive. Man-made constructs are no match for real truth—which is why many churches avoid the Gospel like the plague, opting instead for a sin-management approach. Pastors also hate to lose members; when people discover they’ve been abused or manipulated (or simply led astray), they either cause a bit stink, or they leave. Either way, it’s not good for church business.

The book should have the same effect.

 

Who will love this book

“A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” ~Martin Luther

The “messed-up” people of the world—those who know they are failures, who know they can’t measure up to any kind of religious standards—love the Gospel. It is music to their ears, and food for their souls. It was the ragamuffins who followed Jesus and clung to his every word. Peter put it this way: “Where else would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

It is for these people—among whom I count myself—this book was written. We not only love this gospel, we need it, desperately.

 

Who will hate the book

However, those who think they can work to achieve some measure of spiritual success—or even to earn their salvation—will hate the book. The gospel pulls the rug out from under their ability to achieve anything on their own.

Religion, as we have been told, is a crutch. In reality, religion is not a crutch, it is, if you will, a purported “stairway to heaven.” It is the Gospel that is a crutch. Seriously. To admit that you need grace is to admit that you are a cripple, unable to walk on your own. People will either embrace and lean on the crutch, or hate it.

 

Who else will hate the book

Many pastors and leaders will also hate this book, because it pulls the rug out from under their sin-management control structures. It is impossible to control grace. Grace is messy. Sins that are hidden by sin-management techniques become suddenly visible. And, perhaps what’s worse is that without the sin-management structures in place, we have to trust God. And, if a pastor or leader is honest, they will tell you that trusting God is often a terrifying proposition. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”

 

The others

I will also acknowledge that there are those who simply disagree with our exegesis, and I’m okay with that. Paul pointed out that we will have disagreements, and that through disagreements the truth is made clear (1 Cor. 11:19). As the book itself discusses, Paul contended with Peter over the “grace vs works” issue, and Paul prevailed. It seems to me that Paul is so clear in his explanation of the gospel in Galatians that I fail to see how anyone could get a different meaning from it, but people apparently do.

So, I have to admit that I could be wrong on some points, though I don’t think I am. As Martin Luther also said,

I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.

I am as certain about the Gospel as I can be.

 

Hot or cold

I have said half-jokingly that the best advertising I could get is for some famous pastor to absolutely hate the book. To me, the wort possible thing would be for people to find the book boring or inconsequential. As Jesus put it, “I”d rather have you cold or hot.” If someone could read the book and go, “so what?”, then I would feel like we haven’t stated the Gospel clearly enough.

So far, the people I’ve heard from all love the book. However, as odd as this sounds, I’d love to hear that it’s hated as well, just so I know that we’ve done our job.

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2nd February
2011
written by Alden

(a repost from aldenswan.com)

One of my favorite songs from Sunday School was I Love To Tell the Story. I haven’t heard the song in years, but it seems like just yesterday I was singing it in the back seat of our car on our way to my grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. This probably dates me — this was in the early 60’s, long before Sunday School kids sang “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” (sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie”). Thinking back, I Love To Tell the Story doesn’t really seem to fit the mold of what you’d expect from old Lutherans, but I guess there were some cross-denominational influences even then.

The first verse starts, “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.” I don’t recall how most of it goes, but I could never forget the chorus:

I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love. (lyrics by Arabella K. Hankey)

I don’t know that many people love to tell that story anymore. Even in church, there are so many distractions — you can sit through years of sermons without ever hearing the Gospel. In some churches children learn about tolerance and social awareness; in others, they learn various rules to follow so that they grow up looking like solid Christians. In other churches they sing songs with little or no real theology and hear touchy-feely messages. If they’re lucky, they will watch videos of the latest craze in youth ministry, geared to those with short attention spans.  And of course, there are the snacks.

But it seems that very few are telling them the story.

According to a recent article on CNN.com, a study of teens across denominational lines showed that “most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.”

Nobody is telling them the story.

Perhaps it’s because adults have lost their love for the simplicity of the Gospel. Do we think that our children will see us worshipping to vacuous songs with good beats and guitar solos and listening to boring sermons about financial responsibility and want to grow up to be just like us? Do we adults even remember what the story is?

