December 17, 2017

The Evangelical Untouchables 1: What is the Gospel?

untouchThe Evangelical Untouchables are seven diverse evangelicals who will give us a window into what’s happening in evangelicalism today.

Who are the Evangelical Untouchables?

Michael Patton is the director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries and is one of the teachers on The Theology Program.
Tony Kummer is on staff at a Southern Baptist Church in the midwest and blogs at SBC Voices.
Ryan Couch is a Calvary Chapel pastor in Oregon, and blogs at Small Town Preacher.
Kirk Cowell pastors a Church of Christ in North Carolina.
Lindsey Williams is planting a PCA Church in North Carolina, and blogs at From Acorns to Oaks.
Matt Edwards is a small groups pastor in a Non-denominational/Bible church in Washington, and blogs at Awaiting Redemption.
Darrell Young pastors a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Our first question: “If you had only two paragraphs to express the Gospel to an audience of secular twenty-somethings who don’t go to church, what would you say? Then tell us how you are promoting it in your church.

(Beware “TRs:” Ryan is clearly a disciple of Mark Driscoll!)

Michael Patton (Independent/Bible Church): The Gospel is “good news.” It is good news only to the degree that the bad news can be understood first. The world is a mess-up place. It is not just our generation that is notices this, but every generation has had to deal with their share of problems. Today is not really any worse than it was 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. The good news is that God is fixing what is broken in every generation. This is called redemption. Redemption means to “buy back” or restore to a previous condition. God is in the process of putting his messed up creation back in order. The Gospel is the good news that that which was broken is being fixed.

But the brokenness had its genesis in us, mankind. God is different. He is perfect and demands perfection because of his character. In other words, as the Bible puts it, God is righteous. Our brokenness is due to choices that we have made. All of us have messed things up. This is called “sin.” We have sinned through our selfishness, pride, hatred, and perversion of his creation. It is not the way it was supposed to be. God allows us to reject him and suffer the consequences, but he also offers us hope. This hope is the Good news. It is the hope that God has not abandoned us. It is the hope for redemption. God loves us in spite of our perversion of good. God loves us in spite of our rejection of him. He did not wait for us to live up to his standard, which can never happen, but he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, 2000 years ago to live a life that we could not. God the Son became man and never failed, never perverted, and showed us who God is. Because Christ lived a sinless life, he could take the place of man, creating a new race . . . a redeemed race. Christ was rejected and killed on a cross by man. But God allowed this so that Christ could take the punishment that man—that you and I—deserved. In doing this, he died instead of you. He took your penalty of death and separation from God on a execution cross. But since he was God the Son and since he never sinned, he did not stay dead. After three days he came back to life and proclaimed victory over all the death, perversion, sin, and penalties that man had afforded creation. But this Good News does not apply to everyone. It is only for those who believe and trust in what Christ did for them. If you believe in him, you will have life. If you trust in him, not in yourself or your works, but in him alone, you will live forever, witnessing and being a part of a redeemed creation. One day Christ will come back to call into account all people. You can either stand on your own, giving account for your own sin or you can accept the free gift of salvation and stand with Christ. The bad news is that without Christ, you stand alone and hopeless. The Good News—the Gospel—is that you can stand with Christ full of hope.

Promotion presumes and audience of some sort. Gaining an audience presumes that you have an audience. Just because people are standing or seated in front of you listening with their ears does not mean that you have an audience. Today, gaining an audience is more difficult than it has ever been. I truly believe this. People are full of suspicion and doubt. They either think you are a naïve person who still holds to your old time traditions or you are trying to manipulate. Rarely do people grant audiences to people they don’t know. I don’t. In order to give the Gospel, we must have an audience. In order to have an audience, we must have their trust. In order to have trust, they must know you. It starts with real personal engagement. This does not mean that we have to be perfect, but that we are transparent and honest. But this is not the only preparatory ingredient. You must also convince people these days that you are not naïve. In order to convince them of this, you must not be naive! Your faith must be real, not something handed down to you or outsourced to you pastor. This means you must have personally wrestled with the questions, concerns, and doubts that others are going to express. Our church is about preparing people—preparing believers—to engage the world themselves. Their lives are the greatest witness to the truths they will profess. We prepare them by being transparent ourselves. Letting our people know that it is ok to have problems. It is ok to have doubts. It is ok to be yourself. It’s ok to be weak. We also want to make sure that people are well prepared to share the Gospel. We prepare them through discipleship training, helping them to understand the essence of the Christian faith through biblical studies and historical studies. This is how we aspire to promote the Gospel, by preparing the people to do so in their lives everyday.

Kirk Cowell (Church of Christ): “One thing we can say with certainty is that the power structures of the world repeatedly engage in abusive practices that harm and dehumanize. Governments will displace native peoples, indulge in slavery, and commit war crimes. Accounting firms will cook the books; banks will risk our money for a chance to enrich themselves; churches will loudly decry certain sins while covering up their own. And then the people who caused the most harm will be offered bonuses. Not all power structures will do this, and not all the time, but it’s definitely the general trend.

