These are the first words on the screen that introduces the documentary film, Lord Save Us From Your Followers. It’s a valid observation. The Apostle Paul clearly believed and preached the ultimate reason anyone converts to Christianity is because of the work of God’s Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 2:9-10; 12-13,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
The idea that the Christian cannot convert or persuade people to believe by any means but the “gospel of love” highlights the over all theme of Dan Merchant’s documentary journey. Dan Merchant travels the nation asking what he thinks is a very simple question.
In order to find his answer he starts with a simpler question. “What are Christians known for?”
Some of the answers he hears:
Writer, Director Dan Merchant interviews liberal theologians and conservative radio personalities, homosexual protestors and Christian preachers all toward finding an answer to his questions and trying to understand why so many people in America find Christians to be hateful, ignorant and disinterested in other people’s perspectives.
In one attempt to probe the question, Merchant organizes two Family Feud style games between liberals and conservatives. In a game where victory is determined by how much you know about your opponent, the liberals proved to be overwhelmingly victorious. Merchant’s conclusion at this point is that this illustrates part of the problem with public expressions of American Christianity: we have turned the gospel of love into the gospel of “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
In other words, the gospel isn’t dividing America. We are. America is divided over Christianity because Christians don’t listen to, don’t love and don’t serve the world that they’re called to hear, love and serve.
Merchant, after numerous interviews, confessing his sins at a gay pride festival, and witnessing Christian compassion toward the homeless in Portland, concludes that if Christians would just listen, serve, and love people like Christ loved them, America would (at least) be less divided than it is.
However, I had a significant problem watching Merchant’s documentary. The problem is that Merchant’s observations are basically true. Followers of Christ SHOULD be serving, listening to, and loving the world. Further, the church has failed to do this in various ways throughout history.
I think Merchant’s conclusions are JUST AS unbalanced as the divisive Christians he’s confronting. One reason I say this is because in the roughly 100 minutes of footage there is not a single articulation of what this “gospel of love” actually is. Merchant never defines the gospel, shares the gospel, or attempts to explain to his audience what makes the “gospel of love” THE gospel of love.
He seems to be so anxious to distance himself from ignorant, fundamental, Bible-banging “Christians” that he never gets close to explaining what makes the good news, THE good news.
I would have loved this film if Merchant had concluded it the way Jesus inaugurated his ministry. Isn’t it striking that, apparently, Jesus’ first sermon started this way…
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”
So, if I could ask Dan Merchant one question I would ask,
“Can you really love someone the way Christ loved them without calling them to repentance and faith in the gospel?”
In John 3:18 Jesus himself also said,
“Whoever believes in [me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
And John later narrates in v. 36
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
It may be hard to say. It may be hard to hear. But the reality is that Jesus both cared for, listened to, served AND called people to repent of their sins (John 6). He called them to repent of their sins and follow God as God had revealed himself in Christ and the Scriptures.
We may not like to hear this or believe this but that makes the Gospel divisive. If the gospel is divisive BECAUSE of the way we present it (unloving, self-righteous, etc.) then we have a problem. However, we must admit and realize the gospel IS divisive all by itself.
That’s why Paul says,
“15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17).
And that’s why Jesus said,
“32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:32-39).
If we really believe the gospel we’ll love people enough to call them to repentance in a humble, loving, gracious and servant oriented way. If we really love people we’ll get out of the gospel’s way and let it speak for itself by proclaiming it as it’s proclaimed in the Bible, with gentleness, respect, compassion and service.
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (I Corinthians 15:3-4)
“15 …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (I Peter 3:15-17).