I’m tracing an important theme of Willard’s in The Divine Conspiracy, The Gospel of Sin Management. My previous post laid down some initial thoughts.
Willard suggests that there is a “gospel gap” among those generally on the “right” and the “left.” These battle lines have been drawn since the first 2 decades of the 20th century in what has been called the Liberal/Fundamentalist controversy. Willard suggests that each side has failed to provide a
“coherent framework of knowledge and practical direction adequate to personal transformation toward the abundance and obedience emphasized in the New Testament, with a corresponding redemption of ordinary life. What is taught as the essential message about Jesus has no natural connection to entering a life of discipleship to him.” (41-42)
I’m more familiar with the “right’s” gospel gap, which emphasizes a crisis event of faith, trusting that God’s pardoning work for the future, upon death, with little to no coherent idea of what that means for abundant life today. The kingdom of God (the range of God’s effective will, where what he wants done is done) is adjusted to afterlife or when Jesus returns. Reading “kingdom” in this way makes for some awkward understandings of Jesus’ teaching on kingdom in the Gospels. The “right” reads those Gospels as long, long introductions until Jesus finally dies on the cross for individual’s sins; Jesus makes an arrangement for forgiveness of sins. Salvation in this framework, Willard suggests, is cut off from ordinary life.
The gospel gap on the “left” (being reminded that “liberal theology” doesn’t necessarily equate to liberal politics) emphasizes the social presence of the gospel. Liberal Christianity has been a witness for social issues at significant points in recent history. “Love” is a primary confession and hope for Christianity. Jesus loved and associated with those of low position, he lifts them from their plights, and creates a better situation for them. This work may be noteworthy and tremendously helpful, but Willard suggests that it still doesn’t deliberately create Christlikeness within it participants. It is another form of sin management; instead of personal sin, it seeks to manage social sin. Without an intentional attention given to developing Christlikeness, this dream turns into the American Dream, “desire becomes sacred, and whatever thwarts desire is evil or sin.” (54)
Both “right” and “left” are surely touching at something that is in the orbit of Jesus and the gospel, but many would suggest that allegiance to one would make a lopsided, awkward representation of the witness to Jesus.
Willard challenges those of us who have direct access to helping people interact with Jesus’ message. He would ask us a few questions:
“Does the gospel I preach and teach have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become full-time students of Jesus? Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural ‘next step?’ What can we reasonably expect would result from people actually believing the substance of my message?” (58)