By Stephen Altrogge
Being a Christian means being weird. I don’t mean dances with snakes weird, although Dances With Snakes could be a great movie, especially if it starred Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. No, I’m talking about true, holy weirdness. If we truly follow and obey Jesus, we will strike the world as being weird, odd, possibly even a bit unstable. After all, what “normal” person seeks to fight against sexual lust? What “normal” person wants to give away a significant portion of their income? What “normal” person forgives their enemies and does good to those who mistreat them? What “normal” person stakes all their hope on a dying and rising Messiah? Following Jesus means saying “no” to many of the things the world loves and considers normal. It often means offending others for the sake of obeying Jesus.
On top of the inherent worldly weirdness of Christianity, the gospel is inherently offensive. The gospel is an affront to our self-righteousness. It tells us that we are wicked, that God is holy, and that we cannot earn our way to God. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it says:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
To those who don’t know God, the message of the gospel is folly. Insanity. Stupidity. Utter ridiculousness. It is a stumbling block to Jews, insanity to Muslims, and stupidity to Atheists.
Because following Jesus is “weird” and the message of the gospel is “folly”, we must take care that we do not add any additional stumbling blocks to the message of the gospel. We must take great pains to ensure that the only thing unbelievers stumble over is the gospel, and that the only offense is the offense of Jesus Christ himself. If an unbeliever comes to associate one of my preferences with the message of Jesus, I have created an additional stumbling block to the gospel.
Tim Keller says:
If some aspect of a new culture does not compromise the gospel itself and makes you more accessible to others, there is no reason not to adapt to that element out of courtesy and love – even if it is not your preference. Otherwise, the gospel may, because of you, appear “unnecessarily alien.” We must avoid turning off listeners because we are culturally offensive rather than the gospel…Proper contextualization [of the gospel] means causing the right scandal – the on the gospel poses to all sinners – and removing all unnecessary ones. (Center Church, 111)
What does this mean practically? It means we must make sure that we never turn the gospel into “Jesus + my preference”. Is classical homeschooling a good education option? Sure. But it’s not the gospel. Is it smart to think through different vaccination options? Yes. But vaccination is not the gospel. Are hymns valuable to sing in church? Yes. Not the gospel. Is organic living a healthy lifestyle option? Yeah. Not the gospel. Do Republicans (and Democrats) have some valuable ideas? Yep. Not the gospel. You get the point.
We must always be careful to distinguish between our preferences and the gospel. I never want someone to feel out of place at my church if they don’t homeschool, or eat a certain way, or hold to a particular set of non-Biblical political ideas. When an unbeliever comes into my church I know they will stumble over Jesus and the message of the gospel. I don’t want to add any additional stumbling blocks.
Have you added any stumbling blocks to the gospel?
Stephen Altrogge serves as pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA. Stephen is author of the books Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. Stephen blogs at The Blazing Center.