Is Your Gospel Robust?

A few weeks ago Scot McKnight shared how the gospel we preach is having an adverse impact on the church. Last week at the Spiritual Formation Forum he spoke in greater detail about this problem. He called the standard evangelical gospel, outlined below, "right, but not right enough." Essentially, we've watered down the good news in a way that has marginalized the church in God's plan of redemption.

This fact was driven home recently by a friend of mine who teaches at a Christian college. He said a hand in the class went up in the middle of his lecture about the church and culture. The student, in all sincerity, asked, "Do we really need the church?" My friend was struck by the question, and by the fact that the classroom was filled with future church leaders. Something is amiss when even Christian leaders are questioning the necessity of the church. That something, according to McKnight, is the gospel we've been preaching.

Scot McKnight summarized the "Standard Gospel Presentation" this way:

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

Your problem is that you are sinful; God can't admit sinners into his presence.

Jesus died for you to deal with your "sin-problem."

If you trust in Christ, you can be admitted into God's presence.

He went on to say that the problems with this popular evangelical gospel include:

1. No one in the New Testament really preaches this gospel.

2. This gospel is about one thing: humans gaining access to God's presence.

3. This gospel creates an individualist Christian life.

4. This gospel sets the tone for the entire evangelical movement.

5. This gospel leads to spiritual formation being entirely about "me and God."

6. The evangelical gospel has created a need for evangelical monasteries.

7. The evangelical gospels turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unnecessary.

8. The evangelical gospel is rooted in Theism or Deism, but not the Trinity.

In contrast to this anemic gospel, McKnight believes a more accurate and "robust" gospel presentation would include the following features:

1. A robust gospel cannot be "tractified" (meaning, reduced to a formula).

2. God made you as an eikon (Greek for "image") to relate in love to God, to self, to others, and to the world.

3. The "fall" cracked the eikon in all directions.

4. Bible readers cannot skip from Genesis 3 to Romans 3.

5. Genesis 4-11 reveals the "problem" of sin: the climax is a society of eikons trying to build their way to God.

6. Genesis 12 begins to restore the eikon by a covenantal commitment and forming the family of faith. The rest of the Bible is about this elected family of faith.

June 12, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 18 comments

Brian Johnson

September 29, 2007  11:56am

Glad you raised this topic. I recently started up a British website that asks "What is the Gospel?". Looking at the New Testament Gospel message preached by both Peter and Paul it is clear that we have changed both the message and its central focus. For more details see

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July 01, 2007  10:00am

The Fall is indespensible because it accounts for the cruelty and injustice and suffering that is pervasive and persistent in our world. Why is evil so prevalent? Why, despite our long history of suffering and pain, can we not stop the atrocities and tragedies–manmade or acts of nature–that continue to destroy? It's not enough to say we as individuals need forgiveness and restoration for disobedience–we live in a WORLD that needs redemption and restoration.

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June 22, 2007  9:58am

You all make some good points, but whatever happened to 1 Cor 15:1-8?

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June 20, 2007  5:25pm

Having followed this emergent conversation only sporadically and not being immersed in its tenets, I am wondering if I could contribute a little something in an unbiased fashion. My generation is the postmodern one. My belief system is based on scripture. Do I believe the gospel, as packaged in recent years, is not robust? Depends on the presenter, the life they live, and whether they are Spirit-led. Even so, the gospel IS foolishness to those who are perishing, no matter how it is packaged. But isn't it the power of God for the salvation of those who believe? God's power, not our presentation? Even if we are culturally insensitive or clueless, isn't it about his power and not our own efforts, ultimately? Is there an underlying idea behind this thinking which implies that it is possible to have a "right/relevant for right now" presentation of the gospel? Are we even capable of that? Isn't relevant relative? Consider that good news is told like good news, with a certain excitement that lives beyond the moment, and good news may be relayed differently according to the interpersonal relationship, current intimacy with the Lord, and with regard to whether a person has any framework to comprehend your words. There is no script, but because of the unchanging content, at least some of the words will be the same. Use your own words, but be true to the message. But hey, the old words won't break your ministry if the Lord wants to use your words. This digs into the topic of sovereignty - how much power do we believe we hold, anyway? In short, the gospel can be in a new package, or an old package – but if packaged at all, the gospel may look like a product to my generation. A product is something to be sold and bought. I want to share, not sell. Could we share Jesus from our hearts (but knowledgably), from the Lord's wisdom and trust that HE will make it a relevant presentation? God used a "non-gospel" verse from Ephesians to bring me to himself at the age of 21. If I am sure of anything, God is in heaven; he does as he pleases. I pray we make God famous with the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices and that we put on love, above all else. Don't all presenters of the gospel need grace and shouldn't they stand willing to extend grace, especially to one another? For the sake of the message? There ends my not-so-academic two cents. Thanks for listening.

