The gospel is the simple truth that God is holy, we are sinners, and Jesus is our Savior.— The Gospel Project (@Gospel_Project) February 28, 2015
It is certainly simple (I mean, it fits into a 140-character tweet). But is it simplistic? Is this an accurate definition of “the gospel”?
There are three subparts to the statement, and each one is correct. But just because there are no errors in fact does not necessarily follow that the composed statement is the best representation of what is true. To be fair, the statement does not explicitly state the relationships between the elements, but I think it is clear that the assumptions being made are that (italics are unstated assumptions required to make the statement work):
- A (God is holy) –>
- B (and we are sinners) –>
- C (and we need a Savior and Jesus is our Savior) =
- D (therefore, this is the gospel).
Again, I don’t see anything wrong with the stated parts of A, B, and C. But does D necessarily follow A, B, and C? I realize this is a very common formulation, especially in evangelical and neo-Reformed circles.
But where is “love” in the gospel? The same circles that formulate the above are also very fond of John 3:16. But many also hold that God’s holiness is his supreme attribute (hence the “A” above) and that love is merely a manifestation of his holiness (or something along these lines).
So what I see is that this “simple” formulation of the gospel is in fact, not generally applicable to all groups who are defined as Christian (and who, by the way, defines who is and isn’t “Christian”?). This formulation is based on a priori theological axioms that may or may not be agreed upon by all Christians, and makes many relational assumptions between the elements.
As a Progressive Arminian/Wesleyan with leanings toward aspects of open and process theologies, my theological foundation is that:
- God is primarily defined by his love,
- And that love requires that there can be no force or coercion,
- Therefore, humans must be free to choose in an absolute sense;
- Because of that, God knows all possibilities but does not fully know which choices creation will take.
I also accept for myself that the best explanation for Jesus Christ’s incarnation and atonement work is described by the Christus Victor metaphor where the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a dramatic event (as opposed to the more common forensic/legal/penal-substitution theory from Anselm) that defeated sin and death.
So my formulation is that:
- M: God is love
- N: Love demands creation be given freedom
- O: Love compelled God to act when creation fell
- P: Jesus Christ (his whole life, death, and resurrection) shows the natural consequences of sin
- Q: Christ defeated sin and death by destroying its power through his death and resurrection
- R: Creation is restored through the power of life, evidenced in the resurrection
- S: Therefore, the entirety of creation has hope for new life; and this is the gospel.
It isn’t as short and concise, but it isn’t simplistic either. And I believe it offers better hope than the more simplistic formulation that is more commonly seen and heard.
There is more than one way to explain and define “the gospel.” Some, I think, are better than others.