“Preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A
preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they become entrenched in their
sinful state, betrays the gospel’s call. A preaching that does not discomfit
sinners but lulls them in their sin leaves Zebulun and Nephtali in the shadow of
A preaching that Awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! That is the Churches authentic preaching. Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb, must be persecuted. It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin.” –Oscar Romero
Disclaimer: I don’t know what Romero was thinking when he wrote this statement. I don’t mean to represent anyone’s thoughts but my own.
When I first read this quote by Oscar Romero I didn’t really know what to do with it. I’ve been exhausted by hearing the gospel presented in a way that seemed judgmental; beyond convicting. I’ve heard it too many times; Christians accusing people of their sin and telling them if they don’t repent they’ll go to hell. Attempts, like these, to convict people usually only push people away in anger. What right do we, arrogant Christians, have telling people we don’t even know that they’re going to hell? What good is a gospel that pushes everyone away?
What I’m learning now is that the second part of Romero’s quote can give us a guideline for how we think of this “pointing out” of sin. He says that is awakens sinners. It doesn’t push them away, it awakens them. Awakening is something we all want, it’s attractive in one way but at the same time it’s frightening. There has to be something on our part. When we experience awakening we can no longer be the same person again… ever! It has to change us, that’s just the way it works. So a gospel that doesn’t bring awakening is not the gospel. It has to bother us, it should scare us, and it might even annoy us. But it doesn’t push us away anymore than the thought of marriage.
Marriage is attractive, how many people do you know who aren’t married who want to be? But how many, still, are afraid of it? How many people can’t even handle the thought?
What we do far too often is push people away for the wrong reasons. We make a beautiful, attractive message into a condemning and angry one. We over take it a step too far; from calling for awakening to calling for perfection. We sometimes, in such desperation to convict and speak truth we change the gospel altogether. It becomes something less than “good news.” We have, for far too long, overcompensated to the detriment of what is essential to the gospel; love.
The gospel, when it’s really being told, isn’t easy to hear. It always calls us to awakening; to change and allow God into the dark places in our lives. But it will always be attractive, people will always long for it.
So there are two extremes: a lazy gospel and a judgmental gospel. There is a gospel that calls for nothing; that tells us we can live in our own way in our own sin, we don’t have to change or awaken to anything. This gospel isn’t light because it keeps us in darkness so that we don’t have to wake up. There’s another gospel, the judgmental gospel. This hammers us down and only makes our lives worse. There’s no love, no acceptance, no light, just conviction.
Neither extreme is really the gospel because we can only really be awakened to the light.
 Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love (New York: Orbis 2004) 32.