There are few things I genuinely loathe in this world: Boy bands. Dora the Explorer. Clowns. And sugarcoated gospel messages.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I’m very much for tailoring the way you speak of the gospel to the person to whom you’re speaking. Naturally this means that we’re going to emphasize certain aspects over others. For example, I might want to focus on how Jesus cleanses us from guilt and shame to the person who is burdened by guilt and shame. I might address Jesus as the only one who can fulfill the Law to someone who is maybe a little on the self-righteous side.
But that’s not what I’m talking about when I say I am frustrated by sugarcoated messages. I’m talking about the “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, full stop” message—the message that suggests God is a magic genie in the sky just waiting to make all your dreams come true. Or the kind of message that tries to pretend that the Christian life is not really hard. That with Jesus, we go through life living like every day is a Friday while we enjoy our best life right now and always make good decisions and whatnot.
Every time I see this happen (which is usually every time I go into the Christianity section at my local bookstore), I want to scream.1 It’s dishonest. It’s a lie. Sure it’s a nice-sounding lie, but it’s still a lie. As much as we want to think otherwise, a spoonful of sugar won’t make the gospel go down easier. Instead, there is a better way—a more effective way: honesty. Mark Dever puts it this way inThe Gospel and Personal Evangelism:
When we tell the gospel to people, we need to do it with honesty. To hold back important and unpalatable parts of the truth is to begin to manipulate and to try to sell a false bill of goods to the person with whom we are sharing. So however we evangelize, we aren’t to hide problems, to ignore our own shortcomings, or to deny difficulties. And we are not to put forward only positives that we imagine our non-Christian friends presently value and present God as simply the means by which they can meet or achieve their own ends. We must be honest. (57)