Nice rant over at Internet Monk on the subject of "practical tips" type ministries. I post this because it has much to do with my last couple of blogposts, and a subject that greatly interests me. This is a good opportunity to repeat that if the Gospel is just information that we hear once when we're born again, and then is occasionally trotted out as a "reminder" or a "back to basics" message so we can maintain a Christian veneer for our ministry, then it certainly doesn't matter that you don't preach it that often, or that you treat it as one of many subjects to be expounded on in church, among them weight loss, financial practices, and improved marriages. It turns out however that it is the "bread that I will give for the life of the world." I don't recall a time where I felt "I already ate last week, so I don't need to this week." This is the basic principle behind Jesus' "abide in me" statement- not simply a hearing of information, but a consistent drinking from a well. It seems like if the book of John were the lens through which we regarded things of a practical nature, we wouldn't have the problem one commenter has when he says:
You seem to think the gospel is magic. It is not. Presenting the gospel to an alcoholic who can not get sober does little good.The numbness evident in this statement is what needs to be constantly warred against in onesself. The fact is, presenting an alcoholic with the Gospel, consistently, engagingly, creatively, and humanly (that is to say, in Word and Sacrament) is the only way an alcoholic will get sober in any way that is not simply "wood, hay, and stubble." For the sake of charity, we can assume statements like these are coming from a mis-characterization of the Gospel as a packet of information that people sit in a pew to hear from a preacher and then squint, clench their jaw, and just buh-lieeeeeve!! with all their might. Of course that scenario doesn't really produce the fruit or disciples that are expected in John 15, but then again that's not what the Gospel is. Herein may lie the difficulty some are having. Thinking they have already heard and affirmed it, it is now time to get a lesson on baking a cake, or being a better me, or whatever. The need of the hour is for people who don't assume Christ, and don't present him as a means to a practical end, but present him clearly and thoroughly, with the only goal of knowing him more in mind. Given the human heart's propensity to seize whatever foothold it can to embrace sinful motives and goals, forgetting or assuming this is not just a slip-up or a minor error, it's an active subversion of Christ's call.
Notice I am not against using a recipe to bake a cake. When it's time for practical instruction, I'll be ready to eat it up. Practical instruction is not, however, the "bread from heaven" and shouldn't be treated as such. Here's a Matt Chandler clip that illustrates my opinion pretty well. The good part starts at 3:11: