September 17, 2010

Cutting and Pasting the Gospel

I was at a wake recently and read through a plan of salvation tract that I found there. I was amazednot by the standard sin/hell/Jesus presentationbut by
  1. how broadly this tract's author had to reach within the scriptures to patch together this supposedly simple gospel, and 
  2. how little each passage contributed to the final product, sometimes as few as two words from a particular verse.  
Something like fifteen different books of the Bible were needed to craft this little 500-word tract, and the reader has to flip back and forth between the Old Testament and New Testament to follow it. Now, I guess that I could have felt reassured that the whole Bible points to the gospel message, or something like that, but what I found myself thinking was more troubling: If my students turned in a research paper that used source material the way this tract did, I would seriously doubt that they had gotten the correct sense or the intended context of the many, many quotation fragments they had stitched together.

Can we really not find the gospel presented succinctly in a single passage, by a single author? Isn't it odd that we can't find the typical salvation plan in the Bible without having to cut and paste it together ourselves? Peter's speech in Acts 2 is the closest thing I can think of, but I have never seen that used in salvation tracts, perhaps because it doesn't warn of hell. I'm not suggesting that Twitter and the gospel must go hand in hand. However, I would be more confident about my definition of gospel, my summary of the gospel, my interpretation of what the gospel really is if I could read it in a single passage, written by one author, and clearly in a context of summarizing the gospel. As opposed to the "I am the way" summary, which is Jesus's answer to a question NOT about what the gospel is or how the masses can be saved.

What do we imply about the scriptures and ourselves when we have to do so much cutting and pasting to create the gospel we want to share? That the gospels themselves aren't clear enough? That God needs our help with packaging his good news effectively? That we really don't think most people can "handle" the Bible itself? That we don't want to take the time to develop relationships with people and present the gospel in its full context? I know I'm generally prejudiced against a lot of the tracts I've encountered over the years, but would it really be so bad if, instead of a tract, we just handed someone the whole gospel of John. "Here. Read this and then let's discuss it together. I don't want to do the gospel a disservice by oversimplifying it," we might say. I suspect such caution might be warranted, and maybe even welcomed.