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I have heard people use the phrase “gospel issue” many times and, like most evangelical clichés, I do not find it helpful.

Having listened to its use on various occasions, the phrase seems to have two main purposes: (1) to stifle debate and (2) to sneak social issues into a more central place in the church.

Liberals usually use the phrase according to its second purpose. It sounds something like this: “You need to care more about the plight of third-world refugees because Jesus would have.”

OK… maybe be would. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe we should open the Bible and find out together.

Conservatives tend to use the “gospel issue” phrase according to its first purpose. When a discussion becomes too uncomfortable to continue, the phrase is pulled out and used as a conversational escape hatch.

For example, I was recently discussing the differences between public, private, and home education with a professing Christian. This discussion was brought to an abrupt end with this assertion: “How parents choose to educate their children is not a salvation issue.”

Agreed… but does that mean it is not worthy of some discussion? Does that mean the scripture has nothing whatsoever to say about it? Does that mean parents should not prayerfully seek God’s will as they weigh the options?

This “gospel issue” phrase has become nothing but a trump card that people slam on the table whenever thy want to stifle debate over uncomfortable questions or (back to the liberals’ use) to raise a personal concern to the level Nicene orthodoxy.

Here, then, is my official pastoral recommendation: Stop using the phrase so that we can all learn how to reason from the scriptures once again.

– Pastor McShaffrey