I have an assumption about you.
And yes, I know what they say about assuming, but something as serious as this issue is worth the risk. And I confidently say that because I think the fate of the modern day American church is riding on some of the things I'm going to challenge you to consider in this book. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So back to my assumption, and this will help with identifying my audience. I am assuming that you have some working knowledge of Christianity, whether it is from church experiences, television, movies, family events, that devoted grandmother, or folklore type stories. And with this working knowledge, you can probably correct a Christian who isn’t behaving accordingly. Am I right? Or maybe you know enough to protest something. Or perhaps you know enough to say something like, “everything happens for a reason”, or “let go and let God”, and actually feel better about whatever you’re going through. Or perhaps you know enough to satisfy the void that we all feel the need to believe in a religion, so you’ve chosen Christianity as your choice of religion as if it was simply a preferential decision, like choosing Publix over Wal-Mart.
And with this working knowledge comes the title of this book, the Functional Gospel. Now if you’re passionate about sound doctrine, let me comfort you. I am in no way saying that there is another Gospel besides the good news of the scriptures. I stand firm on Galatians 1:8 where Paul curses any person who should choose to preach any other Gospel. Another Gospel does not exist. I know that and I agree. The title of the book, however, is me challenging the huge amount of us that only have a working or functional understanding of Christianity and therefore is able to make it work for us. Because hey, our grandparents would not let us just denounce the God of the Bible, even though we live as if He doesn’t exist. Because if we actually admitted how we really felt about God, that’d be enough to get us excommunicated from our families, and the family church in which we were raised.
Therefore I can say that the Bible Belt South is an interesting place to grow up, with its rich culture of Sunday morning church suits, college football Saturdays, sweet tea, and southern hospitality, but its blurred lines between morality and Christ’s teaching. Where in the same conversation you could hear someone curse out the person next to them, drop a scripture to prove their point, and close the conversation with a “God bless you”. A place where faithful church attenders will judge a person that chooses to sleep in on Easter Sunday, just like he or she does every other Sunday.
Know people like that? And I want to be clear about this book, it’s specific to but not limited to the Bible Belt South. Because you would think, with the South having churches sprinkled around like Starbucks coffee shops in Seattle, that the level of faith would be extremely high here---or rather you'd think the church would be at its strongest here. Well, I’d challenge you to think again.
And I have been convicted of ever saying anything is dead as long as Jesus, the author of life, is reigning as King. So upon observation of the churched culture I have been raised in and have loved for many years, I think it's accurate to say that the church in the South is looking thinner from malnourishment.
But who am I to say this? At the time of writing this book I have no degree from any seminary. I only have three years of church ministry experience under my belt, so no thriving ministry at all to compare your churches to and say, “Look, this is how we should be doing it.” So you can read this, aware of my naivety in my youth, but this is all that I’m asking. Since I am admitting that I am an imperfect young man with flawed and limited perspective, all I’m asking you to do is to consider the things I am saying. Many of the observed opinions I am going to share in this book are simply that, my observed opinions. I’ll tell you when I think scripture is extremely clear on a matter, but most of the chapters in this book are my opinions of a glance into certain situations. And all I have done was wrestle with these questions, so I’m tagging you to get in the ring and wrestle too. This I can promise, your faith will grow by the end of the wrestling match, because I’ve noticed my faith has strengthened to insurmountable places because of these wrestling bouts.
In the next chapter I’ll get into the depths of why I’m writing this book. But the root of this burning desire to understand the hardships of the church started when I started to hear the startling statistics of the growing decline of people professing Christianity as their faith. And honestly, I'm a little happy about it. Not because people are falling away from the faith, but the fact that people are seriously noticing the inconsistencies in the church and the people professing to be Christians. In a world jaded by the veneer of temporary satisfaction and fleeting interests, it makes sense to me how a culture that floods churches on Easter and Christmas is also tagging Christianity as something we just do. It's not a relationship with a saving King, but it's something we do only on certain holy days, which are the holidays in the remembrance of Jesus, and Sundays. So as with anything else, we’re interested in it long enough to flick our thumbs and move on to the next thing. It’s almost as bad as registering for a website and consistently getting their nagging emails about reminders that you’ll eventually just unsubscribe from.
