Several years ago, when Matt Chandler began to baptize — in large numbers — young adults who had grown up in the church, he sensed an epidemic of this generation of churchgoers who did not actually know the gospel.
The 37-year-old pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, says that many people have substituted, as he calls it, "Christian therapeutic moralistic deism" for the gospel. The real gospel. The explicit gospel.
His experience in the church has taught him that many Christ-professing people are not actually sure what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. Some of them think they are Christians simply because they have been in church their entire lives. A portion of those in the "Bible Belt," the southeastern United States, might believe they are Christians because they live in the south. Others may think they are believers in Jesus Christ because they avoid certain behaviors.
Chandler's fear is this moralistic ideal is deceiving many, acting as a barrier between their hearts and the real gospel.
"Early on in my experience here at The Village [Church], we were seeing a lot of people come to know Christ in a life-transforming way. Yet, a lot of these people had grown up in church, around church, and many of them for a very long time had been dedicated to church. But ultimately, they did not love Jesus."
This realization is the driving force behind his first book, The Explicit Gospel (Crossway Books, to be released April 30). He began to have conversations with the people who had a strong church background, but no real gospel understanding. He wanted to title his book The Explicit Gospel because of his belief that the gospel is too often assumed in the evangelical church.
"Some of them were actually exposed to the real gospel, but just didn't have ears to hear. But what was shocking to me was that a lot of them had never really heard it," he said.
"They had heard to not have sex before they got married. They also heard that they shouldn't get drunk. So, they heard those things, but it seems like the churches they grew up in assumed the gospel and hadn't made the gospel primary in regard to their teaching, preaching, and how they designed ministries of the church to work."
Why is the Real Gospel Not Taught?
Chandler believes that the explicit gospel is not taught because so many in the church mistake moralistic — albeit, well-meaning — teaching for the gospel. Since people assume that other churchgoers know the gospel, they tend to move on to other things, namely moralistic teaching: preaching the dos and don'ts without preaching the motivation behind the actions — the gospel.
"You don't want to see your teenage daughters get pregnant. You don't want to see your son strung out on drugs. You don't want your kid to cuss like a sailor, and you don't want your kid watching movies that will rot his brain," he explained.
"So, what you try to do to manage that is control or modify that behavior by giving steps away from it. But, what we know biblically about transformation is that the Holy Spirit does that work through regeneration. We need to push people toward holiness."
Behavior Modification vs. Grace-Driven Effort
Chandler believes that behavior modification grows out of a fear of hell (without a fear and love for God) and self-determination to avoid unholy deeds.