The Gospel in a Hostile Culture
by Dave Furman
“I intentionally don’t preach difficult truths or repeat the hard things Jesus said.” This is a despondent and prevalent attitude among preachers who minister to cultures that are openly hostile to the gospel. Such preaching is less than faithful to God’s Word, corresponding in ministry results that tend to be indiscernibly Christian. The desire to not offend hearers in a hostile culture is misdirected toward God’s inspired word and His glorious gospel.
As a pastor who ministers in a hostile culture, I am convinced that preaching must boldly proclaim the one-and-only gospel and theologically rich doctrine.
PREACH THE ONE-AND-ONLY GOSPEL
As His ambassadors, God forbid that we would presume authority to change His message. Ambassadors of Christ share the unadulterated gospel and take pains to accurately communicate the good news. We confidently preach “the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:2-4).
When ministering in a hostile context, it is tempting to hold back parts of God’s gospel that we feel are difficult for people to believe. Perhaps in attempts to be sensitive to our hearers and their culture, we may distort or adjust the gospel and unwittingly deceive people. However, holding back truth or being vague regarding what God has made clear is not being sensitive—it is arrogant and unloving. Even under threat of suffering and death, we preach Christ crucified, for the Lamb of God is worthy to receive the reward of His suffering (Rev. 5:12). God has ordained the message that lost people need to hear, and people in a culture that is hostile to the gospel are no exception. The gospel is God’s power for salvation (Rom. 1:16); we must preach this gospel in its entirety and with skillful clarity. Our confidence in preaching the gospel of God is God Himself.
We want people to hear the one-and- only gospel of God concerning His Son, resulting in repentance and faith. There is not a better gospel that we can preach. In a culture that is hostile to the gospel, why would we want to proclaim news that has no power unto salvation?
PREACH THEOLOGICALLY RICH DOCTRINE
There is a growing trend in world missions that says church planters must restrict their preaching to the “lowest common denominator” in theology. This idea stems from a desire to minimize division among the body of Christ, and to reduce the likelihood of preaching controversial doctrine. Such preachers and church planters avoid expositing passages that teach joysatisfying, worship-fueling truths like election, total depravity, substitutionary atonement, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and the confidence we have in Christ’s bodily return to judge the living and the dead. In so doing, as a pastor resists feeding his flock with this rich doctrine, the gospel is assumed and ultimately lost.
We must preach theologically rich doctrine, allowing the meaning of the text to be the meaning of our sermons. The cultural context we minister in must not shape the doctrine we preach; rather, our doctrine must inform and shape the culture. Expositional preaching that makes the point of the passage the point of the sermon serves the church best. It lets the Bible, not the preacher, drive the agenda for the church. Even in the most hostile cultures, we want to be sure to preach through the different genres of Scripture, demonstrating that God’s authority over their lives comes from God’s Word, and not the teacher of God’s Word. Expositional preaching allows people to hear the whole counsel of God, and it is an avenue for teaching them to study the Bible for themselves.
The morning I introduced a new sermon series on 1 Peter, I was approached by a group of newcomers who were ecstatic over the truths in 1 Peter 1:1–2. They told me, “We were jumping up and down in our seats, Pastor. That God would elect undeserving sinners for salvation in His Son—this is very good news!” These people experienced firsthand how theologically rich doctrine is food for their souls and fuel for worship.
Shaving off the edges of the brilliant diamonds of God’s truths regarding Himself, His Son, and His plan to save hopelessly lost sinners does not make a more brilliant and beautiful jewel. The glorious summits of God’s holiness are flattened into a wide plain of nebulous spiritual notions that are no longer recognizable as distinctly Christian truths, and they lack the power to rescue souls from hell. When we preach theologically rich doctrine in the power of the Holy Spirit, we guard the gospel and God receives all the glory for saving sinners.
Preachers who minister in a culture that is hostile to the gospel must take pains to proclaim the gospel of God concerning His Son as we teach the whole counsel of Scripture. We do so with boldness, clarity, and joy, for there is no other message that contains God’s power unto salvation.