One of the most discouraging compliments someone can give to me after I preach a message they loved is, “I am so glad you are preaching the gospel because you are preaching about __________ (insert a cultural issue).” The statement is typically delivered in a “it’s about time. I’m glad you finally got it together” tone. Notice the affirmation is not that I addressed ___________ but that by addressing _______ I was “really preaching the gospel.” I believe that the gospel must be brought to bear on subjects we should address as pastors. In other words, I don’t believe the solution is to never talk about cultural issues. However, when someone says “Thanks for preaching the gospel because _______ was talked about,” I am concerned that we might be forgetting what the gospel is.
I recently taught on “God’s view of gender dysphoria and the transgender movement.” A message on gender in and of itself is not “the gospel.” It is possible to preach a message on an important subject like gender and fail to declare the gospel. I labored to present the gospel in the message—that God lovingly created us, that Jesus entered our world in a human body, and that He was resurrected in a body for our redemption. And the message was built on implications of the gospel—that we offer our bodies to Him because of what He has done for us. However, because it is possible to preach a message on gender without preaching the gospel, we must be careful not to equate addressing a cultural issue with preaching the gospel.
Remembering the Gospel
The gospel is the gloriously good news of what Christ has done for us—not what we do for Him. To confuse the gospel with personal implications or cultural applications is to confuse the root (the gospel) with the fruit (implications and applications of the gospel). If someone I shepherd confuses the two, it reveals that I have work to do as a teacher to clarify the message that is of first importance (thus the reason the intended compliment is discouraging).
Also, if one confuses the implications and applications of the gospel with the gospel itself, there will be times when one thinks a pastor is not preaching the gospel when the pastor actually is. Just because I don’t address a cultural issue as quickly as one thinks I should does not mean I have stopped preaching the gospel. Best case, I was wise with my timing. Worst case, I was late with my timing. But on time, late, or even never when it comes to addressing a cultural issue does not mean the gospel has not been preached. One could say “the gospel has not been applied to _______,” but to say the gospel has not been preached is often an untrue accusation.
If we equate something else (anything else) with the gospel, we will lose both the power of the gospel and the pure motivation to address issues in a gracious and truthful way.
If we make a cultural issue our gospel rather than as an application of the gospel, we will become bitter and angry as we fail to be refreshed by who Jesus is and what He has done for us.