I few days ago I was talking with a friend who asked me, “How would you explain the gospel?” I shared with him what I saw as the essential “nuggets” of the story. He expressed surprise that I started my explanation with God created a very good world. This got me thinking about where people generally start when they are asked to explain the good news of Jesus.
A few days ago David Fitch wrote a post on evangelism for post-Christendom cultures. In it he said this:
Traditionally, the first move in evangelism is to convince the non-Christian that he or she is a sinner in need of God (or that he or she is deserving of God’s judgment and going to hell without Christ). “You must admit you are a sinner in need of God!” We evangelicals inherit this ‘starting point’ from our Reformed theology (which for many reasons starts with the depravity of humanity).
So, taking the depravity of humanity as our starting point, we end up with a “problem” that is purely individualistic: a person is separated from God because of their sin. The “solution” is then to find forgiveness through the work of Jesus on the cross. And that’s kind of where the story ends.
While not denying any of the above, I humbly submit that the gospel doesn’t start with the depravity of man. It starts with the Trinity, and it starts with creation. Before sin entered the picture, The Triune God created the entire universe out of the sheer overflowing of his self-giving love. Then sin enters the picture, and not just as individuals breaking God’s laws, but also as human brokenness, oppression and war, earthquakes and tsunamis, depression and despair. What God has come to do in Christ, then, is renew all things, dealing with sin in all its complexity, and restoring creation to its original intended purpose.
So the gospel starts further back from humanity’s sin, and goes on further than individual forgiveness for sins. It is rooted in a vision of a God of infinite love creating a world he called “very good,” and looks forward to a vision of a God who is working to put everything right, restoring his good creation to its good-ness. This work has already been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but awaits its final fulfillment, which we see glimpses of in biblical passages such as Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21-22.
If our “starting point” is the sinfulness of humanity, we end up with a truncated gospel. If we go back to creation and look forward to new creation, we end up with a more “full” gospel, a much more robust view of salvation, and a greater vision to call people toward than simply forgiveness for sin.
What do you think of this? Where would you push back? Where have I not been clear enough?