The dilemma before the Christian church and its mission here in the 21st century has two major issues before it: 1) the issue of the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and 2) the communal form which that content takes—both huge topics. Let me deal with the content in this Blog.


I keep on my wall a graphic of a lion with the inscription: “Aslan is not a tame lion”. This, of course, comes from C. S. Lewis’ classic children’s stories: The Chronicles of Narnia. The Pevensie children have accidentally stumbled into a whole new world, known as Narnia, and began hearing about some awesome figure known as Aslan. They are not sure what to make of what they are hearing, or imagining what that figure means to them. When they discover that Aslan is a lion, one of them asks Mrs. Beaver: “Then he isn’t safe?”To which she replies:“Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Aslan, for those of you who have never read these remarkable classics, is the Jesus figure in the stories. Aslan comes from a far country to re-establish his rightful reign in a scene that has been taken captive by a wicked personality known as the White Witch.


To put it right up front, and quite baldly, so much of the very visible church scene in our culture has quite successfully tamed the Lion, they have declawed him, pulled his teeth, and rendered him neutral in a version of the gospel that quite successfully ignores the radical, and culturally transforming, and subversive, and controversial, and counter-cultural content of what is, ostensibly, their own message and content.


The gospel of Jesus Christ is never safe. It actually promises controversy, and suffering, and trials, and costliness. Yet it is redemptive and infinitely good. But you’d never know that listening to the proclamation from the pulpits of a vast number of prominent and prestigious church institutions. They substitute (what has frequently been described as) moralistic/motivational and therapeutic deism, i.e., Jesus can make you more content, more emotionally secure, more guilt free, and ultimately take you to heaven. No mention of the demands. No reference to: “If anyone will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” No church professional would dare tell a potential member that if we are to reign with Christ, then we must suffer with him.


In one of the fascinating, and a bit enigmatic, statements of Jesus is in his Sermon on the Mount is this: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way easy that leads to destruction, and those who go in by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Bonhoeffer termed such popular religion as one that preaches faith without repentance—it does not require that we necessarily forsake the patterns and values and lifestyle of the dominion of darkness. It only focuses on the promises. Or, the late John R. W. Stott taught us that we have not preached the gospel unless we have preached, not only its promises, but also its demands.


So we’re back to Aslan as not being safe. Our gospel is not safe (but it is good), but all too much of the church, and all too many of its teachers, have reduced it to being a safe, culturally conformed religion, i.e., the wide gate. They have, in essence, declawed Aslan and pulled his teeth. The content of Jesus’ teachings that render us aliens and exiles in this world always stand “in missionary confrontation” with the world, and is never tame or safe. Read your New Testament! The gate is narrow and demands radical repentance.


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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