Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chain Emails, and What Exactly Is the Gospel?

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." Romans 1:16

The following is a chain email that I received in my in-box yesterday morning. You know the kind: they're typically short letters with a feel good message, often there is some mention of God, and usually something dire is vaguely threatened if you "break the chain" by not resending the message to 14 of your closest friends. It is extremely rare that I ever forward any of these messages that show up from time to time in my email, but on the few occasions when I have deemed a message worthy enough to have forwarding privileges, the one thing I always do is remove all the silly threatening at the end. We can either be superstitious, or we can be people who trust in God's sovereignty, but we cannot be both.

Anyway. I received the following one just yesterday morning, and it has been verified on Snopes (for what that's worth) as a true story. My commentary will come at the end of the email.
A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, 'I hope he doesn't come over here.' But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. 
'Where are you folks from?' he asked in a friendly voice. 
' Oklahoma,' they answered. 
'Great to have you here in Tennessee,' the stranger said, 'What do you do for a living?' 
'I teach at a seminary,' he replied. 
'Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really great story for you.' And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple. 
The professor groaned and thought to himself, 'Great......Just what I need.....another preacher story!' 
The man started, 'See that mountain over there? (pointing out the restaurant window). Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, Who's your daddy?' Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?' 
He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. 'When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' 
But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. 
Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?' 
The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?' 
'This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy: 'Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now, You are a child of God.' 
With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.' 
'With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.'' 
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, 'Isn't that a great story?' 
The professor responded that it really was a great story! 
As the man turned to leave, he said, 'You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!' And he walked away....
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, 'Do you know who that man was -- the one who just left that was sitting at our table?' 
The waitress grinned and said, 'Of course. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's governor of Tennessee!'
Someone in your life today needs a reminder that they're one of God's children! 
'The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever.' ~~Isaiah 
I received the above chain email from my mother, who is a fairly new Christian. But she is most definitely born again: she is a transformed person, she is growing in holiness, and she loves God and the truth that set her free with all heart. This is how I responded to her:
"Sweet story, but definitely not one to send to anyone who is lost......they already think they are God's children (the arrogance of the unregenerated heart!!)
There is nothing in this story of the gospel message as we know it from Scripture:
- Nothing of wretched and depraved man, who rebelled against his sovereign creator God and sinned by breaking God's moral laws,
- A high and holy God (with whom no sin can dwell),
- God's righteous wrath against sin,
- God's remedy for this situation: His Son, Jesus, the "God-man," who came to earth and lived the life that we could never live, and in so doing, earned the right to offer his life as an unblemished ransom for many. Only those who repent and place their faith in Jesus' death on the Cross can appropriate this "payment" made on their behalf.....only those have the right to be known as "children of God." All the rest are children of wrath.....they are under God's wrath.
The problem with sending such a story to people in our country/culture is this: 
- The lost already think (mistakenly, that is) that they know God, and have a relationship with him, and this story will do nothing to help them see their wretched depravity and need for a Savior; and 
- The saved - who might respond emotionally to this story - are letting their own minds unconsciously "fill in the gaps" that are missing in this supposed gospel presentation. 
Perhaps the Governor of Tennessee, Ben Hooper, truly is a Christian, and wants to share Christ with others through this story. God bless him for that! But this message does not have enough of the critical components of the gospel message to be salvific."
Feel good messages that make people smile aren't necessarily a bad thing, but when they imply salvation without even giving a true gospel message, then they are dangerous.  Eternity is what is at stake here. It is important for us as Christians to remember that we have the one thing that the rest of the world does not: salvation. This is no small thing, and it is imperative that we think through what exactly the full gospel message is, so that we can share this message of hope, this Good News, in a lost and dying world that so desperately needs it.

photo credit: Sean MacEntee via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Is Not Christianity