What Is The Gospel?

July 28, 2015

*This a portion of an article taken from the Journal For Baptist Theology and Ministry and is used by permission.

by Blake Newsom, Ph.D.

Blake Newsom is Dean of Chapel, Assistant Professor of Expository Preaching, and Director of Mentoring for Pastoral Ministries at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“What is the gospel?” The question seemed simple enough, so without hesitation I responded in a relatively straightforward and unguarded manner by quoting 1 Cor 15:1–5,

Now, brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you— unless you believed to no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ dies for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.[1]

I followed up the quotation by highlighting the central message located within those verses: the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, for the sins of the world. After answering, I looked up, surveyed the pastor search committee that had lobbed the softball of a question (or so I thought), felt confident about my response to their opening question, and nonverbally communicated, “Next question, please.”

“That’s not the gospel!” To say that I was stunned to hear those words rifling in response from one of the pastor search committee members would be a dramatic understatement. My bewilderment derived from two sources. First, to my knowledge, search committees do not typically start arguments with prospective staff members, though differing views might exist. So, I was somewhat surprised to have the answer to my first question so passionately challenged by a member of the search team. Second, and most alarming, was the reason for the glaring indictment leveled at me. I do not think that I am above having one of my statements challenged. But in this instance, I could not understand the reason for such a protest. Because I had completed two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from a respected seminary, having my understanding of the gospel challenged was a bit confusing. Did I not understand the gospel? Was I confused as to the most basic and fundamental of Christian teachings? My mind raced to understand how I could have answered incorrectly. To complicate matters further, the demurring committee member proceeded to enlighten me with the correct definition of the gospel. As the minutes and points of his explanation ticked away, I rehashed my original answer to determine the source of our disagreement over such a critical matter.

Interestingly, my uncomfortable conversation in a pastor search committee interview is symptomatic of a more widespread issue within evangelical Christianity. We are having conversations and disagreements as to the message and content of the gospel, and these divergent views seem to be leading to contentious discussions about the foundation of our belief system. Far worse, confusion on the message and content of the gospel will cause significant issues among our churches, including creating ministers and congregations who are apathetic toward evangelism.

Numerous voices have engaged recently in discussing this crucial doctrine. This article is my attempt to contribute to the discussion. I am not joining the conversation because I think I can articulate a better, deeper, or more unifying position than has been put forward. Rather, I am engaging simply to highlight a different approach. My intention in this article is to present a simple approach to understanding the core content of the gospel. We will begin by addressing some common misconceptions concerning the nature and content of the gospel.

Three Misconceptions about the Gospel

As a seminary professor, I have been exposed to several trendy views on the gospel from written and oral sources, some of which seem to be inadequate views that come with some serious problems. In identifying these views, my goal is not to stoke the fires of contentiousness, but to highlight some errant ideas about the gospel. To be clear, the views critiqued are all located within the realm of the broad, Christian tradition. My aim is to spotlight views of the gospel that are insufficient and problematic. I will begin by stating my response to three inadequate views.

Formal Evangelism Presentations are not the Gospel
First, formal evangelism presentations are not the gospel. In recent decades, a number of excellent (and some lower-quality) resources have been published for the purpose of helping believers present the gospel so that the lost might be saved. I am grateful for formal evangelism presentations because they encourage, inspire, and instruct people in evangelism, a practice that is lacking among the vast majority of believers. We should applaud efforts to motivate and mobilize believers to engage in evangelism, and I have used and taught several formal evangelism presentations. Most of the methods that have been published through the years are based on and organized around the Scripture, and God has saved countless individuals through formal evangelism presentations. However, an evangelism presentation, regardless of its high quality, should not be mistaken for the gospel. One does not find “EE,” “Way of the Master,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “FAITH,” “The Net,” “PRAY,” or other similar outlines explicitly stated in the Bible. I have used, taught, and affirm all of those presentations as based on and faithful to Scripture. The problem is not that they are unbiblical; the problem is they are not in and of themselves the gospel. Stated another way, evangelism presentations should not be considered synonymous with the gospel. Rather, they are merely tools to help a person explain the message of the gospel to someone who is lost. Those who have developed and produced the presentations would affirm that they have published a method of presenting the gospel. It is inaccurate to consider any evangelism presentation to be the gospel.

Important Christian Doctrines are not the Gospel
Second, important Christian doctrines are not the gospel. Do not misinterpret this statement to say that the gospel is not an important Christian doctrine. The gospel is critically important and foundational. However, none of the important Christian doctrines should be regarded as synonymous with the gospel. N. T. Wright appropriately states,

I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say ‘the gospel’. I just don’t think it is what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things that people ought to say, to preach about, to believe. I simply wouldn’t use the word ‘gospel’ to denote those things.[2]

While this writer and Wright would not agree completely as to the nature and extent of the core content of the gospel, I agree that many people are conflating important Christian doctrines with the gospel.

