Several years ago, when I was being ordained as a minister, I had the privilege of sitting with a group of men and talking theology and ministry. Present were about six pastors and a handful of the elders and deacons from the church that were ordaining me. They ask me many questions, and I remember the day fondly. One exchange does stick out in my mind though as being particularly telling. I was asked to give a brief presentation of the gospel as if I were evangelizing someone. I fumbled around with an answer trying to articulate how I understood the gospel. The pastor who asked the question let me know that he was disappointed I couldn’t give a clear and succinct answer to the question. Essentially, he wanted me to give a “Romans Road” or “Four Spiritual Laws” kind of presentation. I didn’t, not because I don’t know those explanations of the gospel, but because even back then I was uncomfortable with them, and felt they were so succinct that they actually misrepresent the gospel and the Christian life. Though I couldn’t articulate it then, its becoming clearer to me now.
I think the gospel of “Jesus died for your sins so you can go to Heaven” or “Jesus died for you, and God has a wonderful plan for your life” is woefully inadequate. These explanations represent a truncated gospel that doesn’t even come close to capturing the biblical vision of who Christ is and what he has accomplished. Let’s survey some scripture.
The message preached by John the Baptist…
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”” (Matthew 3:1–2, NIV84)
The message preached by Jesus…
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”” (Matthew 4:17, NIV84)
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him,” (Luke 8:1, NIV84)
“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3, NIV84)
The message preached by the Apostles…
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 10:5–7, NIV84)
“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1–2, NIV84)
“But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12, NIV84)
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8, NIV84)
““Now I (Paul) know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” (Acts 20:25, NIV84)
“They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23, NIV84)
“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30–31, NIV84)
The gospel message preached by Jesus and the disciples was an announcing of the presence of King Jesus. The good news was that the promised Messiah had arrived, and the proper response of humanity is to repent of its sin, and follow the God’s chosen King. The good news is that the promises made to Israel are fulfilled, and that all of us are being invited to become citizens in the Kingdom of God as the King does the will of Father in fixing (redeeming) this broken world beginning with his death as atonement for humanity’s sin. Frankly, where I go when I die is only an afterthought in this discussion.
For a case study, take a moment to read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-40. The topic of the sermon is the resurrection of Jesus, but the larger point being made is that the resurrection is proof of God’s approval of Jesus as Messiah. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew messiah. Christ/Messiah means the “anointed one” or the chosen one of God. Peter’s message was that we can know that Jesus is the promised and chosen King because God resurrected him and placed him in authority. In short, Jesus the king has come and is now reigning over this world. Our proper response is to repent and enter into a relationship of covenant loyalty with the King.
So, if the gospel message is that the King has come, how do the teachings of Paul concerning atonement, redemption, and forgiveness fit into the equation? My quick answer is that what Paul is teaching in his writings are the mechanics of how salvation works, but should not be mistaken for the actual good news message. I believe, and this is partly due to the Protestant Reformation’s focus on justification by faith alone (Sola Fide), that we have emphasized the how of salvation over the who (King Jesus) and the what (the Kingdom of God). Essentially, our method of evangelism has become one of trying to convince people of our theological understanding of salvation (soteriology), and not giving them the actual good news message. The ramifications of this is that we have a great many people running around calling themselves Christian because they prayed a prayer to get out of Hell, but never surrendered their lives in service of King Jesus.
These thoughts are a work in progress for me, but I have come to strongly believe that we’ve gotten it wrong. I’m currently reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, and starting next week, I’ll be blogging through the book to help us better understand what the King Jesus gospel could look like.