“The good news of Jesus is that the one with the most power–ultimate power–chose to become a servant. And he taught a way of living the rejects personal power and privilege while subverting the power structures of the world. It’s no secret to anyone that the institutional structure called ‘church’ has often missed the mark on this, trying to impose its will through petitions, politicians, and the personality of the pastor. But I want you to know that those kinds of power grabs reveal the nature of our humanity, not our Lord. When you’ve seen churches act like that and wanted to pull your hair out, I don’t think it was because God is a lie. I think it’s because we, as God’s creation, sometimes have a gut-level response to harmful distortions of the God who is True. Jesus called his disciples to deny themselves and take up the cross. To be baptized is to die on the cross with Jesus, and rise into a new kind of life centered on love of God and of others. The good news–in part–is that the Spirit of Christ can empower us to live a life modeled on his own. Following his example, we don’t run into the world trying to conquer it, and we don’t run away from the world into a protective isolation. We engage the world to join God’s work of helping the hurting and fixing what is broken–including all those broken power structures.”

I think the best thing we can do to promote the gospel is to live the crucified life with joy and purpose. For my ministry this year, I have a few simple goals: we enjoy each other’s company, we serve our neighbors, and we tell each other our stories. Any attempt to evangelize that has the slightest hint of coercion is going to fall flat–and it should. Anything based on being the coolest church with the hippest preacher is going to convert people to something other than the cross of the servant God (and we couldn’t pull it off, anyway!) I don’t think we are called to anything other than pooling our Spirit-given gifts to continue the work that Jesus began and promised to finish.

Tony Kummer (Southern Baptist): You did not make yourself. Instead, the all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good God of the Bible made you to show his glory. Even so, you have not lived for Him, and I would guess you have ignored Him much of your life. Deep down inside you know there is something very wrong with that – and with you. If you are like me, you cannot even live up to your own definition of right & wrong. Even worse, you have rejected what you do know about God. You are not alone in doing that, all people have done the same and together we have made a mess out of this world. Think about all the injustice and suffering caused by human choices – even by our choices. God is right to be angry with us. He is right to bring final justice to this world.

God still loved us, even when we rejected Him. He did not give up on humanity, but did something radical to make us right again. He sent a man we call Jesus Christ, but He was much more than an ordinary man. Jesus lived a life in complete submission to the will of God. He lived up to the standards God had set. He spent every moment loving God and loving other people. Eventually, a conspiracy of religious leaders put Him to death. However, God was working behind this evil act to rescue us. Both Jesus and the Old Testament had predicted it. His death was a freedom payment for God’s enemies. On the cross, God punished Jesus in place of sinners. Jesus received in his body the anger of God against evil. Because of his holy life and death in our place, we can have a right relationship with God. Then Jesus rose back to life and proved himself to be the Son of God. His resurrection was a real historical event witnessed by hundreds of 1st century people. This same Jesus now rules from Heaven and is working through his followers to build a new people of God. His people are the first hints of a new world to come. They follow the teaching of Jesus by loving God and serving all people out of love. Knowing all this, it leaves each of us with a choice. We can continue to rebel against God and act as if we are independent of Him. Or we can believe in the message about Jesus and be reconciled to God. This belief in Jesus will lead us to give up anything that does not belong to his kingdom. It will also lead us to spend our lives learning from his teachings.

In our church, we are working to clarify the message of the Gospel and spread it through our community. The content of the good news is more than “say this prayer” or “walk this isle” or “God loves you.” It is a message about Jesus and his real work in history to purchase our salvation. Telling the Gospel begins with knowing it well. This means thinking about the Gospel story (biblical theology) and the Gospel doctrine (systematic theology). We also want to live out the consequences of the good news. We are aware of our daily need for God’s grace and the power of the Gospel message to change our hearts.

Lindsey Williams (Presbyterian Church in America): n order to truly know a person we need to know their story. In fact, our family background (like it or not) plays a very big role in helping to shape our personal stories. If I have one hour to spend with a person, I would spend the majority of my time getting to know their story which has led them to the present day. This is no less true when it comes to the gospel. The gospel is not set forth primarily through a set of principles, but it is a story that has been played out even before we personally came into this world. We as humans have a story. Our ability to embrace the essence and beauty of the gospel is directly tied to our ability to grasp the story that led to our need for the gospel. And this requires us spending the majority of our time in the first 3 chapters of Genesis. I would go back to the beginning of the human story and the fact that we are created in the image of God, and as a result are created to find our ultimate rest and fulfillment in relationship with Him (which our human ancestors originally experienced). However, in disobeying God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve made a conscious choice to begin seeking fulfillment outside of their relationship with God. This choice not only affected Adam and Eve, but it was a generational sin that was passed down to all humanity (not unlike both the good and bad characteristics we often get from our parents), such that all mankind has a natural proclivity to seek fulfillment and ultimate happiness outside of a relationship with God. Furthermore, this choice resulted not only in our alienation from God (which led to both a spiritual and physical death), but it resulted in our alienation from creation (Genesis 3:17-19), with fellow man (Genesis 3:16), and even from ourselves (Genesis 3:7). From that day forward all humanity is born with a longing to connect with their Maker and recover the beginning of the human story, but we are continually “looking for love in all the wrong places”. We look for fulfillment in sex, materialism, work, autonomy, and even religion, but none of them will fulfill us because we can’t change the fact that we were made for relationship with God. All of the pain, depravity, and alienation we experience is at its core a result of our alienation from God from both Adam’s original failure to trust in God and all of our subsequent failures to seek fulfillment in Him. Even our attempts to be “religious” and “christian” people apart from God only serve to further that very alienation.

