What Is the Gospel, Really? Part 3

In this current series I’ve been asking the question in the title, using Greg Gilbert’s brief book as a backdrop. While discussion has been limited, there have been some very important questions and insights contributed by commenters. Some of these have centered around the suggestion that everyone, regardless of where or when they have lived, have struggled with the questions of what our condition and our prospects are as human beings. Using Gilbert’s framework of God-man-Christ-response allows us to compare the way in which Christians handle the questions of being with how others might do so.

Gilbert begins with creation, which is not so surprising. God is the reason for there being a world, and more specifically for there being creatures who ask questions. As was pointed out in the comments, the ancient Greeks had an awareness of God’s absolute presence in the world. The same could be said of other times, places, and peoples. So for Gilbert, the emphasis is twofold: we are responsible/answerable to this Creator; and it is important to know what sort of Creator we are dealing with. The latter issue is well addressed, in my view, in that we are prone to accepting a rather trivialized version of who or what God might be. If we miss the matter of His holiness, we construct a mental idol who expects and demands little of us but somehow owes much to us, usually far more than we believe Him to deliver on.

Thus far, there is nothing said that would warrant the word “gospel.” It is perhaps interesting, fascinating, or informative to know that there is a Creator, and that He has a certain character. But it is not necessarily good news, especially when judgment might be involved. And in the second movement of Gilbert’s scheme the news becomes even less “good.” It is that subject of our sinful human condition, the one that inevitably forms the Christian answer to a universal question: what’s wrong with the world? One can complain, as many have done, that the idea of a universal depravity is irrational; but after the complaints, we are still left with a world to explain, one in which things are not done in a morally responsible fashion. See Blaise Pascal on that one.

Gilbert’s explanation of sin, in my opinion, is a very effective as a summary, particularly in pointing out various deficiencies in the way even Christians see it. Specific misperceptions begin with the confusion of sin with sin’s effects. This leads Christian preachers to appeal to our sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, emptiness, etc., as that which needs to be corrected by Christ–rather than understanding that these very real and potentially debilitating feelings are themselves the symptoms of a deeper problem. We experience them because we have sinned. Another very current deficient view is to speak about sin as a broken relationship; it is this, of course, but we often fail to note the kindof relationship we are speaking about. It is not a relationship between equals that needs to be mended; it is one between a king and his subject. Sin is also not merely negative thinking, which once corrected will enable us to flourish in a variety of ways related to this world. Finally, Gilbert points to the confusing of sin with sins; it’s not just a matter of the things we do realization of what we are at our core–rebellious toward our Creator, insistent on our own design for life.

This is certainly not good news. But it is required nonetheless if we are going to get to what the Christian gospel is really about. I’m curious as to how the categories of misperceptions about the bad news have been experienced in your recent hearing of “the gospel.” Do you hear the bad news at all, and is it a watered down version?

8 thoughts on “What Is the Gospel, Really? Part 3

  1. I’m not sure if this is the right direction or not. But the misperception of sin I don’t see so much in the spoken “gospel”. However in the “witness” we show the misperception you mentioned, by categorizing based on the results of sin noted in the blog. We give the appearance that the “small” sins are a welcome group to receive the “gospel”. But those “bigger” sins are not welcome based on the manner in which we speak of and treat those struggling in those areas.

    In presentation form the traditional gospel message has steps associated with it. One of them being planting the seed. In our present time that seed, in most cases, has already been planted. To often it is the wrong one. While we are trying to communicate the gospel without the misperceptions spoken, they have already been assumed by the hearer, speaker, or the both.

  2. I struggle with what you are saying here, how is the Good News conveyed without the issue of sin being understood, where is that in the conversation? How implicit is it when people want to talk, how explicit it does it need to be. I fear you are spot on in the critique though.

    Culture products or “outcomes” communicate where we are most of the time, I think that is certainly true abou the christian evangelical subculture. Google for the top 10 christian songs for this past week. Take a guess how many mention sin is in there? Guess how many essentially don’t even talk abut the triune God? I took a look at the list of early 20th century christian music, and I’ve posted the opening of two of them which are
    fairly representative. Very different stories….

    Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Greater than all my sin;
    How shall my tongue describe it,
    Where shall its praise begin?
    Taking away my burden,
    Setting my spirit free;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

    What can wash away my sin?
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
    What can make me whole again?
    Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
    O precious is the flow
    that makes me white as snow;
    no other fount I know;
    nothing but the blood of Jesus.

    • Marty I think you were responding to the main topic, but if it was to mine, I will clarify. I have not heard the gospel presented without a proper explanation/understanding of sin given. But even with the best explanation of sin in presentation, the seed of what the recipient has seen has already been planted they are therefore hearing through biased/tainted ears.

      • my apologies. i did post it incorrectly.

        i guess i’ve heard other gospels before, one is the “prosperity gospel”

        but the big one that is taught is

        “The American Way Gospel”

        Good news comes in lots of packages, the transition from “nationalism” to
        “statism” by the evangelicals in the 20th and 21st centuries has been painful
        to watch. Trading an omniscient God for a state that invades all privacy, an omnipotent God for a government of increasingly kafkaesque policing of speech,
        family interactions, etc., and imprisonment for just about everything over restitution,
        all so we can be “safe”. But from whom? I never though my readings of the political thought of Solzhenitsyn in the 70’s I’d be applying in the US.

  3. Good discussion.

    I’m curious as to how the categories of misperceptions about the bad news have been experienced in your recent hearing of “the gospel.” Do you hear the bad news at all, and is it a watered down version?

    Being sensitive to the fact that most people become defensive when confronted with the fact that they have a problem (that they are in dire straights), it’s important to present the gospel in a way that allows them to reflect, to think it through.
    In general,the message is better recieved if the listener can let their guard down.
    The message should not be “watered down”, but the presentation of the message should be tailored to the listener(s).
    I find this approach more common in the churches today than in the past, and I believe it is the right direction.
    Does Jude 20 -23 apply here?

    • Yes, it assuredly matters how we present the gospel–and the bad news about us implied therein. That can be determined more prudently after we are sure of what it is we’re talking about. The gospel of Jesus is only good news for a particular problem. Among other things, the Jude passage tells that on one hand we are involved in speaking the good news where it is needed; on the other hand, it reminds us that the problem is always lurking, i.e, sin is not something we can think we are done with, never to be bothered again. Thanks for weighing in; hope to hear more from you.

  4. The gospel can only go as deep as the “believers” understanding of sin. To some, “sin” is the consequence, not the action or the root that casued the action. To others, it is the failure of life unfold as they think it should, so if they get the “sin” out of the way THEIR life will get back on track. The failure of that kind of limited (false) gospel will become self-evident. Further failure(s) will reveal the need to look for a deeper and more honest assessment of their condition.
    In our narcissistic world, it’s very hard to admit any personal responsibility for failure, let alone accepting it as an inherant problem that we cannot fix. What I have found helpful is to first see sin in the grand scheme of humanity. For example, human beings killed 100 million people in wars in the last century. We all share in the responsibility for that atrocity, even if we personally never fired a weapon. It is the human condition. If one can first see himself as part that bigger problem, then he can begin to see his own failures in the smaller context of his own world.
    The genious of the 10 Commandments is that the very first one is more than enough to trip us up. We are all guilty of crafting and worshipping the lesser god of “self” as we pursue self-fulfillment, self-identitiy, self-respect, etc. Apart from our Creator, this is a futile chase that will produce numerous chances to see that we don’t make very good gods, so we need to seek the real One. That’s where grace comes in.

    • That was the point of Part 3, trying to recap in a very brief way the misperceptions and inevitable short-comings of current versions of sin; it’s one of the critical areas in some of the so-called emergent emphases. Some want to bring the bad news on slowly, and some just never quite get there. That has to result in something less than the good news.

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