I’ve always been taught that the word “gospel” means “good news.” If that’s true, if what we Christians proclaim to the world is such good news, why is it that Christianity has developed such a negative public perception in today’s culture?
I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I suggest that one contributing factor is that we Christians have done a poor job of communicating this good news.
Maybe that’s because we don’t even quite grasp how good this good news really is. We’ve bought into some popular notions about God and heaven that sound kind of right, but have really only served to dull the beauty of who God is and what He has done.
A survey by U.S. News & World Report in 1997 asked Americans who they thought was most likely to go to heaven.
65% said Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson were “very likely” to go to heaven when they die.
79% believed Mother Teresa would “very likely” make it.
But there was one person who had a higher percentage than even Mother Teresa. Can you guess who? That’s right. It was the person taking the survey.
Over 80% of the people taking the survey felt it was “very likely” that they would go to heaven.
Yes, I know this survey is 20 years old, but do you really think it’s changed much?
There are some very basic assumptions shared by many people, even many who claim to be Christians. These assumptions have become embedded in our minds. They sound right.
I’d like you to watch a short video clip. In August of 2004 a couple of my friends took a video camera down to Fountain Square in Cincinnati at lunch time to see how people would answer three questions…
Now, you should know that Cincinnati has a strong Roman Catholic heritage, and is a fairly conservative city in comparison to most U.S. cities of its size. Also, it’s hard for me to believe, but this video is 13 years old! If we were to make this video today I imagine the results would probably be fairly similar, except I think we would encounter more open hostility to Christians and Christian beliefs, even in conservative Cincinnati.
I suggest that one contributing factor to the hostility our culture has to Christian faith is our own misunderstanding and miscommunication of these very basic points.
In the video, you heard a variety of answers but three general trends can be detected:
God is tolerant.
He is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven. He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best. Sure there are some folks that he could not accept, like maybe Adolph Hitler but if you are sincere and do your best he will accept you.
The other two go hand in hand with the first – it’s a package deal. If you believe the first the other two tend to follow close behind…
People are basically good.
This is why God can be tolerant of our shortcomings. This is why God loves us – because of our goodness. Our imperfections really aren’t all that important because our basic goodness can outweigh whatever badness there might be.
People can and must earn God’s favor.
Since God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. In fact, if we want to go to heaven that’s what we must do.
We want to believe these things. Maybe you do believe them.
But, if you think about it, Christianity doesn’t really make any sense if these things are true. I mean, why would Jesus have to come and sacrifice His life for us if God will accept us because of our “goodness”? If God is tolerant, why go to such great lengths to cleanse us from our sins?
In fact, I believe these seemingly good and right beliefs have undermined the church’s witness and have contributed to much of our culture’s rejection and animosity toward Christians and Christianity.
They make the “good news,” …well, not so good.
In the next few weeks I want to challenge each of these assumptions. To look at each one and compare it with what we read in scripture. This isn’t about proving people wrong. It’s about showing them how truly, and amazingly beautiful Christianity really is!
Go here for part 2.