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" ...