But we are told that while we were still looking for fulfillment outside of God (whether through religion or irreligion), Jesus came to pay the penalty of our alienation from God (being death) through his own death on the cross. His death was a means of removing the alienation between us and God (clearing the slate of our mistakes), and restoring us to the rightful place of being the crown of his creation and his royal sons and daughters. The gospel first comes through recognizing that our actions to look for fulfillment outside of God is the source of our alienation from God. Secondly, it comes through trusting that when Jesus died on the cross he did so to fix that very alienation. The gospel is simply an effort to bring the human story full circle and repair those past events in our human story. While the gospel takes root through our restored relationship with God, the reaches of the gospel go well beyond. In fact the gospel goes as deep and as wide as the world’s problems extend. Wherever the curse of the fall is found in this world, Jesus seeks to bring the power of the cross to those areas. The gospel story is the story of God repairing and recovering all that was lost in the garden, and ultimately it is a story of restoration of our relationship with the one person in whom we find our most enduring happiness and fulfillment.

I have found that one of the best ways to promote the gospel in my church is by simply being willing to embrace both my need for the gospel and experience of the gospel, and to do so openly and authentically. As their pastor, I have to be willing to share my personal story with the congregation, including those areas of shame and how I am seeing Jesus move in the midst of those areas. The gospel is contrary to pretense, and so the gospel must come first and foremost from the pulpit. A pastor can only take people as far as he himself has gone. The story of the gospel has 3 key chapters: creation, fall, redemption. In all our relationships, we seek to honor those ways in which we reflect the image of God (creation), mourn those areas where we fall short of his image (fall), and look to the one who can renew us in his image (redemption). Simply put, we seek to share and stories and we invite people into them. And we even invite people to help us to see & promote the gospel in each of our stories. The gospel actually requires a community of faith, because Jesus never intended for us to see the gospel apart from community with others.

Darrell Young (Christians and Missionary Alliance): With this kind of group I would not be able to resist the temptation to ask them what THEY think of Jesus. Then I would like to hear what they think about our modern society and the heart of humanity. Is there evil? Then I would personalize it and talk about my own heart, and how I have thought of far worse than I have actually done. For example, I have had murderous thoughts, but I’ve never actually done it. Still, Jesus says this makes me a murderer. This is important because most people think that deep down they are pretty good. I want to direct them to their biggest need in life. The story of Jesus and the paralytic who was lowered through the roof could serve well. He obviously needed physical healing. But Jesus shocked everyone there by saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Our biggest need is to be forgiven our rebellion. So I would then take them to the cross and resurrection as an initiating, loving, sacrificial, forgiving action on the part of Jesus. He had the power and the love to create a wonderful exchange. He died so we could live. God treated His own son like a rebel so He could treat rebels like His own sons and daughters. I would emphasize the goodness of this and tell them that anyone who wants in on it must simply walk away from rebellion and see Jesus as the hope and focus of their earthly and eternal destiny.

Our gospel ‘promotion’ is best pictured from an analogy lifted from Mark Dever. We have to have two things: the preached word and some people. The Word goes out like a fountain, and the people are like a bowl to capture the Word and display it for the glory of God. We preach the gospel every week from whatever text we are in. This comes from the conviction that the Bible has a “Gospel Shape”. By this we mean that every text in both testaments ultimately speaks of Jesus. Then we need a people, an intergenerational family of brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, nieces, grandparents, kids, and friends to form the ‘bowl.’ This makes everyone necessary and all the activities and programs are really just ways to gather as a family and be what we’re supposed be: a disciplemaking community.

Matt Edwards (Independent/Bible Church): The Gospel in Two (Long) Paragraphs

I saw this video on YouTube the other day about a guy who calls himself the Guerilla Gardener. He finds neglected areas in his city and sneaks out at night to plant flowers, herbs, and shrubs to beautify the landscape. His work is technically criminal mischief, but no one can deny the positive impact that his covert operations have on the surrounding neighborhoods. As I watched the video, I thought, “This is what God is doing in our world.” He is transforming the darkness one area at a time. The Apostle Paul wrote, “[God] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13–14 NET) God is in the rescuing business. He infiltrates our world, grabs people out of the darkness, and teaches them a better way to live.

