What Is the Gospel? The Power and Peril of Short Gospel Definitions

At some point during my tenure as a pastor at Grace Baptist, I decided I needed a succinct, memorable expression of the gospel—a phrase I could repeat frequently in a variety of contexts until members of the flock would recall it reflexively.

What I came up with is pretty much straight from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose again.

Though I didn’t end up teaching it as well I’d intended, the statement did become an important tool in my own thinking. It eventually became reflexive for me, and that was instrumental in a sanctification project God was advancing in my own life.

It was instrumental in two ways: First, it increased my gospel awareness in general sermon preparation, personal Bible study, and random reflections on life and being human. Second, it revealed its own inadequacy. As my understanding of the gospel deepened and expanded, I came to see that my “gospel in a nutshell” statement was too small.

I’m keeping it, though—all the nutshell statements are too small!

Someone I respect said the gospel is simply, “Jesus saves.” I’ve also heard, “The gospel is the cross,” and, “It’s Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In a way, the gospel can be boiled down to one word: “Christ”!

Why compact, handy expressions of the gospel are important

A friend of mine recently said that, to him, the gospel is “the kingdom of God.” That seemed inadequate to me, until he unpacked it. The decompressed version was excellent. The truth is that any short expression we come up with requires unpacking—and how much unpacking is required depends on what the hearers already know or what particular aspect of the gospel we’re trying to focus on and develop.

I’m persuaded that every Christian needs a favorite nutshell expression of the gospel that works for them in several ways:

  • It comes readily to mind.
  • It revives the spirit, sometimes literally quickens the pulse.
  • It powerfully suggests the larger reality implied by the short expression.
  • It heightens awarness of how all the varieties of biblical events and biblical teaching are connected into a single, grand whole.
  • It increases awareness of how the gospel and all of Scripture connect to the experience of living in this world in these times.

A compact, memorable expression of the gospel is a vital tool for becoming deeply gospel-minded.

Why our gospel-in-a-nutshell expressions really aren’t “the gospel”

The usefulness of a hammer, or battery tester, or scalpel depends a lot on understanding each tool’s limitations. The tools work best when we understand that the hammer isn’t for surgery, and that the tester will break if you pound a nail with it.

Our pithy gospel expressions are like that—because the gospel is much larger than a sentence or two can convey. It’s even larger than 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

The truth of this becomes clear if we note the questions these short definitions raise. For example, my own gospel-in-a-sentence raises at least five questions.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose again.

  • Who is Jesus Christ?
  • What is a sinner?
  • Why did sinners need dying for?
  • Why did Jesus rise again?
  • Why is this good news?

These questions are all invited by looking at the key words in the sentence itself, and they reveal that there is much more to the gospel than the short sentence can convey.

But there’s still more. The answers to these questions raise a few more questions, and those might raise a few more before the picture is fully sketched.

What short, popular expressions of the gospel message usually leave out

I learned early in life that we’re all sinners, that we’re justly condemned as a result, that Jesus Christ paid the penalty of sin on the cross and that all who trust in His sacrifice are delivered from sin’s penalty, and eventually its power—your basic “Romans Road” (Rom. 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-10).

But the “Romans Road” and its cousins only consider the individual perspective on the gospel—and only part of that: the escaping from judgment part.

Seeing the whole gospel requires looking at it from multiple levels—something like an intergalactic view, and a satellite view, as well as a more complete “my life, right here, right now” view.

The intergalactic perspective

The intergalactic perspective on the gospel tells us that the only reason there is a universe at all (the reason there is something rather than nothing) is because God has chosen to reveal His glory in this way. Specifically, He has chosen to create a world occupied by human beings who would fail and fall and bring destruction on themselves and the creation (Rom. 8:20, 9:22). He chose to do that in order to also reveal the “glory of His grace” by saving some (Eph. 1:5-6, Rom. 9:23-24), eventually also saving the planet and the entire created order (Rom. 8:21). “Saving” here means graciously, by His own means, transforming the broken, alienated, and self-destructive into the healed, harmonious, and thriving.

