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Home > Issues > 2008 > Winter > An Efficient Gospel?

I had been a disciple of Jesus Christ for less than a year when I first heard "the gospel question." It was May 1988, and I was spending the summer following my freshmen year of college working as a counselor at a Christian sports camp in the Missouri Ozarks.

Before the campers showed up, we counselors arrived early for a week of preparation and training. After long days of physical labor, we would gather in the evening to worship and listen to teaching designed to prepare us to lead our young charges toward God and athletic excellence. The topics ranged from end-times prophecies to prayer, sex and dating to evangelism and discipleship—all in the context of learning to throw a tight spiral, land a back handspring, or field a grounder.

On one such night the camp director stood before several hundred of us and asked the gospel question. Not the proverbial, "If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure where you would spend eternity?" Instead he said, "If someone were to ask you what the gospel is, what would you say?"

The question took me off-guard. I had no idea. And suddenly I was nervous.

I think I knew that Gospel was what the first four books of the New Testament were called, that it meant "good news," and that the good news was about Jesus Christ. As a new believer, I was smitten by Jesus and especially by his people, the church. I had surrendered my life wholly to Jesus and was seizing every opportunity to grow and be obedient to God.

But that night, for the first time, I was hearing "the gospel" referred to as an entity unto itself, with a definition distinct from the melded concepts of God, Jesus, the church, and everything I thought I understood. Not only did I have to admit that I had no idea what "the gospel" is, I also had to grapple with the fact that I wasn't even sure what I was being asked.

I don't remember what the camp director said next, but over the next few years I came to understand the nature of the question I was asked on that summer night. More than that, I learned what the right answer was supposed to be. At my university I discovered that "gospel" was a word that many Christians used as shorthand for the means by which a person could go to heaven after they died. Over time they had perfected the science of explaining "the gospel" in a simple and efficient way.

In a modern world, we reduce the complexity and diversity of Scripture to simple systems, which flattens the biblical witness.

The gospel was understood to be a series of propositions meant to "save" someone. When these propositions were followed logically and sequentially, and subsequently accepted as truth in faith, the subject was assured of their eternal destiny—heaven after death.

But as I have continued in my faith and in ministry, I have continued to struggle with "the gospel question"—with what is being asked and how it has been answered. I haven't been alone. Many of us want to be faithful to Jesus, and we are seeking to be faithful to a broader and deeper Christian tradition than the one that evolved in America after World War II.

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Related Topics:BibleBible StudyGospelPreachingTeachingTheology
From Issue:Is Our Gospel Too Small?, Winter 2008 | Posted: February 8, 2008

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

BlackCalvinist

April 22, 2008  6:13am

Hey Tim, Whether the second question generates more energy or not is irrelevant in one aspect. Man's greatest need is still salvation in Christ, not just to live a better life on this side of eternity. The man who doesn't understand his major problem is spiritual and not just socio-economic has not understood the need for the gospel. Unfortunately, you seem to be heading toward a common mistake which does indeed destroy the true message of the gospel - confusing or mixing the implications of gospel preaching and the gospel message with the actual gospel. This past week at Together for the Gospel, Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist did a talk on this very subject for pastors that I invite you to take a listen at: http://t4g.org/2008/media - it's session #4. Grace and Peace BC

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Ephrem Hagos

March 16, 2008  3:34am

The Gospel is nothing less than the personal experience by which all people can know God firsthand as promised (Jer. 31: 31-34) and sealed by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (Matt. 26: 26-29). There is infinitely more to the death of Jesus than presently acknowledged! By the standards of Jesus' teaching, one can still know the mystery and power of the resurrection of Jesus (and ours) and also find the exceedingly powerful evidence of the living God, not out of the tomb of the dead, but right there where Jesus died on the cross. This is the Gospel. The sooner you verify it and forget the other the better!

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