They tell me I’ve missed the point of the gospel,
I’ve mistaken Jesus’ message.
Their chastening has come when I’ve shared our findings of why
the majority of Americans avoid church. The most frequently
mentioned reason: church people are judgmental. We suggest in our
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore
that the church may be more effective if it would emulate Jesus’
practice of loving acceptance.
That sets them off. Even when I explain that Jesus’ acceptance
didn’t necessarily mean endorsement of a person’s behavior, they
still insist I’ve besmirched the essence of the gospel.
In a radio interview recently I explained that Jesus led with
love. That provoked the radio host. “Repent!” he shouted. “Excuse
me for interrupting you, Thom. But that was Jesus’ first words.” He
went on to defend the church’s judgmental reputation as a good
This man represents a widespread school of thought-that the
overwhelming focal point of scripture, of Jesus’ ministry, of God,
is condemnation. This view seeks to grovel in the problem, rather
than embrace the solution, the grace. Yes, Jesus called us to
repent, to turn from our sin. But wasn’t his big purpose to love
us, to call us to follow him, and to achieve something we cannot-to
redeem us from our sin?
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We often think of John 3:16 as the succinct summary of Jesus’
mission. But the very next verse clarifies what his mission was
not: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the
world, but to save the world through him.” So where do some get the
idea that Jesus centered his ministry on condemnation? When I think
of Jesus’ encounters with the “unchurched” of his day, I see him
leading with love and acceptance. Think of the woman caught in
adultery. He led with love, defended her against those who
condemned her, and then asked her to sin no more. With Zacchaeus,
he led with love, accepted him, exhibited something we call
“Radical Hospitality,” then inspired him to change his deceitful
ways. With the thief on the cross beside him, Jesus led with love
and invited the man to join him in paradise.
Who judged Jesus’ acts of love and acceptance as unacceptable?
The religious leaders, who led first with judgment. Jesus did not
find their judgmental approach particularly effective either.
At a recent workshop, a religious leader approached me and said,
“Okay, I hear you about this Radical Hospitality. But when do we
confront people who are living in sin?”
I explained that we’re called to follow Jesus’ example. Lead
with love and acceptance. Once we’ve established a relationship,
then we can invite people to dig into the scriptures with us, and
we can allow God to convict us and inspire each of us to turn from
our sins. And thank God for the gift of forgiveness, made possible
through Jesus’ loving sacrifice.
So what do you say? What’s the real point of the gospel? And
what’s our job? And what’s God’s job?