Thursday, August 11, 2005

Changing the Heart and Mind: Gospels of Sin Management

We are told that the Gospel is “good news,” and I believe that most within the Church today would agree that to some point, the Gospel has something to do with our transformation from what we currently are to what God intends for us to be. In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard presents two broad and overarching versions of the Gospel – one characterized by the Religious Right, as well as one by the Religious Left – that he calls “Systems of Sin Management.” Today, I’d like to take a brief overview of these “Systems,” with the understanding that these are not the only options presented within Christendom today.

I will start with the gospel as commonly presented within those churches that fall in line with the Christian Right. Again, this is only a charicature. There will always be variations and exceptions found in both the Right and Left. For those who belong to the Right, the gospel primarily revolves around the death of Jesus. Their claim – and I think it to be an accurate one – is that Jesus died for our sins, and thus their gospel is built upon. The rub with the, “Jesus died for my sins so I can die go to heaven,” gospel is that it leaves very little for us to do while we’re alive. Sure, there’s the concept of “Lordship Salvation” – another worthwhile idea – but that ultimately leads to crass systems of legalism in order to – guess what – manage sin! The gospel, according to those on the Right – is not applicable, too constraining, and therefore, not worth the average person’s time or effort.

For the Christian Left, the gospel primarily revolves around social justice. Their aim – and I believe it to be a God honoring one – is the eradication of sin and injustice. Their message, according to Willard is that, “God himself stood behind liberation, equality, and community; that Jesus died to promote them, or at least for lack of them; and that he “lives on” in all efforts and tendencies favoring them” (p. 51, The Divine Conspiracy). In my eyes, this ideology leaves us in a similar place as that of the Religious Right: more rules and laws in order to ensure that the gospel is, in this case “liberation,” is forwarded.

While both parties attempt to honor God in their actions in different ways, their aim is essentially the same: “How do we deal with sin in the world?” Surely, sin is something that needs to be addressed, but it is my opinion that the Gospel deals with so much more than sin. Ultimately, both presentations fall short of the Gospel that Christ preached and only lead to more regulations of how to deal with sin. Your homework tonight is simple: if you accept the idea that the gospel is not simply a means for dealing with sin, then tell me what the Gospel is.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a slight historical detour to the early Church, its mission and aim, how I think that mission and aim changed, and how I see that change reflected in the Church today.