A Gospel without Demands and Demands without the Gospel

By Steve Manskar

Wesleyan leadership gospel without demand 245x300
Orlando Costas

The Rev. Dr. Orlando Costas was a pastor, missionary, theologian, and seminary dean. He died of stomach cancer in 1987. He was 45 years old. Dr. Costas wrote several books, including Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom and Liberating News: A Theology of Contextual Evangelization. During his short life he made significant contributions to the North American church. As a Puerto Rican who served as pastor and missionary in Latin America he offered valuable critique of the church in North America.

I recently revisited his book, Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom, published in 1989, and was struck by how little has changed. Here is a particularly powerful passage that I think speaks to our context today:

A Gospel without Demands and Demands without the Gospel

"The crisis of American church and theology becomes even more intensive when one reflects on two opposite patterns that can be witnessed in churches throughout the United States. The first pattern offers a gospel without demands. The content of this gospel is a conscience-soothing Jesus, with an unscandalous cross, an otherworldly kingdom, a private, inwardly limited spirit, a pocket God, a spiritualized Bible, and an escapist church. Its goal is a happy, comfortable, and successful life, obtainable through the forgiveness of an abstract sinfulness by faith in an unhistorical Christ. Such a gospel makes possible the “conversion” of men and women without having to make any drastic changes in their lifestyles and value-systems. It guarantees, moreover, the preservation of the status quo and the immobility of the People of God.

"The second pattern lies at the other end of the spectrum: demands without the gospel. Whether it be the individual legalism characteristic of some Holiness church groups or the collective legalism of the Moral Majority or some radical Christian groups, the accent is the same: judgment without grace, with similar results—moral exhaustion, discouragement, and frustration. The first pattern robs the gospel of its ethical thrust; the second, of its soteriological depth. The first reduces the church to a social club and theology to an ideology of the status quo; the second enslaves the church and buries the gospel."

If you have read the “Call to Action Steering Team Report” how does the church they believe must emerge for the future of the UMC compare with the church that Costas was confronted with in 1989?