What Is The Gospel?

Millions of people watched this commercial this weekend during a nationally televised NFL playoff game. It’s endearing, quality, and true. What an opportunity to share the gospel, and they did it well.

But what if it’s not the gospel?

That’s the premise of Scot McKnight’s latest book, The King Jesus Gospel. He is arguing that what we call the gospel is actually the Plan of Salvation, which “flows out of (and is founded upon) the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus” (p.39). It is in the gospel, but it is not the gospel.

The gospel is larger than Jesus dying on the cross to save me from my sins. Resurrection, new creation, discipling, the kingdom of God, and Jesus being King of all are also central components in the gospel, but largely ignored when we evangelize. We have reduced the gospel to an individual’s forgiveness of sin and called it good.

Essentially what we’ve done is taken a verse like John 3:16 out of its context within the Story of God, a.k.a the Bible, and said here’s the truth, the whole truth, and we really don’t need any more truth. We have reduced the gospel to a bite-sized, Americanized, consumer-focused infomercial.

Which is great when you want to sell something quickly and to large masses of people. But it becomes dangerous when what you’re selling is an idea.

Communication is a tricky thing. Misunderstanding abounds in the minds of the hearers. I say ‘potatoe,’ and you say ‘McDonald’s french fries.’ I proclaim the unconditional grace of God and the free gift of salvation available to all in and through Jesus Christ, and someone hears, “I can go to heaven, and I don’t need to do anything!” And according to John 3:16, that’s true.

But is it true? Is it the gospel?

When we divorce discipleship from evangelism, is the gospel still the gospel? When we remove any idea of the people of God carrying on the mission of God in our salvation message, is the gospel still the gospel?

If the extent of a person’s relationship with God is that they once prayed ‘the prayer,’ will Jesus one day say to them, “Depart from me. I never knew you”?

To me, this is by far the scariest implication of the salvation culture we live in. The possibility that there may be millions of people in our churches (or loosely connected to them) with a false sense of security in their salvation.

To answer this question, we need to dive deeper into McKnight’s book and take a close look at the gospel Jesus preached, as well as the apostles.

What do you think? Have we strayed from Jesus’ gospel? Have we neglected some essential components of the original good news?

  • http://iamryno.wordpress.com/ Ryno

    Have we (the church/Church) strayed? Yes. Most definitely. Why? Because we’re selfish by nature. In our selfishness we’ve striven to have the largest slice of pie (eternity in heaven), with the smallest amount of effort expelled to acquire it (i.e. praying a prayer… or better yet, raising a hand while someone else prays the prayer).

    If this trend is to be corrected, the Church, beginning with the leaders, need to reclaim the whole of the Gospel and begin preaching with life changing conviction and passion about Jesus and the cost of being his follower. But let’s be honest, this is difficult when we know that should be preach this way people will become upset, possibly leave, which in turn impacts giving, which in turn impacts a pay check.

    If as preachers we preach a message designed to protect our pay check we cheapen the Gospel to the point of being little more than a whore for sale.

    It’s time we as the leaders of the Church stop being selfish ourselves and reclaim the call we once knew. The call to lead the charge of Christ for his bride the Church and for his world, which he (God) desired to return to himself.

    The good news here is this can be done without drawing a pay check from the church. Didn’t Jesus say something about even the birds of the air and lily’s of the field being cared for, so why worry yourselves? I believe he did. Church leaders, stop worrying about your pay check and start worrying about souls. Only then will we see a turn around in our pews and in the world.

    • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim

      Good thoughts, Ryan. It can be tough when we want to make the gospel more palatable whether that’s out of genuine love (and ignorance) or because of numbers. I agree that change has to start with leaders, both paid and unpaid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/entropy.happens Dave McIntyre

    Watch out for the swinging pendulum…

    While the danger of a watered down, Cliff Notes, version of the Gospel is that of which you speak (legitimately, I will add) – the other end of the spectrum is nobody gets saved because nobody FULLY understands the Gospel. Who, then, is qualified to speak it?

    The elevator testimony becomes a 6 week course in hermeneutics, before they can even get started.

    If the person who prays “the prayer” has the Holy Spirit, then He will be prompting/guiding that person into a lifelong delving into a true relationship with Him.

    I’d rather encourage the new/tentative believer into the “hidden” portions (fine print?) and pray they are saved than see even less evangelizing because it puts at risk those who have a false sense of security. Seems to me that Jesus took more that approach when speaking of salvation.

    I think the middle ground may be the best place… but hard for us to draw the lines as to where that cut off is for each end.

    • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim

      That’s a good perspective, Dave. I’m not sure the gospel can’t be concise, but it must be about more than salvation. I want to post on this idea, but to be brief, a better summation of the gospel is that in Jesus, God has become King once again. That’s the storyline from Genesis to Revelation. We usurped God’s Kingship, Jesus’ death and resurrection (and exaltation) restored the Kingship, and one day all will be made new and we will live forever with the King as His people.

      I think most would agree with this, but our singular obsession is still on the forgiveness of our sins. And the story is so much bigger than that!

  • http://www.infusechurch.com Trevor Lee

    Tim–really enjoying the series of posts on the gospel. A couple thoughts. One is that this discussion of gospel seems to have a lot to do with atonement theory. Evangelicals have been big on penal substitution (no, I am not making this comment just so I can write penal substitution) while largely ignoring the Christus Victor and moral exemplar theories. I think all three are important for our perspective on gospel, and the Christus Victor probably has more to say about God as King than the other two–which you’ve identified as the main thrust of the gospel.

    Second thing–in this whole conversation I was introduced to a paper by a pastor in Virginia named Greg Thompson that has been very beneficial for me. It’s called “The Church in Our Time.” Here’s a link to a PDF if you’re interested. http://trevorslee.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/thechurchinourtime.pdf

    • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim

      Trev, unfortunately I don’t understand half the words you used there. What’s a ‘theory’?

      I do believe McKnight and Wright are both (at least partially) pushing back on the reduction of the gospel to ‘justification by faith.’ Not sure if that applies to all your big words or not, but I will try to read that paper when I can. Thanks.

  • Elmom

    In the Bible, I don’t see ” …and he prayed this special prayer and was saved” anywhere. I do see things like “they left everything and followed..”
    lots to ponder over the whole J316 conversation-Starting with reading it with the perspective of God as the active subject-not ourselves
    Love the king parallel-so amazing to see how God connects the dots through time

    • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim

      Good point, Lisa!