The Scriptures teach that there is something wrong with our world. I don’t think many of us would dispute that. All around us we hear stories of injustice, hate, selfishness, and greed. That’s the darkness, and the Scriptures call this darkness sin. Paul described sin as the cosmic force that is at work in each and every one of us. We see sin’s symptoms on the six o’clock news, and we see it in our own inability to live like we feel we should. But the Scriptures have good news—the world is not as God intended it, and it’s not the way He’s leaving it. God is redeeming the world from sin. The redemption mission started 2000 years ago when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus died on a Roman cross for our sin, and three days later He rose from the dead. When Jesus rose, God’s rescue mission went into full tilt. God separated for himself a community, called the church, and He sent the Holy Spirit to empower this community to live the way we were created to live. God calls each and every one of us to become a part of this rescue effort. He calls us to leave the darkness and follow Jesus. Will you follow?

Believers Fellowship and The Gospel

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change himself.” Changing the world means changing people, and we believe that the primary means by which the Holy Spirit changes people is the proclaimed Word of God. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom 1:16 NET) Because there is power in the proclaimed Word, biblical teaching is a key element to our ministry. But since we can’t proclaim a message that we haven’t embraced ourselves, we also emphasize living the Gospel. Our church partners with other organizations to promote compassion, community development, and social justice. Our most recent project partnered us with Tacoma Youth for Christ. We helped them with a remodel project that will transform an old tavern into a youth and family center for the residents of Tillicum, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Tacoma area.

Ryan Couch (Calvary Chapel): The Gospel in two paragraphs to secular twentysomethings:

I would say something like this…

Life is a real bitch. Have you noticed? But you what to know something? God never intended it to be that way. He created you to have a perfect life with no dysfunctional families, heartache, sickness, money problems, or death but our rebellion against God’s perfect plan screwed it all up. Now we are faced with the repurcussions of our rebellious hearts…separation. Separation from all that God intended us to enjoy in this world…separation from true community with others…separation from true love…separation from authentic peace…separation from lasting fulfillment. Because of our love for self and hatred of God we have now isolated ourselves from the only source of meaning and purpose in this life. So where do we go from here?

This same God with whom we’ve consistently turned our back on and spit in His face; stepped out of heaven, condescended to mankind and ultimately gave His life on a criminal’s cross and was then raised from the dead three days later. Jesus…the Son of God…your Creator…became like you and took the punishment your sin and rebellion deserved. In so doing God’s holy wrath has been assuaged and relationship with Him has been made available to anyone who will call on Him, by recognizing their sinful condition, realizing that He offers the only solution to that condition, and then confessing Him as your Lord.

We are working to promote the gospel in three ways…
1. Preaching the gospel in every message from the pulpit – Every Christian message should be rooted in Christ and ultimately in the gospel.
2. Equipping our people to be preachers of the gospel in our community – Every Christian should see themselves as on a mission and representing Christ in their context.
3. Providing venues for our church to preach the gospel – We hold both small and large outreach events where we provide resources for our people to tangibly show the love of Christ to their friends and neighbors. A few examples would be:
a. Sportman’s Banquets
b. Summer Festivals
c. Soup Kitchen (www.oasissoupkitchen.com) We serve about 50 meals per day, 6 days a week.
d. Clothing Give aways
e. Work projects
f. Street Evangelism – it doesn’t always have to be consdescending and obnoxious.
g. Crook County Connect: An event we are hosting where we are gathering practical resources (medical, dental, food, clothing, counseling, etc) for the needy of our community.

Comments

  1. I think perhaps we did a diservice 😛 trying to compress into two paragraphs.

    It is certainly more about godspeak. If it was just about language then we could change sin to ‘stress’ and everyone would understand what we mean, but in reality language of ‘Christenese’ is only part of the issue.

    Speaking to another colleague in a different city we both agreed the responses could be better, but rather than criticize we should try our kick at the can yea?!

    My sense is that language is dependent on who you’re talking with, everyone is unique so you provide responses based on your audience. (imonk: yes i DO believe communicating the gospel in a language people can understand is crucial).

    Exceptional leaders will be capable to identify the unique context of each person they deal with (from listening extensively first I surmise.)

    What your church is doing to connect with the never churched, (probably parents never churched), generation must exceed beyond program or strategy. My sense is it’s stuck in a 4-7 year model of relationship….actually, models and relationships shouldn’t be used in the same sentence.

    There is no two paragraph or single sinner’s prayer that encompasses the new ‘blue jeans’ method of communicating the gospel.

    What’s interesting with the whole exercise is that everyone had unique ways to speak to their audience, but we need to break down audience and change that into friends.

    Somewhere in that relationship journey the gospel will come up, some sooner rather than later.

    Admittedly, being from Canada, in a big city and not a small town, we have to literally rewrite what it means to communicate the gospel message because all bets are off, everything we used to take for granted (language, stories, choices) is lost.

