Have you every heard a “gospel presentation?”
I’ve heard “the gospel” presented numerous times in my life by all kinds of people: pastors, teachers, friends, missionaries, peers… all kinds of people. The vast majority of these presentations- if we’re honest- are all pretty complicated. Those of us who were raised Christians or have lived in the bible belt think of them as simple, but only because they’re so familiar to us. The usual gospel presentation goes something like this:
- God created the world perfect.
- People rebelled and sin entered the world, messed it up, and now people had to die.
- Not only did they have to die, but they’d be judged by God and if nothing was done with their sin they’d be consigned to hell for eternity.
- Everyone sins, so you, listener, are unfortunately in this boat.
- But God loved people, so he sent his son Jesus in the flesh to die for the sins of the world.
- Because Jesus’ death pays the penalty for sin he can forgive all those who put their trust or belief or faith in him.
- If you do that then you can escape hell/judgement and you’ll go to heaven when you die.
- Sometimes we then end this with more about church, holy spirit, the bible, etc. depending on the background of the person presenting.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I think this standard presentation of the gospel misses the mark on many counts, and is not actually found presented in this manner in scripture. But I’m not going to go into that in this blog. I just want to point out how complex this formula is. I mean, if you don’t believe or have questions about or don’t understand any of the planks in this long argument then you have a problem. This sort of presentation worked when basically everyone believed in a God who created the world perfectly and in heaven and hell. But frankly, in the eyes of a typical, modern, nonChristian this presentation is full of questionable ideas and confusing theological assumptions, such as:
God made the world perfect? Isn’t there very substantial evidence for death preceding human life?
What about evolution?
If God loves people so much why is there hell in the first place? What is hell and how do you know about it?
What does it mean that God sent his son (God incarnate?) to earth? How many gods are there or forms of God? How can God also be a person?
How could Jesus’ death deal with my sins?
If God’s trying to fix things what about the created world? What is heaven, anyway?
The point here isn’t that there aren’t good answers to these questions or that these discussions would not be valuable. They are immensely valuable! The point is that this is super complicated. Now, with that in mind, I want us to compare the end of the Apostle Peter’s speech after Pentecost in Acts 2 and his call for faith. Note that in this speech Peter has explained where the Holy Spirit came from, and that Jesus was resurrected… and that brings us to his punchline- his “gospel presentation”:
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear… 36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
So let’s sum this up… Jesus was resurrected, so he’s the King. That’s pretty simple.
Does it mean that it’s an easy message for moderns to accept? Heavens no. But, it doesn’t ask them to believe seven or eight debated theological points up front; it only asks for faith in two, the resurrection and the lordship of Jesus. Along those lines, the appropriate response to this “presentation” is allegiance (i.e. surrender) and not simply belief.
Are there more points that I make when I share what I believe with others? Absolutely. And I think that all valid faith sharing must be contextualized to the people who we’re sharing with. My point is simply to make us think about this issue, and to remind us that what is often spoken about as “THE GOSPEL” isn’t what we find on the lips of the first disciples.