Sunday, 21 May 2017

Evangelism and the Gospel

At my church I have become the portfolio leader for local evangelism. This is a new portfolio and I am kinda finding my way, so I am reading some things and then thinking out loud for others to help sharpen my thinking. This may become a series...

In my last post I said that evangelism is speaking the Gospel. This immediately brings us to another loaded Christian word. What is the Gospel?

Greek boffins will tell you that "gospel" originally means "good news", but in Christian terminology the gospel isn't just some sort of general "good news" it has some sort of specific meaning.

In the New Testament it is obvious that the Gospel is to be said or proclaimed (Mark 13:10; Luke 20:1; Acts 8:25, 14:21; Romans 1:15; 1 Corinthians 1:17, 9:16; 2 Corinthians 2:12, 8:18, 11:7; Galatians 1:8, 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 4:6; Revelation 14:6 and many other places). Even if you don't agree with my definition of evangelism, theses verses alone means the Gospel message must be told to others.

While speaking is by far the primary action of the Gospel the New Testament also says a few others things about it:
So that is all great, but what is the Gospel in normal speak?

I have heard it said that Colossians 1:13-14 is the gospel:
He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)
Or even the classic John 3:16 (and the following verse):
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)
In Acts 16:31 Paul and Silas simply say "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved"

To move one step away from specific texts it might also be good to see what others have said the Gospel is.

Kevin DeYoung says:
the gospel not an easy term to define. Most foundationally, it refers to the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1–8), but more broadly it can be shorthand for the whole message and story of the Christian faith (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:8)...The gospel is what one must believe in order to be a Christian.
Mark Dever understands the Gospel to be:
the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God. 
J. I. Packer has said the Gospel is: “adoption through propitiation.” He also has said elsewhere that this message of evangelism consists of “the gospel of Christ, and Him crucified; the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Tullian Tchividjian has said
the gospel says it’s not what you must do, but what Jesus already did on behalf of sinners" and that: "The gospel is good news—wonderful, positive, invigorating, wholesome, nurturing news—precisely because our relationship to God does not depend on our zeal, our efforts, and our generosity, but on Christ’s. That’s what makes the gospel such good news. And it’s not just good news about how we “get in” initially; it’s good news that we go back to every day because we are prone to wander into narcissism (how am I doing? what else do I need to do?). The gospel keeps us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. So, the gospel doesn’t just justify us; the truth of the gospel sanctifies us and develops us and matures us.

Scot McKnight has written an interesting book called The King Jesus Gospel. I read this a few years ago so may need to re-read it again, now that I am re-thinking about evangelism and the Gospel. McKnight would argue that most of the above is not precisely the Gospel but the Plan of Salvation. He might say that these Gospels may produced justified people as the message is all about individuals being saved, but it may not lead to a life of justice and good deeds. He says the Gospel is the story of Israel fulfilled in the Story of Jesus. The problem with the other definitions is that they do not need to the Old Testament. Sure you may need the Fall in Genesis 3, but then we can skip over everything until we get to Jesus on the cross dying for our sins. Also, we need to ask if Jesus preached the Gospel and if so, what was He saying? Was it merely just the Plan of Salvation, or something wider?

I think McKnight's criticism is important. As Jared C Wilson has said, "what you win them with is what you win them to." The ideal goal in evangelism (God willing) is for more people to not just to be saved, but to be part of the Church; for people to not just make a decision for Christ but to become a disciple of Jesus.

Matt Chandler has written a book called The Explicit Gospel. I haven't read it (yet), but looking at the contents page it seems that he has approached the Gospel from two different perspectives, what he calls the Gospel from the ground and the Gospel from the air. Reformed evangelicals maybe too focused on the Gospel on the ground with getting people saved that we may forget the broader picture of the Gospel, be that renewal of creation and bringing down unjust social structures.

The Plan of Salvation is a subset of the Gospel and a good one at that. I think when talking to people about faith/Jesus/God/the Gospel we can't tell them everything at once. I will return to this point in another post where I will pull out some circle geometry. The Plan of Salvation is a least good place to start.

The IVP New Bible Dictionary says:
The gospel is the good news that God in Jesus Christ has fulfilled his promises to Israel, and that a way for salvation has been opened to all. The gospel is not to be set over against the OT as if God had changed his way of dealing with man, but is the fulfillment of OT promise (Mt 11:2-5). Jesus himself saw the prophecies of Isaiah as description of his own ministry (Lk 4:16-21)
I don't mind that at all. But knowing a definition of the Gospel is different to knowing the actual content of the Gospel. This will come in another post.

Previous post in this series:
What is and isn't Evangelism?


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