We are all familiar with the rhetoric of the church invitation.
“Accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”
“Make Jesus your Lord.”
“Ask Jesus to come inside.”
“Receive Jesus into your heart.”
I’m sure you could add to the list.
It is the language of the “Soterian Gospel” or the salvation centered gospel. It is the commonly taught idea that Jesus’ primary goal was to save people from Hell so they can go to Heaven. Of course, Jesus does save us from Hell, but I would suggest that this is not the focal point of the gospel.
I have several concerns with this language. For starters, it has no place in scripture. According to Frank Viola and George Barna in Pagan Christianity, talk of “making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior” came in the mid-1800s (190). Of course, that doesn’t make it wrong. Scripture says nothing of PA systems, guitars, or pews; that doesn’t make them wrong. However, we should be careful to understand the implications of what these things might bring. In this case, we should be careful to see what this language might teach people. Some may view it as helpful in explaining what it means to follow Christ. I, on the other hand, am convinced that the typical language used in invitations (even the invitation itself in most cases–perhaps the subject of a later blog) is counter productive and dangerously unbiblical. Here’s why:
1) When we tell people to accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior,” not only do we use language of which the Bible knows nothing, but we reduce Christ’s Lordship. Christ’s redeeming work does not center around one person. While he is the Lord of us individually, he should not be introduced or viewed as “my personal Lord.” American culture already breeds self-centered people. When we introduce people to Jesus, the worst thing we can do is tell them that the gospel is all about them. Jesus brings redemption on a cosmic scale. All of creation is being redeemed and we are a part of that–not the center of it. Jesus is the center of it. The gospel tells the story of who Jesus is. He is the Lord of all creation–not just Israel, not just Gentiles, not even just human beings. When we tell the gospel our focal point needs to be Jesus’ universal lordship.
2) When people believe that Jesus’ primary concern is their personal salvation, following Jesus becomes a personal endeavor. However, salvation is a community event. We are saved and baptized into the body of Christ. Looking at the state of the American church today should be enough evidence that we have individualized the gospel to the point where the Body of Christ looks like a Picasso painting. No one knows their place in the Body.
3) Perhaps what gives me the most cause for concern is the call to “make Jesus the Lord of your life.” I’m fully aware that no preacher means to go against scripture by saying this. It is just one of those phrases that we hear growing up and it sounds nice, so we use it. However, I’m convinced that if we consider the weight of this statement it will be altogether banished from our mouths. Think for a moment about the implications of telling someone, “Make Jesus your Lord.” This tells people that they have the authority to place the crown on Jesus’ head, which goes directly against scripture. Jesus said,
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” (Jn 17:1-2, emphasis mine)
The Father–not us–places the crown on Jesus’ head and gives him authority over all people, both believers and unbelievers. The call to follow Jesus is the call to confess that Jesus is already our Lord. When we confess him as Lord we declare what is already true. We repent from following false lords and place ourselves in submission to the True Lord.
In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot Mcknight (rightly) argues that our “gospeling” (telling the gospel) is not biblical.
“The difference [between the Soterian Gospel and the gospel told by the apostles in Acts] can be narrowed to a single point: the gospeling in Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to confess their sin and find Jesus as the Savior” (133).
He goes on to say,
“…the power of the gospel is primarily in Christ’s lordship. The reason no one’s life is being changed is that they are not concerned with confessing the lordship of Christ. When we obsess over forgiveness of sin rather than his lordship, there is no urgency for life change” (134).
In short, the gospel told by the apostles centers on Christ’s Lordship. It tells the story of who Jesus is rather than simply what Jesus did and what we can get out of it. What Jesus did only makes sense when we know who he is. Our soterian version of the gospel centers on what God can do for us.
What do you think? Is this language misleading or helpful in leading others to Christ? What other common phrases would you add to the list?