There’s something wrong with the way we talk about the Gospel. And, it’s a problem that can make a mess out of how people understand and live out their Christian lives.
Consider a typical gospel presentation:
God loves you and really wants to have a relationship with you. But, you have sinned. And, since God is a holy God and can’t be around sin, you have separated yourself from him. But fortunately for you, God is gracious and loving. So, he sent his son to die on the cross for your sins. If you believe in him and commit to following him, your sins will be forgiven and you will live with him in heaven forever.
So, the gospel is that you can have your sins forgiven, which is outstandingly good news. And, when we describe the Gospel this way, we’re in good company. That’s exactly how Paul summarized it when he said that the Gospel is “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). So, we’re just doing what Paul did, right?
Look again. Even in Paul’s short summary, he does two things that we often miss when we talk about the Gospel.
In accordance with the Scriptures. Notice that Paul twice emphasizes that what he’s talking about was done “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul knows full well that the Gospel only makes sense when we understand it in the context of the broader story of redemption. And, he assumes that his readers know the story and will hear his Gospel summary in that context.
We can’t do that. Or, more accurately, we need to stop doing that. The simple fact is that most people don’t know the story anymore. And, lacking that broader context, they hear our Gospel summaries and think that’s all there is to it. And, that leads to all kinds of problems.
Raised on the third day. I’m surprised how many people refer to Paul’s summary as the best way of explaining the Gospel, without commenting on the fact that he emphasizes the resurrection. Indeed, this passage stands at the beginning of an entire chapter that’s all about the resurrection. And, if you read through the New Testament, you’ll notice that the biblical authors almost always connect the Gospel to the resurrection. Yet, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone talk about the resurrection when sharing their Gospel summary. Surely we’re missing something if our Gospel summaries leave out something that the biblical authors obviously think is so critical to the Gospel.
So, there’s a problem with how we talk about the Gospel. Actually, there are two. First, we often fail to help people understand the whole story. And, as a result, they hear our summary in isolation from God’s broader purposes. And second, we often leave out things that the Bible thinks are central to a proper understanding of the Gospel.
In my next post, I’d like to explore some of the problems that I think we run into because of these two mistakes. But first, I’d love to hear what you think. Do you see the same problems in how we present the Gospel? If so, what problems do you think that these mistakes might lead to?
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof at Wheaton College, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.