The Urgency of the Message

urgentIf a neighbor were to approach you with an urgent personal message (that your house was on fire, for example), you probably wouldn’t pause to vet the credibility of the person who communicated that message. The urgency of the matter and the risk of not believing the news would far outweigh the desire to consider the trustworthiness of the messenger.

If a handsome gentleman personally delivered a handwritten note warning you of the importance of saving for retirement (let’s put this in the “personal but not urgent” category), you may save the note for later, but you’re not likely to act immediately on this information. For most of us, retirement isn’t a pressing matter, and while you may appreciate the effort that was put into the handwritten note, you just can’t be bothered to think about the future right now.

If a hurried man rushed up to you with a message that was less personal and less urgent (say, that your taxes may increase if this Fall’s ballot measure passes), you’re much more likely to be dismissive of that message. Mostly because your brain is full of more pressing matters at the moment, but also because who is this guy, anyway?

In these situations, the recipient’s understanding and acceptance of the message depends on a number of factors: who the messenger is nature of the message itself, and how the news is delivered.

When it comes to evangelism, Christians tend to focus on these things. We work hard to build and maintain a certain level of credibility so as not to undermine our message. Lately, pastors spend lots of time insuring that their people understand what the message is in the first place. We often concentrate on methodologies that might maximize our effectiveness.  This is all well and good; as communicators of the gospel, we should be aware of who we are, what we say, and how we say it.

But there is one important factor in our mission of communicating the Good News that we often overlook. This isn’t a new problem, as even the very early Christians needed to constantly be reminded of it. The funny thing is that in communication, it may very well be the most important factor of all.

Urgency. 

The urgency of our message is vital to our communication of it. When we reduce the gospel to something less pressing, we imply that it is less important. “Just give it some thought” we say, as if Christ’s call to repentance were like buying a timeshare in Florida.

Now, to be clear, the urgency in our message isn’t solely based on the fact that Jesus could return at any time. That’s too abstract a thought for most. No, our urgency is based on something that everyone wrestles with every day: time.

Justification in Christ isn’t like a layaway plan, it’s immediate. In this day of instant gratification, why should anyone waste time drifting without life, hope, meaning, and purpose when he can find them in Jesus today?

Translation and Transliteration

In communication, there are two important concepts with implications for mission. Translation and transliteration.

Translation is the act of rendering a thought from one language into another. This is done in the delivery of a message from speakers of one language to speakers of another language.

I’ve often given my definition of the mission of God’s people as, “translating the universal, unchanging gospel of Christ into dynamic, fallen, culture.” I think it stands as a good definition and word picture of our efforts in mission.

mandela-gif-sign-language-editFor a translator to communicate a message across language barriers, he must be fluent in both the language from which the message originates and the language into which the message is being translated. Remember the sign language interpreter for the Nelson Mandela memorial who apparently didn’t know sign language? The deaf could not understand what was said during the service because the translator didn’t actually know sign language and therefore wasn’t able to, well, translate.

Translation requires more than just technical knowledge of both languages. It also requires that the translator be able to think in both languages well enough to communicate meaning in a way that is, um, meaningful. This is why Google Translate doesn’t make Bible translators obsolete– translators look beyond the words of ancient Greek to the meanings of the scriptures.

If the translator is not able to think in both languages, the best he can do is transliterate. Transliteration is the conversion of a word from the alphabet of one language into another. For example, if we were to transliterate the 5_i_love_you_largeRussian phrase in the image (written in Russian’s cyrillic alphabet), into English, it would become “ya tebya lyublyu.” But this string  of letters from the English alphabet are nonsense unless we have some proficiency with the Russian language. We could then translate the phrase into the English language as, “I love you.”  (At least I think that’s what it means.)

We do this a lot in Christianity. Transliteration is why the word “angel” brings to mind naked babies with wings rather than royal emissaries. It’s why we call designated stewards in our churches “deacons,” and why no churches are called “First Immersion Church.” We’re left to differentiate between Apostles and apostles. Don’t even get me started on “amen” (the ancient word for “this prayer is over”).

