The crux of my argument is this: the gospel cannot simply be a list of propositions. If a person agrees to a list of things procured from the Bible, it does not neccessarily mean a full induction into the way of Christ. In short: It is irresponsible for Christians to rely merely on information as opposed to relation.
My first encounter with this particular brand of Christianity was about 11 years ago. I remember being in 7th grade and going to an event called "Judgement House". It was a "haunted house alternative" held at a Baptist church around Halloween. We went through different rooms where the scenario of a high school boys basketball teams bus crashed, some of them went to hell some of them went to heaven. At the end of the program, they brought you into this little room and asked you if you knew where you were going when you died. They handed me a little card that had an acronym on it. A middle aged man who was a total stranger had sized me up and was asking me very probing questions. They were trying to make sure I was "saved".
Ever since then there has been an icky feeling in my stomach when I see/hear about events like this. This carries over into theological positions as well. What they were doing at "Judgement House" was actually pretty judgemental in itself, so maybe the name fit. They were making sure people understood "the gospel".
Ever since 7th grade, I couldn't quite formulate why I disagreed with this particular manifestion of evangelism; until I read "The Cost of Discipleship". Mr. Bonhoeffer says it best:
Cheap grace means sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares...Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principal, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.
Snap! So to Bonhoeffer, coming to the "intellectual assent" doesn't cut it. Instead of mere mental synthesis, Jesus takes hold of you, and transforms your life. You die to your old self, and put on Christ as I believe Paul says it. You're born again, as Jesus put it.
Yet this "if you only agree to THIS then you'll get to go to heaven" attitude permeates Christianity. It's as if the gospel were a commodity, something that worked like a ticket. Hhhhmmmm, where could we find such clear examples of this bad theology? No better place than Cokesbury my friends! (for those of you who aren't methodist, hopefully that's a lot of you, Cokesbury is a Christian Bookstore with particularly Methodist roots)
Let us consider EXHIBIT A:
Here is the front of one Christian t-shirt, taken with my camera phone. Now, this is a spoof of "Deal or No Deal". So the gospel is likened to Howie Mandel asking if you want eternal life if you agree with such and such list of statements, OR you can choose eternal suffering- take the deal! In the shape of a cross no less!
Now, here we have a spoof of the show COPS and hey, we even get an acronym! Christian sub-culture bonus for those oh so witty acronyms! Christians Obediently Preaching Salvation, and the verse referenced is Ephesians 5: 6 which reads "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient." So can't you just hear the COPS theme song playing (bad boys, bad boys...) as Jesus returns to lock up all those bad guys who didn't listen to him; brace yo'self whachu' gonna do!?!?!
and the worst one of them all, EXHIBIT C:
A Staples easy button spoof. The Jesus easy button. Seriously. I know Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden was light, but is this what he meant? YOU'VE GOT TO BE FREAKING KIDDING ME! EASY!?!?!??! One might even say...cheap! Just press the Jesus button, say the prayer, and you're good to go! IT'LL BE EASY! What could be further from the truth? Was suffering the entire weight of human sin easy? Was being constantly dissapointed and let down by your best friends easy? Was being despised by his own people easy? For Christians today, and in all times, picking up your cross and following him easy? Is praying for your neighbors, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies easy? Is loving others easy? Didn't Jesus actually say the opposite? That when you love those who love you, it's easy, but it's only when you love those who hate you that it's really love? THIS SHIRT IS THE BIGGEST BUNCH OF CRAP, PERHAPS THE BIGGEST CROCK OF ALL TIME. *ahem* sorry, but that just sent me through the roof.
SO, lets recap according to our Cokesbury t-shirt theology shall we? Whacha' gonna do when we comes for you? So take the deal so you won't burn in hell, and best of all it'll be easy! Jesus, lifes easiest solution!
Whats wrong with simply a spoken, intellectual, propositional gospel is that it's too easy and it doesn't hold any existential weight. My parents divorced, I've had friends die, and I've seen people in my congregation suffering unimaginable pain- and that's just my experience the last couple years! I won't even get into AIDS or evil, or any of the other tough stuff. The easy button Jesus doesn't exist. The COPS Jesus and the Deal or No Deal Jesus are bankrupt. Why? Because all they're concerned with is you "making a choice", as Bonhoeffer says "an intellectual assent" to the truth, and then you can know the state of your soul and let the easy life begin.
Jesus said we can know the truth and the truth shall set us free. The truth is not a list. The truth is not a formula, the truth is a person. The spoken gospel works like a magic spell. The lived gospel works like a living, breathing, person because that's what we become when Christ makes his home in us (John 14).
So I won't deny the power of words, isn't that what I'm employing to make my point? But the gospel cannot be reduced to a forumla that is abstracted and presented to people on their doorstep and in the grocery aisle. That's mere information. If we start with the information, ok, whatever works. But if that's where we end- we get cheap grace. Christ calls us into relation with him, and with people.
I know this was horribly long, but I've said my piece. If I've offended folks, at least it will make for exciting conversation. I'm out!