So the premises of this book are simple. First I want to be sure you are hearing my tone correctly. I am in no way insulting the bride of Jesus at all through this book. In fact, I am rejoicing in her potential. And with the obvious decline of people professing Christianity as their religion, we must agree that there is a problem. The message of Christ is too beautiful to be handled poorly and neglected because of the failure to recognize the problem and being to pray and work to find the solution. So that is my hope. Is that you would do what I have done and walk with me through these different perspectives and allow them to clash with your faith in hopes of strengthening it. Many of you may nod in agreement with everything in this book. And many of you may disagree with nearly everything in this book. But, let us be sure that we agree on something before we start agreeing or disagreeing. Before we have this discussion, I’m presuming that you agree that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and used for teaching, reproofing, correction, and training in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16) And I’m not talking about handpicked out of context scriptures to prove your point, that’s too easy. If we do that, then we could say that Jesus commanded us to eat breakfast (John 21:12). So I’m talking about let’s look at the Bible with a full understanding of how the Bible works and reads and we can continue in this discussion.
So I'm nominating myself as one of the voices of this generation that is appearing to be disinterested in the church, and my first proclamation is, “Maybe something is off.” Maybe we are doing some things wrong, however good the intentions are. Maybe what’s happening is for too long we have just shoved Bibles into our children’s hands, told them Jesus died for the sins that they’ll start committing at around 13, and that Hell is 7 times hotter than fire here. And then we accept our child’s performance obedience as actual salvation when really it was just their reasoning hadn’t kicked in yet. It’s easy to have faith as a child before the realities of life kick in. I mean, we actually believed Santa Claus can travel around the world in a night. And the Power Rangers were just as real to me as my mom and teachers, I secretly hoped they were disguised super heroes. But when adult problems run smack into our child faith, what happens? I’ll tell you. It’s quite simple. We start to doubt the validity of what we believed in and we start to ask questions, in which most parents struggle with answering. Like, if Jesus is for my good then why did that bad thing happen? Well I prayed and prayed and it still happened. If Rita really wants to take over the world, why won’t she just attack somewhere differently than Angel Grove? (If you missed that reference, I’m sorry. You really missed out on having a cool childhood) Mom? We don’t have a chimney, how does Santa get into our home?
Questions like these slowly breaks down our faith because no one continues to develop it. Our childhood faith disappears when our innocence disappears as well. So you figure out Santa is not real, and that the Power Rangers are not really in their morphed suits but in fact trained martial artists and they are using voice overs (still grieve that), and that God is only good when he wants to be. So we grow up with a half enthused Christian faith that we still claim, but are not really living in it. It's easy to abstain from sexual temptation when girls have cooties. But what about when those girls start to develop into women? And ladies, what about when those boys begin to compliment you and it has an effect on you? I’ll answer it, a moralistic salvation becomes harder to maintain.
So in a culture where teen pregnancy is probably a bigger sin that adultery, where do we even begin. I’ll give the older generation some credit, they are seeing there’s a problem with us. Many of them are worried when they watch the news and see us, people under 28, are just unfocused about everything. And they’ve tried to fix it, bless their hearts, but without asking us. They’ve instead tried to engage with our culture from the outside and tried turning youth ministry into huge gimmicks and rap concerts to try to keep us entertained, but that’s not what we want. We want to believe again. We want to know these things are really real. Why hasn’t anyone proven to me that Jesus is worth believing in? Because hey, mommy and daddy only are Christians when we’re walking into the church on Sundays. And they’re not tempted with sexual temptations because old people don’t even do that, do they?
I really hope you’re hearing my heart. Again, if it sounds like I’m being snarky I am not trying to sound that way. I am only tossing out some things for you to consider. And as we walk through this book, some of these things may be hard for you to really think about because it may shake the foundation of your faith a little bit. But here’s what I can promise you, if it’s founded on the right things---you’ll be fine. If it’s not founded on the right things---I pray the saving grace of Jesus will bring you into knowledge of Him as you’re reading. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with something that may prove something you’ve always believed in is probably not true. But let me encourage you though, if you look one step pass that, you’ll be able to rejoice in the coming understanding of truth which will only increase your joy in Him.
I hope you’re ready to be challenged. I promise you it will be worth it. Thanks for choosing to read this book. I hope and pray it’s a blessing to you as it was for me in drawing me nearer to Jesus.