The Oral Gospel

America, according to many leaders in the Christian community, is a post-Christian nation. Voddie Baucham is one obvious example just by considering a title of a book he has written, The Ever-Loving Truth: Can Faith Thrive in a Post-Christian Culture? Because of the reality behind this view we, as Christians, have found ourselves in more of a mission field then we might care to admit.

What is interesting then is how we can learn from our foreign missionaries who go to other parts of the world. We can learn from their successes. We can study their integration into the local culture as they share Christ effectively. No doubt, we are intensely concerned with this same effectiveness. My parents being missionaries has helped with my own efforts in seeking out effective tools in conveying the Gospel. Many areas of foreign missions are applicable to our attempts at ministering locally in a post-Christian culture.

However, there is one that I find more notable than the rest. It is the use of the Oral Gospel. It is at the point of “oral” I have lost you. Is it hard to believe that Americans are in need of an oral Gospel? We Americans are noted for our arrogance. However note these interesting points:[1]

  • One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.

Therefore, it should not be surprising that there are more categories on the topic of literacy than just “illiterate” and “literate.” There are two additional categories outside of the afore mentioned that have relevance to our topic. They are Functional Illiteracy and Alliteracy.

Functional Illiteracy is when someone has the ability to read, but cannot accomplish basic tasks of literacy with ease or even at all. Functional Illiteracy impacts things like technology and accounting, but also impacts the minutiae of life as well.

Alliteracy is closely related to Functional Illiteracy. Alliteracy means that you have the ability to read, but just are not interested to do so. I think it a fair guess to say that most Americans are victims of both attitudes – partly based on statistics such as those quoted above, but also partly based on an obvious distaste in our nation’s psyche for such an “arduous” task as reading. Reading is considered work of the most unrewarding kind. It is often propped up to compete against television, movies, the internet and music in a tilted competition where it inevitably loses.

For Christians this poses a most unusual problem because we base what we know concerning God on the Bible. That is why Heinrich Heppe wrote “The only source and norm of all Christian knowledge is the Holy Scripture.”[2] Sola Scriptura, which is to say that only Scripture carries normative authority in developing of Doctrine. However, if people are not intrinsically literate then how should we convey the Gospel to them?

The answer that foreign missionaries found is one that has been in use for thousands of years – to present an oral tradition of the Gospel. Consider that most who heard the Gospel in the first century were illiterate. Consider that most throughout the world today who are presented the Gospel are also illiterate.

What is the oral Gospel? The oral Gospel is a chronological collection of biblical accounts that are intentionally collated together to lead someone to an understanding of why God needed to send Jesus to die on the cross, as well as how to receive God’s grace via salvation. Here is the rub: there is not any standardized Oral Gospel to present to people. I think this the biggest reason we do not hear more of it in the U.S. The reason is that the oral Gospel takes the culture of the people into consideration. For example, if you are presenting the Gospel to tribes in Amazon who already practice animal sacrifices then you do not need to have prolonged exposure as to why there must be the spilling of blood for remittance of sins (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). However, in the U.S. this is such an alien concept that extra time and emphasis must be spent on it.

Not only this, but the oral Gospel is meant to be more focused then just to have an oral Gospel that works for the entire nation. Rather, there probably is a good way to do an oral Gospel for Seattle, but another one for New England and yet another one for the South.

The oral Gospel is work intensive. The oral Gospel is meant to take into consideration the expanse of progressive revelation in a chronological order. Here is my question to you: What portion of Scripture would you add to your oral Gospel with your local demographic in mind and why? I have already given you mine – Lev 17:11.
[1] http://bookstatistics.com/sites/para/resources/statistics.cfm
[2] Heinrich Heppe, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche (Neukirchen Kreis Moers: Neukirchener, 1958), p. 10.

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