Viewed from such a distance, we can see that the gospel is big enough to make sense of the world for the deepest and most brilliant thinkers the human race has yet produced, or ever will produce—big enough also to provide a framework for us ordinary Christians to relate everything we do in the world to God’s purposes.

The satellite perspective

The satellite view of the gospel connects the intergalactic picture to human history and biblical history. He has revealed much of who He is in creation (Psalm 19:1-6, Rom. 1:18-20) but has laid out the story of God and man in Scripture. That story teaches us the truth of our fallenness, our inability to save ourselves, and His great mercy in providing a Savior. It plays out in God’s raising up people for His name and forming gracious covenants with them (Gen. 12:1-2, Deut. 7:6-9). It unfolds in His extending mercy to them again and again, as they and their kings embraced idols and rejected Him (Matt. 23:34-39).

Viewed from the satellite perspective, the gospel enables us to see that the historical events of the Old Testament and New demonstrate some vital gospel truths: that mankind needs fixing, that it can’t fix itself, and that a version of it will be eventually be fully repaired (recreated!) only by God’s own power and righteousness, humbly received by those who trust in Him. Human history outside of the Bible abundantly demonstrates two out of those three realities: that the race is broken and can’t heal itself. The cross is the only solution (Rom. 8:23-25).

The “me, here, now” perspective

The “me, here, now” view of the gospel relates all of the above to individual human beings, starting with ourselves. The gospel tells me that I was born in the guilt of humanity’s (Adam’s) sin, and that I also pushed God away by my own nature and choices (Rom. 5:12, 19; Eph 2:3). It also tells me that personal transformation is God’s purpose in calling me to faith in Christ. Those who believe are “in Christ” as a means to an end: not only to glorify God’s grace in forgiving sinners, but to glorify His grace in transforming them into truly holy, moral, good people (Col. 1:22, Jude 24, Eph. 5:27).

So, the gospel declares that I must personally face the truths of the Romans Road: that I am myself in need of saving, that I can’t save myself, that God provided salvation for me through Jesus’ death on the cross, that my only hope is to throw myself on God’s mercy and trust in what Christ has done on my behalf. But it also declares that I’m supposed to become a better person. God has not merely pulled me up from the tar pit (Psalm 40:2-3). He has placed me on solid rock to walk a better path (Eph. 4:4, Col. 1:10).

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose again! It’s “Jesus Saves!” It’s “Christ and Him crucified!” It’s all that. It’s even “the kingdom of God”—because the cross isn’t just the basis for individuals escaping wrath and being changed. The cross is the basis for the fellowship of believers, the church, and the basis for an eventual transformation of the whole creation. The euangelion (“evangel”) is the good news of the whole story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration.

2044 reads

There are 29 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

One thing I've learned when I use a quick Gospel presentation in Bible studies is that even people who have been in church all their lives often have trouble verbalizing the Gospel so it can be understood by a non-Christian.  So we might say that the quick summary can be a very helpful way of leading into those "intergalactic" topics--especially useful when we're tempted towards what the Bee calls "moral therapeutic deism."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

My shorthand is "repent and believe the Gospel" (Mk 1:15):

  • Repent: confess = admitting wrongdoing; forsake = be done with rebellion and walk away from it
  • Believe: active obedience, passive obedience, resurrection and why each matter (no, I don't use those nerdy theological terms), Jesus as God, Lord and King, faith = trust and allegiance in Jesus and message

It requires unpacking. But, it works for me.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

I appreciate Aaron's summary of the Gospel, and the need for something handy.

My take on a brief version of the Gospel is:

Christ died for our sins,

Was buried, 

And rose again on the third day.

That, to me, is objective salvation.

The subjective answers, "How do we make what He did for us ours?"  That's where repentance and faith comes into play.  To me,  the call to repent and believe is distinct from but attached to the Gospel.  It is what we are to do with the Gospel.

