Imagine you are a meat eater who is considering becoming a vegetarian. After being convinced through science and research on the benefits of vegetarianism, you are still on the fence on whether or not you want to give up the variety and flavor of meat. So you look for some vegetarian recipes and vegetarian restaurants in your area to give you an idea of what a meat free life will look like. The recipes you find all exalt the benefits of vegetarianism, however they are all rather bland and do not offer any variety in how to cook the vegetables and grains that are so healthy for you.
You visit some local restaurants and get much of the same bland food, except this time many of the owners and patrons become hostile when you inform them that you are still curious, resulting in them pointing to soggy vegetables and bland tofu and asking “How could you not want this? Can’t you see it’s good for you? Have the dead animals you’ve been eating made you blind?” At this point, you’re waning. Will this be what life as a vegetarian is like? Eating healthy food that's poorly cooked, and unsatisfying to the palette all in the name of nutrients?
Finally, as a last resort, you visit one more small vegetarian restaurant in your area. As soon as you come in, you’re welcomed. The environment is warm and inviting, with regular patrons passing and telling you that you have a beautiful experience ahead of you, recommending items from the menu. When the food arrives, it's glorious. Dishes you’ve never heard of filling the table, each bursting with flavor. In the end, your belly is full, satisfied and amazed that these were all the exact same ingredients used in the recipes online and in the other restaurants. No less healthy, but made to be delicious, flavorful, and easily crave-able. If eating healthy can be like this, then it is infinitely worth it. Then and there, you become a vegetarian.
What if we did the same with Christianity? What if instead of presenting it as the bare minimum, or as a tonic to be taken to stave off damnation, then being confused as to why people aren’t flocking for their own good, we presented it as it was meant to be, something glorious and transformative.
There are many who will argue that presenting the gospel as beautiful, attractive, and joy-inspiring is “sugar-coating” the truth. From this logic, opening the conversation with God as love is seen as misleading, making the all powerful Yahweh as a deity that is too soft. Others adore the cuddly God who wants nothing more than for us to be happy. Walking the razor's edge of this Santa Clause God will tip us into the prosperity gospel or a God who can easily fit within societal markers of morality.
It is in this introduction of God that our personal understanding of Him is revealed. Both examples have placed Him in an extreme which cuts God down to fit within a preconceived understanding of Him which is loosely supported by misinterpreted scriptures. If we want God to be wrathful and motivate salvation by fear, we will find the scripture to support it. If we want God to be a squishy “Daddy God”, who answers our whims with no expectation of change or repentance, we will find scriptures to support it. Both enter with an agenda rather than asking the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to scripture in an accurate way.
Do we err on the side of old-world evangelist practices? Inching rather than running to meet new ways to reveal the goodness of God’s promises? We run the risk of sanitizing the gospel, removing the joy and lushness of it in favor of bran muffin evangelism. Are we believing that making the gospel both attractive and factual cannot coexist?
Much can be said for presentation. Contrary to many beliefs, caring about aesthetics, by this I mean not only visually pleasing, but emotionally and mentally pleasing, is a vital introduction to the gospel. God is creative. He created us with diverse thoughts, emotions, characters, humor, and interests. The presence of such diversity merely increases the power of God’s ability to connect uniquely with any individual. There is no one right way to connect to Jesus. Please do not misunderstand, this is not an “all roads lead to God” kind of argument (John 14:6; John 3:5). The gospel is unchanging, thus indicative of an unchanging God. However, think of Christ’s ministry. He did not say the same script over and over and over again. He connected with individuals at their level of engagement, enhancing the joy, acceptance, and liberation from an adversary that seeked to destroy.
At times, Christians can tell one half of the story. We open with adversaries, building up the dimension of sin and satan as the great evil and leave God to be the one-dimensional exit. If we spend more time on the flaw, the sin, the controversy, then on the salvation, the grace, the love, then the gospel is imbalanced, left with a motivation of fear rather than liberation and peace.
The Gospel is meant to be inviting, a warm welcome to a purpose that we were created to embody. What makes God’s promise that He sent His son to die in our place to save us from sin so wonderful, is that it does not need to be presented as an either/or situation. We can stay true to the truth of scripture, as well as make it pleasing to the ear. Indeed, that is the whole point. God’s word is already powerful and inviting. In removing the gorgeous narrative and motivation of love that spans from Old Testament to New Testament, we are not representing the gospel. We must avoid the extremism of making it so culturally appealing that it loses its transformative force, and the attempt of avoiding sugar coating so much that the Gospel sounds harsh and shame-induced. Modernizing our presentation, taking time to season the message with sweet scriptures that only enhance the flavor of salvation, is merely doing justice to a God who has equipped us with the most mind-blowing, life altering, praise inducing love that is more complex and nuanced then we could ever know.