I have written much about gospel lately, so much so that someone asked me the other day what I meant by gospel. Ah yes, gospel. Yet another word from our Christian heritage that hasn't so much lost it's meaning as it's direction. In other words, gospel is rightly defined as "good news", but there seems to be much confusion as to what IS good news especially on the evangelical landscape. Evangelicalism as a whole is increasingly more generic everyday. It's generic in the sense that the things that make Biblical Christianity distinct from the wisdom of our present day culture are absent or at best blurred in understanding. The gospel has suffered as a casualty of this Christian consumerism.
When I say the gospel has lost it's direction, I believe that it is a failure on the part of mainstream evangelicalism to protect the gospel in it's zeal to disperse it. I don't question the motives or the passion of many evangelicals in their quest to fulfill the great commission, in fact, I appreciate that the gospel "seed" is not merely cast down on the rocky ground without the passion and careful sowing that God requires of us. I appreciate that evangelism isn't reduced to "tract planting". But in our effort to reach the lost, have we been reckless in communicating what God says the the gospel is? As someone who is in the ministry, and as someone who reads many philosophical viewpoints and attends ministry conferences and has candid conversations with others who have chosen the ministry as their vocation, I find myself asking the tell-tale question, "where does our Gospel lead?". I believe the answer will reveal "what" we believe the gospel to be.
When asked, I have always defined the gospel with the stock answer that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again so that I could be saved. But I believe this answer is a thumbnail picture of a larger image. It's not to say that the answer is untrue, but it is not the full view. Indeed. I could talk about how the gospel is not only about our personal forgiveness or the securing of our eternal destiny. I could point out that it is also about the "Kingdom at hand" as Jesus preached. I could mention that it's about all the nations being brought under the ruler ship of Christ. I could say that it involves world peace and the eradication of evil. I could say all of these things are gospel, and I wouldn't be wrong. The question is not only one of what, but where.
Get God, or something from God?
I think it's safe to say that to many, the gospel leads them to the effects of the gospel as being their ultimate satisfaction. As an example, the gospel I heard in my baptist church growing up was that the reason to believe in Christ was so that you could escape an eternal lake of fire equipped with gnashing of teeth and maggots crawling on your face. Sadly, this "gospel" did not lead to Christ, it led to fear. It led to a pursuit of safety. Matt Chandler of the Village Church says "Heaven is not for those who want to escape hell, it's for those who love Christ." As a result of this "gospel", there are many who experience a half dozen conversions hoping the last one will "take" and they won't wake up the next morning in a cold sweat thinking they've been "left behind". I want to tell you, this is no gospel! In fact, I feel a tremendous burden for those raised in this environment, because it's akin to a brainwashing that never completely goes away.
There are other examples where the gospel that people hear leads them to making the effects their ultimate satisfaction. There's the gospel that drives people to dream about heaven. Now that sounds good on the surface, but there are people who literally shut down in this life so they can get to the next one. They cease "upkeep" on the little house they live in the suburbs because they're waiting for their "mansion" in the next life. Instead of the prospect of seeing Christ, they're more excited about seeing their deceased loved ones. Christ is like a bonus to them. A Biblical gospel should drive us to a pursuit of Christ where He is valued above everything including our family! Actually, a reunion with our loved ones in heaven is the bonus! John Piper asks the tough question, "if you arrived in heaven and found out Jesus wasn't there, would that be okay with you."?
Speaking of our temporal home, often our earthly circumstances become the "where" of the gospel. This is most prevalent in mainstream evangelicalism and I understand why. Americans, especially, are chasing the pursuit of happiness, after all, that is one of our great American doctrines isn't it? So there is a segment of Christianity that equates personal fulfillment/improvement with the Gospel. It doesn't seem a stretch to say that God wants to make you better. Does it? Biblically speaking, what is a "better you" anyway? Is it someone who is successful as our culture defines it? I contend that "a better you" is someone like the Apostle Paul was slowly and methodically becoming every day. His "improved self" was characterized by the choices of "sharing Christ's sufferings" or martyrdom. Either way, His gospel, worked out, led directly to Christ. Paul wasn't concerned with raising his self-esteem, in fact he was concerned with dying to self-esteem. As nice as it is to have more money, a dependable car, and warm body to lie next to each night, these things don't lead to Christ. They are temporal. They are but mere foretastes of greater joy and so I thank God for these earthly blessings, but I pray that they do not become ultimate in my life.
There are many wonderful effects of the gospel. However, we should never let the effects be where the gospel lead us, nor should we define our natural desires as gospel effects. So many of us value the gifts of the Creator above the Creator Himself. As Piper puts it "if the Gospel doesn't lead to Christ, then it is no gospel at all." So when we realize that the true Biblical gospel is one that leads to Christ, our gospel definition is supplied for us. The Gospel is Christ. That's why salvation isn't escape from hell and entrance into heaven, although these things are included, but rather a pursuit of Christ as the ultimate treasure of our lives! This is the Gospel we should be pursuing, the one we should be preaching, and the one we should be living and dying for!