Sunday, January 15, 2012

John 3:16 and Focus on the Family

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." ~ John 3:16

I will preface this blog entry for those of you who may have difficulty with my meaning here. I am not criticizing God's Word, in whole or in part - I am criticizing it's misuse and poor contextualization.

As Christians it is our purpose to evangelize (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 12:28-31), and make disciples.

Yet, so seldom do we take into consideration just what that means, and by what method we might best achieve making disciples of Christ. It is a very common idea that we need do no work, that God's Word can and will do all of the work and we need to simply "get it out there"; that being stewardly in method is a waste of time.

We live in a culture that is absolutely bent on ease and on convenience, ultimately self is the supreme end goal of man (this is commonly known as humanism). Our "fast food culture" can be easily seen in the way many choose to live, to work, to interact, to worship, to pray, and (wait for it) to evangelize. We've allowed the attitudes of our culture to infect our Faith and the way in which we share it - or don't.

Focus on the Family (which is shrouded in controversy itself) produced and aired a new commercial on January 14, 2012 during the Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots NFL Playoff game. The video was almost immediately available on YouTube accompanied by the following message;

"Nothing is more important than sharing the life changing message of Jesus Christ's love. Tell someone you know today."

Aside from the fact that The Gospel is about more than the Love of Christ alone and that John 3:16 teaches only one aspect of the Love of Christ; there is also the issue that Christ's Love also perfectly and completely includes God's wrath and fury (Romans 2:6-11), God's hatred (Psalm 5:5), His jealousy (Exodus 20:4-5), His Justice (Job 34:12), His judgement (1 Corinthians 5:13, Psalm 7:11), indeed ALL of His attributes. The Biblical definition of God's perfect Love is far deeper than the inference drawn from John 3:16 alone. So, for Focus on the Family to present this as the message of God's Love is not a complete picture and misrepresents just what the atoning work of Christ is.

It has long been a tradition for John 3:16 to be painted on faces, chests, and emblazoned on banners during football games. In 1993, Steve Taylor even dedicated a song to "Bannerman", touting the honorable brazenness at thwarting the establishment for the sake of the Gospel. Even very recently Timothy Tebow was seen to have the scripture reference painted on his face. Not to mention the mystecism developing around the fact that he passed for 316 yards against the Steelers, and set an NFL playoff record with 31.6 yards per completion; which only serves to prove out the varied response that can come from this sort of Biblical representation. It is true that the passage (John 3:16) was highly Googled following the game, and perhaps it will cause some people to "reach for a Bible", but what then? And what of all the people who now seem to recognize it as a totem instead of a passage from God's Word?

In kind, this is the offering of Focus on the Family to the cause of the Gospel (ostensibly);

God's Word is precious, and will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). It is inerrant and perfect and we must certainly hold tightly to the ultimate Truths therein. John 3:16 is a fantastic passage of scripture, it is filled with Hope and Promise. It is a piece of God's Word. But it simply does not give the complete picture of the gospel. It is a portion of the frame around a beautiful picture of salvation. Without the contents of the frame you are left with a deep mystery.

Indeed there will be many who will see the video of the cute children reciting the well known passage and be filled with a warm feeling, comforted that they have done their part in standing for Christ in America simply by being a Christian. It is true, that there are those who come to Christ simply by reading His Word, in fact I have some good friends whose testimony of Faith is just so. They had no personal influence in their life, they simply had a Bible and they read it and the Holy Spirit worked in them. I am not suggesting that God's Word has no power - but God's Word out of context, in a single verse, is a different story altogether, and often it paints a picture contrary to God's Word.

My concern here lies in the presentation of the gospel, and the utter inadequacy of simplifying it to the point of making it palatable. John 3:16, all by itself says; God sent Jesus, His Son - and whoever believes in Him will go to heaven forever. As Christians we have a context for all of these phrases. But, break it down for the audience and you have a sheer plethora of possibilities;

  • Who is God? This will get as varied an answer as the number of times you ask the question. So, we've assumed right off the mark that our audience (whoever it may be) understands God from a purely Biblical perspective. This is as dangerous as it is naive a place to begin from. (Romans 3:11)

  • Who is the only Begotten Son? We have the same problem here as we did for the last question. We live in a World that is filled with false "christs". (Luke 21:8, Ezekiel 22:28) We are sorely remiss to assume that our audience is understanding Christ as He is.

  • What about whosoever believeth? Is it enough to simply believe in Christ? Is this the only relationship we must have to be reconciled to Him? What does the Bible teach about "salvation"? In James 2:19 we are told that even the demons believe and tremble; this does not, however, mean that demons qualify to go to heaven.

  • What about eternal life? So in order to live forever, all I have to do is believe in Jesus? Even if we disregard all of the previous problems that have arisen, we have just presented the gospel as a way for people to save themselves for eternity. We have ensured that their understanding of their relationship with God is strictly for their own benefit. This is prosperity gospel worldview - and it is wrong.
What of Sin? What of Repentence? What of God's Wrath? What of a real and humble relationship with God! John 3:16 is the end of an excellent presentation of the gospel. Yet, in a corrupt world, it is a misleading piece of scripture that can, by itself, potentially do more harm than good. It provides people with enough information and a false confidence to be permanently insulated against ever coming to a real saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in repentance. Pared down, it is cultural syncretism at best. The two most commonly know scripture verses, outside of the Church, are John 3:16 and Matthew 7:1 (though often, not even understood in context of being from scripture), yet both are taken out of context and misunderstood, and used to build worldview. It is sad, and it is a reflection on how we, the Church, present God's Word to the world.

Let's not forget the aspect of this issue, that this commercial by Focus on the Family is so very clearly NOT intended to be evangelism, as is evidenced by the plea for funds at the conclusion of the 40 second clip. This is a commercial intended to elicit an emotional response, while presenting a familiar and comfortable feeling to the viewer. It is a marketing campaign targeted at Christians, thinly veiling itself as evangelism. I would go so far as to suggest that this somewhat sinister approach to fundraising is something that Christ would take great exception to. read Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18.

Know God's Word, read it daily, fellowship with other Christians, attend your church regularly, pray as often as possible and be equipped to share the gospel. Know it yourself first, then in all obedience and adequacy, preach the gospel completely and with great clarity. How you present the gospel, taking into consideration those to whom you are speaking, is vital to allow you to be certain that they are hearing what you are striving to convey; attention to method has merit. It's what we're here for. It is time to stop lazy evangelism, poor evangelism and strive to have full, rich lives in Christ.

I highly recommend that you take twelve minutes to hear an excellent and complete presentation of the Gospel, in the video below Paul Washer brings clarity to the Truth, and offers an example of how to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a World that does not want to hear it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff! Pure gospel!!