My wife pronounces the “th” in “clothes”. I hate it.
Every time she does it I cringe, like I do when I hear someone gulp when they drink. I know it’s proper. I also know that “close” is what we do to the back door. But, there’s just something fundamentally wrong about articulating the “th” that grates on my nerves.
And I point it out every time she does it.
I was in a meeting recently when the same thing happened, but in a more annoying way. An older pastor was standing before a gathering of pastor-types talking about ministry and mission.
During the Q&A after the talk, a pastor in the room raised his hand and said something like, “Brother, all of this is great, but let’s not forget about the gospel.” It was a cringe-worthy comment; clearly implying that everything this pastor said up to that point neglected the truth of the gospel. The older pastor broke the awkward silence by saying that he had not intended to minimize the gospel—in fact, in his opinion, the gospel had been the basis of the talk.
I saw the issue. The pastors differed on the pronunciation of the gospel. One defined the gospel with words, references, or concepts that were vital to him. The other pronounced the gospel using other terms—those that were vital to his personal history and training.
They were both talking about the gospel, but they pronounced it differently—each with different emphasis—so neither of them thought the other was actually talking about the gospel at all.
Now, clearly there are ways to misrepresent the gospel. We can explain it in ways that minimize the centrality of Jesus work in redemption, or deny the atonement altogether. We can erroneously define the truths of God’s redemptive mission in ways that obscure the scope of God’s saving work or the necessity of our response to it. That’s not what I’m talking about.
What scares me is the propensity for well-meaning (I think) leaders to impugn one another’s work, discount their leadership, or question their gospel understanding because they emphasize different facets of the message of Jesus, use different words to explain key concepts, or quote different pastors or authors who have been influential in their lives.
These differences are not always the result of a mispronunciation of the gospel, but merely a different pronunciation of the gospel.
You Say It Different
Rather than saying, “You say it wrong,” I’m learning to say “You say it different.” Why? Because I haven’t fully grasped the gospel—and probably never will. Its depth and brilliance mean that I’m unlikely to reach the place where I have a full handle on every aspect of the message.
I’ve got much to learn from people who pronounce the gospel a bit differently than I do. I can, and should, be sharpened and refined by those who emphasize different aspects of the Truth. There is much I can learn from those who write and speak outside of the narrow swath of the Christian subculture that I’m exposed to most often.
I may not agree with everything they say. I might still think their pronunciation of the gospel is a bit strange, and they probably think the same about mine. And that’s ok.
Everyone doesn’t have to say it the way I do.
They don’t have to read the authors who resonate with me in profound ways. They don’t have to emphasize the concepts that I deem most important nor do they have to tease out the implications precisely as I do.
If we are not careful, the language of “gospel-centeredness” may devolve into “the-gospel-as-I-say-it-centeredness.” When it does, we unnecessarily sabotage the unity of the church and minimize the magnificent scope of the gospel message—which is, after all, bigger than any of us will ever be able to grasp.