In both objective summaries and subjective, we do need to elaborate.  I have always preferred the Evangelism Explosion explanation and illustrations. Lots of theology there.  Although one need not start out with "heaven is a free gift and is not earned or deserved."  The sequence can change, but the points they make are pretty thorough.

BTW, very few Gospel presentations deal with the theological significance of Jesus' burial, and I don't really think that needs to be elaborated upon in a Gospel presentation, but I do like to mention it.

 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I like to keep the response to the gospel separate from the gospel itself, because I've so often seen the individualistic focus eclipse everything else.

RajeshG's picture

I do not find support in Scripture for the notion of a so-called "simple" gospel message. A wrong understanding that what is recorded in a given passage is all that was said or that took place in an evangelistic encounter has contributed to many people holding inaccurate views about evangelism.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't see how your second sentence follows from your first.

Simplification is simply a necessity of communication. For example, your post is only two sentences... demonstrating that we are not capable of saying everything all the time. Though, admittedly, it does support the point that brevity can often result in lack of clarity.

So there are risks in simplification. There are also risks in not simplifying. (But it's unavoidable, in any case.)

But is there biblical support for the whole idea of simplification? Certainly. The Bible itself is written in language and language uses words and words are always simplifications. Take for example the word "grace." There is a great deal of meaning in it, but instead of laying out the meaning, the NT repeatedly uses a single word in place of the meaning. It's what words are. Handles for larger concepts.

Handles are powerful things. 

But if you think you can replace all forms of shorthand with complete, fully detailed explanations... well, you have your work cut out for you. I don't envy you the task.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

RajeshG wrote:

I do not find support in Scripture for the notion of a so-called "simple" gospel message. A wrong understanding that what is recorded in a given passage is all that was said or that took place in an evangelistic encounter has contributed to many people holding inaccurate views about evangelism.

Clearly salvation does not require a complex formulation:

  1. "We are being punished justly because we bear the responsibility for what we have done."
  2. "This man has done nothing wrong."
  3. "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I'm not going to claim that we who have time to grow in the Christian life should never spend time to understand more than this man did, and because of what Jesus answered, we know it wasn't just platitudes or a formula, but the man's heart was involved and committed.  Still, it doesn't get much more simple than this.  Repentance is always necessary, and we should explain that in the Gospel presentation, but God knows if the heart has turned away from sin and to him.  As Jesus said, one can come to him with the faith of a little child.

Dave Barnhart

Ed Vasicek's picture

Rajesh, the Bible itself presents a shortened version of the Gospel, the things that are of "first importance."  We are not talking about the 4 Gospels, but the Gospel of the grace of God.  I think we may have a difference in how we define the vocabulary.  The things that are of "first importance" are listed, so, to my way of thinking, God has provided us with a succinct (bare bones) outline of the Gospel message.

I Corinthians 15:1-7:

 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Maybe Rajesh only meant to say that partial or compressed/simplified expressions of the gospel are not enough.

I would agree... pretty much the thesis of my essay.

The handy versions are not a substitute for teaching the whole story. The whole story also can't act as a substitute for all the situations where communicating well requires focus on one piece of the whole, or referencing the whole in a compact way.

The Bible does it all over the place...

All of these are simplified expressions of the gospel... (In addition to 1 Cor 15)...

  • Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief 1 Tim. 1:15
  • Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy he saved us Titus 3:5
  • By grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God Eph. 2:8-9
  • He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed form death to life  John 5:24
  • God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world 1 Tim 3:16
  • All of us, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all  Isaiah 53:6
  • Rom. 1:16, Rom. 3:24, Rom. 5:1, Rom. 8:1...Gen 3.15

Pretty much everything in the Book is at least a portion of the gospel... and along the way there are many short expressions that have a lot compressed into them.