Adopting these words from ancient Greek instead of translating them into English has created several problems for us. Firstly, we’re using words we don’t otherwise use in our everyday language. Secondly, it puts us in the position of having non-academics wrestle over the meaning of words from a language they don’t speak. Thirdly, because we never bothered to translate these words, we put off the burden of translation to those who come after us.  Ultimately, these words lose real meaning and become shorthand for a learned sentiment that we’re unable to communicate to outsiders.

If we continue with my definition of the church’s mission as cultural translation of the gospel, we can see that much of what happens in “mission” is actually transliteration of the gospel– technically, we’ve imported Christianity into local “languages and dialects” (or cultures and  subcultures), but all we’ve really done is take our words and put them in their alphabets.

Transliteration in mission means planting churches that aren’t connected to the everyday lives of those among whom we minister. Rather than think deeply about the gospel, we force them to depend on us for the meanings behind what we do. Sure we may make disciples in this way, but we only end up putting off the development of truly indigenous believers, instead making confused converts who then have a difficult time relating to their lost friends.

Translation of the gospel into culture is never “finished.” It’s the ongoing work of God’s people. This is the mission of the church. We must fight the temptation to simply transliterate the gospel because it’s more than a string of words; it’s Good News for all men of every tribe, tongue, and nation!

The Art of the Dive

_IGP4773Any fan of sports  will no doubt be familiar with the concept of “the dive.” In basketball, it’s referred to as “flopping.” In hockey, they call it “embellishment.” No matter what you call it, “feigning injury to appear as if a foul has been committed” is overacting to try to gain an advantage.

The dive isn’t just the norm in professional sports, it’s common in politics (remember all the theater that surrounded last summer’s government shutdown?), media sound-bites, and, of course, the culture war.

It’s not a new tactic. Your opponent in a debate makes a somewhat valid point. Rather than concede this point, you proceed by taking his logic, tone, or argument to absurd extremes. “You think men should open the door for women? I suppose you also advocate for mandatory luggage-handling as well? What next? Cut up their food into bite-sized pieces?”

The dialog starts with simple statements, escalates to accusations, and then races to hyperbole. In online discussion where anonymity and lack of accountability are the norm, conversational flopping follows “Godwin’s Law:”

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

I must admit, I often feel the temptation to dive.

If I make my opponent sound stupid or crazy, I may not have to consider his perspective. If I critique his grammar, I might be able to avoid the substance of his argument. If I ridicule his style, I may possibly win favor with my audience without addressing the opposing view. Flopping is childish, rude, and counter-productive, but it’s a cheap way to win “amens” from those who already agree with you.

I’ve recognized this tendency in myself, but I’m repenting from deliberately taking a dive. Here are some signs I’ve come to recognize that I’ve given in to the temptation to “embellish:”

  • I deliberately overstate the other side’s argument. “Egalitarians want nothing less than to revise the historical Jesus into a woman!”
  • I jump to extreme conclusions. “If the reformed camp had their way, we’d never send a single missionary!”
  • I allow my feelings to be hurt. “This just makes me very sad for you.”
  • I compare my opponent to Hitler. “You are worse than Hitler!”

Deliberately misconstruing someone else’s opinion in an attempt to make my case is the conversational equivalent to taking a dive. I’m sorry I’ve done it in the past, and I’ll take care not to do it in the future.

Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 2

This is the second part of my response to Jason Bolt, who wrote that I am confused about cessationism and mission. For Part 1, see: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1

However, he immediately contradicts himself by saying, “Even if someone meets all the criteria for service, we cannot assume it is good to send him out.” Let me get this strait. The calling is secretly and mystically received by an individual, and then the calling is affirmed by the local church. However, the local church does not send the person based upon whether or not he meets all the criteria. Exactly what, then, is the role of the local church? Goodman does not say. What is clear is that Goodman believes the local church should send missionaries based upon something other than what is written in the pages of the Bible.

That’s me, a walking contradiction.

My point here is that our criteria for sending is not only some checklist of qualities and qualifications, but also a spiritual unity of the sending church. This is reached through prayer (and sometimes fasting), as the Spirit of God brings the opinions of the pastors in line with Christ (who is the head of the church). Paul and Barnabas weren’t sent out simply because they were good missionary candidates, they were sent because the Spirit “set them apart” and showed that to the church as they worshipped.

