A few weeks ago I wrote a post on my blog entitled Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up? In the post I talked about how America, being a trendy nation, seems to have a gospel to fit just about every corresponding trend in society. For the materialist trend, we have the health and wealth gospel. For the postmodern trend, we have deconstruction and negative theology (I can kick myself for forgetting to add the patriotic gospel, but I’m happy to mention it now). Point being that with all the different gospels floating around—even granting that some of these gospels contain grains of truth—the gospel according to the Apostles often gets lost. After carefully studying the Book of Acts and the Epistles, I summarized the gospel that the Apostles preached this way:
"Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. He was buried and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven and now He sits at the right hand of the Father. On a day that God has appointed, Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Anyone who repents and believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life."
The vast majority of my critics are people that comment anonymously (undoubtedly people that I know personally) that don’t like either my implied political views or my stance on non-violence. In this case, however, I received a couple of anonymous comments coming from a different direction.
Anonymous number one said, “It's too bad all those parables from Jesus got in the way of his gospel message...”
Anonymous number two was a bit more forthright in saying, “Yeah, you kind of left out everything Jesus announced, performed, and taught while he was in ministry. That is, the best part. Abstract religious thoughts about his death for sin, resurrection, and return have no context or meaning to a seeker without mention of the Kingdom Jesus announced and the history into which this took place. I love this blog overall, but this entry falls prey to reductionism. This is not the whole of the Good News.”
I especially agree with Anonymous number two that the announcement of the Kingdom of God often gets sidelined in standard gospel presentations. Having said that, I do find it odd that the Apostle Paul didn’t mention the Kingdom of God when he summarized the gospel “by which you are saved” in I Corinthians 15:1-4, but I digress.
Here was my response:
“If you're a regular reader of my blog (and you've read my book Alone with a Jihadist) then you'll know that I also have serious criticisms for those that neglect the teachings of Jesus, as if we can divorce Christ's death from His life and teachings. I've made that point in many ways, which is why most of the criticism I get comes from the other end of the theological spectrum than the perspective that you're articulating. So, I do agree with you.
Having said that, I think I made a valid point here that what constitutes as evangelistic preaching nowadays bears little resemblance to how the Apostles preached in the Book of Acts. Case in point, when was the last time you heard a Bible teacher or preacher say that Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead? And yet, this is precisely what Peter claims that Jesus told His Apostles to preach:
"And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42)
In my own evangelistic sermons, I often emphasize the teachings of Jesus and the parables, but I want to be careful that I don't leave out the elements that the Apostles preached when they were calling people to repent and receive Christ.
Either way, I think this post could generate a good discussion. Thank you again for your feedback.”
So, am I a reductionist?
Or is it that the gospel is so huge and mind-bending awesome that all of us are reductionists regardless of the particular kind of Christianity—new and old—that we follow?