Mike Harding's picture

Aaron,

I appreciate your article. Yes, it is necessary at times to be able to give the gospel in a condensed form.  Chaplains on the battlefield often had less than than a few minutes to give the gospel to wounded soldiers in WW1 and WW2.   There are many scenarios in which a witness is limited by time and circumstance when presenting the gospel. Nevertheless, I would argue that thoroughness and absolute clarity are the desired goals when communicating the gospel.  Dumbing it down and over simplifying it have serious downsides:  false professions, false assurance, misunderstanding fundamental doctrine to name a few. The good news is only as good as the bad news is bad.  That idea alone takes time to develop.  The nature of saving faith and the nature of biblical repentance should be explained as well as their relationship to each other---repentant faith or believing repentance.  The person of Christ needs to be understood as well as his crosswork, including the resurrection which often gets neglected.  In 1 Cor 15:1-4 a key phrase must be taken seriously---"according to the Scriptures".  It is the Person and the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ "according to the Scriptures".  How do the Scriptures present those facts and interpret those facts.  That is an essential part of the gospel.  The gospel is not everything in the Bible; neither is it the only thing, but it is not really a "Simple" thing either.

Pastor Mike Harding

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Maybe Rajesh only meant to say that partial or compressed/simplified expressions of the gospel are not enough.

I would agree... pretty much the thesis of my essay.

The handy versions are not a substitute for teaching the whole story. The whole story also can't act as a substitute for all the situations where communicating well requires focus on one piece of the whole, or referencing the whole in a compact way.

The Bible does it all over the place...

All of these are simplified expressions of the gospel... (In addition to 1 Cor 15)...

  • Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief 1 Tim. 1:15
  • Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy he saved us Titus 3:5
  • By grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God Eph. 2:8-9
  • He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed form death to life  John 5:24
  • God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world 1 Tim 3:16
  • All of us, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all  Isaiah 53:6
  • Rom. 1:16, Rom. 3:24, Rom. 5:1, Rom. 8:1...Gen 3.15

Pretty much everything in the Book is at least a portion of the gospel... and along the way there are many short expressions that have a lot compressed into them.

I have had people argue with me that since the evangelistic accounts of the Philippian jailor (esp. in Acts 16:31; cf. similar brief passages about other evangelistic encounters) and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35, etc) do not record explicit testimony to the Resurrection, hearing about the Resurrection is not necessary for salvation and testifying to the Resurrection is not necessary in evangelism. I vehemently disagree with both of these ideas. Asserting that the lack of mention of a certain truth in a brief summary in Scripture of an evangelistic encounter proves that mentioning that certain truth in evangelism is not necessary is erroneous and a very serious mishandling of the Bible.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Rajeesh said:

I have had people argue with me that since the evangelistic accounts of the Philippian jailor (esp. in Acts 16:31; cf. similar brief passages about other evangelistic encounters) and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35, etc) do not record explicit testimony to the Resurrection, hearing about the Resurrection is not necessary for salvation and testifying to the Resurrection is not necessary in evangelism. 

I agree with you. Those accounts in Acts are SUMMARIES of what happened and selected highlights of what was said.  They do not necessarily include all that Paul said. The same is true in the Gospels.  

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mike Harding wrote:
 I would argue that thoroughness and absolute clarity are the desired goals when communicating the gospel.  Dumbing it down and over simplifying it have serious downsides:  false professions, false assurance, misunderstanding fundamental doctrine to name a few. The good news is only as good as the bad news is bad.  That idea alone takes time to develop.  The nature of saving faith and the nature of biblical repentance should be explained as well as their relationship to each other---repentant faith or believing repentance.  The person of Christ needs to be understood as well as his crosswork, including the resurrection which often gets neglected.  In 1 Cor 15:1-4 a key phrase must be taken seriously---"according to the Scriptures".  It is the Person and the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ "according to the Scriptures".  How do the Scriptures present those facts and interpret those facts.  That is an essential part of the gospel.  The gospel is not everything in the Bible; neither is it the only thing, but it is not really a "Simple" thing either.

I don't think I disagree with any of that. Maybe the "simple" part, a little. None of the gospel seems complicated to me... but I have grown up with it. I can't remember a time when it wasn't familiar to me, though my understanding of it has grown.

