Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Gospel as it Relates of InterVarsity

What's Happening to InterVarsity? - 9Marks January/February 2010 eJournal:

J. Mack Stiles has written an insightful piece on the doctrinal slide taking place with InterVarsity. In it, he identifies a danger every Christian organization and church face - Gospel erosion.

"...you don't need much more than a cursory scan of history to see that solid Christian organizations can easily lose the gospel if they are not attentive. Losing the gospel doesn't happen all at once; it's more like a four-generation process.[2]

The gospel is accepted
The gospel is assumed
The gospel is confused
The gospel is lost

It is tragic for any generation to lose the gospel. But, as Philip Jensen says, the generation that assumes the gospel is the generation most responsible for the loss of the gospel.

When the gospel is assumed, a gospel commitment no longer determines who is or is not put in a leadership positions: from an IV student leadership team on a college campus to senior management at IV headquarters. When the gospel is assumed, Christian leadership begins to depend on skills, personality, or sheer longevity, not gospel focus.

When Intervarsity's leadership is no longer gospel-focused the organization as a whole eventually loses its gospel focus and begins to confuse the gospel. I'm worried that IV is well down that worn path: the gospel has been assumed, and it is now being confused.

Here's one way the gospel becomes confused. The gospel message is the crystallized key components of the way of salvation, compressed into one statement as one might compress carbon into a diamond. It is only when we are able to clearly and concisely define the gospel that we can protect and faithfully proclaim the gospel. It follows the outline of God, Man, Christ, Response (for more on this, see Will Metzger's great IVP book Tell the Truth).[3]

Is there more that can be said about the gospel? Of course: volumes, and even entire libraries have been written concerning the gospel or the implications of the gospel. But too often people confuse the implications of living out the gospel with the gospel itself. This is happening today in much the same way that the word 'Christian' has come to mean any number of things.

In IV circles, for instance, it is common to say that the 'gospel is the whole Bible.' Though this may be a powerful way to preach about any number of themes from the Scripture, it's an unfortunate confusion used to justify particular (admittedly biblical) concerns by claiming that they are 'the gospel.' So is it any wonder, then, there is so much confusion?

Specifically, the gospel is not moral behavior; the gospel is not social action, or any of a number of important things. It is a summary message that offers and secures salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

Understand that I have given much of my life for social action: from the slums of Nairobi to the war ravaged hills of Guatemala. The implication of the gospel for social action was worth putting my life, my family's lives, and the lives of faithful IV staff and students on the line. But as important as social action is, we still must not confuse the gospel with an implication of gospel living. If we do, the gospel message is lost in a sea of confusion.

It's unfortunate that during the discussions with the leadership of InterVarsity the students in the Christianity Today article thought that IV's leadership was confused on the gospel and social action.

All to say that I fear that IV has moved from assuming the gospel to confusing the gospel."


  1. This article, sadly, is not factually correct. For a real glimpse inside the heart of InterVarsity's ministry you may want to listen to InterVarsity President Alec Hill's address to their staff in 2005. http://media.intervarsity.org/mp3/sc08-2-alechill.mp3

  2. Some interesting responses to Stiles' article from non-IV folks: http://euangelizomai.blogspot.com/2010/01/what-is-happening-to-intervarsity.html


    I agree wholeheartedly with the core of Stiles' point: that the gospel must be at the forefront of any campus ministry, and that assuming it can mean losing it. However, I disagree with his criticism with InterVarsity. It seems to me that there is more than a little personal hurt that he's venting in the article - certainly an inappropriate venue for such a confrontation. And IV management has stated unequivocally that Stiles never spoke to anyone within the organization about these issues. To me, the article smacks of personal issues, magnified and projected onto an entire organization. Disappointing.