(RE)UNION STUDY 1 OF 10
This blog is being hijacked!
As of this week, my new book, (re)union: the good news of Jesus, for seekers, saints, and sinners, is available online and in stores everywhere. Also starting this weekend at The Meeting House, we’ll begin a teaching series using the book’s framework, designed to help us grow more confident and competent in sharing our faith with others. And, along with that, I’m going to dedicate this blog to the series, using this space to include extra notes, thoughts, and questions, and to gather your feedback. For the keeners!
(re)union isn’t just another book for me, but a tool designed to partner with Christians to help us talk about Jesus with our friends, family, co-workers, and others. There are many good books out there written to Christians about the gospel and evangelism. But I wrote (re)union as a conversation directly with our non-Christian friends, in a way that allows Christians to eavesdrop.
To help set the stage for upcoming blog posts, and to help you understand why I felt this book was necessary, let’s take a look at the current state of gospel thinking and gospel presenting in the West.
To begin with, we can’t overestimate the impact of a gospel summary developed by Bill Bright in the 1950s called “Four Spiritual Laws,” published by an organization called Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru” in the United States and “Power to Change” in Canada). The “Four Spiritual Laws” approach is arguably the single most influential form of communicating the gospel in recent history:
- God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life (John 3:16; 10:10).
- Our sin has separated us from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
- Jesus is God’s only provision for our salvation (John 14:6; Romans 5:8).
- We must receive salvation by faith in Christ (John 1:12; Ephesians 2:8-9).
A little later, another Christian organization called the Navigators began to present the gospel in what they called “The Bridge to Life.” It also has four points:
- The Bible teaches that God loves all humans and wants them to know him (Genesis 1:27; John 10:10).
- But humans sinned against God and are separated from God, leading to death and judgement (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23).
- There is a solution: Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and in so doing has become the bridge between humanity and God (Romans 5:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Peter 3:18).
- Only those who trust Christ can cross the bridge—the choice is yours (John 3:16; 5:24).
Then the Billy Graham Association created something called “Steps to Peace with God.” Another four points. Beyond that, see if you notice a pattern developing:
Step 1. God’s plan: Peace and life (John 3:16; 10:10; Romans 5:1)
Step 2. Humanity’s problem: Separation (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23)
Step 3. God’s remedy: The cross (Romans 5:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Peter 3:18)
Step 4. Human response: Receive Christ (John 1:12; 5:24; Romans 10:9)
At the same time, some people noticed that these same basic points could all be found in one book of the Bible—the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, using just four verses. So this approach to sharing the basics of the gospel became known as “The Roman Road.”
1. Human need (Romans 3:23)
2. Sin’s penalty (Romans 6:23)
3. God’s provision (Romans 5:8)
4. Our response (Romans 10:9)
More recently, some Christians have come to believe that Paul designed the first four chapters of Romans to walk his readers through these same basics of the gospel:
Romans 1—GOD: God is the Creator to whom all people are accountable.
Romans 2—MAN [Yes, they say “man”]: Humans have rebelled against God.
Romans 3—CHRIST: God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus.
Romans 4—RESPONSE: Humans can be included in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Besides our apparent obsession with four points, do you notice anything else these approaches have in common? They are basically the same four points. What was established in the “Four Spiritual Laws” has been tweaked, but never questioned. It seems to me that each of these popular gospel outlines shares a common flaw: although wonderful in what they do say, they are woefully fragmentary, reductionist, and incomplete. You can see that most of these summaries focus primarily on salvation from sin as the central message of the gospel. This certainly is an important aspect of the gospel. But if you’re going to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus, then you need to know and will want to share the whole message.
When Jesus started proclaiming the gospel he put it this way:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15; also see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; etc.)
And on another occasion Jesus said:
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” (Luke 16:16)
And when prophesying about the future, Jesus said:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
For Jesus, the gospel was not so much about how we can go to heaven when we die, but the good news of the kingdom of God coming to us now. And this was the same focus for the apostles. The book of Acts ends with these words about the apostle Paul:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30-31; also see Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 17:7; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23 )
The kingdom of God, coming to earth, in the ministry of Jesus, passed on to his Church. This is central to the gospel. It means that the gospel changes how we live right here and right now, giving us a new way to live in this world, as citizens of a different “country” with a different culture, and a different calling—being ambassadors on behalf of the Jesus Nation to our earthly nations. That’s the good news of the kingdom.
At the risk of sounding like a 1980s TV infomercial… But wait! There’s more!
Jesus also said that his death on the cross would usher in the long awaited “New Covenant” (Luke 22:20; also see 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6). This new way of relating to God and one another would put the Old Covenant of Law out of a job. In the words of the unknown author of Hebrews:
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)
This New Covenant is what I’ve called The End of Religion, and is also a significant thread running through the entire good news of Jesus.
All of this might help you understand why I feel the need to help Evangelical Christianity push the reset button on how we summarize the gospel. I want to encourage us to embrace a more expansive summary of the gospel that better reflects the message and mission of Jesus. So here it is – what I simply call
THE GOSPEL IN THIRTY WORDS:
Jesus is God with us, come to
- show us God’s love,
- save us from sin,
- set up God’s kingdom, and
- shut down religion,
so we can share in God’s life.
Catchy, eh? (And now we know how obsessive you are. You counted the words, didn’t you? I knew it!) True, this summary, like all summaries, borders on the cliché, the memorable slogan, the snappy sound bite. We might be tempted to memorize and repeat this summary as our way of communicating the gospel. But that’s not how I intend it to be used.
These thirty words offer a framework to help us recognize different aspects of the gospel message. They offer a way of remembering key elements and implications of the gospel. You can hold this thirty-word summary in your mind as a mental rubric for sorting through the biblical data about Christ’s life and teaching. Used properly, I’ve found this summary very helpful in thinking about the gospel and communicating it accurately to others. But I never just repeat it as a slogan. I use it internally, to help me recall different aspects of the gospel in conversations or when I just want to meditate on the multidimensional message of Jesus.
Now look closer. We can break this summary down into three parts.
First is the GROUND of the gospel. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Everything that follows is rooted in this world-changing fact.
Second are the GIFTS of the gospel. These are four things that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf, for our good and God’s glory: showing us God’s love, saving us from sin, setting up his kingdom, and shutting down religion. The apostle John summarizes these four qualities of the gospel message in a prayer of worship when he says,
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).
Third is the GOAL of the gospel. God’s goal is to share his life with us. God draws us into his very own love life, now and forever.
So whadaya say? Comments and questions welcome! As for me, I’m dedicated to helping as many people as possible learn, live, and give this good news. And I’m inviting you to join me for the next ten weeks while we take time to stare into this most important message in the universe. Let’s do this!