by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
December 28, 2011 - One of the innumerable problems with peddling the Gospel on therapeutic grounds is a complete loss of the relevant felt need among the target audience. If people are not looking for what Christianity is selling, they’re not likely to buy. Some recent trends suggest that hard times may be on the horizon for those in religious sales.
Of course, one classic response to a downturn in consumerism is to redouble efforts to create felt needs among potential shoppers, a.k.a. advertising. Contemporary evangelicalism is no stranger to this strategy. For several decades now, evangelicals have, in one form or another, let potential customers know the Jesus is the solution to whatever problems they may be experiencing in life. Among customers who feel that something in their life is amiss or broken, regardless of the locus of that felt need, the evangelical marketing campaign has had some success. After all, the fact that the Good News is free makes it a fire sale of epic proportions. And it doesn’t hurt that ultimately, the evangelical sales pitch is, in fact, true.
Still, the reality that “Jesus is the answer!” should not be the grounds on which the Gospel is preached. This is partly because its receipt is undermined in a cultural context in which no one is asking for anything. Increasingly, we may be living in such a culture.
More importantly, the Gospel is an announcement. And announcements are, by nature, the sorts of things that ought to be made whether anyone is asking or not. This is why Jesus spoke of God’s kingdom in terms of dinner parties. The Gospel is the announcement that the table is being set for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. About this, the world needs to be told, not invited. Christ himself has already issued invitations.
To be sure, many will not feel inclined to attend. But the evangelical task does not consist in trying to entice reluctant invitees by offering to change the menu or the décor. For the Gospel is not a commodity that conforms to the demands of a royal consumer, it is the declaration of a future-directed, historic reality around which everything “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” will one day coalesce.
Unlike every other consumer good, the truth of the Gospel is not optional. To hawk it in the spiritual marketplace as though it were, reduces the imperative to the interrogative. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come for dinner!” The evangelical traveling salesman says, “Wouldn’t you like to have Jesus be part of your life?”