Honey, I've Shrunk the Gospel
By Sam Luce
Sam Luce is the Campus Pastor at Redeemer Church in Utica, NY. He’s most passionate about glorifying God in every area of his life. Married to his lovely wife for 15 years, together their family is far from shrinking as they welcome a fourth child. He blogs at samluce.com.
In 1989, Rick Moranis entered into the vernacular of our culture with the words, “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” Moranis portrays a wacky inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and the neighbor kids with the shrink ray he invented. Moranis’ character is unaware that his kids were shrunk by the very invention he destroys, because he thinks it doesn’t work. There were multiple spin-offs of the movie and “Honey, I shrunk the (fill in the blank with something witty)” became a staple of sitcoms for most of the 90s.
A very real and dangerous problem in the church today is the fact that we have simplified, truncated and made the gospel powerless in our churches and in our homes. Honey, we have shrunk the gospel!
What is the gospel? Terms matter and many people refer to the gospel, but I’m not sure that we’re always talking about the same thing. The gospel is the good news. It’s the good news that we have been longing to hear since God created a perfect world that we messed up when we introduced sin into it. Because we have sinned and have broken God’s perfect world, He had to send His sinless Son to live the life we could not live, to die a death we should have died. Jesus came back to life, ascended into heaven, and will come back to make right all the things that are wrong about our world. That is the good news in a nutshell. We don’t have to be good enough, because Jesus is, was and continues to be our spotless sacrifice.
So How Have We Shrunk the Gospel?
We have oversimplified the gospel.
We make the gospel small when we oversimplify it to our kids. In our desire to make the gospel simple, we inadvertently rob the gospel of its power. We tell our kids what Christians do, rather than who Christ is. We talk about how God loves us, but fail to tell them how He demonstrated that to us in Christ.
It’s very easy to simplify the gospel through pat answers. When our kids ask meaningful questions, we must wade into the complex. If we simplify truth to our kids, the danger is that we can satisfy God-given wonder with a simple practical truth. We give our kids enough of Jesus that we inoculate them from the whole of the gospel. They come to believe that this watered-down version of the gospel is all there is, and because it has been simplified and watered down, it has no application in our daily lives.
It’s equally easy to teach our kids moral truth, because the lines are clear and the outcome is desirable. We want them to demonstrate the moral attributes of God. But if we oversimplify the gospel into a simple moral truth, we fail to accomplish what God desires from us. He doesn’t want good citizens who do good things. God wants us to be joyful. He wants us to get the joy so He can get the glory.
When we oversimplify the gospel we shrink its influence on every aspect of our lives.
We have made the gospel about salvation alone.
We have so condensed the gospel that we’ve made it about what Jesus did on Easter. What Jesus did in dying for us is essential, and kids need to hear that part of the message loud and clear. But what gives that message so much power is understanding the context of the broader story of the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. We teach our kids believing the gospel is the moment they raise their hands at VBS. They check the salvation box and then move on from the gospel to the “more important truths.” We must teach our kids that they are part of a story that God has been writing since the beginning. They have a part and must engage the story God is writing in and through them with the broader story of the salvation and redemption of mankind.
We shrink the gospel when we focus on a part and fail to tell the whole beautiful story of it.
We buy into Gospel = Lemonade.
In kids’ ministry, we easily fall victim to a gospel that is socially active. We encourage kids to sell lemonade and give the money to the poor. Again, this is something that’s important for our kids to learn but deadly for them to trust in for ultimate joy and hope. You must make sure that our social action is coming from a deep conviction and personal gratitude for what Jesus did for you, not as a way to score brownie points with the Trinity. I do good things for Him; therefore, I expect good things from Him.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Love this verse. The purpose of our service is His glory. Jesus continues on in the next couple of chapters explaining how we are powerless to fulfill the law but how the law is to humble us, to help us see the need to be rescued. When so great a Savior has rescued us, the natural response of our hearts is gratitude. We can love Him and love others, because He first loved us.
We shrink the gospel when we believe social justice is the goal of the Christian life, rather than a by-product of a gospel-centered Christian life.
Jesus and Me
I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who grew up in church who didn’t learn the simple song “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” Understanding that Jesus loves you is massively important and foundational to your faith. Where this powerful truth can shrink our faith is at the moment we over-personalize our faith.
In the United States, we tend to highly value rugged individualism. We have personal entertainment devices and all the modern trappings that allow us to have everything that make life more comfortable. For this comfort, we pay a high price. We lose the relationships that God has placed in our lives to help mold us into the image of His Son.
The individualism in the Western church has done much damage. We have a personal Savior, personal prayer time, personal devotions, personal, personal, personal. The problem with Jesus being our personal Savior and Lord is we tend to isolate ourselves from the community aspect where our faith was meant to thrive. I don’t believe that you can fully understand forgiveness, repentance and redemption outside of the context of community. If you want to grow in your faith, you have to do that in community.
C.S. Lewis describes the value of knowing others and being known by others in his book The Four Loves. Lewis was part of a group of three men who had a very strong friendship. One of the members of the group, Charles, suddenly died and Lewis found himself sad, yet somewhat happy, because he would have more of the time and attention of his other friend, Ronald Tolkien. Lewis tells us of how misguided his thoughts were.
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald … In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.”
It takes a whole community to fully know an individual. If this is true of us, how much more true is it of Christ? There are many aspects of the reality of Christ and the depths of the gospel that will never be fully realized alone. We must be in a community of faith to walk out the gospel together.
When we shrink the gospel down to “me and Jesus” we minimize the impact of the gospel on our lives and the lives of countless others who need to hear the gospel preached and see the gospel lived.
“All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians spring solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis for the longing of Christians for one another.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
We must act, we must love, we must do all that we can for Jesus, but all of that must come from an understanding of what God has done for us in Christ and in a community of believers or it will simply be our goodness minus the gospel. The good news for us is found in 1 Timothy 1:15-17.
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
If we view our lives in light of our accomplishments, rather than what Jesus has done for us, we shrink the gospel and its power in our lives.