Gospel as Formula (a.k.a., “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”)

During this post, I would like you to think back to the first in this series where we asked the question: Is something wrong with our gospel? Do those stories of our evangelistic methods sound familiar? Have you done this personally? Do you know someone who has responded to this “gospel” who has nothing to do with Jesus today? Have you ever been on the receiving end of this gospel presentation?

Now, compare what you read in those stories with the way the NT uses the word “gospel.” When we share the gospel, do we mean the same thing as when Jesus and the apostles gospeled? I am afraid that we have reduced the robust gospel of the kingdom to a formula that leads to a transactional salvation.

Gospel as Formula

The way I was taught to share the gospel was to take people down the Roman Road:

  • “…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23)
  • “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” (Rom 5:8)
  • “…for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord…” (Rom 6:23)
  • “…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raise him from the dead, you will be saved…” (Rom 10:9)

But we need to make sure that we say something about being born again…

  • “…unless someone is born again (or “from above”), he cannot see the kingdom of God…” (Jn 3:3)

…and that Jesus is the only way…

  • “…for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…” (Jn 3:16)
  • “…I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me…” (Jn 14:6)

…and that no one can earn their salvation…

  • “…by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift – not from works, so that no one can boast…” (Eph 2:8-9)


I believe all of the above. I believe that we are all sinners; that Christ died for us; that our sin deserves and leads to death (cf., James 1:14-15); that we must confess and believe in Jesus; that this belief leads to the new birth from above (cf., Eph 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:3); that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God; and that this salvation is a gift of God's grace, not something we can earn. These statements are not wrong per se, but they are not synonymous with the gospel. N.T. Wright sums up this fact well in his foreword to McKnight's King Jesus Gospel:

For many people, “the gospel” has shrunk right down to a statement about Jesus' death and its meaning, and a prayer with which people accept it. That matters, the way the rotor blades of a helicopter matter. You won't get off the ground without them. But rotor blades alone don't make a helicopter. And a microcosmic theory of atonement and faith don't, by themselves, make up “the gospel.”

I am not at all saying that forgiveness of sins, salvation, grace, and eternal life are unimportant. In fact, I was saved and born again through the preaching of this message. (But, if you will remember, in the first post I said that the first time I “prayed the sinner's prayer” I was not changed. I “made a decision for Christ” twice. The second time is when I was born again/converted.) I am only saying that these ideas are not equivalent or synonymous with what the NT means by the word “gospel.” I would say that these ideas fit within and flow out of the gospel, but do not make up the entire gospel as we have tended to think.

So What?

Maybe you've been tracking with me this whole time. You have considered whether or not there is something wrong with our gospel… You have looked up all of the occurrences of the word “gospel” in its noun and verb forms… Maybe you have asked yourself, “If this gospel isn't what I thought it was, then what is it???

Or maybe you're thinking: “Okay, you have a point. Our 'gospel' is not exactly what Jesus and the apostles were preaching. But if people get saved, isn't that enough?” My answer is yeeeessss…but…no…not really… This “gospel” does not necessarily (though, it might!) lead to discipleship, a life of following Jesus, the vocation to which every saved, born again believer is called (cf., Lk 9:23-27). This “gospel” is a transaction that prepares people for death (supposedly to avoid one place while going to a better one), but not for life in God's kingdom, under his rule, being a blessing to the world. Let me leave you with a quote from Darrell Bock, found in his book Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News:

The danger in seeing or preaching the gospel only as a transaction is that once the “deal” is done, the believer may have the sense that he or she has checked the box and is done with the gospel having procured the salvation and avoided hell… [T]his actually only represents the starting point for God's good news… (4)

So, what do you think? Is our “gospel” the same as the one preached by Jesus and the apostles? If not, what is the gospel? What does this mean for evangelism? Do you know anyone who has “checked the box” of salvation thinking that the “decision” is all there is to the gospel?


3 comments on “Gospel as Formula (a.k.a., “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”)

  1. […] Part 6 – Gospel as Formula (a.k.a., “Honey, I Shrunk the Gospel”) […]

  2. His story. Our story. THE STORY.

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