Theology 101

How Evangelicals Use the Bible Today: The Four-Chapter Gospel (Part 5)

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Drawing our missional role from the metanarrative of Scripture as we discussed in our last post stands in stark contrast to the way most evangelical Christians use and understand the Bible today.

A number of years ago I was invited to a new Bible study on the book of Galatians. The leader began by reading the first chapter then turned to us and said, “What do you think this means?” I realized that I was probably in the wrong Bible study.

As Adam Miller recently wrote,

Everyone without actually studying (the Bible) has an opinion on the subject. The more I try to ascertain what is wrong with the world, the church, and believers in it, the more I come back to this predicament: THE BIBLE IS NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY!

Dallas Willard in his book, Divine Conspiracy, makes two statements that are very revealing about this:

A leading American pastor laments, ‘Why is today’s church so weak?  Why are we able to claim many conversions and enroll many church members but have less and less impact on our culture?  Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?


Should we not at least consider the possibility that this poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it?  Might that not lead to our discerning why the power of Jesus and his gospel has been cut off from ordinary human existence, leaving it adrift from the flow of his eternal kind of life?

In his book, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, Stanley Grenz argues that the main point of the Bible in current American evangelicalism is how the stories can be used in daily living. Hence, the emphasis on daily devotions.

We share our journeys (our “testimony”) of personal transformation. And by doing so we are developing a narrower, very individualistic view of how the Gospel works in our lives. Grenz argues that “a fundamental shift in self-consciousness may be under way” in evangelicalism, “a move from a creed-based to a spirituality-based identity” that is more like medieval mysticism than Protestant orthodoxy.”

While the final conclusions of Grenz’s book are misinformed, his observations cannot be denied. Looking at the current state of Christianity, Dallas Willard makes the following comment on the fallout of the Two-Chapter Gospel,

The Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin…

As we said in our last post the current gospel then becomes a “gospel of sin management.”

By losing the grand metanarrative told by the “Four-Chapter Gospel”, we have allowed our Christianity to be dangerously drawn into the current humanistic/postmodern culture.

Question: How would you answer Dallas Willard’s question, Why are we able to claim many conversions and enroll many church members but have less and less impact on our culture?”

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  • eric schansberg

    Willard’s question and his book(s) are huge. We use Divine Conspiracy as an exit course for our 21-month curriculum for developing lay-leaders in the Church.

    To answer your question– and concurring with Willard– conservatives often approach Christianity as payment for sin and liberals tend to approach it as a correlative to economic and environmental public policy issues. Few understand that Jesus Christ calls us to a life of discipleship. Related, many see the cost of discipleship, but not its benefits (or in Willard’s terms, the cost of non-discipleship). So, not seeing “the way”, many people settle for a life of mediocrity just inside the Kingdom of God.

    • Yes, I agree and in settling for a life of mediocrity just inside the Kingdom of God we miss the great opportunity to embrace our full calling from God and live lives of significance.

  • dave T

    More it is a ticket heaven gospel built on a cardboard cover justification instead of the essential need for heart transformation in order to be saved.

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