    I suppose we’re missionaries in our own cities translating the gospel message in a way people can understand using the community that’s explicitly pointed towards God’s reign on earth while simultaneously looking very little like any church that’s been around in the past 40 years.

  2. I am sure that you can deny the Evangelical version of original sin and still be saved. Really, all one has to do is recognize that they are a sinner (personal sin) and ask God for mercy through his Son.

    But you are going to have a lot of trouble if you reject original sin (infection, imputation, or otherwise). You would not even be able to begin to deal with the problem of natural evil and universal mortality.

  3. And yes, in a broader since, original sin is part of the Gospel, but so is predestination, sanctification, and our understanding of the new nature. Really, the entire Christian message is the Gospel, but there are certian elements that are essential to what Paul calls issues of “first importance.” This is what we tried to deal with in our two paragraphs.

  4. Please take the atheist-Christian debate off this thread. Thank you.

  5. I appreciate the untouchables trying to explain the gospel. Matt Edwards mentioned he was doing an article here, and I told him his paragraph should look like this…

    “Hi, My name is…let’s do lunch or coffee or something and have a conversation.”

    But all in all, they did great. One thing I would like to know from all of you scholars…if the good news is translated from “gospel,” is there a word for bad news? Like “bospel” or something?

  6. Imonk,

    I’d like to see you ask this same question of the Liturgical Gangsta’s. I would be particularly interested in Fr. Ernesto’s response (sorry to refer to you in the 3rd person, Fr. I think you’re awesome) as I assume he would not be operating within an Augustinian anthropology. That would totally shake things up.

  7. I think the evangelicals were supposed to have historic unity on much of the Gospel. I wanted to see if it would show up. I know that there are historic divisions among the Gangstas, and I really don’t want to revisit those directly. Plus my wife is entering the RCC in a month and I don’t want to lose whatever serenity I’ve achieved recently.

    But you’ll like the question they are working on.

    ms

  8. Gotcha’. Thanks for facilitating these conversations.

  9. Mark Nikirk says:

    Micheal Patton,

    “Really, the entire Christian message is the Gospel, but there are certain elements that are essential to what Paul calls issues of “first importance.”

    I’ve been listening to your Theology program on podcast for a bit now. This is what you’ve been referring to as the circle of essentials. Outside that is the circle of orthodoxy, and beyond that is non-essentials. Have I got this right?

    Pomo,

    “I think perhaps we did a disservice 😛 trying to compress into two paragraphs”

    Its hard but didn’t someone say that if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you probably don’t understand it? Maybe that doesn’t apply to things that are intrinsically supernatural, though. Been enjoying your comments.

    Mark Nikirk

  10. Mark Nikirk:
    “Its hard but didn’t someone say that if you can’t explain something in simple terms, you probably don’t understand it?”

    I think C. S. Lewis talked about something like that. But simple terms and short are often quite different. In C. S. Lewis’s discussion, he specifically talked about the fact that to explain things in simple terms, you often have to make things a lot longer than they would be otherwise, because you can’t use a lot of technical/insider vocabulary that acts as shorthand for complex concepts, so you need to use longer phrases and whole sentences to explain what one technical word might capture.

  11. “Is there a word for bad news? Like ‘bospel’ or something?” …

    I hope you’re a Tolkien fan, ’cause he seemed to have gone out of his way to research the answer to that one. Or as he had Grima say to Gandalf: “Lathspell I name you, Ill-news. And ill news is an ill guest they say.”

    He worked for a dictionary company researching word origins at one point in his life …

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  12. Mark, exactly!

  13. All I can say is, “huh?” How ’bout the The Liturgical Gangstas getting a shot at this one. I think they might put a little more meat on the bones.

  14. bruce:

    Could you be more specific about what you find inadequate, given the question?

    ms

  15. Woofus:

    RE: “Does it bother anybody that the religious claims made here–besides being totally unsupported–have no clear connection to the problems they are supposed to address? How does believing in Jesus make life less of a bitch? What difference does going to church make? Because it’s easy to see God (if he exists) and religion as just part of the system. And Christians’ lives suck just as much as everybody else’s.”

    One of the things that brought me back to faith (at least a measure of it) is that attitude makes a difference. People with hope a) live happier lives, and have a sense of empowerment that is necessary to overcome or thrive in adversity. I give you, for example, the African-American spiritual–expressions of full joy and abundant life from the worst conditions I could imagine. The ability to hope and trust in Christ brought about the ability to sing and live. Even those who had no hope of escape knew moments of freedom and joy that they might otherwise never had known. And eventually, faithful Christians (and other righteous people) started the abolition and Civil Rights movements.

    I can’t always explain why, but faith is not tangential. The narrative and meaning it provides pervades and changes everything. I’ve been a Christian and I’ve been an atheist, and now I have a little faith if God. My life sucked way worse as an atheist than it does now.

  16. Thanks, Matthew Peterson and Michael Patton, for taking taking the time and effort to respond to my question that could come from a secular twenty-something. You both make valid, good points.

