Thursday, August 28, 2008

What is the Gospel?

I have been having a conversation with a few of my fellow seminary students. We have been discussing what are the necessary elements of the Gospel. In other words, what must be given and said in order for the Gospel to be preached? So, I wanted to let our readers join in on this conversation. I ask you, the reader, what are the necessary pieces of the Gospel? What truths must be given to a person so that at the end we can say that the Gospel has been preached?


  1. This is a very timely post as I am in the middle of reading "Today's Gospel; authentic or synthetic?" by Walter Chantry. Although I haven't finished it I like where he is going. He uses Jesus' interaction with the rich young ruler Mark 10:17-22 as the basis of his thoughts. Chantry opines that in order to properly preach the Gospel we must genuinely have compassion for those who are lost but our first motivation must not be love for the sinner, but love for God. Chantry writes, "However, concern for the nobleman's soul was not the supreme motive that moved Christ to witness to this sinner. Running even deeper within His breast was a love of God. Though induced by a desire to save men, Christ was primarily motivated by a longing to glorify His Father. You cannot carefully read the Gospels and fail to see that our Lord's chief aim in every act was to do the will of His Father and to make His glory known to men."

    So Chantry's point is that if Jesus is the model of our gospel preaching...we begin with the character of God. He alone is good, holy and just.

    This differs from the way that many of us begin with man's depravity...which necessarily puts the spotlight on man rather than on God in our evangelism.

    Second Chantry points us to sin...but in doing this following Jesus' example he does not speak of sin in general or ambiguous terms. Question 14 of the WSC asks, "What is sin?" It answers, "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God." (1 John 3:4). In His interaction with the young ruler, Jesus did not fail to bring the moral law of God to bear in this interaction. He was specific and did not speak in generalizations. By focusing on the the Decalogue Jesus demonstrated its binding nature on all people of all times and also glorified the Father as the law points to His spotless perfection.

    That's as far as I am in the book for now. To recap...the gospel begins with God's character and then moves to the moral law summarized in the 10 commandments. I'll post more when I've finished reading Chantry's take.

  2. I just wrote a long answer to this, and my computer crapped out on me. MAN!

    And I'm too lazy to write it all out again. Let me only summarize by saying that I definitely advocate a simple gospel requiring only two things:

    1. Innate understanding of sin and its guilt.

    2. Knowledge that a person, Christ, will bear the deserts of my sin if I will only confess and repent.

  3. If you are looking for the bare minimum, I think we can say the gospel is preached when people are told that: They will pass the judgment if they turn from their sin and commit themselves body and soul to Christ as Lord and Savior.

    The atonement works whether we understand how it works or not, and we are justified through faith alone whether we fully understand how that works or not. Those who turn from sin and trust in Christ for salvation will be saved whether or not they understand the mechanics of imputation, etc...

    How's this for a gospel message?:

    "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

    That command seems to be a fair summary of the gospel according to Revelation 14:6... and leaves out basically everything that a modern evangelistic message would have.

  4. It seems odd to me that no one mentioned the resurrection. Can the Gospel be preached and the resurrection be left out?

  5. Was the Gospel preached when it was said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."? Yes.

    "Repent and be baptized"? Yes.

    "Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved"? Yes.

    "I am the way, the truth, and the life."? Yes?

    "Resurrection(there you go Josh) and the life." Yes.

    The Gospel is preached when the good news is proclaimed.

  6. Andrew,

    No one will disagree with this comment "The Gospel is preached when the good news is proclaimed." The question is, what is the propositional content of the good news. Is your list exhaustive? Is it part of it? If only part, what are the other parts?

  7. Well,
    I don't know if I can answer that question completely, but I might be able to say something that will make myself (maybe others) think.

    Thinking of the Gospel, we are talking here about the Word of God and it preached. If a person is saved upon hearing the Word preached or even read, is there something that you are looking for propositional (specifically) within 'the Word' preached or read that was used to save that person?

  8. Mike Hoag comment:

    "What are the necessary pieces of the Gospel?" This is a question that some friends and I used to discuss. One could summarize the gospel in these words, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received; that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the 3rd day according to the scriptures." 1 Cor. 15:3,4
    The problem is as we begin
    breaking these elements down and thinking about them in a systematic way "theologically", our tendency is to start defining terms more restrictively than an open ended, "Repent and Believe". This is not all bad. This is what the Reformation was about!

