Friday, April 20, 2012

Failing the gospel quiz

I spent a few years teaching at a Christian high school down the street from Grace Church. I taught Bible to juniors and seniors, and found myself constantly reminded of the supernatural nature of the gospel.
I would start every year by giving a hand out to all of my students, asking them to explain in a few paragraphs what the gospel message is. I really wish I would have kept some of those forms, because they were generally either tragic, sad, or comical, depending on my disposition. I received everything from "The gospel is a lie, the way the powerful keep down the oppressed," to one of my personal favorites: "the gospel is the 10 commandments, and breaking them."One was the opposite of liberation theology, the other the opposite of The Way of the Master, but both were the opposite of the gospel.
I also had a question on the sheet asking what church they students went to. This school had open enrollment, so probably only about half of the students actually went to any church. There were a handful from Grace, and a few liberal churches, charismatic churches, and so on. Pretty much every kind of church imaginable had students in one of my classes.

  Each semester I had 6 classes, so over the course of a year I would be exposed to about 350 students from every possible religious background. And yet at the beginning of each semester, I bet on average only 20 or so students could give anything remotely close to a passing answer to the gospel question. By my fourth semester, I had given up looking for faith, repentance, virgin birth, deity, or the resurrection. I started searching for the word "for" surrounded by death and sin-or even a first person pronoun. As in "Jesus died for sinners," or "Jesus died for me."
As I read those forms, I kept one eye on the church name. I tried hard to find a correlation between the clarity of the gospel and the health of the church the student attended. I think my quest was in vain. It seemed like all the students could not explain the gospel. Apparently every high school youth group has unbelievers in it.
But then would come the humiliating part of this test. I would teach my guts out for a semester. I would see those students for about 4 hours a week, for 16 weeks. I gave devotionals. We did Scripture reading. I did cross/bridge/canyon diagrams on the board. Journal assignments. Memory verses. I even played them Mark Dever's reading of Edward's sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Then I would give them the same question at the end of the semester: explain the gospel in a few paragraphs. And again, disappointment.
One semester I even gave them an exam where they had to explain the gospel "in their own words." I also gave them a study guide telling them what those words should be. Strangely enough, when a grade was attached, they were all able to memorize and regurgitate what I had given them. But even that short-term memory was not helpful on a handout with no grade attached at the end of the semester.
Where had I gone wrong? This is the lesson I took from the experiment: high school students, for the most part, don't know the gospel because they are not saved. The gospel is supernatural truth, and it takes regeneration to understand it. If students at a mega church are not familiar with gospel terms, it is probably more of a reflection on their hearts than it is on what they have been taught. If the Spirit of God does not give light, then the darkened mind will never be able to understand what is meant by the gospel.
God becoming man? Dying FOR sinners? Paying the penalty for sin? Being vindicated by the resurrection? That is just gibberish to a mind enslaved by sin.
But to those of us who are being saved, the gospel is more than way to pass a test: it is truth given to us by the Spirit of God.

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