“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.
It is an "awakening" to what? That we have to try harder?... do better?... rise above our sin? If that is the case... if we can do it ourselves... what was the cross all about?
Personally, I think those that hold to a "Christ, plus what we must do" gospel, are doomed to a life of discontent and frustration. I don't see it as "an awakening to WHAT WE MUST DO", but an awareness of WHAT HE DID, that brings peace into our lives. He overcame sin on our behalf. Period! Rest in that! We simply can't do it in our own power. He didn't become an "example" for us to follow, but became the CURE for all of our shortcomings. Call it a "lazy" gospel if you want, but I call it the most incredibly good news I've ever heard. And my heart is drawn to it (and him) in ways that I never could have imagined when I was trying to "get there" on my own.
When we realize that God is not a place we strive to go to, but instead become aware that He not only came to us, but stays with us... all that's left to do is shout for joy! He's not "out there" somewhere, He is "in here"... in me, in you, in everyone we encounter. He is the breath in our lungs, and the beat of our heart. He is the source of our life, and remains the force of our existence.
Most who read this will simply dismiss it as the rantings of a madman, and that's OK... you are free to believe whatever you want. You will anyway. But, for those who seek the profound peace of the Kingdom of God here and now, let the wonder of the Gospel of Peace and Grace sink into your soul and release you from ALL that enslaves you. Whether it is religion, or sin, or other people, or your fear, or your doubt... true peace will free you!
N.T. Wright makes a very powerful case for the meaning of the word GOSPEL. In his little book, WHAT ST. PAUL REALLY SAID, he examines both OT Jewish usage of the word and 1st Century Roman use of the word. In both cases GOSPEL is a confrontational word.
Wright concludes that the word GOSPEL means "a royal announcement" and in our case indicates who is in charge.
Read Isaiah 40:9 and 52:7. Both times the royal announcement is made to captive Israel that God is still in charge. This in the face of imperial exile, where the empire says differently.
Compare this with the following inscription announcing the world order brought by Caesar...
...The providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere. . . ; the birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the glad tidings that have come to men through him...
Arrogant stuff! huh? Blasphemous really.
Wes, you are right to point out at the end of your post that neither extreme is the gospel. I have to admit that I am sympathetic to bruced in questioning the "awakening". It is a line of thought, I'm just not getting.
But I am see the whole divine effort vs. human effort gig as misguided. (Been there/done that) I think a do nothing faith does not change the world, and the world needs changing. Royal announcements bring changes.
Hang in there. Keep exploring. You, and me and bruced are all learning and growing here. Sometimes each of us go sniffing up blind alleys. Keep your humility as you learn.
bruced: I would agree that salvation is not a faith plus anything else. However I would speak about the awakening as a sanctification issue mostly. For example it is an awakening to bear fruit. It is an awakening to abide in Christ. It is an awakening to obey the command to "love one another as I have loved you." It is an awakening to "do what I command you". (all from John 15) also:
Faith without works (I would assume works of love) is dead. And a dead faith is not saving faith. This does not mean it is faith plus works makes salvation. It means faith minus works is not faith at all. Works of love are an integral part of faith.
Wes: I often wonder about the "preaching" aspect of the gospel. Is Romero talking about the preaching done from the pulpit during Mass; to those who for the most part are believers? Do they need to be awakened to a living faith that accomplishes works of love? Is the preaching more like the actions one does, like turning the other cheek and loving enemies and letting our light shine before others giving glory to our Father in heaven. Isn't this what will also make sleepers (both believing sleepers and unbelievers) uncomfortable, in fact heap burning coals on them? See Romans 12 and Matthew 5.
I assume Romero would have said it is a both/and situation.
I do not consider your comment the "rantings of a madman." I think we agree alot more than you realize. Your comments about resting in what Jesus already did resonate with me very much. That is good news, isn't it!
I don't think we disagree as much as you may think, and I don't think what you described is necessarily a "lazy gospel" as I described it.
Awakening is not action, it is indeed what you described; an awareness. But as I said, this awakening has to change you. If you truly realize what Jesus did, you also must realize what He is still doing. He has redeemed me but is still redeeming me. We have the tak of, not just realizing but implementing what Christ has aready done. We have entered into new creation and are moving toward a new seventh day; a new sabbath. If you really are awakened to Christ can you really allow oppretion and hate evil to continue?
If we are awakenned then we will see where there are still places in the world and in our hearts that have not yet awakenned to what Christ did on the cross. Awakening has to change you. It is not a "Christ, plus what we do" gospel. We can do nothing to earn it. We can only realize what has already been done on the cross for us and actully live in its' reality.
I hope that brings our two lines of thought a little closer together. We may still disagree but I hope I've clairified my thoughts. Thanks for your insight.
good thoughts. I hope I clairified some thoughts in my response to Bruced. He did challenge me and make me really struggle with my thoughts.
Excellent post Wes. Sorry, I have not visited in a few days. Been busy getting ready for my daughter's 18th birthday.
Many times we are characterized as being "Jesus Christ plus...", "Faith plus..." or "Grace plus..." when such is not the case.
Stanza 2 of the old classic Rock of Ages says:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul I to the fountain fly,
Wash me Savior or I die.
And then in Stanza 3:
Not the labor of my hands,
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.
That's what I am talking about.
I do like what Bruced says when he says, "He overcame sin on our behalf. Period! Rest in that!"
Wow, amazing post. The marriage analogy paints such a perfect picture of how so many people present the gospel. This really got me thinking of how people can present such a beautiful thing in such a way that makes it almost dreadful. I think we all to often miss the point of evangelism and make it something that "worked for me" or "worked for him", is that all we are about, conforming something to "work" for someone else? The idea of awakening is a beautiful one! Thank you Wes!
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