If a person meets all the criteria and wants to go, the local church should send him. It’s that simple. We don’t need mystic revelation to reach these wise and good conclusions.

What are the criteria for “missionary?” Where do these come from? What is the candidate is qualified, yet doesn’t want to go? What if he’s both qualified and willing to be sent, but he is needed in his local church? Why should we “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38) if God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people?

Scripture very clearly tells us that the mission of the Church is to teach all the nations to obey what Christ has commanded.

It sounds like Pastor Bolt is equating “the mission of the church” to the “Great Commission.” I’d encourage him to read more of the Bible (and not just the classic “sending” passages) in light of the Sending. In his book, The Mission Of God’s People, C. Wright points out that if the Great Commission is the totality of the church’s motivation for mission, why isn’t it mentioned again in the New Testament? I’m not saying that it isn’t a very succinct and central commissioning of God’s people on His mission, but the mission of the church is founded on more than one passage of scripture. We know from the whole counsel of Scripture that we serve a God who has always sent His people. With that in mind, the mission of God’s people is to obey Him in His mission to glorify Himself through the redemption of His creation.

Using statistics and ethnography to figure out where those nations are located is wise and good. Why do we need the Holy Spirit to secretly tell us to minister among a certain people when God has already told us to minister among all people?

I’m a little less trustful of human wisdom than the Pastor seems to be. Human wisdom was reflected in the number of men Gideon brought to battle before God reduced their numbers from 32,000 to 300 (Judges 7). Human wisdom values efficiency and effectiveness, neither of which are necessarily Kingdom values. We’ve all seen as much damage done by “It just makes sense” as by “God told me to.”

God has indeed told us to make disciples of all nations. Not to nitpick, but a single ministry to “all people” is not possible. You can’t reach out in every direction at once. With which tribe, language, or nation will you begin? How does a church determine where to allocate resources and where to pass up perfectly good opportunities? When is the work in a particular place finished? Like Paul, we rely on the Spirit to show us where to engage.

As I’ve explained here on the blog before, equating the biblical terminology “nations” to the modernistic concept of “ethnolinguistic people groups” is a relatively new thing. It makes perfect sense to define mission from this anthropological perspective if you believe that God no longer interacts with His people in real-time.

Evangelism: Goodman argues that the evangelist is supposed to say different things to different people and that the only way he can know what to say to specific people is for the Holy Spirit to mystically and secretly tell him what to say to specific people.

The great thing about the gospel is that you can communicate it in any number of ways. When He was questioned, Jesus would sometimes answer plainly, sometimes with a story or a question. Paul did the same, quoting local poets and citing cultural traditions in his presentations of the gospel. Some preach it from a pulpit, others share it one-on-one. Some start with our hope in Christ, others begin with “all have sinned.” How you present the gospel is a huge factor in how it’s received. The work of the missionary is to translate the universal, unchanging Good News into dynamic, ever-changing, sinful culture. This work is never finished (this side of heaven), and it takes a certain amount of skill to do well.

Fortunately, the eternal destiny of the nations does not depend on my speaking ability. I’m sure Pastor Bolt is pretty skilled at interpersonal communication, but I sometimes struggle. I depend on God to speak through me– to use the inadequate words of an inadequate man to communicate a universal, divine Truth.

However, orthodox Christianity teaches that the evangelist is to proclaim the gospel. He is to proclaim the gospel to man, woman, Jew, Greek, slave, and freeman alike. The Bible very clearly reveals what the gospel is, so there is no reason for the evangelist to seek extra-biblical guidance as to what to say to any specific person.

Which clear biblical presentation is Pastor Bolt referring to here? 1 Corinthians 15:1-8? John 3:16? Romans 3:23? There isn’t one single way to communicate that God sent His Son to die in place of sinful, undeserving people and rose again to the glory of the Father. This is why we ask God to give us the words (mystically or otherwise) that will clearly communicate the message to our audience.

Hopefully, all of this is beneficial to our readers.

