- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
- 1 Corinthians 2:2
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
- Romans 1:16
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
- Galatians 1:6-9
Clearly, when it comes to knowing what the Gospel is, God has not left us in the dark. Nor has God invited us to join Him in crafting a definition or re-definition of the Gospel. Indeed, God warns us in very harsh terms about the consequences of messing around with the Gospel. Sadly, those warnings have not deterred certain voices within evangelicalism (some well known) from taking a shot at "re-imagining," reducing, or adding to the precious truth which Paul called the "matter of first importance."
Esquire Magazine has printed a piece by Shane Claiborne entitled "What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?" To be sure there are some good things in what Claiborne writes. But, as noted in the above cited Scriptures, when it comes to speaking for God, particularly the Gospel, we had better be careful to get it right.
Kevin DeYoung has posted an excellent article that addresses both the good and the bad in what Claiborne has written. Specifically Deyoung addresses what he calls "the new gospel". Some of the defining features of the new gospel are, according to Deyoung:
1. It usually starts with an apology.
2. There is an appeal to God as love.
3. It is an invitation to join God's mission in the world.
4. There is a studied ambivalence about eternity.
Deyoung then offers some reasons why this new gospel is so popular.
1. It's partially true.
2. It deals with straw men.
3. The New Gospel leads people to believe wrong things without explicitly stating those wrong things.
4. It is manageable.
5. It is inspirational.
6. It is not offensive.
After explaining each of these points, Deyoung offers some truly important observations on why this "new gospel" is problematic.
It shouldn’t be hard to see what is missing in the new gospel. What’s missing is the old gospel, the one preached by the Apostles, the one defined in 1 Corinthians 15, the one summarized later in The Apostles’ Creed.
“But what you call the New Gospel is not a substitute for the old gospel. We still believe all that stuff.”
Ok, but why don’t you say it? And not just privately to your friends or on a statement of faith somewhere, but in public? You don’t have to be meaner, but you do have to be clearer. You don’t have to unload the whole truck of systematic theology on someone, but to leave the impression that hell is no big deal is so un-Jesus like (Matt. 10:26-33). And when you don’t talk about the need for faith and repentance you are very un-apostolic (Acts 2:38; 16:31).
“But we are just building bridges. We are relating to the culture first, speaking in a language they can understand, presenting the parts of the gospel that make the most sense to them. Once we have their trust and attention, then we can disciple and teach them about sin, repentance, faith and all the rest. This is only pre-evangelism.”
Yes, it’s true, we don’t have to start our conversations where we want to end up. But does the New Gospel really prime the pump for evangelism or just mislead the non-Christian into a false assurance? It’s one thing to open a door for further conversation. It’s another to make Christianity so palatable that it sounds like something the non-Christian already does. And this is assuming the best about the New Gospel, that underneath there really is a desire to get the old gospel out.
Paul’s approach with non-Christians in Athens is instructive for us (Acts 17:16-34). First, Paul is provoked that the city is so full of idols (16). His preaching is not guided by his disappointment with other Christians, but by his anger over unbelief. Next, he gets permission to speak (19-20). Paul did not berate people. He spoke to those who were willing to listen. But then look at what he does. He makes some cultural connection (22-23, 28), but from there he shows the contrast between the Athenian understanding of God and the way God really is (24-29). His message is not about a way of life, but about worshiping the true God in the right way. After that, he urges repentance (30), warns of judgment (31), and talks about Jesus’ resurrection (31).
The result is that some mocked (32). Who in the world mocks the New Gospel?There is nothing not to like. There is no scandal in a message about lame Christians, a loving God, changing the world, and how most of us are most likely not going to hell. This message will never be mocked, but Paul’s Mars Hill sermon was. And keep in mind, this teaching in Athens was only an entire into the Christian message. This was just the beginning, after which some wanted to hear him again (32). Paul said more in his opening salvo than some Christians ever dare to say. We may not be able to say everything Paul said at Athens all at once, but we certainly must not give the impression in our “pre-evangelism” that repentance, judgment, the necessity of faith, the importance of right belief, the centrality of the cross and the resurrection, the sinfulness of sin and the fallenness of man–the stuff that some suggest will be our actual evangelism–are outdated relics of a mean-spirited, hurtful Christianity.
A Final Plea
Please, please, please, if you are enamored with the New Gospel or anything like it, consider if you are really being fair with your fellow Christians in always throwing them under the bus. Consider if you are preaching like Jesus did, who called people, not first of all to a way of life, but to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). And as me and my friends consider if we lack the necessary patience and humility to speak tenderly with non-Christians, consider if your God is a lopsided cartoon God who never takes offense at sin (because sin is more than just un-neighborliness) and never pours out wrath (except for the occasional judgment against the judgmental). Consider if you are giving due attention to the cross and the Lamb of God who died there to take away the sin of the world. Consider if your explanation of the Christian message sounds anything like what we hear from the Apostles in the book of Acts when they engage the world.
This is no small issue. And it is not just a matter of emphasis. The New Gospel will
not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save. It is crucial, therefore, that our evangelical schools, camps, conferences, publishing houses, and churches can discern the new gospel from the old.