It's no surprise that Christianity in the West is dying. Year after year a new study is released elucidating this fact. Two research firms, Pew Research and Barna tend to shed light on the consistent defection of Christians towards the category of "nones" or in some cases outright atheism.
While I have many thoughts as to the impetus for the decline of Christianity over the last twenty years, for this article I'm going to stick to one - a concern I call the Half Gospel.
What is the Half Gospel? The best way I can explain it, is the Church's modern day approach to proclaiming the gospel which is absent the historical backdrop that necessitates it.
Now, it's easy to take what I'm saying and think I'm simply referring to sharing the gospel without the importance of the law. I'm not. That's the traditional view of evangelism which doesn't remedy the problem. You can include the law and the need for repentance in evangelism and still only share half of the gospel message. The reason why this is the case in today's Church is because the historical backdrop of the Judeo-Christian faith has been lost.
To fully grasp what I'm getting at here, it's important for me to share a bit of historical context concerning God's hand in salvation since the dawn of creation.
The book of Genesis delivers a powerful story of an amazing God who establishes creation. This creation consists not only of natural beings in a natural world, but also supernatural beings existing in the heavens -the supernatural realm.
Every Christian is aware of the Fall event that took place in Eden. I'm specifying Eden here because this event is not the only event that contributed to the fallen state of the world. Many Christians aren't aware of this fact. Overlooked in our day is the fall of the sons of God in Genesis 6. These beings committed unholy acts that instigated the need for the flood. Then there's the Babel event where God had to disperse the 70 nations of humanity listed in Genesis 10 so they would live as the image bearers God decreed in Genesis 1.
However, what we see throughout the entirety of the Old Testament is a nation under Yahweh, contending with other nations who exist under other the authority of rebellious supernatural beings -fallen sons of God (See Deuteronomy 32:8 and Genesis 11); pagans worshipping other gods known as elohim in the Hebrew language.
I don't want to get into too much detail here in order to keep this article focused. But the point is this, the ancient Jews understood the real story of creation which included a never-ending cosmic battle between two separate realms. They understood there were supernatural beings that all of humanity -outside of their nation- served. Whether knowingly or not does not matter. And they understood the existence, supremacy and necessity of their God (elohim), Yahweh.
Bible verses such as Psalm 95:3; 86:8 and Deuteronomy 4:35 emphasize that man needs to know God is greater than all other gods (elohim). Scripture draws a clear line in the sand. A solid distinction between the God and would be gods.
3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. - Psalm 95:3 (ESV)
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. -Psalm 86:8 (ESV)
35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. - Deuteronomy 4:35 (ESV)
Those who lived in the Ancient Near East held a worldview of monolatry. One that believed in the worship of a god (elohim) while not denying the existence of others. You can check out a Youtube video I created on Monolatry here. Again, salvation was predicated on the realization that Yahweh was supreme, the one to follow and this took faith. But there was a real recognition of the alternative and why the world including humanity is in its current state. The world is divided into two parts. The demonic, rebellious, supernatural beings and their followers and the faithful, righteous, supernatural beings and followers of Yahweh. There is no middle ground.
Once Christ arrives we see this spiritual war continue to play out. Jesus -who is God- is once again contending with the demonic realm and those who are faithless followers of His enemies. Salvation is contingent upon faith in Him. Why? Because there are only two camps and only one offers reconciliation and relationship with the Creator. Again, all of creation is split in two; the faithful and the rebellious. The righteous and the demonic.
Within the Second Temple Period this history sits in the minds of the apostles as the foundational backdrop for evangelism. The apostles would go to the Jews who also shared this historical narrative and attempt to connect the prophesy of the messiah to the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus. It would be a complete picture. There was no speaking of Jesus without connecting Him to the ancient scriptures which included the full supernatural narrative of creation.
For the gentiles evangelism took on a different form. The apostles would debate pagan philosophers to help them see they only worshipped rebellious supernatural beings -or demons. There's evidence of this in the book of Acts:
18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. - Acts 17:18–21 (ESV)
Evangelism would require a different take and most likely a bit more work. The apostles would have to convince pagans that their belief system was hinged upon the work of demons and rebellious supernatural deities. The next step would then consist of convincing them of Yahweh's supremacy, followed by the introduction of Jesus and their need for Him. But I imagine by the time Jesus was introduced into the story the pagans would have realized their need to follow Jesus.
This form of evangelism was also picked up by the early church. We see this in Tertullian's Apology -written to Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 197 A.D.- in defense of Christianity. Tertullian makes it plain that the Romans worship demons thinking they were divine.
So this divinity of yours is no divinity; for if it were, it would not be pretended to by demons, and it would not be denied by gods. But since on both sides there is a concurrent acknowledgment that they are not gods, gather from this that there is but a single race — I mean the race of demons, the real race in both cases. Let your search, then, now be after gods; for those whom you had imagined to be so you find to be spirits of evil. - Tertullian; Apology 23
So this leads me to my point as to why I believe in our day we share a half gospel which is less effective at changing hearts and minds. The focus of the gospel message today centers on coming to Jesus because He died for our sins. And that we need to repent of those sins and be forgiven. This certainly isn't bad or false and it sits squarely in the message of the gospel. But this type of evangelism -in my mind- strips the entire corpus of God's work that took place over thousands of years down to a single bullet point. Which is not really possible. You can't fully articulate the gospel with drive by bullet points.
Whether we speak of the Old or New Testament, sharing the Gospel was more than just telling people about God or Jesus. The supernatural backstory was crucial to understanding the need for Him and why the world is in its current state. This is apparent when non-believers ask why God allows evil while being evangelized. There's a reason for the disconnect. This happens when evangelizing an incomplete gospel. The gospel, is more than Jesus arriving. The gospel started when God declared the seed of Eve would crush the head of the serpent in Genesis.
If we are to share the gospel it must include the complete story. Else we do humanity a disservice, diminish the work of Christ and give more ground to the demonic realm.
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