Since I originally wrote this, I have become less leery of what the campaign is trying to do. My church is one of the churches to contact and we preach the Gospel. So, all that to say that though I still have some legitimate concerns concerning methodology, I’m not as cautious as I was.
(Here is the original post on my old site, with comments and interactions I had with others, including the director of NeedHim.org, a ministry closely associated with IA2 and E3 Partners)
Being an evangelical Christian in our culture and at the same time being bombarded with these techniques of the evangelical church of which I am apart, in the name of witnessing on our freeways, makes it very hard not to say things that concern me. For the record, I do believe some positive can come out of this whole “I am second” campaign. In fact, many of the testimonies mirror my own experience and how God rescued me from death and destruction. I would encourage everyone to go and at least check out what they have to say. Some great testimonies. I would not even presume to know what God is up to, even if I think it’s more silliness and just one more “Christian culture,” evangelical fad to add to the list. But there are factors which are concerning about this strategy, factors of which are indicative about our own movements beliefs. And it all essentially stems from the church-growth movement which contains assumptions about how God 1) saves people and 2) how God grows and builds His church which are clearly unbiblical.
I posted recently that I myself need to be careful about my own personal criticism of the church at large, and I still hold to that. What I’m warning myself and others about is the tendency toward uber-criticism, that is, a critical spirit. My criticism can quickly turn to bitterness, anger, and frustration at what I’m seeing and it can consume me, much in the same way any other sin can. A legitimate concern (something good in itself) becoming an idol or obsession: this is sin. And boy are we sinners good at taking something good and corrupting it! I must watch over my own heart and it’s quick slide into arrogance, as we all do in whatever our pet sins are. The heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, who can understand it? I surely don’t.
Yet at the same time I must be honest and truthful with what is going on in the world around me (particularly as it concerns my own Christian grouping of which I consider myself apart) while not letting those things turn into uber-frustration at the expense of the glory of God and His sovereignty in all of it (my own personal holiness and sinfulness). Please understand that this is more of a call to first clearly understand the Gospel ourselves (continuing to do this our whole lives in studying Scripture) and then clearly proclaim that Gospel message to the world around us, unhindered.
In my understanding, I see no problem with a believer using this campaign as a spring-board to witnessing, much in the same way I had no problem with someone wearing a WWJD bracelet, while disagreeing with the heart of that message intended for sanctification. But the main goal of the authors of this campaign seems to exclude witnessing, or “proselytizing” itself.
Now, before I get to the founders’ and investors’ intentions, I must hit on a big warning concerning the campaign. When Brian McLaren endorses something that he posits in the article above as a more “multifaceted understanding of the Christian Gospel and is another expression of a very profound shift that is taking place,” a red flag goes up immediately in my mind, as it should for all of us believers, seeing as how many at my own church are quickly getting caught up in this, particularly in the youth group. While not doubting the legitimacy of many of the testimonies on the site as to how God did indeed help them, McLaren’s endorsement alone is super-concerning about the purpose of the campaign.
McLaren is not a historic evangelical in any sense of the word. He has rather quickly gone the path of theological liberals in the 19th and 20th centuries by making Jesus’ Gospel one merely of love, while taking all references to an eternal wrath out of the picture, which thus necessarily guts his own gospel message (that is, what exactly is Christ saving us from then?). He denies the historic, Biblical doctrine of hell, which Willow Creek was quite shocked to find out in the middle of his message there not so long ago; to which they then had to clarify their own position on the matter later on.
McLaren’s gospel is one of a savior who merely came to promote love and selflessness toward others (and went to the cross merely as an example to demonstrate the prime example of “non-violence” triumphing over violence), not a Savior who came to “give His life a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45) in absorbing the wrath of God we deserve in Himself on the cross and rising from the grave, as a matter of history, instead of mystery.
