The other night, I attended a fundraiser dinner for a ministry well-respected in conservative Christian circles. Leaders in our church had recommended it to me, and good friends of mine actively participated in the ministry. During the dinner, the organization pulled out all the stops to woo its audience: a stirring speaker, video testimonials, speeches by those who had benefited from the ministry. Their good works done in the name of Christ could not fail to impress.
Yet as the night wore on, I started to feel uncomfortable. It was as if we had all been celebrating a birthday dinner for the past two hours without ever indicating whose birthday it was. Amidst all the talk of God’s love for us and sharing the news of that love with others, no one commented on our explicit need for Christ to save us from our sinful nature. From the keynote speaker to the area director, in the video interviews and throughout the personal testimonials, all neglected to mention salvation.
Instead of explaining the consequences of sin, our need for forgiveness, and how Christ had accomplished it, everyone involved in the ministry focused exclusively on God’s love. “I never knew my Creator loved me so much!” “My life has changed since I learned about how Jesus loves me” “People need to know God loves them” and so forth.
I dub this message “doughnut theology.” It is sweet. We crave it. It is easy to hand out to other people and a joy to receive. It even takes the shape of an embrace — but at its very heart, there is a gaping hole where the truth of the Gospel should be.
God does love the world, and there are many hurting people in the world who feel lost and helpless without His love. It is our duty as Christians to go forth, and teach people about God’s love and the implications for their lives.
Nonetheless, if our ministry begins with God’s love and jumps straight to reassuring people that they can enjoy life as a child of God, we have failed them. By indulging in doughnut theology, we omit the necessary step to overcome the distance between us and God: namely, the sacrifice of His only Son on a cross. Our Lord paid in blood to remedy the wrongs we commit. That is what we must believe and confess before we become co-heirs with Christ.
The sad irony of doing good without good theology is that we work in vain. No matter how many people our ministry reaches, there is no lasting spiritual impact if the beneficiaries never hear the truth about salvation. Without that truth, they will spend eternity separated from God. The ministry does a disservice to their supporters by suggesting otherwise.
Christianity is not a matter of reassuring people that the Big Guy in charge has the warm fuzzies for us and wants us to be happy. It centers on warning the world that our Creator has saved us from a terrible fate at a dear price. If we leave out salvation, we are handing people junk food instead of pointing them to the Bread of Life.