  17. Andy D,

    I’m not sure if I’m allowed to answer you as it’s kinda off topic. If you want an answer, follow my name to my blog and leave a question on the top post. I’ll answer it there. (Though my answer in short is “I don’t think we can know why God created. All we can know is the God who has created. And He saves us from death, and destroys our evil because he yearns for us. Jeremiah 31:21, Hebrews 12:2, Song of Songs 4:9, 6:4-5, etc.”)

  18. Kirk Cowell says:

    I hope this does not come accross wrong, but are we supposed to present the Gospel in a way that does not offend, picking and choosing those elements that are pleasing to each generation and discarding the rest (at least for a time)?

    Quick aside–I have a newborn in NICU at the moment (he’s out of the woods and progressing well, though), and I can’t keep up with the conversation as much as I would like. But I did want to come back to this one.

    I understand (I think) what you are saying about the offensiveness of the gospel, but if what we are preaching isn’t good news, then by definition it’s not gospel. The good news is that God, through Jesus, is setting everything right. (I’m with N.T. Wright on this point.) Since everything is being set right, it makes sense to me to focus on what my audience already knows is wrong. Too often what happens is we’ve only practiced telling one kind of good news (forgiveness of sins) and we wind up first having to convince people that they are guilty before they are set up to hear the facet of the good news that we know how to tell.

    Jesus is able to begin at different starting points. For many, it’s healing. For others, it’s relationship. His first point in the Sermon on the Mount is “All of you, just as you are, hungry, poor and oppressed, are blessed by God.” That’s good news!

    The gospel is huge! God is renewing heaven and earth! With so much that is wonderful to tell, I don’t see the point of starting with the facet of the good news that is most likely to alienate my audience from the start. There’s no reason to do that unless “through the cross God offers forgiveness of your individual sins” is the primary gospel to which all else is secondary. I don’t think it is.

  19. Hear! Hear!

    I was at a Relay for Life event about a year ago where they were trying to hold a rally for a cure for cancer. In itself a good thing.

    But they had this weird quasi Easter celebration. The theme was “we’re staying up all night waiting for the light of the Cure to dawn.” And they had a celebration where they put faces of people who had died of cancer up so we could see how much Hope there must be in the Cure.

    I wanted to go up front, grab the mike and tell them “Yes, hope for a cure. But even with a cure, these people remain in the grave. And even with a cure, cancer won’t get people, something else will. Death still wins. But the sunrise from on high has visited us. Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.” But I didn’t think I’d say much before security tackled me, so I just paced around in the back praying Hail Mary’s and Jesus Prayers. (Hail Mary’s because as they lost their only hope, so she lost her only hope. But she has received hers back.)

  20. Michael Karmann says:

    Thanks for doing this guys. I just spent 3 weeks with my people on wednesday night discussing “What is the gospel?” At the end the homework assignment was to write out a definition that was easy to remember and could be shared with someone in 20 seconds. The idea was that this was your one and only shot. It needed to capture the essence of the gospel, as well as try and engage in further conversation. It was well worth the time and effort we took.

  21. I don’t know if Bruce will answer, but I have to second what he said: “Huh?” and “Maybe you could give this to the Liturgical Gangstas” as I found most of these answers … erm … I’m trying to stay tactful so I’d best not say anything more.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  22. I really enjoyed reading these. Thank you everyone.
    I especially like any paragraph with Jesus at the centre of it and what He did for us and why.

    The secular world can feel a happy, positive & purposeful place to be. The sinful worthlessness of my life without God wasn’t something some one *else* could have told me. I wouldn’t have listened.

    After 2 years in an evangelical fellowship I have still to reconcile my BSc and PhD with teaching on Genesis. I am comfortable being a work-in-progress. But if Genesis had been part of my initial re-introduction to the Gospel, I wouldn’t have listened.

    Different voices and approaches are essential and all have value. For *me*, what seemed most important at the time was to hear that Jesus was recognised as a real and historical figure by sensible people and to register that he had actually died for me. That was impossible to ignore.