It's a bit like looking at a tree. You can "see the whole tree" at a glance, from a distance. But if you climb it, you see much more. If drill out a core, more still. Put a leaf under a microscope, and there's even more.

But you still saw the tree at that first glance.

My main concern here is that people tend to focus on one branch or a section of trunk, and never step back and see the whole and how it all connects.

They do not know what they're missing!

RajeshG's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Rajesh, the Bible itself presents a shortened version of the Gospel, the things that are of "first importance."  We are not talking about the 4 Gospels, but the Gospel of the grace of God.  I think we may have a difference in how we define the vocabulary.  The things that are of "first importance" are listed, so, to my way of thinking, God has provided us with a succinct (bare bones) outline of the Gospel message.

I Corinthians 15:1-7:

 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Ed,

I believe that many people do not handle this passage correctly for what it is actually saying. If we pay careful attention to Paul's use of καὶ ὅτι ["and that"] in the Greek text, it shows us that there are four events that are connected: death for our sins according to the Scriptures, burial, resurrection on the third day according to the Scriptures, and appearances to many credible witnesses. According to what God actually says here, testifying to people of the resurrection appearances is part of the gospel message, just as all four Gospels do.

When we do not give people the biblical data about the resurrection appearances of the risen Christ when we witness to them, as Paul did to the Corinthians, we deprive people of the God-intended proof of the bodily resurrection of His Messiah. God wants to use in sinners' hearts what He has revealed about those appearances, and we should be faithful to give testimony to those appearances when we evangelize people. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

... if we're going to be technical, the καὶ ὅτι is also repeated before "and that he appeared to Cephas." So, you'd have to tell everyone about the appearance to Peter also, in order to properly evangelize. Wink

Actually, I think the way that passage is generally understood is that he hits the main points of the good news and expands on how we know the resurrection in particular to be true. So at some point in the text, the scope of his intent by the word "gospel" ends, and the rest is development. In my view, the burial is part of the development. In all genuine resurrections there is genuine death. So the burial detail is, along with the appearance to Peter and the others, part of the expanded supporting evidence of the good news.

... not that I have anything against teaching the burial! As I argued in the article, the good news isn't really fully developed in any one passage. The resurrection is a signpost to everything that is yet to come because of the cross. The cross is a signpost to everything that went wrong that made it necessary. The man on the cross is a signpost to all of God's sufficiency in providing the solution to the ruin of sin.

I'm not saying these things are symbols. They are realities that point to larger realities of which they are a part.

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

... if we're going to be technical, the καὶ ὅτι is also repeated before "and that he appeared to Cephas." So, you'd have to tell everyone about the appearance to Peter also, in order to properly evangelize. Wink

Actually, I think the way that passage is generally understood is that he hits the main points of the good news and expands on how we know the resurrection in particular to be true. So at some point in the text, the scope of his intent by the word "gospel" ends, and the rest is development. In my view, the burial is part of the development. In all genuine resurrections there is genuine death. So the burial detail is, along with the appearance to Peter and the others, part of the expanded supporting evidence of the good news.

... not that I have anything against teaching the burial! As I argued in the article, the good news isn't really fully developed in any one passage. The resurrection is a signpost to everything that is yet to come because of the cross. The cross is a signpost to everything that went wrong that made it necessary. The man on the cross is a signpost to all of God's sufficiency in providing the solution to the ruin of sin.

I'm not saying these things are symbols. They are realities that point to larger realities of which they are a part.

