Where Does the Gospel Start?

by Ben Sternke on December 4, 2009

Post image for Where Does the Gospel Start?

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?

12 comments
Ferg
Ferg

I'm with Jon, first time comment. Enjoy reading your posts.

Here's a version of the gospel that I hear quite a lot...

Good News everyone. God has a love hate relationship with you and pretty much wants to send you to hell BUT if you admit you're a worthless piece of garbage and say a prayer right now his son Jesus might just sneak you in the back door. You'll spend the rest of your life trying to please a God who you think doesn't like you very much, you'll constantly fail but if you're one of his chosen few don't worry you'll get there in the end.

Yeah I think this kind of gospel message needs changing. Let's start from the beginning with a Father who is passionate about his creation. Sin is huge but God's love is bigger. What's the point in convincing people they're sinners when we rarely demonstrate that more importantly there is a Father in heaven who loves them more than they can possibly comprehend. A balance perhaps but a message of love and reconciliation always wins out for me when I'm sharing Jesus with people.

Jon...you must be familiar with Baxter Kruger; he's the man!

Jon
Jon

Long time reader.......first time writer............I agree with you Ben, the Gospel is rooted in the Trinity and Gods good creation. That's the best place to start. The goal of creation was to bring humanity into the communion of the Trinity. God invites us to participate in the dance of the trinity, the perichoresis, if you will. We were created to enjoy the relationship that God is in the “trinity”. All humanity was created to flow to God and be joined to God. If we begin with fallen man we loose sight of the larger narrative of the story that is much richer, more deeper, and wider than we can imagine....................I must confess I favor more of an Irenaeus perspective than Tertullian or Orgin........God bless.......always enjoy your blogs.......

Todd Hiestand
Todd Hiestand

Ben, good stuff. this tranformation in thinking has taken place for me over the past 10 years and has significantly changed my entire outlook on everything from church to raising my family to my own personal faith.

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

I like the emphasis on the kingship of Jesus, Jason (our Vineyard roots resonating there, I think!).

But I also think that the kingship of Jesus must be proclaimed in context. For example, without the backdrop of a good creation spoiled by sin and God's promise to come to bring redemption and victory over death, the resurrection makes little sense.

But I can definitely see a case for first talking and demonstrating the kingship of Jesus, and then filling in the details as people become intrigued, etc.

Maria Kirby
Maria Kirby

I have worldview that believes that God used evolution to create the world. If Jesus resurrection conquers death which is the ultimate consequence of sin, then either sin existed long before mankind came on the scene or the victory is merely over the fear of death. Death, as it seems to me, is a natural consequence of entropy. And life in this universe could not exist without entropy. So is the resurrection a victory over entropy? Promises of heaven where there will be no sickness or dying certainly seem to indicate that.

I really connect with the themes of bride and bridegroom that are used in the bible, where God is the bridegroom and his followers collectively are the bride. It seems to me that since humans need the rest of creation for our sustenance that the rest of creation gets included in the collective that makes up the bride. While I do believe in the end judgment, I like to think more about living happily ever after with the one I love.

Jason Coker
Jason Coker

I touched on this subject a while back: Sociopaths Need Jesus Too.

I think the gospel should always start with the proclamation and demonstration of Christ's Kingship. On a practical level that gospel will appeal to some as an opportunity for forgiveness, for others it would be a chance for freedom, and for still others it will be the only hope for true fulfillment in life. I think God offers all those benefits, so to speak, and he often leads with whatever appeals to our sense of self-interest to get us to consider Christ. Always leading with the offer of forgiveness to those who don't struggle with guilt - or those who are truly afflicted and exploited - is just bad missiology at best.

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

Thanks for the comment, Jon. Good to have your voice on the blog!

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

Agreed, Todd. It changes everything.

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

Thanks for commenting, Maria. Death might be a natural consequence of entropy, or perhaps entropy is a natural consequence of death entering God's good creation?

I think the resurrection is God's victory over death AND entropy, whichever came first, and it's his promise to transform the universe into a place where death is no more.

Maria Kirby
Maria Kirby

What I am trying to say is that God's good creation doesn't exist without entropy and death. In this world, it's not possible to have one without the other.

I agree that "the resurrection is God’s victory over death AND entropy". However, that victory brought a new order of things, NOT a transformation of the old. That is not to say that I don't believe that God transforms us or that this earthly existence will not be redeemed, but that the transformation process is one where we give up the present, whether it's our rights, our possessions, our privileges, what have you for the sake of doing God's will in our earthly existence and in return receive an eternal transformed existence. In other words, as we lay down our lives for the redemption of this world, our lives are transformed into an eternal life which does not obey the same rules of entropy, but which we also live.

Maria Kirby
Maria Kirby

I disagree with you about #1. based on things Jesus said about if we loose our life, we will find it and his admonishment to take up our cross and follow him. I believe that in America that we have made an idol out of life and do not value death, pain, or suffering. But it is through these means that God brings salvation, patience, joy, and many other spiritual gifts. As we participate in the life and death of Christ, we receive his grace and become like him. It is the resurrection that has transformed death from a means of enslavement to evil to a means of freedom and life in Christ.

For clarity on #2, I don't believe the transformation is an exchange for, but a result of doing God's will. Let me remind you that in both the gospel of Matthew and Luke, Jesus promised eternal life for those who kept the commands of loving God and neighbor. I fully admit that keeping those commands are not possible without Christ's grace, but neither is it possible to keep those command without doing something.

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

I think I understand what you're saying, Maria, but I would disagree on a couple points, 1) that entropy and death are part of the way God created things. It seems to me that in the New Testament, death is never seen as a "good thing" to be embraced with grace, but always as an enemy that is to be defeated.

And 2) I don't think that our lives are transformed "in return" for doing God's will. I believe we are transformed because of what Christ did, and we get caught up in it by his grace.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was Twitted by jrrozko [...]

  2. [...] few days ago I wrote about where the story of the Gospel really starts, which is an important question. But for most of the kinds of people that populate our community, [...]

Previous post:

Next post: