There is no such thing as a non-offensive and non-exclusive gospel:
The Christian gospel can be called many things, but it can NOT be called inclusive, soft and fuzzy. It is totally exclusive, hard-edged and clear. It makes sharp demands which warrant sharp responses. There is no mushy middle ground here.
That means Christians should be the same when presenting the gospel. We should make things clear, in black and white, and not equivocate. The demands of the gospel should be our demands. The ultimatum of the gospel should be our ultimatum. The urgency of the gospel should be our urgency. Jesus is our example here.
Simply reread the gospel accounts. Jesus certainly did not seek to please people and make them feel good. He was not about trying to be nice all the time. It almost seems that he went out of his way to offend people, to divide the crowds, and to force people to make tough decisions. Consider just some of the hard and no-nonsense words of Jesus:
Matthew 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 8:19-22 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 10:34-39 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 13:57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
Matthew 15:14 Leave them; they [the Pharisees] are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Matthew 19:21-23 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
Matthew 25:26-30 You wicked, lazy servant!… throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mark 6:3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Mark 7:6-8 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:17-18 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked.
Mark 8:33 “He rebuked Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”
Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Luke 9:41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?
Luke 11:23 “He who is not with me is against me.”
Luke 11:44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
Luke 12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Luke 16:13-15 He said we “cannot serve two masters”. The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
John 2:14-16 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
John 7:40-43 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
John 8:24 “You will indeed die in your sins.”
John 8:44 “You belong to your father, the devil.”
John 9:39 “For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
John 12:24-26 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
And these are just some of the many passages that I could have offered here. Jesus was a polarising figure. He got people riled up. He made people angry. He offended people. He infuriated folks. His strong demands alienated many. His tough words and stern manner turned off so many would-be disciples. Indeed, he went out of his way to actually make it hard for people to be his followers. He laid out very strict and stringent conditions for becoming his disciples. No wonder so many folks did not follow him.
Sure, he could be tender and gentle and loving to those who were broken and needy and grieving. But he was no push over. He could be tough as nails, and he did not suffer fools gladly. Because of this, he was constantly getting into trouble and he was constantly offending people.
Now we, his followers, are not above the master. If we are to faithfully follow in his footsteps, then we too must expect to get a very mixed reaction. Some folks will respond well to our words, but others will be offended, hate on us, and even want to kill us – just as they did Jesus.
Let me finish with four different quotes that I just came upon. In the brand-new book, The Christian Left: How Liberal Thought Has Hijacked the Church (BroadStreet, 2021), Lucas Miles examines how so much of the world’s thinking and values has penetrated the Christian church, especially via leftist agendas.
As but one example, more and more churches are buying the false doctrine of universalism – the idea that everyone will be saved. By embracing the world’s faulty concepts of tolerance and inclusion, too many believers are now watering down and even denying the clear claims of Jesus – claims that are absolutely exclusivist in nature. Writes Miles:
In a society where inclusion is the main objective, Christianity stands in stark contrast. For Jesus, relationship with God was never the choose-your-own-adventure story that the Christian Left would like for it to be. Instead, Jesus outlined a deliberate and solitary path that leads to righteousness. This only confirms the fears of the Christian Left regarding the message of Christianity: participation in the body of Christ (and, consequently, the church) is by nature exclusive; that is it includes only those who have received the salvation that Jesus offers and have humbly submitted their lives to his lordship.
Of course he goes on to state the obvious, that there is a sense in which the gospel is quite inclusive, in that all people – be they male or female, or white or black, can avail themselves of the gospel proclamation. But still, it must be on the terms of Jesus, and not their own.
I also just recently came upon this great quote from American Baptist theologian Owen Strachan:
Stop twisting yourself in knots to make Christianity inoffensive. Christianity IS offensive. It comes from heaven and it rebukes our sinful world. Christ was not celebrated. He did not go out to white-glove banquets and listen to elegant dinner speeches. He preached the truth in love, he obeyed the Father, and then he was brutally crucified, hung naked as a public spectacle and a Roman warning to any dumb enough to follow him. I am so very tired of evangelicals who try to make the Christian faith palatable to the natural man. Should we be offensive and mean and obnoxiously weird as believers? No. Be a normal, well-functioning Christian human being. But please, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop presenting the Christian faith like a QVC commercial. The Christian faith is not of this world; it is divine. As such it is an offense to human pride and a stench to human self-reliance. People naturally hate it. Stop pretending otherwise. Be who you are. And let Christianity be Christian.
I have not determined the source of that quote, but it may well be from his forthcoming book, Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop It (Salem Books, 2021). As the title indicates, it covers similar ground to the volume by Miles. And when I get my copy of this book I will certainly be writing it up, perhaps with a proper book review as well.
My final two quotes include an old one and a newer one – but both I only just recently came upon. These words, attributed to St. Augustine, are certainly appropriate here, and nicely tie together everything that has been said: “If you believe what you like in the Gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”
And this remark by Leonard Ravenhill also serves as a great summary statement: “The only people who want to change the Gospel are those who are unchanged by it.” Quite so. We either run with what Christ said, or we run with what we want to run with. But it cannot be both. The truth claims of Christ are too exclusive, too black and white, and too demanding, to allow for any middle way here.