Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Add-On Gospel: What's Necessary

What's is necessary to your gospel?  Or to put it another way, how much of the Bible could be thrown out without any significant change to your gospel message?

This is a question that has been churning in my mind of late.  I grew up firmly planted in the evangelical world.  I was raised in an evangelical free church, was heavily involved in Young Life and Campus Crusade, and in college, I attended a charismatic evangelical baptist church.  The Gospel message I grew up with went something like this.  God created the world, but Adam and Even sinned and messed that all up.  For all have sinned. Because of that sin, we are liable to the judgment of God and eternal torment in hell.  But, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on the cross, enduring God's judgment and punishment for my (and everyone's) sins.  Now, if I confess my belief in Jesus, ask forgiveness for my sins, and invite Jesus into my heart, I can be saved and enjoy eternal life.

So, what in the Bible is necessary to this message, and what is, as the title of this post proclaims, an Add-On?

Here are the parts of the Bible I see as necessary to that Gospel message: Genesis 1-3, the creation of the world and Adam and Eve's disobedience.  You can then skip the rest of the whole Old Testament as it does nothing to change the overall gospel message.  Then you must read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 to hear about Jesus' birth by a virgin.  You can then skip the bulk of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and merely read the passion narratives about the Death of Jesus on the Cross.  Then, you read John's Gospel and Romans for the theological explanation of Christ's death on the cross and there you have it.  There is your gospel message.  Everything else in the entire Bible is a mere Add-On.  Nothing else substantially changes the gospel message described above.

So, what difference does it make the Jesus was Jewish?  None!  What difference does it make that there was an entire narrative of the Jewish people starting from Abraham and moving on down through Moses, to the Judges, to the Kings, to the Prophets and to the Exile and Return? None! None of these things fundamentally change the gospel message.  And, perhaps most shockingly, what difference does one of the most fundamental Christian faith claims, the Resurrection of Jesus, make for such a gospel?  None!.  Here is how Daniel Kirk, who grew up in similar evangelical circles, says it in his book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?
"The story of salvation as I understood it did not need the resurrection in order for the narrative to come to its climactic conclusion.  All it needed was the cross.  So long as Jesus died for me, my soul could be in personal relationship with God.  The resurrection was, at best, a tack-on, perhaps an empirical validation that God had accepted Jesus' sacrifice."  (Page 44 of 228 in iBooks on iPad, but if you change the font size, the page numbers will change.  iBooks, and Kindle really need to address this problem of how to cite sources with some fixed pagination in their eBooks).
So, is this a problem?  Is it indicative of a major shortcoming of this evangelical gospel that so little of the Bible is necessary to preach the gospel, and that so little of the Bible really has any fundamental impact on the message of the gospel?  I tend to think it is.  What do you think? 

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