Next: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 3

Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1

spotlightI recently mentioned a blogger who has called me “confused” about cessationism and missiology. Jason Bolt, elder at Truth Reformed Bible Church in Golden, Colorado, is the author of that post, and he’s graciously offered to engage with me in a bit of dialog about the matter. Here is the first part of my response:

Goodman argues that Reformed missionaries take some “theological leaps” in order to arrive at their view of the sufficiency of Scripture.

I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind. I also believe, however, that God does not leave us to our own devices in the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the scriptures to us.

He then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit orchestrates mission efforts by secretly and mystically communicating to individual missionaries.

Of course, I didn’t actually write “secretly” or “mystically,” that’s Pastor Bolt’s commentary on my position. God’s will is plain for all to read (where the scripture is available to them). It’s the understanding and application of that will that requires the intervention of the Spirit. As I mentioned in my post, this doesn’t happen “secretly,” but in the context of the local church. The church is the context for interpreting God’s Word and discerning how to respond in obedience.

Revelation is information about God. Illumination is about us; God shows us how to respond to His truth. It is why we pray for wisdom (which is also not “extra-biblical revelation”). Pastor Bolt may find this to be “mystical,” but the Bible refers to it as spiritual (Romans 8:2-6).

“No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b-13)

The Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation. He guides us in our understanding of what God has already said. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he heard he will speak.” (John 16:13)

Left to our ourselves, our sinful minds misunderstand and misinterpret the Scriptures. We twist and distort the truth at our convenience and we naturally “exchange the truth about God for a lie.” This is why Paul greets the Ephesian church by praying that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18)

With Goodman’s insistence on seeking the revelation of God’s secret will outside of the Bible, he rejects the sufficiency of Scripture in practice. If he believed the Scripture to be sufficient, there would be no need for him to seek God’s secret will outside of the Bible.

And so we come to the question of mission. If we conclude that the Spirit of God is silent today, how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India? Based solely on a human reading of scripture, how does a church determine where to focus their efforts in mission? How does a church come to prioritize one need over another unless God helps them interpret “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you”? This is why Paul reminds the Roman church that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

The point of my original post was to explore why some of my favorite reformed theologians continue to promote an anthropological view of mission. If they believe that the Spirit does not communicate to His people today, it makes sense that they would approach mission as a list of names to be checked off of a list. The problem is that this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.

Perhaps Pastor Bolt may be able to help me understand. But in the meantime, I can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that they’ve adopted; one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the the Lord’s leadership.

Next: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 2

If Everything Is Mission

Drawing A Narrow Definition

“If everything is mission,” Stephen Neill famously said, “then nothing is mission.”

Except, for God’s people, everything really is mission.

I understand the sentiment. There are too many churches who repave their parking lots out of their “Missions” budgets and too few international missionaries making disciples among those who have not heard the gospel. But the answer to the problem of a huge number of Christians acting like bad missionaries is not to draw a more narrow definition.

The problem is one of discipleship. For too long now, churches have been content to make Almost Disciples. These are churched people who have responded in some way to the gospel, joined a church, and are now being fed information about God. An Almost Disciple is considered to be spiritually mature when his sin is less obvious and he’s taken on more responsibly at church. He tries to manage his family and his money well. He supports missions, ministries, and certain political issues. For many, this is Christianity in America.

“Real missionaries”– the ones who’ve left their homes and their families to join foreign cultures in order to be and make disciples of Jesus– resent “Almost Disciples” claims to be “missionaries.” Surely playing a round of golf with guys from work shouldn’t fall into the same category as sneaking into a hotel to teach persecuted new believers Jesus’ teaching about taking up one’s cross. Should it?

Mission isn’t defined by difficulty. It’s not determined by our sacrifice. Mission is God’s redemptive work among humanity, which brings glory to Him. As His called-out people, we are sent into all the world to be His ambassadors. This is our part on God’s mission. The specifics– the timing, the location, the position– these are up to God. He organizes His church on His mission.

It is unwise to try to draw a more narrow definition of mission, because, for God’s people, everything is mission. When we tell the church otherwise– that the “front lines” are over there and not here– we only encourage the sort of behavior we oppose. If you tell people they aren’t missionaries, don’t be surprised if they don’t act like missionaries.

