Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic by Walter Chantry

When you measure impact 'per word', Today's Gospel is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Other books are better, even on this topic (i.e. the Gospel According to Jesus?) But Walter Chantry’s little book (93 pages) attacks its enemy with the fatal precision of a God-guided missile from David’s slingshot (1 Samuel 17:45-50). Slumping to the ground is the stunned villain, the false gospel of America. In the name of organizational unity and unbiblical tradition, the evangelical church has created a monster, a man-centered gospel unable to truly change lives.

Chantry employs the best weapon of all, Scripture. The 'stone' that kills the giant is a masterful exposition of the Rich Young Man passage in Mark 10:17-31. Many other passages could have been looked at, and certainly other Scripture is brought in. But this book focuses on the evangelism of the Master in this instructive encounter, to show us how we fail to present the Gospel the way Jesus did.

In the introduction, Chantry spells out the gravity of the problem. He says American churches as a whole, are marketing a ‘product’ that is not the true Gospel and does not lead to changed lives.

By selling another gospel to our generation, Satan has been employing many sincere men in preaching a dethroned Christ The glories of the Savior are being hidden even from His servants because preachers will not give careful attention to the Gospel of God’s Word alone. Products of modern evangelism are often sad examples of Christianity. They make a profession of faith, and then continue to live like the world. ‘Decisions for Christ’ mean very little. Only a small proportion of those who ‘make decisions’ evidence the grace of God in a transformed life. When the excitement of the latest campaign has subsided, when the choir sings no more thrilling choruses, when large crowds no longer gather, when the emotional hope in the evangelist’s ‘invitation’ has moved to another city, what do we have that is real and lasting? … There has been a great deal of noise and dramatic excitement, but God has not come down with His frightful power and converting grace. (p 13)

Chantry attributes this lack of power to the use of an erroneous message in evangelism.

“On the shallow ground of man’s logic, large numbers have been led to assume they have a right to everlasting life and have been given an assurance which does not belong to them. Evangelicals are swelling the ranks of the deluded with a perverted Gospel. Many who have ‘made decisions’ in modern churches and been told in the inquiry rooms that their sins have been forgiven, will be surprised as Tetzel’s customers to hear ‘I never knew you; depart from me’ [Matthew 7:23]. (p 15)”

Wow, comparing American evangelism to the errors of Rome in the days of Martin Luther!? That is pretty significant, no? But it is a good analogy because there are so many practices which have become traditional rituals and have almost universal acceptance. Yet these are not found in Scripture (i.e. the ‘sinner’s prayer’, the ‘invitation’, and 25 repetitions of ‘Just As I Am’ at the end of every evangelistic service.)

Chantry shows us through Jesus' encounter with the young ruler the essential elements that well-meaning believers are leaving out of the Gospel message to unbelievers. We need to be talking about the character of God (chapter 1), and we need to be talking about the Law of God (chapter 2). Lost today is the idea of repentance (chapter 3) that we see in other places in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:15; 6:12) and the rest of the Bible. Repentance needs to be reclaimed in a proper understanding of salvation. Finally, Chantry shows how repentance and faith (chapter 4) are the ‘siamese twins’ of the Gospel (p 57), both essential. A biblical view of assurance (chapter 5) is set against the ‘easy-believism’ of our day. Finally, this evangelistic message is shown to have success only in the power that comes from God (chapter 6), as we come full circle to the opening observation that today’s Gospel is powerlessness despite prodigious effort and campaigns.

This book speaks with prophetic clarity to a very real and dangerous threat to the church. Personally, I was saved out of this false gospel three years ago. As a young boy, I was given a false assurance of salvation based on a number of outward steps and a ‘decision’ that I made. For thirty years I was a self-deceived sinner headed for hell, if not for God’s mercy (Eph 2:3b-10). I have no doubt that many people have been challenged by this book to stop holding on to a ‘decision’ they made for Christ as evidence of salvation. Or a prayer that they prayed, or walking an aisle and having some emotional experience. Instead we ought to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). In addition, I have no doubt that many sincere Christians, through this book and the light of Scripture, have seen the errors in their evangelism and will seek to tell others the real Gospel. The Gospel that exalts God, not man. The glorious Good News of Jesus Christ, that is made available for broken sinners who-after seeing God in all His holy splendor-will be 'undone' (Isa 6:5) and begin to see themselves for the rotten sinners we all are (Rom 3:23), and run to Him in broken repentance and God-given faith in the Son of God.

I will close with one of the most eye-opening sections of the book. Chantry is teaching about the young ruler and his encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ. The rich young man runs up to Christ and kneels saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mk 10:17b)” Listen to Chantry:

Here is an outstanding fellow begging to know how he can get to Heaven! This is the evangelist’s dream! Wouldn’t you open your Bible and ask him essential questions? ‘Do you believe that you are a sinner? Do you believe that Christ died for sinners? Will you accept Jess as your personal Savior? Pray this prayer after me ….’ He would answer in the affirmative to each question with very little instruction. Just show him the usual verses. This rich man was ripe for our evangelism. Our inquiry rooms would have elicited his ‘decision’ in a few moments, and given him assurance of eternal life besides. He would be added to the statistic sheet and his conversion reported across the world. Such a celebrity might even merit a personal write-up in the big evangelical magazines!

Aren’t you a little disappointed to see Jesus handling this tender soul so roughly? How could our Lord use such obviously poor tactics with a sinner? He began with a rebuke [Mk 10:18], went on to talk about the Ten Commandments (of all things!) [Mk 10:19-20] demanded immense sacrifice as a condition of having eternal life [Mk 10:21b], and allowed the ‘fish’ to get away [Mk 10:22]! Didn’t He know how to lead a soul to Himself? If you are surprised, surely you are the one who doesn’t understand evangelism. (p 19-20)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review of an excellent book. You might be interested in some articles of mine: http://beloit.edu/~heesendr/writings.htm

Chantry's book played a large part in my conversion, too: http://beloit.edu/~heesendr/grace.htm

It is encouraging to find a kindred spirit here on the Web. Thanks.

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