While I didn’t grow up with a TV, I did occasionally get to watch the iconic, classic show, The Smurfs, especially at my grand parents’ house. Now my own kids have discovered it on Netflix and are enjoying it. Watching it the second time around I’ve noticed something peculiar: the word “smurf” and its various derivatives is used for everything. It is the primary verb, adjective, and adverb. And of course it’s a proper noun too.
I don’t think I would have paid this much mind except that I’ve seen the same thing happening in certain, largely reformed, church circles with the word “gospel.”
We have gospeled the gospel into every gospel-shaped corner of our gospel-centered ministries. We are gospel centered, gospel focused, gospel driven people who lead gospel initiatives to share the explicit gospel as part of our gospel project to do gospel centered discipleship so that people understand the gospel deeps and don’t believe any subversive gospels. Our pastors preach the gospel, but not the gospel according to The Simpsons, Coco Chanel, Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, or J.R.R. Tolkien. We live gospel lives dealing with gospel issues (whatever those are). Ironically, gospel music is the one form of gospel we don’t really participate in much because it’s not very gospelly.
I assume you followed all that.
None of these efforts, publications, or verbiage cheapens or in any way detracts from the actual gospel. Each one, in fact, seeks to explain it clearly and put it into practice. However, when you add them all up what we have is a cliché instead of something profound. We’ve smurfed the term, gospel. If it means everything it doesn’t mean anything.
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