    Paul spends 11 chapters in Romans defining the gospel! However, the reality is, I come across the testimony of more people who were convicted by the Holy Spirit and brought to faith
    while reading or hearing a verse from the Bible that was far from what we might consider "gospelish".
    Faith does come by hearing the word of God. I'm convinced He can take any part or "piece" of His word to convict men of their sin and convince them of the beauty of Christ's salvation.
    I do believe, however, that attributing any part of our salvation to either the preacher or the recipient is a perversion of the true gospel. It is His work and His alone.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with my husband, Mike, that God may use any part of His word to convict men of sin and convince them of their need for a Savior. It may not be “gospelish” at all! For me, it was “gospelish”.

    When I look back at when the gospel was preached to me, I first came face to face with my sin.
    That I was a sinner was news to me!
    That my sin was offensive before a holy and righteous God was news to me!
    That God was holy and righteous was news to me!
    Sin was a new concept to me!
    I learned I was a sinner and an enemy of God. Then I was compelled by the love of God through Christ who was sent to His enemies (me)
    to bear the (my) penalty for sin.
    These truths penetrated me through the Holy Spirit.
    God is holy.
    I am an offensive sinner.
    God is love.
    Jesus paid it all.
    (These seem like the essential pieces of the gospel)

    The way coolest thing is that just as my communication is not as clear as I'd like it to be, when the gospel is preached (even if preached with stuttering or not as polished or as clearly as could be)the Holy Spirit does His work and men are saved!
    Another aspect of this is the recipient of the gospel. All those who Christ purchased, whether genius, simple minded or retarded etc. will be saved. The gospel may not even be able to be "fully understood" by some people no matter how clearly or "correctly" it is preached. The Holy Spirit is sure to save sinners who have been purchased by the blood of Christ!

  10. The original question was, "what must be given and said in order for the Gospel to be preached?"

    After reading all of these comments, I am quite convinced that if you keep things simple, you will find that the verse from 1 Cor. 15:3,4 which Mike quoted would probably qualify as a legitimate, simple expression of the gospel.

    However, as you asked, Josh, isn't the resurrection an essential part of the gospel? I would say that it is. However, if you asked me if atonement, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and election were all essential elements of the gospel, I would say "yes!" How could I have been saved if I wasn't regenerated? How could I be regenerated if I wasn't elected? And so on and so forth...

    The point is, I think that it is as I said earlier; the gospel is simple to the simple, and it is complicated to those who are complicated. It is comprehensible to children, and it is so rich and deep that the wisest can search it out their whole lives (in fact, as Jonathan Edwards suggests, for all eternity!) and still not exhaustively comprehend it.

  11. Adam,

    I agree with you and Mark that the 1 Corinthians passage is a good summary of the Gospel. It has the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. I struggle with making the incarnation (the fact that God became a man) a necessary part of the Gospel. What do you think?

    Also, I agree that "regeneration, sanctification, and election" are part of what the Gospel does. But I do not think that these truths need to be proclaimed of the Gospel message to be preached. These are great Gospel truths that comfort the Christian. But I do not think, unless someone could explain why, that these doctrines must be preached in order for the Gospel to be preached.

  12. Well, Josh, in all honesty, I think that I would probably group the incarnation along with that second group we mentioned ("regeneration, sanctification, etc."). Though it is part of the gospel and how it actually works, I'm reluctant to say it is an essential piece of knowledge in order for someone to be saved. After all, most - if not all - occurrences of the simple gospel in the Bible, leave out the incarnation as a part of the gospel message.

  13. I would agree with 1 Cor 15:3-4 being a good summary of the Gospel.

    I would say that the Gospel is the good news that Christ died for His sheep. That statement requires a lot of unpacking, but I think it is the summation of the Gospel.

    However, as has been mentioned above, I think that faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ, any part of it, not just the Gospel (though hearing the Gospel is the minimum - one cannot be saved without hearing that part of God's Word). As everything the Bible says is interrelated, I'm not sure how much is gained in trying to isolate it. However, this may become necessary in confronting erroneous views of the Gospel.

    Was there anything in particular that raised the question? Or was it just pub talk?

  14. Haven't watched this, but just saw it in my reader... may provide something to think about


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