The Gospel: David Fitch and I

We are not discussing gospel today just because someone says we should. There is a widespread conviction that what many understand the gospel to be is not what the gospel is — in other words, many think we have to begin all over again and construct our theology and our praxis on the basis of the gospel.

One of the most common letters I get from readers asks this question: “Since the old gospel of the four spiritual laws [or something along those lines] isn’t square enough with the Bible, with the Bible’s Story and with the kingdom vision of Jesus, how now do we evangelize? What do we say?” And, what do you think of their four on-ramp kernel ideas for gospeling today?

One of the finest introductions into this discussions can be found in David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s book called Prodigal Christianity: Ten Signposts into the Missional Frontier. In the chp called “Signpost Six” they examine “Gospel,” with the subtitle “Making all things right: the journey into redemption.” Their four on-ramps — see below — are excellent examples of where to go when evangelizing in a post-thin-gospel era.

But before we get to their four on-ramps, they begin with a typical story: a man named Dustin prays to discern what God is doing at Starbuck’s where he works, a woman asks for his confidence to tell him her story about life imploding at the core, and he’s not sure where to go because he’s learned — what Fitch and Holsclaw — little more than the 16th Century gospel designed to meet 16th Century’s needs.

Then they poke around into Brian McLaren’s “kingdom” gospel about what God wants to do for this world… and then they contend that both tell good things but neither tells enough. What the first excludes the second includes, what the second includes the first excludes — so they are arguing for a holistic gospel. The former is shaped totally toward guilt and the second too much toward what we do to establish kingdom justice.

They point toward Tom Wright and yours truly as exponents of a holistic gospel. “The Son … is reestablishing a kingdom of renewal, reconciliation, and blessing” (86). The gospel deals with “spiritual separation from God, relational alienation from others, physical and emotional estrangement from oneself” (87). Their focus is a little more on the impact of the gospel — the holistic saving impact — than on christology first and foremost, but their emphasis on a holistic healing is more than welcome. They also focus on Romans 1-5 in a Tom Wright mode of explanation.

In an effort to make the gospel work in our world they met as a congregation for eight Sundays to discuss this and found four on-ramp approaches for evangelizing a kingdom gospel:

1. “God is reconciling you in all your relationships.”

2. “God is at work.”

3. “God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life.”

4. “God is calling you into mission.”

I’d add one, and make it first: “Pride, selfishness, and the Ego deconstructs us but Jesus, and life under King Jesus, the King — the Lord — the Savior, restores us under God to a new kind of life.”

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  • Yes This chapter is excellent.
    I was always puzzled that Jesus never used the 4 spiritual laws.

  • Blessed Economist (1) – Perhaps he hasn’t read the right tracts? I’m sure he’d use the four laws if he knew about them 🙂

  • Beautiful. Defining “deconstructs us” in the point you added . . . we lack the freedom to do what we want to do. Pride, selfishness, and ego defeat us in our ultimate desire to be the kind of love we can imagine but not live out.

  • Yes, the gospel is about new creation to life through knowing Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s word.

    I find that the apostle Paul has shown us how to go about our evangelism: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Christians are ambassadors who represent Christ — Messiah — the promised King of Israel. The crucified, risen and glorified King of Israel is now establishing the righteous reign (kingdom of justice) of the one true God: YHWH the God of Israel. And as Christians, having been reconciled to God, we are then to become God’s righteousness, i.e. to become like Christ (Eph 4:23-24; Jer 9:23-24). It then appears that the evangelistic appeal is that the world “be reconciled to God!” (2 cor 5:20-21)

  • Jesus never talked about “reconciling you in all your relationships” either though.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Jesus also talked a lot about judgment. Where’s the warning of the coming wrath in all of this?

  • Phil Miller

    Jesus spoke of judgment in a specific historic context. It seems to me that we need to be careful announcing judgment on the world. God will take care of that, but I think the judgment the church needs to be concerned about is that which we are in danger of facing ourselves. Much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we end up misrepresenting God, and we end putting roadblocks in the way of the Gospel.

  • Kullervo, love God, love your neighbor, these two are the summary of the whole Law. Forgive others, as God has forgiven you.

    That sounds a lot like relational reconciliation to me. Both not only mentioned, but entirely featured in Jesus’s teachings.

  • Percival

    What’s the difference between 2 & 4?

  • Ben #6,
    I can see the post and comments are way off–the “good news” is about judgment and wrath. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • T


    In fairness, most of our conservative “hellfire” preaching isn’t really patterned after Christ’s. For instance, much of the warnings of calamity focused on Jerusalem’s coming doom or on those whose loyalty to money prevented them from sharing with others, or on those who, despite seeing Jesus’ miracles, still rejected him (or his missionaries).

    I do think though that we can talk about the foretastes of (heaven and) hell that are in full bloom here and now, and encourage folks to get off of those paths and begin to follow Christ. But beyond that, I think we have to recognize that it wasn’t Jesus’ threats of hell that were the center of his preaching and teaching; it was the arrival of the redemptive governing of God, which he both taught and lived out, as he ate with sinners and healed the sick. In fact, he did so little judging and threatening of sinners that he offended many Jewish leaders by it (towards whom he directed his harshest language). All this to say, while we need to be ready to talk about consequences of rejecting and/or disobeying Christ, I don’t think it’s going to be front and center for most folks.

  • Ben Wheaton


    I don’t think Christ’s words are entirely reducible to predictions of A.D. 70. Thus: “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5)

    But that aside, what do you make of Luke’s report about Paul’s preaching to Felix?

    “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24)

    Felix can hardly have feared the destruction of the temple, can he?

  • T


    I wasn’t saying that Christ’s words were entirely reducible to predictions of A.D. 70. I said that much of Christ’s warnings are directed there, and to the rich (who failed to share), and to the Jewish leaders, who were refusing to enter the kingdom, and preventing others as well, though their job was the opposite. I think Felix may very well fit into one of those camps.

    I have no problem with teaching about judgment to come. But we are talking about summaries of or intros into the gospel. Contrary to some modes of evangelism, I don’t think that Jesus felt the need in all or even most instances to give the so-called “bad news” before announcing the good news that God’s promised reign was at hand. He did talk about judgment from time to time, and I think we also will have occasion to do it, but I don’t think it would be a central part of our preaching the gospel any more than it was for Jesus.

  • scotmcknight

    There is a proper place for judgment in presenting the gospel, but many are reacting to its coercion and how it has been misused by many. The gospel sermons in Acts don’t focus on this, as you know. I recall something from Augustine that remains of value in your point: “The man who is afraid of sinning because of hell-fire is afraid not of sinning but of burning” and he goes on to speak of the importance of separating fear from love, that motivation by fear that does not lead to caritas is not genuinely Christian.

  • Ben Wheaton


    Perhaps. For introductory gospel messages. But in a post-Christian society (like mine in Toronto), Fitch’s fourth point, that “God is putting the power of sin to death and is calling you into life,” makes no sense without a proclamation of coming judgment. Most people I know don’t think they need calling into life, if this-worldly benefits are all we proclaim.

    But perhaps part of the problem here is that we’re speaking from two different contexts. In places where people can still remember hell-fire sermons, going easy might be just the ticket. But too often I hear gospel messages (non-judgmental ones!) talking about how miserable we all are, and how Jesus restores our zest for life (that’s putting it a little crudely, but it’s the gist). Problem is, many are perfectly content as they are, and the problems that present themselves to the mind (the popular “hells” of homophobia, etc.), are “out there” and are solvable by human know-how. How do we penetrate that barrier? You mentioned that Jesus used judgment with the self-righteous. Exactly. Canadian elite culture (in my experience) is suffocatingly self-righteous.

    The King has come and is coming again. Shouldn’t that be frightening to rebels against him?


    You’re right, of course. But is there a healthy fear that can lead to caritas?

    One last thing. Some time ago you wrote about the preaching of a fully-orbed atonement, and how that was lacking in your theological opponents. To their protestations that they did believe in a fully-orbed atonement, you insisted (rightly) upon proof. Well, I say the same thing about the preaching of judgment. If people such as yourself really do believe that, “There is a proper place for judgment in presenting the gospel,” show me. What is the right way to preach about divine judgment?

  • scotmcknight

    Ben, it’s always a battle for you. I’m summarizing a chp in a book by two others, not by me. What I have to say about judgment can be found in a number of my books, including The King Jesus Gospel, which I recommend to you if you want to know what I think, along with my One.Life.

  • Coming back to the post, I’d agree with Scot’s suggestion: Jesus is the risen and living Lord is great good news but also a radical calling to repentance, new life, obedience and worship. It’s where Peter ends up in his preaching. It’s where the early church went in their joyful proclamation (Phil 2) which also has an inbuilt eschatological hope (and judgement) to it. It’s Christology with soteriology flowing out of it in all directions.

  • Ben,

    Thank for jumping in and pushing back regarding a possible missing link in overlooking judgment in proclamation of the gospel. Certainly Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, and he is currently Lord of all, even if not recognized by all.

    In that chapter Fitch and I are explicitly trying to offer often overlooked aspects of the gospel (or rather the aspects of the conseqences of the gospel, for the gospel is really that Jesus is the Crucified and Risen Lord (thank you Wright and McKight)). That being said, in addition to the 4 we offered, we think there are certainly other on-ramps for bearing witness the gospel in our lives and offering it to other. And we in no way seek to deny substitutionary atonement as an aspect of salvation (but not THE center of salvation). So we definitely understand and allow for judgement of sin, and that Jesus has in a sense carried away that judgment if we have faith in him, and those outside of Christ stand in judgment.

    But we have discerned that openning with judgment with those already afflicted and oppressed is a Christendom postures, but perhaps that posture is still appropriate for cultural elites.

    So, thanks for pushing for clarification.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Thanks for the clarification, Geoff. I completely agree that, “opening with judgment with those already afflicted and oppressed” is not a good thing. I’m probably too cynical.

  • Ben #15
    You raise a really good question, that reinforces the point that a single way of presenting the good news will often fail. Considerable thought has been given to reaching hurting and broken people. We need more thinking about how to reach those who are comfortable and complacent. The cultural elite are suffocatingly self-righteous here in NZ too. Preaching hell will not reach them, because they do not believe in it and are not frightened by it. Maybe a warning of more immediate judgment in this world will help, but I am not sure.