Yesterday I attended the You Lost Me Live event put on by the Barna Group in Indianapolis. By and large, it was exactly what I expected. Presentations were made about the changing attitudes of the millennial generation towards the gospel and the church, and how the church can respond. All that is fine and dandy. I have no problem with that, and think it is important to have these types of conversations so generation gaps can be crossed.
One thing was said that did get my mind whirling. During one of the early presentations a slide was put on the screen that said something to this effect.
Present the gospel as simply as possible, but not simpler.
I don’t know if I agree.
For far too long we have tried to make the gospel simple. Ask the majority of evangelical Christians what the gospel is and you will hear something along the lines of, “We sin. Our sin separates us from God. God in his great love for humanity sent Jesus, God’s son, to the earth to die on the cross for our sins. The blood of Jesus on the cross atones for sin making it possible for us to be reconciled to God. If you accept the forgiveness of sins offered through the blood of Jesus you can live for eternity in heaven.” That’s the gospel. Nice and simple.
Or is it too simple?
If I read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) I’m not sure we can say Jesus preached that gospel.
And where in that outline of the gospel was the resurrection?
In our efforts to make the gospel simple we have reduced it to a skeleton of what it was meant to be. When Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15 he tells them he is writing to remind them of the gospel. In verses 20 and 21 Paul explicitly points to the resurrection. The resurrection provides hope. The resurrection is the divine seal shouting to the universe that death no longer has the final word but that life wins. The resurrection is what makes the early believers confident to stand before those who would persecute them.
We cannot neglect the resurrection.
I read the gospels and the book of Acts and the Epistles and I find the gospel to be complex, full of tension, colorful, vibrant, and loud. It is broody like a strong cup of coffee that infiltrates its way in between the fibers of your close so its aroma stays with you all day forcing you to smell and remember all over again. It is a fine wine whose complex notes start in your nose, roll over your tongue, and brush your throat like a velvet robe. The gospel is a cacophony of sound to a world rebelling against the intended score and a harmonious symphony to those who submit to the rhythm of the conductor’s baton. The gospel is a deep wells whose depths cannot be plumbed.
And we are to make that simple?
The Gospel, as preached by Jesus, and Paul and the other apostles wasn’t just about a personal salvation that dealt with sin and getting to heaven. That’s part of it. But to focus only on that is to focus on what Dallas Willard calls a “gospel of sin management.” The world does need us to manage sin. The world needs us to add our word to the word God has spoken of redemption, restoration and justice. The world needs the people of God who have been restored by the gospel to embody the gospel. But to do that we have to understand what the gospel is.
The gospel is God putting the world back together.
The gospel is the reign and rule of God being present in the life of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the death of Christ in our stead as atonement for our sins.
The gospel is the resurrection of Christ crushing death.
The gospel is the Holy Spirit being poured out on the people of God inaugurating a new day.
The gospel is the old creation passing away and the new creation coming.
The gospel is you and I being transformed.
The gospel is creation being restored.
The gospel is justice coming.
The gospel is God with us.
The gospel is the sons and daughters of God living as the heirs to the inheritance of Christ’s spirit.
The gospel is anything but simple.
Resurrection, restoration, justice are not simple ideas that can be communicated only through spoken word. They are complex ideas eager to be embodied rather than being an amorphous idea talked about by hip pastors in coffee shops. But if we insist on making the gospel simple then I fear these ideas will only ever be just that: ideas. It is when we forgo making the gospel simple and start inviting people into the vast expansiveness and mystery of the gospel that we will begin to see transformative power of the gospel in lives and in the world.
That’s about as simple as I can make it.