Questions for the Evangelical’s Statement of the Gospel

Chris Tilling gives an interesting post (Full post, ‘The Gospel According to’).  He begins with 8 points detailing what he believed about salvation when he first became a Christian.  All 8 are what I likely would have said when I was growing up.  I learned it at home, church, Christian conferences, and among my friends.  Here’s his summary:

1) God is holy. 2) Humans are sinful and therefore provoke God’s just wrath. 3) In order to be reconciled to the holy God, God’s wrath needs to be satisfied. 4) Jesus died on the cross to pay this price for my sin. 5) His death averted God’s wrath against sin from me, and enabled me, by believing in Jesus, to approach the holy God. 6) If I pray and ask God for forgiveness because of Jesus, I will be saved and spend eternity enjoying God’s glory in heaven, instead of eternity in hell (all of this is often assigned the heading ‘justification’)

Associated with this are various other points which, though not the gospel directly, are associated with it: 7) Salvation begins in this life. I can experience God’s life, healing and power in my life, so that I can live with victory over personal sin, pray for the sick and see them healed, experience God’s provisions and blessing in my finances, job and marriage. This is another way of separating the ‘justification’ spoken of above from the ‘sanctification’ implied here. 8 ) The heart and centre of all of this is a relationship with Jesus, and this is sustained by daily prayer and bible reading.

There you have it:  8-point Tillingnism (3 more than the Calvinist!).

Rather than taking on his old beliefs (or, rather, those who would still hold them now) directly, he asks 15 deconstructing questions to get people thinking about the beliefs they hold.  What I like about them is that they, while deconstructing, are not demolition questions.  They lead and guide rather than take apart.  I only encountered the demolition questions in college when a Religion professor (who was also an ordained United Methodist minister, which really threw me for a loop back then) took apart the Bible and left me with the pieces.  In hindsight, I don’t regret the experience and I don’t blame my professor (it was a secular university, after all).  I didn’t have the tools for processing what I was hearing, so the demolition came at me like a wrecking ball.  I eventually went back to the same 8 points more because I had nothing else.  It wasn’t until later when I expanded my reading beyond what was at the local evangelical bookshoppe that I could then process what I heard.  Most importantly, what I learned (in reading and finally in seminary) allowed me to recognise the faith I had been taught from my parents (and church) while not necessarily going the whole way back.

I wonder how I would have responded to these questions if I was confronted with them in high school or college.  Here are a few I liked (though I liked all 15):

  • Does God need to punish someone in order to forgive? Jesus said to forgive your enemies. Does this understanding of the gospel imply God doesn’t forgive until he has let Jesus suffer and die?
  • Why doesn’t Paul simply say the above if the gospel is so easily reducible to a set of propositions?
  • [My favourite of all, I think.] In order to make people feel guilty, we invent ways of convincing people that they are sinners. We have to make a problem for them, for Jesus to be a real solution. But is that really what the gospel is about? And how do we try to make a problem for people? We try to argue that all are murderers, or all are like Hitler before God. But does this argument convince you? What does it say about God?

4 thoughts on “Questions for the Evangelical’s Statement of the Gospel

  1. We’ve been given a narrative, not a systematic theology, in the Old and New Testaments. You are right to point out that those are good questions to help us navigate the reasons for our theological positions. My favorite question, “What is the gospel all about?” is worth lengthy discussion in our time. Questions concerning the gospel do include a discussion of “sin.” There is a difference between making people feel like murderers or Hitlers and explain our postion as “sinners” who need to have our desires transformed by the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, questions like these yield fruitful discussion. Thanks for the post.

  2. Ben,

    Thanks for your comment. I think you are right that we don’t ignore the question of sin, but look to frame it differently. I remember most testimonies being about how the guy (and it usually was a guy – I am hard pressed to remember a girl or woman) was an awful person and then came to Jesus and how he lives right. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I have come to wonder how people who have been oppressed would hear that if it was told as the basis of the gospel. Where is salvation for them?

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