The Seed Company, Misunderstood

seedcompany

PREVIOUSLY: Crowdsource the Translation

For my last post in this series on The Seed Company, I’d like to turn my attention to the organization’s communication efforts.

The Seed Company has a lofty goal to lead the way in Bible translation by promoting the utilization of technology and community-based translation cohorts to accelerate the work. They’ve also been extremely gracious in accepting and interacting with my entirely unsolicited advice. Needless to say, I’m a fan. So it’s in love and a spirit of humility that I offer some advice for their communications.

If I were in charge of The Seed Company’s communications, here are some things I’d want to implement:

What’s the difference?

In his comment on a recent post of mine, Eddie, who works with Wycliffe UK, wrote: “you do not seem to have understood the different roles of Wycliffe and the Seed Company.” I’m sure he’s right; throughout the course of this series I’ve confused the work of one for that of the other. But if those differences are lost on me, a missionary practitioner, missiologist, and communications consultant, will it be any clearer to the general public?

As it stands, The Seed Company does a poor job distinguishing itself from Wycliffe Bible Translators. I believe much of confusion is due to their reluctance in saying explicitly what their website implies: “Some thought Wycliffe was too slow, so they started The Seed Company to be faster and more innovative.” The problem isn’t helped by the fact that The Seed Company seems to speak in the first-person “we” when referring to work done by other organizations (in the missions world, it’s called “partnering.” (By the way, Johanna gives an excellent clarification in her comment on that same post.)

The communication is further confused by the various initiatives and campaigns they’ve sponsored. OneVerse and End Bible Poverty, from what I gather, are programs of the Seed Company, which is an organization started by Wycliffe, while the Blank Bible Challenge seems to be more of a campaign, done in partnership of an organization and one of its programs. Each of these has its own URL and though they’re all quite well done, it’s hard to tell what’s what and whether the money they raise is all going to the same place.

Bring in the church

Currently, trained consultants assist first-language (native) translators to insure accuracy in new translation projects. At any given point in time, a consultant is interacting with multiple translators on multiple languages. The process does not require the consultant to be fluent in each of the languages. Usually, the dialog between translators and consultants happens behind closed doors. But what if it didn’t?

I recommend that The Seed Company pull back the curtain on the translation process, and allow the general public to see and participate in the “behind the scenes” discussion. Making these interactions (which may happen over the internet) open to all would be a great way to intrigue, equip, and involve more people on mission. Those translators who are working from English source material could benefit from the input of many. It would allow participating individuals and their churches, to get to know nationals and interact with them personally while working on valuable translation projects.

The Seed Company App

Despite the fact that The Seed Company has digital copies of hundreds of translations of the scriptures, they don’t generally handle the publication and distribution of those translations. But they should. A mobile app would be a perfect way to distribute the scriptures freely. Say I run into an Afghan immigrant at a bus stop and find myself sharing the gospel with him. I look up a passage of scripture in English using an app on my iPhone, and The Seed Company app allows me to show that same passage to the man in his native Hazaragi dialect of Persian. Then, as we part ways, I email the man the scriptures in his language as a gift.

This would be way more helpful than an app that “helps” me not drink coffee and send the money to translation agencies instead.

Don’t hide behind objectivity

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, the Seed Company should personalize its work by highlighting the personalities of its people. Let interesting people like Johanna Fenton and Gilles Gravelle and others explore innovative ways of telling the stories of translation. We don’t need more “objective” (whitewashed, staid) coverage of “what God is doing on the mission field.” We need real people to work through the tensions, challenges, joys and blessings of this adventure we call mission. Every organization needs at least one spokesperson to make it personal. Who’s The Seed Company’s?

EDIT: Changed some wording in the second and fifth paragraphs for clarity, and edited the eighth to show that not all translation consulting happens via the internet.

The Words of The Word

bible

I admire the work of those who translate the scriptures into different languages. Indigenous church simply isn’t possible without a version of the Bible in the local language. Groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators  and The Seed Company mobilize translators around the world to produce reliable working translations of the Bible into the languages of the “unreached.” Their work assists missionaries and local churches alike in making disciples of all nations.