A 2007 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion showed that as many as 57% of evangelicals thought that many religions could lead to eternal life. They know how to live purpose-driven lives, they are taught how to manage their finances and how improve their marriages, and many are politically motivated, but they don’t know the Gospel from a hole in the ground. The renewal movements of the twentieth century are over, and it seems that we are slipping back into that same sort of cultural Christianity that existed in the 50’s.

For some time, my wife and I have been concerned about the quality of our children’s Christian education. When our kids were of Sunday School age, we evaluated various Sunday School curriculums for a church we were in, and for the most part determined they were terrible. They were perhaps fine for becoming “morally therapeutic deists,” Kenda Creasy Dean’s term, but not for raising intelligent Christians. It’s no wonder that so many teens today believe Christianity is nothing special.

As a Lutheran, besides having actual Bible teaching in Sunday School we went through confirmation classes, learning basic theology as well as church history. And of course, we said one of the creeds every Sunday.  We visited other churches, learning what makes them different from Lutherans. Do any churches still teach this stuff?

When I was still quite young, I knew the story. And, I understood it, and understood that it was important. I guess that’s why I am writing; I still love to tell the story.

3rd January
2011
written by Alden

The Gospel Uncensored Study GuideThe Gospel Uncensored Study Guide is designed for both personal use as well as for a more formal 10-week study for churches and small groups. Each lesson consists of additional thoughts related to the text, along with study/discussion questions.

PDF Versions

The full-page pdf format is formatted for standard 8.5 x 11 paper. The small format pdf file is formatted as 5.5 x 8.5, which is more easily viewed on smart phones or e-readers. You can either click on the links below to view the files, or right-click on the links and choose “save as” or “save link as” to save the file to your computer.

The Gospel Uncensored Study Guide – small format

The Gospel Uncensored Study Guide – full page format

Kindle Edition!

The Kindle edition is now available at amazon’s Kindle Store for $0.99 (they insist on a minimum charge).  You can grab it here from the Kindle Store.

16th November
2010
written by Alden

There are people in every church I’ve been in who need to be set free.

This is not to say that some of these churches didn’t preach grace. But sometimes, it just takes a while for grace to seep in to where change needs to happen. Grace on the surface is one thing; grace in our innermost being is life-changing.

Much of Christianity teaches that we “miss the mark.” This is true, of course. However, much of Christianity forgets to teach that Jesus has hit the mark for us.  So, rather than hearing that we have succeeded in Christ, we only hear that we have failed and that we need to do more, and try harder. Once this concept is fully rooted in someone’s thinking, it may stay with them for years, in spite of their gaining an intellectual understanding of grace.

I suspect that some people first join these graceless, “miss-the-mark” churches because they already know that they don’t hit the mark, so they fit right in. They are given some guidelines that may help them hit the mark, sometimes, and they are promised that someday they will either make the mark in Heaven, or perhaps that the mark will simply be removed. And, being beat up every week for continually missing the mark helps assuage their guilt.

That’s the only reason I can think of to explain why people actually convert to a works-oriented form of Christianity. This parody of Christianity functions something like a 12-step group: The first step is admitting you are a sinner, and realizing that you will always be a sinner. The best you can hope for is God helping you to sin just a little bit less, or perhaps it’s enough just to know you’re surrounded by people who feel as lousy as you do.

This kind of graceless thinking gets into your core, because in your core you’re already feeling like crap. It simply confirms that what you have believed about yourself is really true. Here’s the irony about converting to a legalistic version of Christianity: In some ways, because you aren’t changing how you feel about things in your core, you don’t really have to repent all that much.

To accept salvation by grace takes real repentance. What you need to repent from is the thinking that your performance actually matters, in a spiritual sense. Yes, you’re a sinner, and if you ever think you can keep God’s law, it will condemn you. Now, get over it.

What you need to repent (turn) to is the truth that Jesus performed on our behalf; he kept the law, and more than that, he conquered death (the consequences of sinning). Think of the law as a video game (only with life or death consequences): Jesus has beaten all of the levels. In essence, the game is over. And not only that, the consequences for losing the game has been removed. You are now free to play the game (just make sure you log on under Jesus’ name).

