Can we change the gospel? For years now, many theologians, politicians, and average Americans have been emphatically saying, “Yes.” According to them, we can and must change the gospel so that it can connect with the modern man and woman. Prohibitions against infidelity and homosexuality are deemed outdated and unnecessarily offensive. Instead of hanging onto the two-thousand-year old claims of a dusty book, we need to extend love and acceptance. As Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor at Emory University, nicely summed this ideology writing, “I think it is important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority…We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience of thousands of others have witnessed to.” As Doctor Rachel Noami Remen said, “The complexity of the real world requires us to struggle to hear the Holy and develop a personal responsibility to live a good life.” We must unhinge ourselves from the slow wagon of gospel truth and embrace the rapid beauty of the human experience. We must allow people to change the gospel to fit their experience. Not too long ago, Katie Perry declared, “I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell or an old man sitting on a throne….I believe in a higher power bigger than me because that keeps me accountable.” Depending on her shared experience, she found the modern, relevant God that she needs. To be loving and relevant Christians must embrace and tolerate such declarations of divine discovery. If we do not, we will find ourselves alone, bitter, and on the wrong side of history.
So can we change the gospel narrative? Can we add and subtract from Jesus message so that it will resemble our human experience? Should we trust ourselves?
Jesus says no. In Mark 8:31, Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his impending death, burial and resurrection. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and killed and after three days rise again.” And like many of us, the apostle Peter takes great exception to Jesus teaching.
Did We Create The Gospel?
Peter had just confessed the Jesus was “the Christ,” the messiah (8:29). But he did not fully understand how Jesus was going to save humanity. And how could he? The human experience had led him to believe success and salvation equaled human victories, achievements, and crowns. Jesus proclaimtion debunked everything Peter’s thought. Jesus delcared that the very best people in society, “the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” would perform the most horrible act in history. According to Jesus, true Life was not found in the celebration of human accomplishment and goodness but in death and submission.
This is not the story that we would naturally want. This is not the story that mankind wants. This is God’s story. Prior to Jesus we could not concieve of a such a savior. We could not imagine such a strange narrative. We should not seek to change the gospel, because we did not create it.
Why Change The Gospel?
And because Jesus’ narrative was so radically different, Peter was disturbed. And so, he did what many of us do when we find Jesus troubling. Peter took Jesus aside and shouted, “Wrong!” Verse 32 says, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Peter took Jesus aside and said quite forcefully, “No. I do not want this gospel. This is not the gospel I signed up for. I want the Messiah who will vanquish the nasty Romans who have desecrated our temple and who have repeatedly robbed, abused, and denigrated the God’s people. I want the Messiah who will create a new and powerful earthly state. I want the Messiah that will fulfill and accomplish all my goals and place my high in authority. I want the Messiah who will validate my experiences, wants, and desires. I want the Messiah who does things my way.”
Today, you will be hard pressed to find anyone concerned about the Roman Empire imoratlized by its ruins. The modern man, woman, or child is not going to be too tempted to twist Jesus until the Messiah once again fits into the Jewish Revolutionary mold. That’s not our temptation.
We are tempted to daily twist the gospel to make a host of other goals acceptable. We tell Jesus that we will accept his gospel as long as we can have our sexual liberty. We tell Jesus that his gospel must allow us to be greedy and ignore the poor. We tell Jesus that his gospel must vindicate our harsh words directed to our kids, coworkers, and political opponents. We tell Jesus that his gospel must allow us to regularly disrespect our parents and those in authority. This is the human condition. This is our natural default condition. We want a gospel that does not require us to die to sin. We want a gospel that allows us to remain lord of our own lives. We want a gospel that vindicates a favorite sin, wants, and desires. We want a gospel that praises coveteousness and idolatry.
When we encounter Jesus’ gospel, we join the apostle Peter and scream, “No, I rebuke you, Jesus. Give me the gospel I want.”
Does Jesus Approve Of Our Changes?
What does Jesus say? Does he agree with Peter? Does he listen to Peter and hear out his concerns? Does Jesus think the human experience is a worthy standard by which to judge the world? No. Verse 31 reports, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Jesus does not allow Peter to change the gospel to fit Peter’s context and his understanding of the human experience. Rather, Jesus says that Peter’s ideas are demonic in nature. Why? Because they originate from earth. Peter’s thoughts are the thoughts of men. And men are not naturally good. Nor are they divine in their outlook. We cannot improve upon God’s plan because we do not think the thoughts of God. We think the thoughts of little insignificant creatures. And when we seek to change the gospel to fit our wants, we are maring perfection.
Many years ago, my brother and I received a couple of packs of airplane stickers while at an air show. We thought them quite becoming and decided they were just what our room needed. We went happily about our room sticking the bright little airplanes on all of our darkly stained wood furniture. A few moments later, we invited our mom to come checkout our decorating masterpiece. Instead of watching joy spread across her face, we saw her face fill with shock and horror. Needless to say, my career as an interior designer both began and ended that day.
Though my brother and I thought we were improving things, we actually made things worse. In effort to brighten things up, we destroyed the very beauty and worth of my mother’s furniture. We could not see her thoughts. We did not understand that furniture is worth more unstickered than stickered. And so we wrecked our bedroom suite.
When we attempt to change and to force the gospel to fit our ideas and goals, we are doing the exact same thing. We take the glorious gospel of God and decorate it we dumb stickers. We take that which is perfect and make it dirty and messy and worthless. Our ideas do not make the gospel heavenly. They make it more dumb, irrational, and foolish. We cannot improve the gospel. The creation cannot improve the creator. Do not argue with God.
When the world cries for us to change, to acquiesce, and to submit to the new cultural norms, we must resists. We must realize that the gospel is not our story. Because we could not conceive of it, we cannot change it. And we must realize that our experiences, our ideas, or wants are not divine or inspired. We do not add to the truth of the gospel. We take away from it.
And now we must all face the most trying question. Will we submit to the gospel? Will we listen to Jesus and obey? Will we daily as believers repent of the gospel inconsistencies in our own life – such as anger, greedy, and sexual immorality? Will we accept Jesus’ salvation? Or will we rebuke Jesus?