Few people realize how difficult the translation process can be. Of course, the material is extremely sensitive and requires respect and care. After all, we are talking about the Bible here. Professionals labor over the text for years to produce a working translation, and, according to OneVerse, translations costs $26 USD per verse. There is also the question of interpretation. Despite what the King-James-Version-only crowd might say, there is no objective version of scripture. That’s why there are so many versions of scripture in English alone: each has its bias and perspective.

In some cases, translation is being done into languages that have no written form; translators literally start from scratch, forming an alphabet of native sounds and then working from there. In these cases, people need to be taught to read the languages they already speak.

Another challenge to scripture translation is the rapid rate of change that languages face today. Dictionaries struggle to keep up with the changing language, as illustrated by the Oxford English Dictionary‘s recent addition of the “words,” OMG” and “retweet” and exclusion of the term “cassette tape.” Accelerated by technology and social media, a language changes quickly enough to render a scripture translation obsolete before its even finished.

Many Bible translators find themselves working to translating the scriptures into dying languages. According to National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, a minority language dies out every 14 days. The extinction of a language means the end of a cultural identity and the possible loss of that culture’s history. Scripture translation doesn’t just help with the spread of the gospel, it builds literacy; allowing one generation to tell its stories and the next generation to understand those stories and benefit from their wisdom.

As much as I appreciate the work of scripture translation organizations, I’m not sure what they’re doing is sustainable. If I were in charge of The Seed Company (and this series of posts will likely guarantee this never happens), I would change everything. Over the next few posts, I’ll explain how.

NEXT: The PR Problem

It’s All In How We Fight

It’s a classic storytelling device– even in times of war, there’s a line the good guy won’t cross. Bad guys will construct an elaborate tank that will slowly fill with water and drown the hero; when he finally breaks free of the trap, the hero hands the villain over to the authorities rather than sticking him in the death machine. There are some things a good guy just doesn’t do.

That’s why the world was outraged by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq; the U.S. had subjected its prisoners to horrors only perpetrated by bad guys. How you fight tells a lot about your character.

So it’s ironic, then, that followers of Jesus can be some of the worst fighters of all. Observe any online discussion or theological debate among believers and you’ll see a race to the extremes: moral outrage, demonization of the opposing side, slander, lies. We’re often the first to cross the lines between civil discourse and outright verbal abuse.

How we fight says a lot about our God. To a world that’s watching our ongoing wars of words, God is a manipulative, back-stabbing liar who deliberately takes people’s words out of context and compares everyone to Hitler. When those who call themselves God’s people are so quick to reach for the verbal nuke button, it makes sense that others might see Him as less than gracious.

I’m not saying we should agree with everyone, or that there’s nothing worth fighting for. It’s a simple question of tactics for disagreement: what is the line we’re not willing to cross (even if it means losing an argument, or looking weak) in order that people might see Jesus in us?

A Shocking, Scandalous Message

Joel Osteen was recently a guest on CNN’s Larry King Live Piers Morgan Tonight, where he was asked about his stance on homosexuality (clip here, entire segment here). Joel answered, in a round-about way, that he agrees with the Bible, and that the Bible was clear about homosexuality being “a sin.”

Outrage ensued. Joel was labeled “judgmental” and rebuked for “imposing his beliefs on others.” It was as if the audience had never heard a follower of Jesus communicate the belief that homosexuality is less than God’s best for humanity. Even couched in Osteen’s obliviously earnest grin, the Christian perspective on a social issue is foreign to the masses.

The truth is, it’s quite possible that millions of Americans have never heard that God has a different plan for humanity. They may never have heard a Biblical understanding of sin. Despite access to the Bible online, a church on every corner, and evangelists on TV, a great many people have never heard the gospel.

It would shock them that entry into heaven isn’t based on how good or bad we are. That God has interacted with humanity personally since the beginning of time. That Christianity isn’t about living like Jesus, it’s about dying to our sin-filled selves. The sad fact is that millions of people around us have never heard the gospel presented to them in an intelligible, coherent, and personal way.

The gospel is a shocking, scandalous message. We can never find redemption apart from Jesus. It’s offensive, really. Unfortunately, most people are not offended by the gospel because they don’t hear it.