Actually, there are not 5 things connected by καὶ ὅτι in this passage but 4 because it only occurs 3 times in the passage:

1 Corinthians 15:3 παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐν πρώτοις, ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν [1] ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς 4  καὶ ὅτι ἐτάφη [2] καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται [3] τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς 5  καὶ ὅτι ὤφθη [4] Κηφᾷ εἶτα τοῖς δώδεκα·

I covered the appearance to Peter by saying "appearances to many credible witnesses," which is a phrase that I did not originate but learned many years ago from my pastor as a succinct way to summarize the vital information about those who were eyewitnesses of the Resurrection. In actual evangelistic encounters, as often as possible and as circumstances allow, I relate the information about Peter and the other eyewitnesses to the people to whom I witness.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Rajesh wrote:

I believe that many people do not handle this passage correctly for what it is actually saying. If we pay careful attention to Paul's use of καὶ ὅτι ["and that"] in the Greek text, it shows us that there are four events that are connected: death for our sins according to the Scriptures, burial, resurrection on the third day according to the Scriptures, and appearances to many credible witnesses. According to what God actually says here, testifying to people of the resurrection appearances is part of the gospel message, just as all four Gospels do.

I would argue that the phrase "of first importance" suggests this is written in a style similar to how newspaper news articles are written. The most essential facts are given first, then the second level, etc., so that if the newspaper article is cut off by an editor, he cuts from the bottom up.  If nothing is left but the first paragraph, that is the most important part of the article.

So although it is written in parallel phrases, it is arranged so that the most important things are first.  This is not to say that we should not communicate the latter, including that witnesses saw our risen Lord.  [en protois, first things, first importance]. 

Also, I would add that those things that are "according to the Scriptures" (Old Testament) set apart the first portion of the text from the latter, thus indicating what is "of first importance."

My take is that verses 3-4 represents a summary version of the Gospel Paul preached universally, and verses 5-11 are aspects of the Gospel that he uniquely presented to the Corinthians because some of them were doubting the reality of the resurrection (see same chapter, vs. 12).

This to me is the perfect template.  The atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus must always be presented, because they are "according to the Scriptures" and "of first importance." Beyond that, however, are many, many details that -- depending upon the audience and the need -- may or may not be presented.

I think that all saved people need some level of understanding that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose the third day. But I believe there are many genuinely saved believers who are unaware that he appeared first to Cephas and then later to James.  If the order of appearances were a matter of first importance, then it would be impossible to be saved and ignorant of it.

 

 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

RajeshG's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

My take is that verses 3-4 represents a summary version of the Gospel Paul preached universally, and verses 5-11 are aspects of the Gospel that he uniquely presented to the Corinthians because some of them were doubting the reality of the resurrection (see same chapter, vs. 12).

If you study apostolic preaching carefully in the book of Acts, you see that testifying to the appearances was not something that Paul uniquely presented to the Corinthians.

When Peter preached the gospel in Caesarea, he said, 

Acts 10:40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; 41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.

Peter highlighted that God showed Christ openly to witnesses that He had chosen beforehand, including himself, and that those specially chosen witnesses ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Peter did not just say that God raised Jesus from the dead; he testified to God's showing that risen Jesus to people who ate and drank with Him.

Paul did the same thing when he preached the gospel in Antioch in Pisidia:

Acts 13:30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.

Paul did not stop with saying that God raised Him from the dead. He went on to testify that He was seen for many days by those who had accompanied Him prior to His death.

When we witness to people, we should not stop with saying that Christ rose. We should tell them about the eyewitnesses who saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, and ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Doing so, we give people the biblical testimony that gives them the proper basis for believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ.
 

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

When we witness to people, we should not stop with saying that Christ rose. We should tell them about the eyewitnesses who saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, and ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Doing so, we give people the biblical testimony that gives them the proper basis for believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ.

Since you understand the information about the witnesses to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the witnesses?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

When we witness to people, we should not stop with saying that Christ rose. We should tell them about the eyewitnesses who saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, and ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Doing so, we give people the biblical testimony that gives them the proper basis for believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ.

Since you understand the information about the witnesses to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the witnesses?

 

If you understand the information about the burial to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the burial?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Since you understand the information about the witnesses to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the witnesses?

