Ok, ok, ok! I know … honestly, I know. But before you denounce me as a heretic, just give me a bit of time to explain myself!
Firstly, let me ask you: What is “The Gospel”? It’s a simple question, isn’t it? I mean every Christian must be able to answer this one, can’t they? I mean, to become a Christian in the first place you need to believe “The Gospel”. So, what is it?
But, believe it or not, the question is causing a great deal of debate within Evangelical circles at the moment. The trouble is, or at least I think the trouble is, we’ve got ourselves into a mess. Without meaning to mock, or in any way put down, some wonderful, Godly people from the past: about a generation or two ago someone came up with the idea of trying to boil down “The Gospel” into the bare minimum amount of truth that could be given, while still saying it had been proclaimed. This resulted in various methods (e.g. The ABC of salvation, The Roman Road, The Four Spiritual Laws etc), but all saying more or less the same thing.
They all basically say:
- You have sinned and God is going to judge you.
- Jesus died for your sins.
- You must now admit you’re a sinner and confess Jesus as Lord.
Or as one non-Christian friend of mine recently put it:
I was just expecting the whole, were all rubbish, gods gonna kick your ass, repent, repent, stuff.
Now I’m not knocking this exactly, this kind of presentation made me a Christian and I’m so, so grateful for the faithful followers of Jesus who shared this message with me. God can, and will, use those who faithfully seek to communicate his message. BUT, while this simple presentation may have worked within a society with a general background knowledge of the Bible and the overall Christian faith, I think that we are now beginning to pay the price for our shortsightedness of proclaiming that this short message as “The Gospel!”
It’s been used so much, so many times, at every “evangelist event”, in every other sermon and in Alpha courses across the world, that it has now become entrenched in people’s heads as “The Gospel”. The Christian Bible may have other things in it, sure, but this is “The Gospel”. Everything else is secondary, only this is important. This has become the Christian message as understood by non-Christians and Christians alike. Our Churches are filled with people who think this is it, despite the fact that at no time in Scripture is this three point sermon preached (even in Romans and Galatians, the two books people will immediately jump to to defend this message, it is given as part of a much bigger argument, and a much fuller background. As for the sermons in Acts, poor Paul, Peter and others obviously hadn’t been introduced to these evangelistic tools, as they don’t follow this structure at all!)
You see, there are a number of obvious problems with this short, distilled “Gospel”.
Firstly, it radically reduces the Bible. You may well wonder why God bothered with the Bible at all, when he apparently could have done just as well inspiring someone to write a leaflet. This may sound silly, but it shows itself in so many ways, and in so many confusions within our church members. For example, most Christians really don’t have a clue what the story of Israel (e.g. the whole of the Old Testament, apart from the first 12 chapters – and they only actually have any place for the first 3 chapters) is about, because this little three point sermon doesn’t mention it. They have a vague notion that a few texts here and there predict Jesus, and some good stories can be used as parables, but that’s about it.
Secondly, God just doesn’t sound very nice. I mean Jesus sounds ok, he died for us and everything, but God the Father sounds like someone boiling with wrath and anger, ready to punish anyone. It doesn’t even have to be the one who sinned, so long as he can vent his wrath on someone! It’s hardly surprising that some people have been less than besotted with this “god”. In fact, as should be obvious from just these two sentences, the presentation seems to pull apart the Trinity, and the atributes of God. So God is not seen as a God of Holy Love, but a God who is just and loving and somehow needs to get these mutually incompatible attributes to balance out (going against God’s “Simplicity”, as the Early Church described it).
Thirdly, it gives the impression that, because we’re saved by faith (which I agree with by the way), we have nothing to do now but wait around until we’re taken to heaven (don’t get me started on the whole heaven language either, another confusion we’re got ourselves in because it’s not mentioned in “The Gospel”!). There’s no idea of a job to do in the present, and even a suspicion of suggesting it, as people think you’re suggesting we’re saved by works!
I could go on and on and on with the results of this. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that so many evangelical scholars and leaders are starting to call for a more holistic understanding of what “The Gospel” is, and starting to openly criticise the “mathematical”, individualistic, narrow presentations that have been so dominant in the last 100 years. (Just for a start try reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scott McKnight, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, How God Became King by N.T.Wright and The Essential Gospel by Andrew Wilson. They all come to slightly different conclusions and emphasise but are all seeking to re-expand the churches contiousness to a more biblical understanding of what constitutes “The Gospel”).
Of course, it may well take longer to explain, and as we make the transition there will be arguments and disagreements, but the time has come for us to stop presenting “The Gospel” and start presenting the biblical Gospel, the Good News as described in scripture. This may be a longer, less concise message, by people are grown ups and we need to start crediting both non-Christians and Christians alike with a bit more intelligence than they’ve been given credit for.
One representation that I was shown recently can be found here. Do read it. No I mean it, read it! … You’re still trying to skip it aren’t you? I said READ IT!
Thank you! Now I think this is a bit closer to what we need. I still don’t think he’s right as he misses some important points. Most importantly, staggeringly really, he doesn’t actually discuss WHY Jesus needed to die on the cross. This is so important, but he misses it! The idea of the curses of the fall and the exile being placed onto Christ so that we no longer suffer the consequences doesn’t get anywhere near the discussion it needs. Having said that, I for one am grateful the discussion has got started.
So I think it’s time we stop preaching “The Gospel” and start sharing and inspiring people with God’s great story of salvation and the redemption of all things through Christ!