gospel for today

Today I offer some response to the question I raised last week: what is the gospel for today?

Part of the solution to translating the gospel for today requires a move beyond the simplified versions of the salvation-only gospel.

Four-spiritual laws, the Romans Road, and invitations to pray the “sinners pray” may still be appropriate in certain sectors of society. But not many. With a declining grasp of Christian beliefs and morality in the broader culture, a packaged faith just doesn’t translate well. In a post-Christian culture, people are very suspicious of religious messaging, especially calls for commitment. “What’s the catch?” is a common response to the presentation of the salvation-only gospel. And if we’re on honest, the salvation-only gospel has always had a catch: following Jesus - the whole joining others, living well, loving your neighbor, submitting your whole life (not just your mind) part. Pretty big “catch” if you ask me. It’s not surprising statistics don’t reveal a strong retention of young adults in the church - Christianity is costly (Mt. 10:38-39).

But I think we need more than just recognizing historical and cultural influence, although that helps. And we need more than just a more balanced presentation that is honest about the cost of discipleship. We can’t just tweak the Christian message if the paradigm of the gospel is incomplete. With personal salvation the gospel, the rest of the faith journey becomes secondary (e.g. Step 1: believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour - this is the MOST IMPORTANT step. Step 2 and beyond: follow Jesus and live a Christian life).

On the salvation-only paradigm, NT Wright reflects,
“I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say, ‘the gospel.’ I just don’t think it is what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things people ought to say, to preach about, to believe. I simply wouldn’t use the word ‘gospel’ to denote those things.”
We need a better paradigm. We need the whole gospel.

Instead of making personal salvation the hub of the Christian gospel or the gateway to discipleship, we need to place personal salvation as a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. An important part, no doubt. But a part.

I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s personal experience of salvation, but the gospel is bigger than you. Or me. And a response to the gospel requires more than my internal agreement or belief.

Jesus’ invitation to “repent and believe” (Mk. 1:15) was not like our ways of agreement or belief - an internal change in attitude. No, Jesus was calling people to a transformed way of life in participation with God and his people in the world (OT - Israel; NT - Church). And this remains the call today. Not only is the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection timeless, but the gospel of Jesus’ invitation is as well: “Come, follow me...” (Mt. 4:19; Mk. 10:21).


Anonymous said...

Let's try again. In light of what you've been sharing about the Gospel - it's been on my mind too, I had a question for you. When you read what Jesus said to his disciples in Matt 9:37 about the harvest being great and the workers few, (in my salvation-only thinking) I always thought "harvest" referred to people out there ready to pray the sinners prayer and souls won, but Jesus was still alive when he said it so that doesn't really make sense! So in rethinking the Gospel, what is the "harvest" Jesus refers to and what is the work the workers are to do? Is it a call to make disciples?

David Warkentin said...

Good questions Jean! I can remember wrestling with the "harvest" language ever since I was a kid - not always sure if it's my own insecurities with evangelism or something deeper with how the message is communicated. I think disciples is a good place to start. Someone also pointed out to me today how so much of Jesus' metaphors for the kingdom of God were agricultural (e.g. mustard seed). "Harvest" fits this way of talking about the kingdom, which in my mind is inclusive of all aspects of Jesus' ministry (salvation, discipleship, etc...).

Len Hjalmarson said...

Somewhere someone has a perfect analogy for this, and I would love to hear it! But maybe what we have reduced to "the gospel" is in fact the steering wheel, the mechanism that will keep us on track. But if all you have of the car is the wheel, what have you got? And even once you have the rest of the parts, you have to learn the rules of the road, find gas, etc. Oh, and those other seats are there for a reason..

David Warkentin said...

Yes Len, definitely worth seeing everything as one one part of the greater whole of the gospel. We just have such a tendency to rate, rank and order things in term of importance that whether we like it or not, certain aspects, even a "steering wheel", are seen as the main/key/central components of the car. Meanwhile everything else is in disrepair. Good analogy!

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