Updated: Feb 17, 2019
“What is the Gospel?” I think I’ve asked this question a thousand times over the last few years. I always expect some variation in answers; I just wasn’t prepared for so many to be dazed and confused by the question.
“It’s the good news, right?”
“Yes” I would say, “but what is the good news?”
Jesus dying for sinners is about as deep as my conversations ever went. Is the death of Jesus for sinners all there is in the Gospel? Is it possible we’ve heard the Gospel story so many times we actually quit listening to it? Is it possible, we quit listening so long ago, we’ve forgotten what it really means?
In an image-based, consumer driven and emotionally charged society, the church is under continuous pressure to entertain, dumb down and even jettison certain tenets of the Christian faith. We find ourselves living in a sort of spiritual amnesia, knowing bits of the truth, but forgetting who we really are. We know the words; we just don’t know what they mean.
Many call this problem “The Abbreviated Gospel.” It is never a question of whether we are preaching the truth when we preach Jesus. The question is whether we are preaching “The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth.” A person taking the stand in a courtroom must swear this oath before he speaks. It is possible for someone to tell the truth, yet leave out vital details, perverting the outcome. Someone might even tell the truth, and the whole truth, then add distorted details, derailing a just conclusion. Today, Christians often describe the Gospel as Jesus dying for our sins and saving us from hell. On a positive note, believers will confess, we are not only saved from hell but saved for heaven and eternal life. This heavenly gift is a future hope we will receive at death or at the second coming of Jesus. These beliefs are surely true. They are beautiful, and rich in meaning, yet the trouble still remains. The message is true, but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The profound majesty and power of the Gospel message has been reduced to a privatized and personal life insurance policy, with end of life benefits already paid in full. Christians are called upon to attend church, pray and live moral lives, in order to keep the policy up to date. In our breathless pursuit to be relevant to an ADHD, entertainment dominated, consumer culture, we have trimmed the powerful, cosmic, volcanic and infinitely glorious Gospel to an anemic shadow of truth.
Almost seventy years ago, Dorothy Sayers was disturbed by how many Gospel truths were being discarded. She states, “We are assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon [Gospel] doctrine…” For her, the problem wasn’t with preaching the doctrines of Christ, but the precise opposite. She writes, “The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama.” She describes Jesus as, “that shattering personality,” we have surrounded with an “atmosphere of tedium.” Finally, Sayers concludes, “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting pet for pale [pastors] and pious old ladies.”
If the “abbreviated Gospel” is truly present in our churches today, we should not, and cannot ignore it. Christ is not just the hero of my story, He is the hero of every story! His redemption is not only personal, it is cosmic! His Lordship extends not only over souls, but over history, over creation, over culture, and even eternity!