Something I have noticed for some time is the emphasis on family in our culture, whether it be a redefinition of what constitutes a family, advertising for products/experiences, or to discuss the active role of the family in society. In Christian circles, family is used to describe ministry models, the ideal for the home, and a system of values to protect and defend. I also have noticed some Christian radio stations talk about being “safe for the whole family,” and for certain types of entertainment to be “family friendly and wholesome.” For the record, I am all for protecting young eyes (and older) from seeing filth that is passed off as “free expression.” The power of media to create and reinforce value systems is greatly underestimated by many people, and that is to our detriment.
So to the task at hand, in a Christian sub-culture that seeks to be family friendly and good and wholesome, how are we to see the Gospel? Is the Gospel safe, family friendly, and wholesome? Are we to expect the same values in our theology that we desire to see in our homes? I would contend that if we seek to make the Gospel family friendly and wholesome, we in fact rob it of its great power and great offense, both of which are necessary.
How can Jesus not be wholesome or family friendly you ask? It all comes back to the core issue of the need for a Gospel. That need is sin, sin that comes from a rebellious and wicked heart that seeks to displace God and put Self on the throne. That expression of sin comes in idolatry, lust, greed, pride, rivalry, contention, bitterness, jealousy, war, sabotage, etc. We see a great calamity at work, but in so many circles we take on an unbiblical approach to humanity. We look at people, especially ourselves, and do not see the inherent wickedness in our hearts. We see children as sweet innocents who are in fact as Augustine described them “little bundles of original sin.” We neglect the fact that all who are born in Adam are guilty of sin and deserving of hell. It is not family friendly to look at someone and tell them they have an idolatrous heart and are at war with God. It’s much easier to gloss over the issue and explain it away using psycho-babble or the dreaded “well, boys will be boys.”
The crucifixion has to be the least family friendly part of the message of the Gospel (more than a ‘Plan of Salvation’ but God’s purposes of redeeming His elect). We see Jesus, the sinless one who bears no guilt of His own, tortured and murdered in the most brutal way ever imagined by man. On the cross we see the full wrath of God against sin, all of God’s hatred of evil and righteous judgment against rebellious man. It is a gruesome picture, one that could not be shown on network TV. In the very ugliness and horror of the cross, there is a great beauty. The beauty is this: It was for us that Christ died. There was a joy in going to the cross, knowing that once it had been accomplished the work of redemption was complete. It pleased the Father to send the Son to the cross, which has been portrayed as cosmic child abuse, but is instead one of the greatest pictures of love ever painted. But it is far from “safe for the whole family,” because it should be every single one of us who has our flesh torn off and our blood spilled with railroad spikes in our arms. At the expense of God’s holiness we emphasize His love, and His goodness requires that He punish the wicked and condemn those without Christ to hell. If He did not, then the death of His Son is child abuse because there was no purpose to it.
We preach a message of scandal and foolishness, that God would come to earth and assume humanity, die a wrongful death on our account, rise from the grave, and indwell the hearts of believers to conform them to His image. It is a message that is held in jars of clay, so that we do not focus on the wrapping paper but instead the gift. The Gospel message is not family friendly because it cuts like a sword and demands all to give account. Jesus’ great question to His disciples is “Who do you say I am?” and He asks us that as well. How we respond to that has eternal ramifications. The Gospel can split friends, and divide siblings. The very offense of it that those with it are assured eternal life and those without are assured of eternal death goes counter to the pluralism and individualism of our day.
The Gospel message is not safe, and to remove its scandal, its offense, its need and its horror is to rob the Gospel of its great power. In churches that paint Jesus as a pithy Zen master or God as a passive observer, you notice a lack of power in both the preaching ministry and in the lives of the congregation. Watering down the horror of the cross glosses over the nature and effect of sin and the demand for a worthy sacrifice to overcome it. Ignoring the question of sin and morality muddies the water as to what is true and what is right. Again, the church must not tolerate things that are impure and sinful in the name of tolerance and diversity. If it means offending man and pleasing God, that is a much better alternative than offending God and pleasing man.
This post isn’t meant to stir up trouble or controversy, just to get us thinking about what it is we’re preaching and what life we’re living. Thoughts for the day!
To quote Derek Webb from his House Show CD “Jesus is not safe. Preaching the Gospel is not safe. But He is good, and He is the King.”