The Relevant “Gospel” Goes Bankrupt

The January 2011 edition of Christianity Today had an interesting editorial about the financial and theological bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral “megachurch.”  The article was entitled: “Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral: Why we are better off letting God make the gospel relevant.”

Here are some excerpts:

This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy.  A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file.  It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem.  In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?”  His answer was “emotional hunger.”  “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.”…

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life…

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel.  In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance.  In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem.  In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise.  Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is.  Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant.  The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact.  The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy.

This does not deny the need to talk about the gospel in language and thought forms that a culture understands.  In fact, we cannot avoid doing this—we are culturally and linguistically bound …  But we must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders.  The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery…  Or, as Peter put it, in describing the conversion of the Gentiles:  “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit …”  (Acts 15:8, ESV).

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel.  The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion.  But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see!  In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

(Emphasis added).

We trust God by receiving his word and sacraments in faith.  We do not trust God when we rely on entertainments and other methods built on human wisdom.  We do not trust God when we pollute his word and sacraments with human wisdom.  Methods and practices built on human wisdom reflect false doctrine and are false doctrine.

Contrary to the teachings of today’s “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:4-6), the genuine Apostle Paul said:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

— 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NIV1984.

Those who do not trust God’s word alone, trust in men’s wisdom.  And the wisdom of a present age always eventually files for bankruptcy.  God’s word alone is eternally relevant.  God’s word alone is eternal wisdom.


One thought on “The Relevant “Gospel” Goes Bankrupt

  1. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. It’s fascinating how the rest of Christendom is finding out what Luther already got: “I believe that I cannot, by my own thinking or choosing, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel…”

    In other words, only the Holy Spirit makes the Gospel relevant. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek discovered the emptiness of their “method” and Robert Schuller has been brought face to face with it (though I haven’t heard any admissions of such from him as Hybels acknowledged in their own self-study).

    “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”


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