Of concern to this writer is that the gospel has become a buzzword in Evangelicalism. As is often the case with buzzwords, they lose their core identity and meaning due to their overuse in books, conversations, and retweets of pithy statements. The word gospel has become a catch-all term that captures attention. Since every Christian theme or doctrine seems related and attached to the gospel, every Christian theme or doctrine is mistakenly regarded as synonymous with the gospel. Consequently, all of the important doctrines in Christianity become the gospel, including (but not limited to) creation, theology proper, Scripture, the Trinity, prayer, angels and demons, anthropology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Again, do not misunderstand my claim. The gospel is inextricably linked to all elements, themes, and doctrines of Christianity; however, all elements, themes, and doctrines of Christianity are not the gospel and should not be posited as synonymous with the gospel. Holding such a view complicates a legitimate understanding of the gospel. If everything is the gospel, then nothing is the gospel.

If Scripture, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, or any other doctrine is synonymous with the gospel, then why the need to delineate the categories at all? Why is there any need to nuance the various doctrines if they are equivalent? Clearly, the terms and categories are not the same. While Scripture contains the gospel, Scripture is not the gospel. While soteriology includes and is connected to the gospel, soteriology is not concerned only with the gospel but also with other issues pertaining to salvation.

To read the entire article, click HERE

 

[1]Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. The formatting of these verses follows the English translation.
[2]N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 41.

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Scott Shaver

We live in a day in age when perhaps the two most misaligned words in the English language are “gay” and “gospel”.

Bill Mac

Good article. Nothing to disagree with.

Les Prouty

The only fault with this presentation is that the entire original article was not presented here. Dr. Newsome doesn’t get to the answer for the question of the title hereI clicked over and read it. I hope everyone will. Excellent article in the journal. I especially liked these next quotes from the original article.

The New Testament church did not simply roll out a list of points about Jesus. They presented Jesus: who he is and what he has accomplished on behalf of people.

Faithful gospel proclamation means telling someone about the person of Jesus and his significance for that person’s life. We present Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, whose perfect life fulfilled the righteous standards of a holy God, whose death on the cross was substitutionary for the sins of the world, and whose resurrection from the grave demonstrated his sovereign power over death and sin.

When sharing the gospel, I discuss the problem of man (sin), the solution found in Jesus (salvation), and how Jesus’ work is appropriated (repentance and faith). My desire is to help the person understand who Jesus is and why he is important for them to know.

Faithful gospeling presents the full gospel and does so with a desire to be theologically accurate, understanding that gospeling does not necessitate a discourse that feels more like a systematic theology class than a person telling another person about Jesus.

I fear that many people are complicating evangelism, presenting the message of Jesus as though they are answering questions for a theological examination rather than telling a lost person how to be saved from his or her sins.

This was an excellent article!

Jim P

The main point of the geometric figure called a parabola is not even on the parabola itself. But without that point the parabola would not exist. Points on the parabola are important but none of them are as significant as that one point that is not even on the parabola. The term of that point is very significant. (I’m sure everyone knows the name of that point)

That point is like the ‘gospel’ reduced to its core essentials. Without the ‘gospel’ those other points relate to the wrong point.

Dr. Newman, your article, 15 pages, tries to understand that ‘point’ but stops short of stating it. The Church needs an understanding of that point, ‘the gospel’ for the Spirit to convict and thereby change ourselves and the world we live in.

    volfan007

    I hope I never catch that parabola disease. I’ve heard it’s awful.

    David ;)

      Scott Shaver

      Yeah…..they say you literally turn to mush from the inside out. Bad stuff.

    Don Johnson

    Jim,

    Might you share what that “point” is?

      Jim P

      Don,

      Did you know the same word for parabola is the exact same word for parable in the original language. And most parables are mistranslated because like the parabola they don’t appreciate the point not on the parabola or the point about the parable? Like missing point of the ‘gospel.’

        Kyle Gulledge

        Greetings Jim P,

        The word parabola did not come into use until the late 16th century–so to make this connection that it is the same word as parable is quite a stretch. We get our word parable from the Greek word paraballo. The word paraballo in the Greek means: lay beside, compare, a placing beside, a comparison. It is always used in Scripture to reference an illustrative story meaning it is a comparison, illustration, analogy, or figure. So let me say this tongue in cheek–what’s your point with the parabola talk?

