Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

What do you do when the “good news” isn’t good news to you? I cringe… literally… when I hear most people share the gospel. Not good, right?

I have been trying to figure out why I cringe at the gospel for the last year. I am a Christian, I love Jesus, and I believe the bible is true… why does the gospel bug me?

I have to say that maybe it’s only the version of the gospel that I have heard that bugs me. Because the real gospel is supposed to be amazing and life changing and profound… and actually GOOD NEWS. The gospel I have heard so often sounds something like this:

We are sinful people and do not deserve to be in relationship with God. Our sin separates us from the holy God. Fortunately God sent his son, Jesus, to earth and he became both human and divine. Although Jesus himself was sinless, he died on the cross to pay the price for all of our sins. If we put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God will forgive us of all of our sins, we can be in relationship with him, and we get the free gift of eternal life with God in heaven.

ummm…. that’s good news? sure it is! but I don’t really get that excited about it. maybe it’s because I’ve heard it one too many times now. or maybe I’m just too sinful to understand it…. or maybe because it’s only a tiny piece of what the gospel is.

Yes, we are not holy or worthy of God. And yes, Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins. And yes, now we can be in relationship with God through his grace. These things are all true and wonderful and biblical. But they seem to be missing something. Isn’t the gospel bigger than that? Isn’t there more to the story?

The gospel I have heard scares me because it says that it is really just all about getting into heaven and accepting a free gift. Sure, the gospel that I have heard has made many dedicated followers of Christ, but I’m afraid it has also made a lot of Christians who have their ticket to heaven in hand and no plans to actually follow Christ. And Christianity without discipleship scares me. And the gospel that offers the “free gift of eternal life” without telling you that you need to lose your life to Christ seems simply heretical to me. It seems like a cheap gospel that cares more about sneaking people into heaven than creating disciples and bringing the Kingdom of God.

In David Fitch’s post (found here), Fitch wrote about a meeting with Dallas Willard. Here is part of his post:

Dallas asserted that there are “3 Gospels Heard at the Present”

1.) YOUR SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN and you will be in heaven in the afterlife if you believed that Jesus suffered for your sins
2.) JESUS DIED TO LIBERATE THE OPPRESSED and you can stand with him in that battle.
3.) DO WHAT YOUR CHURCH SAYS and it will see to it you are received by God.

Dallas said compare these 3 gospels with the following:

4.) Put your confidence and trust in Jesus and live with him as his disciple now in the present Kingdom of God (Matt 6.33; Rom 8.1-14; Col 1.13; 3. 1-4; John 3.1-8).
He said “Salvation is participating now in the life which Jesus is now living on earth – Of course that involves forgiveness and heaven afterward and much more.”

I have to say that I am a #4 on this list. The other three just seem crazy to me. But I have to ask, why does #2 and #3 seem ridiculous to so many while #1 is accepted as truth?

I am thankful that there are voices out their countering the #1 gospel that I have heard so many times. Getting a fuller gospel has made me see that the gospel really is good news. I used to hate the idea of evangelism- sure, I would share my story, but would I share the (#1) gospel? Not in your life! Why? Because even I, a Christian, don’t see it as that good of news. Why would I share so-so news?

I am currently trying to work my way through Scot McKnight‘s “Embracing Grace”. I heard him speak at Willow’s Shift Student Ministry Conference last week and loved his picture of what the gospel is all about. Instead of cringing it makes me excited… and I actually want to share it with others! It just rings true in my soul, and that makes me feel oh so good. Scot says the gospel is:

The gospel is:

1. The work of God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit,
2. In the context of the community of faith (Israel then the Church)
3. To restore cracked Eikons (we are made in God’s image [Eikons] but we ruined it by sin)
4. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and
5. The gift of the Holy Spirit
6. To union with God and self and
7. To union with one with one another
8. To be missional agents for the good of the world.

It’s not a four-pointer. In fact, it is twice that. We are made to be in union with God, with self, with others, and with the world. Our sin cracked our relationships in each of those four relationships so we are “cracked� in our relationship with God, self, others, and the world. The gospel is the work of God to restore us � to heal us through exposure and transformation � so we will become the Eikons God meant us to be. When that happens, we will be holistically healed and will becomes “agents of embracing grace� with everything we encounter. We will become Eikons who glow with God’s presence because we are rightly related to God, self, others, and the world. It takes time, though, Emily. For some of us a long time. Some heal up quicker than others, but don’t kid yourself � this glowing is not easy stuff.

(This is in his book but I copied it from his blog entry here)
Ah, this full and beautiful picture of the gospel brings me to life… I love it and appreciate that I have finally found a good-news gospel. I also cringe that I had to search for so long and hard to find this picture of the gospel even though I have been surrounded by so many Christians, ministries, and ministers for the past three years. That just doesn’t seem right.

So- what do you think?

What is the real gospel, in your opinion?

Where did you learn what the gospel was?

How has your grasp of the gospel changed over time?



4 thoughts on “Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

  1. So here’s the question I’m asking myself tonight. Is the question perhaps not that we’re trying to teach 1, but that people are teaching 4 poorly? Given the broad usage of Augustian models of salvation in evangelical colleges and the many attempts by evangelicals to love the poor that are not given due credit because they’re mom and pop deals, I really wonder.

    I’m all for questioning things, but I think we need to be fair with our friends in faith as well.

  2. Parke,

    I am thankful for your comment but I don’t think I quite understand it. Can you explain your views a little more? I really want to get the gospel right and understand the forces that shape Americans’ understanding of it, and I think you could be a big help in that endeavor.

    And I want to give our friends in faith a fair chance… maybe I just don’t understand how.


  3. Sorry. Bottom line. I think most generally evangelical groups I’ve seen desire to pursue 4. Sanctification is spoken of. Works that demonstrate faith are spoken of. Ministry to the poor, lulling until recently, was once an evangelical thrust and is now becoming one again.

  4. Maria,

    I had breakfast with a friend this morning and at some point in the midst of conversation he suggested that the gospel by nature is both extremely encouraging and profoundly disturbing. As I biked back home, I was just thinking about those two distinct characteristics, and how much they ring true throughout Scripture.

    I don’t believe that those two categories are strict and rigid – what is extremely encouraging to some may be profoundly disturbing to others, and vice versa. The radical nature of the gospel was nothing short of disturbing to the rich young ruler who was saddened by Jesus’ command to give up his possessions. For the prostitutes, disease-ridden, and outcasts the gospel must have been so encouraging. But it’s not always that easy.

    For me, one of the profound disturbances in the gospel that I like to think about is the fact that the Bible speaks about hell and damnation, and part of me figuring out the gospel is how to understand and teach those passages. I have found little encouragement in eternal damnation, but I don’t think you can throw it out and retain the full gospel.

    I have found it easy to focus on the encouraging aspects of the gospel – and especially with the renewed understanding that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world and we can play a role in this crazy upside-down subversive Kingdom. But, this same encouragement is also disturbing to many Christians!

    I think the true gospel needs to be balanced between these two tensions.

    Thoughts, anyone?

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