The Tamper-Proof Gospel?

A growing trend in the United States and elsewhere in the world’s churches is to try and bring more and more people into the Christian faith by translating the gospel for modern cultures. While good intentioned, the infusion of culture into the gospel is a very dangerous and detrimental practice that will possibly cripple the real message of the gospels.

Even though it is a trend now, the translation of gospel for culture is nothing new, at least among protestant faiths. This practice was instrumental in the second revival that took place in America during the early 1800s. Many church goers and ministers decided that the dull, intellectual sermons that were being given at the time were not effective on the less educated and therefore split off o form their own churches that catered to the common man. This practice of catering to the common man is deeply rooted in the American democratic tradition. The ideals that individuals had the right to choose their brand of religion and that religion must ‘campaign’ to attract new members stems from these ideals.

However, in this new current trend, it is not simply the methods of sermon giving, nor the makeup of the worship sessions that is being altered to appeal to common masses. This time, they are tampering with the gospel itself. Proponents of the idea say that in order to attract more people to the Christian faith they need to make their message less dry and boring. They say that the gospel, as traditionally told, has violence in the crucifixion, enigmas in the letters of Paul, and riddles in the parables. In short, they wish to retell the gospel in a way that is more cheerful and is much simpler so that any average person may understand it.

As good intentioned as this idea is, it is an attack on the core of Christian dogma. Changing anything within the gospel itself, even to make it more understandable to the common man, is something that must be avoided at all costs. The reasons for this are simple. First, there must always be a solid foundation to any religion. The gospel is something that all Christians believe in. It is the very heart of all protestant, catholic, and orthodox traditions. It is looked to when disputes and divisions in the church that take place along the lines of absolute dogma arise. Should it be altered to make it easier to understand, it will no doubt be altered by many different people with many different thoughts on how to interpret it for this culture. This has already happened, with many new “dumbed down” “street” translations of the bible appearing in bookstores. The multitude of translations diffuses the core of Christian belief and thereby removes the commonality between denominations. Second, appealing to culture is futile to begin with. Culture is always changing. New trends and fads rise and fall every year. Religion trying to bend to these tides is an exercise in futility. Religion by definition is supposed to be a constant rock for people to cling to in times of change. If religion simply changes with the times it would loose its purpose. Finally, the move to make religion accessible to the masses by “dumbing down” the gospel results in a generation of church members who are unable and perhaps even unwilling to investigate the meanings and he deeper aspects of what is written in the gospel. When handing a member a gospel that has everything spelled out for him, does this really help his understanding of religion? Does handing a literary analysis student a Cliff’s Notes book help him understand the meaning of the literature? It is the pastor’s job to help a member understand the meanings of passages in the gospel, not the job of bible translators.

This growing trend of culture infusing into the gospel is something that looks good on the outside, but will have long reaching effects if allowed to continue that are harmful to the cause of bringing new, true believers into the fold. The practice of appealing to masses is not new and nor should it particularly be seen as bad, but tampering with the gospel has always been and probably always will be he ultimate in Christian taboo.

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