  23. I am reminded of the time I witnessed a couple of very sincere Christians in a very secular setting trying to convince a fellow to believe in Jesus – by expounding the finer points of the doctrine of the Trinity! The episode belonged on Failblog.org.
    Perhaps we are not supposed to communicate the gospel to 20-something seculars in two paragraphs. I laud the effort of the Untouchables. Good gospel in any church. But it seems a little too much like singing to the choir.
    On the Resurgence Blog in his “Two Kinds of Simple Church, Part One” (http://theresurgence.com/Dodson_TwoKindsofSimpleChurch_Part1) Jonathon Dodson talks about “simplicity [that] ignores the complexity of biblical theology, revelation embedded in history, and culture that alternately affirms and contradicts its historical-cultural context. This kind of simplicity is not what we seek.”
    Then in Part two he hints at the simplicity we are seeking: “Whatever you make of the incarnation, it communicates a single, simple reality. God is translatable, just as the Bible is translatable. God was touchable in Jesus… In many respects, he communicated the complexity of divinity in simplicity, so that even common fishermen could catch on.”
    We see Jesus himself doing this in John 4 with the Samaritan lady at Jacob’s well. He read her heart and spoke to what she knew about herself. Probably in less than two paragraphs.
    The point I make is that while we must strive for simple statements of the gospel, no matter how accurate the simple statement you offer if you haven’t read the sinner’s heart and spoken to that very current existential issue you’ve struck out before getting to the plate.
    And it is just simply so that while a thousand 20-somethings’ heads may be captivated by group-think focused on sex, success, Twitter and Facebook, not two of their hearts will be on the page at the same time.
    “Come Holy Spirit, we need thee, come sweet Spirit I pray…”
    Jesus incarnate in his Spirit-empowered church touching people in a tangible way with the gospel requires less than two paragraphs to hit a homerun. It requires that you and I get close enough to seculars – who by the way, like the Samaritan woman are not unspiritual even if irreligious – to touch them in an intimate enough way to know their hearts. Speak to that and the secular 20-something will invite you into an ongoing conversation and you may eventually fill their heads with tons of good solid theology. But the handful of words that opens the door of the heart will never be the same few words again. Formulas belong in laboratories not in life.
    Then again, I am just a bit prejudiced toward a Pentecostal perspective.
    Good job. Great discussion.

  24. Michael…Driscoll 🙂

    Thank you for the opportunity to do this. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to participate in this thread I’ve been out of town and away from an internet connection.

    Just speaking for myself I don’t really see how it’s “Christianese” or would be difficult for any person to understand.

    It would be helpful to know exactly what would fall under the heading of “Christianese”

    -ryan

  25. Just two paragraphs? 🙂 no ‘Godspeak’ required.

    Whatever we humans profess to believe about Evolution and the apparent absence of a Creator, we consistenly act as if we live within a moral universe. We habitually express surprise at the Universe because It Seems So Evil; i.e. Wy Do So Many Bad Things (earthquakes, floods, miscarriages, genetic deformities…) Happen? And why are People So Bad? (mothers microwaving babies, fathers pushing their own young children off 50′ highway overpasses… etc.) Our thought-life and our reactions to perceived wrongs done to us by others is evidence that we think there must be some ultimate Idea of good and evil, right and wrong, somewhere within the warp and woof of the Universe. This fact would be laughable if we actually were the product of random forces which accidentally produced life from inanimate matter. This may be the best ‘internal’ evidence we have that there just might be a hidden ‘Someone’ responsible for this sense of good and evil within us. For a ‘Someone’ rather than a ‘something’ IS necessary to explain a Universe with living beings who possess a pervasive sense of ‘good and evil’. Just as a lower mountain lake cannot empty itself into a higher mountain lake, so an impersonal universe logically could not have produced creatures with natures ‘higher’ than it is itself. Only a ‘personal being’ – having the power to choose, able to make decisions, to plan among possible courses of action – can be the source of the very concepts of ‘good’ or ‘evil’. An impersonal Universe, like any impersonal thing, cannot in and of itself, be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. A stone, or a sunset, or an earthquake can only be granted moral value by an observer – a ‘personal’ third party with the power and ability to be pleased and to judge. So we have this sense of good and evil that we cannot shake, (and we know that society would be much worse off if we could shake it) and if the Universe really is an accident, then we are in the position of a fish complaining that the water is wet. But it gets worse. We see ‘evil’ and ‘bad’ things in others, but the rub is that those very things that we ‘know’ to be wrong in others, we find ourselves doing, more times than we would like to admit. And we are powerless to do much at all about this. Even after strenuous efforts, we find ourselves powerless to live up to this very mysterious but unshakable good-and-evil standard.

    The Good News as written about in scripture, is that there IS a moral Creator behind this Universe of ours, which explains this good and evil guilt feeling we can’t shake. There is a ‘missing’ third party observer with the power to grant moral value to things. This Creator is the embodiment of all that we hope for when we imagine a better, perfect, world/person/place/thing. He would need to be, to have come up with all that is. He is utterly good and utterly powerful, and utterly radiant and wholly complete in his being. AND He possesses the power of Self-Existence, placing him beyond the restrictions of time and space. And this creator originally made us in his image – as finite, but perfect reflections of his own nature, which explains where we get our unshakable good-and-evil feeling. But the bad news is, as the Genesis narrative tells us, that the original man and woman, during a simple test, turned away from a relationship of trust and obedience with this Creator, falling from their original high position and relationship with Him. They tried to cover it up, but found themselves naked and ashamed. Sadly, what occured in them amounted to spiritual death, as well as (later) physical death. And those deadly attributes were passed on to all their offspring. They lost their internal connection with their creator; their thoughts, emotions, desires were darkened and clouded. Yet they and their offspring still retained a racial memory of what paradise (goodness) was like, along with memories of good and evil that (as we know) cannot be forgotten to this day. Many of us would do anything to shake those memories. And there are many distractions today that would help us do so. But the consequences of their rebellion weren’t simply personal. The natural world was also affected by that fall; death passed on to all creatures; the perfect order within nature became altered and misshappen. (If we could ‘remember’ with perfect knowledge how things were before the Fall, we would probably be horrified by even the best life here on earth as we know it) But the scriptures also tell us that the Creator would send a person into the world who would be able to undo the horrible things that happened to us and the world back in the garden. This person would be both God and man; he would be both a priest (mediator) between mankind and his creator, and a king with authority to wisely rule over those who follow him. Isaiah tells us that he would be one who was not beautiful or handsome in outward appearance, nor would it be immediately obvious to humanity that he was the one spoken of. Apparently he was to enjoy no special privileges or advantages simply because of who he was. In fact he would suffer greatly to accomplish his work. Isaiah also says that the ‘government would be upon his shoulders’ – in the good sense of caring for us and bearing responsibility for us, as well as hinting that earthly governments would perceive him to be a threat. But he would give himself up for us, paying a ransom with his life to buy us back from our fallen state.