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Mike Thomas

June 20, 2007  1:37pm

I find Scott McKnight's observations heartening. I am involved in witnessing to the cults, especially Mormons, and am painfully and depressingly aware that they have a much higher view of church than the average Evangelical believer, who usually struggles to answer intelligent, probing questions about church, authority, God's plan, etc. Our Evangelical "Jesus and me" faith does come across as self-regarding, and a better developed sense of God's true purposes in Creation and Redemption would equip Christians to give a better account of themselves, not to mention a more robust development as redeemed people.

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June 17, 2007  4:07pm

I have often thought lately not so much on how to present the Gospel but on how the Gospel presents me. As I think about it, I realize that I am presented as a part of Salvation's story, infinite Love in Love with finite infinity and finite infinity in Love with infinite Love. There is not much in my Life that would say to me that you followed me because I multiplied the fish. There is little in my life that most would envy and yes, because I was made in the image of God... I am a Faith person. How do we present the Gospel? I would say that to the degree the Gospel presents us. How many of us would throw away our books and tracks in exchange for hearing our Heavenly Father say in our most inner being "I Love You" first thing in the morning. How many of us would say in reply " I know you do." Perhaps our Gospel is not challenged in our life since it speaks of past and future rather than the present and tends to conform rather than to free... the very being that the Gospel speaks about in knowing the Truth. If I know my individualism, how could I resist community since community is the very spring board of my individuality. The community of individuality that we strive to bring others to, shouts with " and you are complete in Him. " After all, God took upon Himself for it to be so. Life is not a deficit in His sheep, no matter what it looks like if we have the eyes to see Him as being robust enough for whatever it takes in His moment.

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Carl McLendon

June 15, 2007  7:29am

I think George is on to something here in the language we use. I live in Austin, TX and if you mention sin you're going to get some strange, even hostile comments. But, if you frame the conversation in terms of relationships being lost, or disturbed you might have a chance. We must remember that our compass is a triune God that models perfect community for us and that we must always seek to love as He does within this context of others.

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Rich Tatum

June 15, 2007  3:01am

Any "gospel presentation" that doesn't have communion / community at it's core isn't really a gospel presentation at all. In this light, McKnight's critique is welcome. There can really be no gospel presentation and therefore no evangelism if believers are not themselves changed by the gospel. This change with the fruit of the Spirit following as evidence is the best gospel presentation known to man. It requires no tracts. And the "apologia" are always given in context of relationship. Evangelism and the gospel must be intentionally and innately communal not merely intellectual and content-based. I suspect if it were merely about the content, Jesus would not have come to deliver the Good news himself. A tract would have done fine. Thank God it's not about the tracts! Regards, Rich BlogRodent

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George E

June 13, 2007  6:21pm

Kelvin addresses something that has gnawed at me for a while. Do we need to mention the fall? Do we need to mention sin? I saw no, because that's jargon and is often either misunderstood or misleading. Fall is often considered something you get up from. Sin is the label for things prudes disapprove of. Of course that's not what we (should) mean, but that's often what's heard. Kelvin's suggested disobedience is better, but even that assumes the listener agrees on what is to be obeyed. How about we talk a bout losing a connection, being distracted from God as the defining center, getting wrapped up in life at God's expense?

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June 13, 2007  7:41am

Amen Scot! I think that it important to share the whole story, not skipping from Gen3 to Romans3.... As we understand this "Big story" of the gospel we need to then allow our story to be caught up within it.... rather than just having, in the words of Depeche Mode, "our own personal Jesus" much food for thought

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