          Jim P

          Jonathan,

          That was good your last sentence.

          This is from Wikipedia: and both parable and parabola are spelled the same in the original language.

          The name “parabola” is due to Apollonius (100 AD) who discovered many properties of conic sections. It means “application”, referring to “application of areas” concept, that has a connection with this curve, as Apollonius had proved.[1] The focus–directrix property of the parabola and other conics is due to Pappus.

          And Ken P got the “point” the focus. The focus is not on the parabola. Does that parallel the Parable? It think it does. Most interpreters place so much emphasis on the figures in the parable they completely miss the focus of the parable and the lesson Christ is teaching. Why, The focus is not on the figures and it is too hard to understand the parable. It’s too easy to over simplify.

          Something to think about.

          My point is about the gospel… I know I could state it clearly, I would challenge those who responded to my note for them to state the gospel. Wager, there would be big differences. Why??? My earlier point.

          Andy, the word math is from the same background as parabola and parable. In fact Jesus used the word from where we get the word math from. Alright Ken P. Think you can help out here?

            Ken P.

            Sorry, Jim. Mathematics I know pretty well. Etymology is all Greek to me (pun intended).

              JIm P

              Ken,

              I know extremely educated people in Science and Mathematics and they even make their livings in it and
              it’s revealing how easily it is to loss touch with history. This also in the Christian arena.

              I’ll give you a hint where the origin of the word Mathematics: Jesus had twelve of them.

              Take a guess?

              Jim

            Kyle Gulledge

            Hey Jim P,

            The word parabola was not used until the late 16th century. Just because Apollonius discovered properties that were later known as parabolic equations has nothing to do with what a parable is within Scripture. Again, I am missing the “point” of what you are trying to do by showing that parable and parabola are spelled the same in the Greek. Let me just state my thoughts. What is the Gospel? It is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is the point/focus? Jesus. And for you to claim that you can “state it clearly,” you sure have done everything BUT post your statement. Blessings in Christ.

            Jon

              Jim P

              Hello Jonathan,

              I did post it on the next article under Dr. Patrick. (I wish I put, “through His death, burial, and resurrection” but it is still the Gospel.) From my previous note Apollonius, I understand, used the word parabola (maybe parable) and it was applied, 16th cent. to the figure we know. Thank you for the correction. Yes, there is a ‘point’ that parallels with parabola and parable that it will a be a challenge to see the connection. The point of the parable is not in the figures of the parable, I see that point as the focus, like parabola. An good example is the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man. Most interpretations focus on the figures. Wrong, The focus is Christ’s confrontation with the Jews. This is a significant mis application of scripture. Anyway I appreciate to work in dialoging in these things.

              Jim

      Jim P

      Don,
      I’d like to make one more ‘point’ about the parabola and parable. Jesus told parables because, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” It was said with the Jews of His day avoided the ‘point’ He was making as with believers today as related to the point of ‘gospel.’

        Scott Shaver

        The Jews of Christ’s day were steeped in Judaism and could not bear the imposition of the “law of Christ”.

        Neo-Calvinists appear to be likewise steeped in their theological system and cannot bear the law of Christ “as related to the point of the gospel”.

          Don Johnson

          Scott,

          Since Jim seems reluctant to state what the “point of the Gospel” is, might you state what it is?

            Lydia

            “Since Jim seems reluctant to state what the “point of the Gospel” is, might you state what it is?”

            In my view, the “point” of the Good News is different than defining the Good News (As in how it works). The point of the Good News is “new creation”. That means we can change. We can totally change direction. I think this is a problem in some of the forms of Calvinism I have been around—as they tend to promote our inability to change even remaining wicked because Jesus is being righteous for us.

            To me, there is a case for “new creation” as in what creation was intended to be. Our image of God reflected here –while not perfect –there is to be a striving for maturity and completeness. We start here and now for when heaven and earth are redeemed. We are more fully human when reflecting Christ out into the world and less human when doing wrong/evil.

            Scott Shaver

            Gospel “good news” is death, burial, resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s propitiation for our sin.

            Appropriated by faith among whosoever will believe in Christ..

            Scott Shaver

            Have compassion on him Donald.
            VolFan mentioned earlier in the thread what a bad ailment that paraboli is.

    Ken P.

    To the mathematically challenged among us,

    Jim P. is referring to the point called the Focus.

      Andy Williams

      Hi all, My wife is a Calculus Teacher…but I have no idea what Jim’s Point is. Perhaps he can state it clearly without using math? :-)

        Scott Shaver

        Perhaps he took a wrong turn or link and thinks he’s on a numerology blog covering Apocalysus Johannine or history of the Macabes?

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