"Ah," I said, "Christus Victor."
"Exactly," he replied. "But why would we spend more time doing things that will give these people only temporary relief and less time doing the thing that will benefit them eternally?"
And what is it that makes a team, a medical missions team at that, uncomfortable with the gospel?
I'm guessing these people have an insufficient understanding of the gospel.
What is the gospel? It's the good news, so we should get it right. The gospel is really quite simple. It is this: God saves sinners.*
God: the triune God--Father, Son, Holy Spirit--whose three persons work in unison and perfect agreement of both intent and action
Saves: delivers completely from certain destruction
Sinners: those who are at enmity with God, who love what He hates, and hate what He loves.
Tweak any part of that definition, and you are in trouble.
Tweak any part of that definition--and broadcast it--and you are a heretic.
I'm not really concerned with how other religions get this wrong. (They all do.) I'm concerned with the Inside Jobs.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' (whom you have not known) and let us serve them, you shall not listen to that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord you God who bough you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. If your brother, your mother's son, or you son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. Deuteronomy 13:1-8The greatest threat to the people of God does not come from people like Karl Marx or Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins. I mean, sheep are dumb. But we're not THAT dumb.
The greatest threat to the people of God comes from other people who claim to be people of God but are, in fact, not people of God. They mix enough truth with their lies to make us stand back and wonder... Ehhhh, could s/he be right? Could I, could my pastor, could my Bible be getting this wrong?
Let me put it this way.
You can rescue a woman from sex trafficking, get her medical help, counseling, and job training. But if you don't present the Gospel--in words--to her, then you have not addressed her greatest problem. Her greatest problem is not her scars from the sex industry. Her greatest problem is that she is under the wrath of God, because she has fallen short of the glory of God. Without a Savior to stand in her stead, she will die and go to hell.
You can dig wells to provide fresh drinking water to poverty-stricken people in Africa. But if you don't present the Gospel in words, those poor will die and go to hell. Their greatest need is not clean drinking water. They have fallen short of the glory of God; their greatest need is a Savior.
You can provide a safe haven to the gay man who has been brutalized by hate. But if you don't present the Gospel to him in words, he will die and go to hell. His greatest need is not safety; it is salvation.
I hate to burst the socially just bubble. But any old goat can rescue sex victims, dig wells, and build shelters. And they do. (See Matthew 25.) (And then see Bill Gates. Or Oprah.) Any old goat can feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner...
and support 'fair trade'
and protest 'microaggession'
and speak out against militarism and patriarchy and ecocide. (Yes. Ecocide. It's a thing. Not even kidding. Feel free to roll your eyes.)
Behold Christus Victor, the gospel of the goats.
Man's problem, according to Christus Victor, is that he was held captive to evil, (evil, I suppose, just being a general yucky thing) and Jesus died to pay ransom. Ransom to whom, exactly? No offended party. Just kind of evil in general and mankind was just kind of miserable in general. Feeling the squishiness yet? So Christ died. His death fixed all that by...well...I'm not really sure how Jesus dying on a cross is supposed to fix evil in a general sense. That rather smacks of some kind of cosmic child abuse.
I am not arguing that we should not rescue sex trafficking victims or dig wells or rebuke hate. I am saying that these things are not enough. Christus Victor is not enough. Jesus did not die just to take away all of our hurt. One day, God will wipe away the last tear. But that is not the whole gospel because that is not the whole problem.
An ounce of sin can harm us more than a ton of suffering, says Tim Keller. But Christus Victor turns that on its head. Christus Victor wants us to believe that our suffering, not our sin, is our greatest problem. Christus Victor is a false gospel.
JI Packer says in In My Place Condemned He Stood, "A half-truth presented as a whole truth becomes a complete untruth."
A HALF-truth presented as a WHOLE truth becomes a complete UN-truth.
To present Christus Victor as the complete gospel is to tell a lie.
And if your eyes and ears are open, you'll see that Christus Victor is everywhere. Two weeks ago, I heard a notable American say that loving your neighbor as yourself is the greatest commandment. There it was again! The half-truth! Loving the Lord my God with all of my heart, mind, and soul is the greatest commandment. Loving my neighbor is like it. But loving my neighbor is defined by loving God. In fact, if I do not love God with all my heart, mind, and soul, I will not love my neighbor as myself because I won't know what that looks like.
Loving my neighbor without loving God with all of my heart, mind, and soul is merely philanthropy.
Loving my neighbor because I love God with all my heart, mind, and soul is worship.
God saves sinners.
God imputed my sin onto Jesus and imputed Jesus' righteousness onto me.
Now THAT's good, good news!!!
So here's my point. When people who are not God's people pose as God's people and preach a gospel that is not God's gospel, what are God's people to do? Take it with a grain of salt because they say a lot of other things that are good? No. No, no, no.
We do NOT pity him.
We do NOT spare him.
We do NOT conceal him.
We PURGE the evil from among us, Moses told the Israelites.
We excommunicate him, said Paul to the early church. I have already passed judgment.
And then a funny thing happens. When the goats are purged, the sheep are preserved!
Moses says it this way: And then all Israel will hear and be afraid and never again do such a wicked thing among you. (Deut. 13:11)
Paul says it this way: For there must also be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (I Cor. 11:19)
We need to get comfortable with this fact: God's people are a purging people.
Sheep, if they are obedient sheep, purge goats.
Sheep do grace. And grace recognizes that favor is unmerited. It says, 'Come as you are, and be changed by the power of God.' Sheep preach Christus Vicarious because they recognize man's greatest problem.
Goats do tolerance. Tolerance claims that favor is merited. 'Stay as you are. We're just here to apply Christus Victor band-aids.'
The gospel of the sheep is eternal life.
The gospel of the goats?
Nope. No. No ma'am. Not on my watch.
*In My Place Condemned He Stood (Packer and Dever, 2008) was a helpful resource.