With that said up front about that which is a warning flare, here are some quotes from the article pertaining to the intentions of this campaign (and yes, I am well aware of the fact that reporters can cherry-pick as many things as they want in order to do their article. So if there is some clarification later on as to the intentions, please let me know or comment here and clarify away, I’m all for knowing what the truth is):
“The campaign isn’t intended to proselytize a specific denomination as much as embrace a broader spirituality.” – Norm Miller
“Embrace a broader spirituality?” Hmm. So … what exactly are we doing it for then? When he says “denomination,” I take that to mean the campaign isn’t setting forth a particular message that would exclude people of all kinds of spirituality (you know, like the Gospel excludes those who disbelieve it). Using the word “proselytize” to describe what the campaign isn’t doing is also concerning. In witnessing and Gospel preaching, aren’t we trying to win people to Christ, in essence proselytizing them, by persuading them through Scripture and reason to repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone for their salvation?
If we aren’t doing that with this, then we’re just making people nice while allowing them to not even hear the Gospel. I can’t buy into that. Neither could C.S. Lewis: “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God [particularly as revealed in Christ and His Gospel], would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.” (My insertion)
“The best thing is we aren’t preaching to anybody, we are just putting these up and telling people how God helps them.” – Norm Miller
Helps us, what? Receive pardon from the right-hand of God for the wrath and judgment we deserve through His suffering that very wrath on the cross in our place? No, it seems the ultimate message of this campaign is how God helps us from addiction, pornography, a reckless life-style, amongst a number of other things. Now of course, the benefits of the Gospel include all of the aforementioned things. He indeed frees us from the power of sin in our lives! But what is the main effect and message of the Gospel? Helping us out with our temporal, (mostly) self-inflicted suffering? Or being rescued from the objective wrath of God and bringing us into fellowship with Himself forever through the blood of His Son? Yes there are definitely side benefits of salvation. But what is the main course? That is what primarily needs to be preached.
“I Am Second is a mind-set to live out authentic, transparent lives.” – Nathan Sheets
That’s great, honestly. We definitely need more of that in our trite, three-inch-deep, entertainment-driven culture. But if Christ and His Gospel are not involved in this campaign and if we’re not being transparent in clearly articulating the Gospel from Scripture, to what avail are we even doing this whole thing then? This all gets back to Michael Horton and his series this past year on Christless Christianity and how it’s quietly creeping into the church, especially among many of our evangelical circles, and even among many Reformed circles as well, I might add. Check it out. It’s well worth the reading and listening to get us all focused back on Christ and His work to save and change us forever.
“We are training people to take advantage of advertising that will help them live lives of intention.” – Nathan Sheets
But again, what about Christ and His Gospel? Where is it? This came from one of the heads of a missionary organization? (Again, the reporter could have quoted only part of what he said, though I’m definitely leery that is the case). Living lives of intention? For what exactly? It’s so slippery and jello-like. I’m sorry, but this sounds like Joel Osteen, prosperity gospel stuff, not pure, Scriptural Gospel.
Here is my over-riding concern with this campaign: clarity of the main intention and effect of the Gospel. It’s not so much that it is theologically wrong that concerns me (though there are a few things). It is that the message is theologically vacuous (Horton), free of Biblical content that would offend the sinner, the very thing they need to hear the most, to which the Holy Spirit then awakens their eyes to the truth as He pleases and grants faith to sinner. And I definitely have a hard time adhering to anything McLaren is apart of for sure.
Can any good come of it? Surely it will. I would not even begin to presume to know how God will work through this. But if it is anything like the effect of WWJD (that is, looking to Christ merely as an example for your own personal sanctification (which is just more Law) instead of your Savior (which is the Gospel) for holiness) then it will have little impact on the Kingdom of God. But again, I could be wrong. It’s just that we have 2000 years of church history (let alone the brief 200 years of chaos in America) where this same sort of thing has gone south and in fact eclipsed the Gospel of Jesus.
May we uphold the Gospel in truth and clarity. That is my desire and prayer for all of us, including myself. May we flee the temptation to cower back from saying what is clearly said in Scripture and not fold to our culture of niceness and positivity. Should we be loving? Of course! Should we be sensitive in so far as people’s own trials are concerned that may be hindering them coming to Christ? Absolutely! Being cool and culturally relevant though is quickly going to mean choosing between the Bible or the world in short order.
Check out this article from Al Mohler on all of that: