I am convinced that the gospel must be preached differently than it has been by evangelicals for the past few hundred years or so.
I believe this because I believe the message that has been preached has been predominantly a truncated gospel message. I learned the "gospel" as something along these lines:
You have fallen short of God’s glory, and because God is just, you must pay for this crime by going to hell when you die. But instead of just giving you what you deserve, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for those sins. If you confess your sins and "accept" Jesus’ sacrifice for you, you will receive a "pass" so you can go to heaven when you die.
That is, I have come to believe, a terribly truncated account of the gospel. (This isn’t to say the message hasn’t done a lot of good – very many people became Christians because of it, and God still uses it to bring people into his kingdom. However, it remains a truncated account of the biblical gospel that the New Testament speaks of. It’s not the whole kit and caboodle.) And because the gospel is truncated, the spirituality and mission that flow from it also become truncated.
For example, if the above message is all there is to the gospel ("accept" Jesus and go to heaven when you die), what in the world (literally) are we supposed to do in the meantime? There is simply no impetus for holiness or anything else the New Testament advocates if the gospel is simply a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.
Participating in the missio Dei (mission of God) also makes no sense if one believes a truncated gospel. If the goal is "going to heaven when you die" then why spend time advocating for justice for the poor here and now? Let’s just save their "souls" for heaven and who gives a rip about anything else. Why prop up a place we’re just going to end up leaving anyway?
Or so the logic goes… showing that the kind of Christian life that flows from a gospel that only focuses on solving the problem of individual sin and sees the end result as simply "going to heaven when you die" is shriveled, limping, and confused; a life where spirituality and mission are truncated and cut down to the same size as the gospel that was believed in the first place, eventually convincing people that their job now as Christians is to generally be nice not get into too much trouble, just to make sure the heaven thing is still going to work out.
So what does a fuller gospel look like? How does our evangelism need to change? It needs to change in terms of the problem it claims to solve (more than just individual sin), and the end result it expects to acheive (WAY more than just heaven when you die). More to come…
I wonder whether framing the gospel in terms of problem/solution is part of the truncation problem itself. It leaves the person hearing it in the position of being a consumer — I have a problem, the gospel solves it; as long as I’m convinced it’s a “good deal” for me, I’ll buy. Does the gospel have to solve a problem for us? Surely it does solve lots of problems, but is that it’s leading edge?
If the gospel is an announcement of a new reality and an invitation to participate in it, that seems to allow for a wider view of what it accomplishes in our lives — it makes us the kind of people who can live in new creation.
RC of strangeculture says
Interesting perception…especially with the question people would ask about “what am i supposed to do in the mean time”
thanks for sharing these thoughts.
Josh Hawkins says
Amen! The question I keep asking myself is “what is the end goal?” This mystery of God’s eternal plan is a massive one. Why were we created in the first place and why were we redeemed? It isn’t just about going to Heaven or avoiding Hell. There is more. The Bible isn’t silent on this subject. Can’t wait to hear more as you explore!
Jess Bousa says
Great blog. I am actually working on a book with a professor on the issue…you have any books that quote the truncated gospel in it..
Ben Sternke says
Unfortunately no. I don’t recall ever reading the term – just something that seemed appropriate for some of the expressions of the “gospel” I’ve heard. Hope the book goes well!