The truth about repentance

Repentance (in a soteriological sense) has never been about changing your behavior; no behavior-mod program can save you. Repentance is about changing your core beliefs. For most of us, repentance is like peeling an onion; it happens layer by layer. With the discovery of each new layer of self-reliance, more repentance needs to take place. The good news is that it’s all by grace, the great onion-peeler.

So be free—because that’s why we’ve been set free.

(cross-posted at aldenswan.com)

8th November
2010
written by Alden

Just wanted to share a great little post that was referred to me this morning. Michael Wittmer is professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and the author of Don’t Stop Believing, which looks like an interesting read (but read The Gospel Uncensored first).

The post in question is entitled give up, which at first glance may seem to contradict his book title. But, you’ve got to read the post. Wittmer concludes with this powerful paragraph:

The gospel is counter-intuitive.  What serves us well in most areas of life can be a disaster in our walk with Jesus.  The normal secret to success is to try harder.  The secret of salvation is to stop trying.

Exactly.

3rd October
2010
written by Alden

I’ve had the following quotation by Martin Luther open on my desktop for the past couple of weeks, thanks to my friend Steve:

“Let us thank God, therefore, that we have been delivered from this monster of uncertainty and that now we can believe for a certainty that the Holy Spirit is crying and issuing that sigh too deep for words in our hearts.

And this is our foundation:

The gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection, but at God as he promises, and at Christ himself, the Mediator…

And this is the reason our theology is certain: It snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside of ourselves, so that we do not depend on our strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God which cannot deceive” ( LW 26:387).

Truth, that.  It’s not that we chose Christ, but that he chose us. It’s not that we were baptized, but that he baptized us. It’s not even that we have enough faith — but that we can have faith in Christ’s promises.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

7th September
2010
written by Alden

I was recently talking about my book with some dinner guests, and after hearing the title, one gentleman asked, “So what part of the Gospel has been censored?”

He asked a very perceptive question.

Typically when we think of something being censored, we think of something which has been hidden or removed, like bad words being bleeped out of TV broadcasts or black bars meant to erase words or parts of photographs which someone has deemed objectionable. Merriam-Webster defines censor as “to suppress or delete as objectionable.” This brings to mind the Jefferson Bible, in which Thomas Jefferson cut out the portions he didn’t like, or the complete suppression of the Gospel in places like China.

However, the unusual thing about the Gospel is that it is typically not censored in the Western world by removing anything. The Gospel is censored — suppressed and deleted — by adding to it.

The Gospel message according to the New Testament is this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8,9 NIV)

To change this “Jesus plus nothing” formula — even by adding good works like Bible reading, tithing and prayer to simple faith in Jesus — is to delete the Gospel completely. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, if we could gain righteousness through our works, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).

The expectations that many churches put on people — things to make us “more holy” or “better” Christians — have the same effect as those black censorship rectangles. They censor the Gospel, eviscerating it, rendering it powerless. What is left is religion — a form of godliness, but without any saving power (2 Tim. 3:5).

The goal of The Gospel Uncensored is to rip off the black bars of censorship wherever we have found them, exposing the raw Gospel of radical grace.

9th August
2010
written by Alden

From Chapter 14, Understanding Internal Conflict:

If we try to live up to who we are in Christ by our own power, we become worse off emotionally than the person who still lives in the flesh. We have raised the bar, but without any power to reach it. Studies have shown that the least happy people in our culture are conservative, evangelical Christians, because they hold to a high standard to which they believe God has called them, but they are stuck without the power to reach that standard.

If the flesh cannot talk us out of God’s perspective, then the flesh will try whatever it can to keep us from God’s power. Galatians 5:22-23a says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Not the fruit of the law. Not the fruit of self-effort. Not the fruit of trying harder. Not the fruit of discipline. These are the fruit of the Spirit—the things that only the Spirit can produce in us.

The internal conflict is real; it’s crazy to deny it, and useless to try to resolve it by human effort. God’s perspective says, “Here’s where you are, and there’s where you’re going. Don’t fret about the gap; just check back occasionally to see how far you’ve gone.” Again, the gap is why we need grace.

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