    All this was alluded to in what we know of as the Old Testament. In the New Testament, this person is fully revealed as the very Son of the Creator, Jesus, born to a human mother, and – since his father was not a fallen man – not born into the spiritual death inherited from Adam by every other person born. He lived the life that only a truly perfect human being can live. He performed miracles, even raising the dead. He was at odds with the religious leaders of the day, who had turned faith into a moral ball-and-chain and a ritual of works, rather than a joyous relationship with the Creator. He broke the rules by healing on the Sabbath, and eating and hanging out with those who were perceived to be the scum of society of those days. He taught that he was the perfect representative of his Father (the Creator), and that anyone who saw him and heard him, saw and heard his Father. His words were simple but they consistently shut the mouths of his critics. He revealed to us that the relationship between God and man was to be the same love relationship that he enjoyed with his Father. He said that his followers would also do the good works that he did. And he taught that those who would be greatest in his Kingdom were those who were the greatest servants. But it was only after his death and resurrection that it became apparent what his full work was. Because we are inheritors of the rebellion of Adam against God, we are consequently living in a state of opposition to our Creator, and the penalty for that is… death of every kind. And there is nothing that any of us can do to undo that. Our own best efforts to ‘be good’, fall far short of God’s original high standard for us. (Trying to please an infinite creator with your own imperfect works is like trying to offer a 5-star chef an omelet made from 11 good eggs and one rotten egg – would you partake?) The Catch-22 is that our falleness has also blinded us to the depth of our falleness and helplessness. (One of the many consequences of our moral fall was a subtle but fierce tendency to self-righteousness and pride – both anathema to our being receptive to the only solution) Only someone who was both man and God could possible pay the price to ransom us back from our terrible fallen state. Only someone who combined both natures together could become a substitute for us. Only a man could die; and only a God-man possessing an infinite/divine nature could die a death that would pay the price-of-death for a huge but finite number of humans who would put their trust in him. And only a God-man could come back from death (having conquered it) with sufficient power to pass that resurrection life on to that same number of humans who put their trust in him. Thus undoing the spiritual death that befell us in Adam. How do we ‘put our trust’ in Him? By admitting our own inability to meet His high standard for ourselves, and that our best boot-strap efforts have repeatedly failed and will never work. As well, we make a commitment to turn away from what we know, and whatever he points out to be evil in our own actions, thoughts, motivations, emotions. This is called repentance. And we then throw ourselves upon his mercies; requesting that, because of his status as payer-of-ransom, he graciously apply his death as payment for our sin, and that he then grant to us his own resurrection life, that we may no longer live under the shadow of Adam’s sin. In this transaction we give him our failures and sin and guilt, in return for his perfection and wholeness and Life. And we then request him to teach us about the new relationship he wants to have with us, to guide us and sustain us and grow us into the full glowing humanity he envisioned from the beginning. And that is just the beginning.

    It’s no use asking why it had to happen this way. Of course we would like to know why, but I have a feeling that that knowledge may be reserved for those who do the hard work of living through this process. There may be something about what we eventually come to understand as the ‘reason(s)’ it had to happen this way – something that would be incomprehensible to anyone who stands on the outside looking in. There are things about people that we can only comprehend by spending time with them. And there are things – like sex and skydiving – that we only ‘understand’ fully once we have done them.

    Grace and Peace.

  26. Interesting to see how many of these ministers draw from the actual four Gospels, what they chose to say about them, and the degree to which they chose to refer to them (some not so much; others, not too bad).

    I think the statement: “a conspiracy of religious leaders put Him to death” is misleading/inaccurate (Tony Kummer) by what it leaves out—particularly the Romans—but also others who could have defended Jesus but chose not to do so. This is dangerous rhetoric historically, so special care need to be taken to convey the fullness of what the Gospels have to say about the events surrounding Jesus’ death.