I’ve been reading Amy Sherman’s book “Kingdom Calling” and have come across a provocative question: Do you preach “the too-narrow gospel”? The question does not ask if you preach the gospel too narrowly, as in whether you exclude some group of people from the gospel. Instead, it questions if we preach a gospel that is too narrow, too small? Sherman suggests that the evangelical church has often reduced the gospel to simply “having a personal relationship with Jesus.” As a Christian trying to live a Christ-centered, gospel-oriented life, it would be easy to shrug off such a question and check the box for “got the gospel.” But let’s not be hasty.
What is the gospel? “Gospel” means “good news.” The good news, however, isn’t that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Nor is it that God has a purpose for your life; or that you can have your best life now; or that God loves you, and you should start thinking more positively; or that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and comfortable. So-called “gospels,” such as the gospel that hails Christ as simply good teacher, the social justice gospel, righteousness works gospel, or Christian therapy gospel, are not the true gospel. The gospel isn’t strictly a truth to believe, it is NEWS to proclaim. The gospel, at its core, is that God has provided a substitute for sinners, his Son Jesus, to restore our relationship with him. John 3:16 says it succinctly:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In Mark 1:14-15, the proper response to the Gospel is also quite clear:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So the good news isn’t that Jesus is a wise teacher who can help you get your life back on track if you listen to him. The good news is that Jesus has died on the cross for your sins, and when you repent, you trade your sins for his righteousness.
The core of the gospel is that through Christ, you can have a personal relationship with God. So in that sense, we do preach a “narrow gospel.” There is only one way (John 14:6) to salvation, and only one way to get right with your Creator; stop trying to earn salvation by your own efforts, and trust in the work of Jesus Christ. No other gospel will save. Belief in God isn’t sufficient (James 2:19). Even believing true things about Jesus isn’t sufficient. You and I must trust ourselves to him. The Apostle Peter is blunt:
Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
Evangelicals are right to “narrowly” proclaim the good news that you can have a relationship with Jesus only through justification by faith (vs. works).
If in proclaiming the gospel “narrowly,” however, we teach only about the individual restoration of one’s relationship with the Creator, then we do teach a gospel that is too narrow. The gospel is not just a “you and Jesus” thing – a private personal individualistic spiritual thing. The personal restoration of relationship with the Creator is good news, but the real good news is better than that!
The gospel is not only that Christ restores your relationship with God, but that he also restores your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others, and your relationship with creation itself. If the gospel we preach only impacts the vertical dimension between you and Jesus, we are preaching “too-narrow” of a gospel. The power of the true gospel is more comprehensive than that.
Sherman hits something crucial in “Kingdom Calling.” Personal forgiveness of sins is part of the gospel, but it is only part of it. Evangelicals (myself included) have stressed what the gospel saves us from (sin and death) but have not adequately stressed what the gospel saves us for. Perhaps that is why evangelical churches have excelled at gaining converts, but not making followers of Jesus. Let us embrace the wholeness of the gospel, and let us follow the Prince of Peace in working toward restoration in every dimension – horizontal and vertical.
Do you preach the “too-narrow” gospel?
Josh Brumbaugh serves as a minister at Oak Grove Church in Evansville, Wis.