Dear Rajesh and Kevin,

I appreciate your love for truth and the Gospel! So let me answer my question and share some of my logic. To answer Kevin's quesiton, can one be saved without being told about the witnesses,my answer is: 

Yes, without a doubt in my mind.  I have led many children to Christ, for example, who don't know about the many witnesses.  Now when people who are saved have heard about the many witnesses, I believe they will believe it.

The Gospel of the grace of God is a lot to take in at one time.  That's why we have the things that are of first importance, that is a good starting point with minimal necessary information. 

In my view, the witnesses are added to I Corinthians to bolster the reality of the resurrection and tell us that our faith is grounded in actual history.  And, if the person we are speaking to is not convinced of the BODILY resurrection, than it must be brought up [Rajesh's concern is a significant concern]. To bolster my argument that this isn't always necessary to bring up (at the point of witnessing) is the fact that there are some resurrection appearances left out of I Corinthians 15, and the appearance to the 500 is nowhere else in Scripture.  Yet the penal atonement, burial, and resurrection are all over the place.

The I Corinthians account is the only one that mentions the 500, and since it is included as part of the Gospel, then you have to conclude that the Gospel is ONLY in I Corinthians. I don't think you want to do that, if you see what I mean.

I think, though,  it is important to make clear that Christ arose bodily, physically, and in real history.  In a nation like the U.S. where many people are familiar with the claims of Christianity, there are many people who acknowledge the resurrection and death of Jesus, but do not understand the nature of the atonement and salvation by repentance and faith alone in Jesus.  In most other cultures (like Corinth), the idea of the resurrection sounds absurd because people are not used to celebrating it.

 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

 

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

When we witness to people, we should not stop with saying that Christ rose. We should tell them about the eyewitnesses who saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, and ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Doing so, we give people the biblical testimony that gives them the proper basis for believing in the bodily resurrection of Christ.

Since you understand the information about the witnesses to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the witnesses?

 

 

 

If you understand the information about the burial to be a part of the gospel, do you think a person is still unsaved if they are just believing in the death and resurrection of Christ, but they have never been told of the burial?

I think they would still be saved even without hearing of the burial, but I was asking what your thoughts would be.

G. N. Barkman's picture

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus saves sinners and includes details of how He accomplished redemption. Details are important, and some, such as His death and resurrection, appear to be essential.

But the question of how a sinner receives the salvation accomplished by Christ may be a different issue. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." (Acts 16:31)
If someone believes in the Lord Jesus, that is, submits one's life to Him as Lord, the benefits of what Christ accomplished upon the cross will apply to him. He will be saved. He will subsequently learn the details of how he was saved through the crosswork of Christ.

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Gregg's right.

We have numerous passages where persons trust in Christ with a saving result, while their knowledge of the gospel is (as far as we can tell) incomplete.

The sine qua non seems to be repentant trust in the sufficiency of Christ. Repentance can only exist where there is some sense of guilt and condemnation, but a person may be pretty sketchy on the details.

We teach the gospel in detail because we are directed to "make disciples," not mere converts. (Matt 28:19)

 

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

We have numerous passages where persons trust in Christ with a saving result, while their knowledge of the gospel is (as far as we can tell) incomplete.

There is no evidence in Scripture that any of the evangelistic accounts are exhaustive records of what the people heard or knew. Drawing conclusions about what they did not know or hear prior to salvation would only be speculation and basing evangelistic perspectives in that way would be a problematic handling of those accounts.

RajeshG's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

I think, though,  it is important to make clear that Christ arose bodily, physically, and in real history.  

How exactly in evangelism do you "make clear that Christ arose bodily, physically, and in real history" but not give any biblical evidence from those who were the witnesses that He did so? What is your biblical justification for doing so? 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In Acts 18:4 and 19, Paul shows a pattern of reasoning/persuading people. What is he persuading them of? Whatever aspects of the gospel they don't already accept. So what happens is that we encounter people with different things already in place. Many do not need convincing that Jesus died and rose from the dead. They just don't see what that has to do with them.

Others do indeed need persuading that these events occurred.

