20 November 2012

"Horrible! Horrible! Horrible!" — the offense of the Gospel

by Dan Phillips

Almost seventy of the folks who read the Kindle edition of my little green book highlighted this passage:
We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as “Gospel” is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An inoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel—because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal. 1:10; 5:11; 6:12, 14).
A terrific illustration of that offense comes from the late John Stott's really fine book on preaching, titled Between Two Worlds. Stott says
The fact is that the authentic gospel of the New Testament remains extremely offensive to human pride, and nobody who preaches it faithfully can expect to escape at least some degree of opposition. Paul found in his day that the message of Christ crucified was both folly to Greek intellectuals and a stumbling block to self-righteous Jews. Nobody can reach God by his own wisdom or by his own morality. Only at the cross can God be known. And this is doubly offensive to men and women of culture. They resent the exclusiveness of the Christian claim, and even more the humiliation implicit in it. Christ from  his cross seems to say to us, "I am here because of you. If it were not for your sin and pride, I would not be here. And if you could have saved yourself, I would not be here either." The Christian pilgrimage begins with bowed head and bent knee; there is no other way into the kingdom of God except by the exaltation of those who have humbled themselves. 
I have often thanked God that he taught me this truth very early in my Christian experience, partly through glimpses into the pride of my own heart and partly through a glimpse into somebody else's. It was when I was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. Only recently I had come to Christ myself, and now — clumsily, I am sure — I was trying to share the good news with a fellow student. I was endeavoring to explain the great doctrine of justification by grace alone, that salvation was Christ's free gift, and that we could neither buy it nor even contribute to its purchase, for Christ had obtained it for us and was now offering it to us gratis. Suddenly  to my intense astonishment, my friend shouted three times at the top of his voice, "Horrible! Horrible! Horrible!" Such is the arrogance of the human heart that it finds the good news not glorious (which it is) but horrible (which it is not).

Postscript: I heartily recommend Stott's book, but I do have a bitter gripe. It's one of those ridiculous cases where, in a book rich with quotations, the publisher (Eerdmans!) has inexplicably removed the documentation from the quotation, in the execrable form of chapter endnotes.

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DJP said...

Ah; our Roman Catholic, racist one-star hater is up early.

Ken said...

Hearing the Gospel doesn't crush pride, being convinced it's true, shatters it.

donsands said...

Our brother Stott is one of the rare called bu our Lord preachers and teachers who puts words together with such enlightenment.
Thanks for shaing this. Excellent.

made me think of when our Lord took Peter out in the Sea of Galilee, and after Simon saw the glory of Jesus, he knelt and said, "Depart from me, I am unworthy."
May our Lord gives us courage to share the Gospel in a world that hates it. Amen.

Kerry James Allen said...

"I am sure it is God's gospel; for nobody could have invented it--a plan so just to God, so safe to man; and I am all the more sure it is God's gospel because there are so many that hate it." CHS

Magister Stevenson said...

I wholeheartedly agree. People, especially in the church, don't want to hear the black-and-white of the gospel. A friend who was an open air evangelist (and a kind soul, not a Westboro Baptist type) once told me of a woman who actually plugged her ears rather than hear the gospel preached.
And I agree also with your postscript. End notes are silly.

St. Lee said...

KJA, I for one am delighted with your addition of Spurgeon quotes in the comments section. It is almost like having him here with us.

...oh, and great post Dan!

Kerry James Allen said...

Thanks St. Lee. I could never say it any better, so I usually just quote him!

Eric said...

"People, especially in the church, don't want to hear the black-and-white of the gospel."


I disagree with the "especially in the church" part of that statement. If there is any place where you will find great joy at hearing the gospel, it is in the church. Not all in the visible church want to hear it; indeed some would rather have their ears tickled. However, there are many in the church who long to hear the glorious message proclaimed week after week.

Magister Stevenson said...

Point taken. How about "in the church building?"

Eric said...


In some corners of Christendom, I would have to concur.

Charlene said...

I highlighted that passage because it's so true and yet so many Christians are trying to find the non-offensive way to preach the gospel that somehow eluded Jesus, Paul, Stephen, and everyone else who has suffered for the pure gospel.

trogdor said...

How many movements from within evangelicalism are based entirely on the belief that "if we only [X], unbelievers will like us and be more receptive to the gospel"? But the only thing X could possibly be is "completely abandon the gospel".

Consider an extreme case like Joel Osteen. It's hard to imagine someone who could possibly better fit the "likeability" mold. Nobody better exemplifies the idea of winning people through niceness and a thoroughly inoffensive message. Yet as soon as he gets within spitting distance of Biblical truth - such as calling one particular sin a sin - all that goodwill and niceness and inoffensiveness is gone, and he becomes public enemy #1.

It doesn't matter how long of a completely inoffensive track record you have, or how friendly with the world you've been. The second you take a stand on biblical truth, you open yourself to all manner of hatred.

And when you think of it, in order for the gospel to be effective for someone, it must offend. It must convince him to abandon even the hope of self-justification. It must obliterate any notion of facing judgment alone and surviving. How does someone come to acknowledge that without being offended?

Jenel said...

I have for the most part profited from Stott. Though his denial of an actual Hell, is quite disconcerting and takes away from the offense of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, part of which is fleeing from the judgement to come!!

DJP said...