It's important to put all this in context. In the article, I focused on what the gospel is and means to believers, not on evangelism. That would be a very different article. If I were writing about evangelism, I would emphasize that salvation is a work of God and He has given us the opportunity to be part of the process with Him. But our part of it is always imperfect, incomplete, and not ultimately decisive. And conversion is not really the goal. Our goal is making disciples. Conversion is only the front entrance to that life, and we often can't tell if someone has really come in the entrance until they are deep into the house.

So when it comes to evangelism, I really think what's called for is the same thing we do in discipleship: teach whatever parts of the grand story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration the opportunity allows.

And we do see evidence of this in the way Stephen preaches, the way Peter preaches, the way Paul preaches (none of them mention the burial in their Acts sermons, by the way).

Edit: I anticipate the objection that this is an argument from silence. This is true, but silence is sometimes significant. The sermons that are included in Scripture, and the portions of those sermons that are included (if we assume they're not fully recorded--good luck proving that), are selected because they're what we need to see. They are, in some ways, models.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Rajesh asked: "How exactly in evangelism do you "make clear that Christ arose bodily, physically, and in real history" but not give any biblical evidence from those who were the witnesses that He did so?"

I already gave an example earlier:

I have led many children to Christ, for example, who don't know about the many witnesses.  Now when people who are saved have heard about the many witnesses, I believe they will believe it.

The Gospel of the grace of God is a lot to take in at one time.  That's why we have the things that are of first importance, that is a good starting point with minimal necessary information. 

In my view, the witnesses are added to I Corinthians to bolster the reality of the resurrection and tell us that our faith is grounded in actual history.  And, if the person we are speaking to is not convinced of the BODILY resurrection, than it must be brought up 

Some people have child-like faith, or, because of their background, do not doubt the resurrection. This has been especially true in "nominal Christian" America. It is often true when witnessing to Catholics, for example (which is something I have done a lot of, since I was raised Catholic). I agree that for those who do doubt the resurrection, the witnesses are crucial.  And, as more and more people in the U.S. reject Christianity, the  importance of mentioning the many witnesses has grown here in the U.S.  It has always been important on the college campus!

In my experience, which is limited ot the U.S., if someone is deeply convicted of sin and accepts that Jesus atoned for our sins and that His death delivers us from God's wrath and we choose to repent and believe, then belief in the resurrection naturally flows.  Yet some people come through the opposite direction (like Josh McDowell), where the reality of the resurrection credentials Jesus, and this leads to His atoning death.

"The Midrash Detective"

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

And we do see evidence of this in the way Stephen preaches, the way Peter preaches, the way Paul preaches (none of them mention the burial in their Acts sermons, by the way).

Edit: I anticipate the objection that this is an argument from silence. This is true, but silence is sometimes significant. The sermons that are included in Scripture, and the portions of those sermons that are included (if we assume they're not fully recorded--good luck proving that), are selected because they're what we need to see. They are, in some ways, models.

Actually, no, Paul did preach the burial in his sermon in Antioch of Pisidia that is recorded in Acts 13. In fact, he preached the same four points that he says he preached to the Corinthians: death (Acts 13:28-29a), burial (Acts 13:29b), resurrection (Acts 13:30), and appearances (Acts 13:31).

Yes, I disagree strongly with arguing from silence concerning what was and what was not preached on any given evangelistic occasion.

We know with certainty that the people who were saved at Pentecost received far more content than what is recorded in Acts 2:

(1) They received content prior to Peter's message that is summarized as "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11). We do not have any way of knowing what that content was;

(2) Peter gave them far more content than what is recorded about his message, and that additional content is summarized this way: Acts 2:40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

The 3000 people who were saved at Pentecost received far more evangelistic content than what we have recorded. Acts 2 is not an exhaustive record of what was ministered to them on that occasion.

I could go on in this respect and show this point further from other content in Acts, but I will refrain because I do not want to be guilty of hijacking your thread by continuing to discuss this point further.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.