Tiny Gospel: A Sampler

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

In my past spiritual formation and in my current neck of the woods, the gospel was and is reduced to “Jesus died for your sins, simply receive him, and you’ll be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.” All these things are true, but none of them are the gospel as defined by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) and by the gospel sermons preached by Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts.

Let me rehearse for you the tiny gospel I received and passed on to others. You might conclude I’ve exaggerated or lampooned in this post. No. I have both heard this “gospel” and communicated it myself.

After some verses about God’s love, human sin, and Jesus’s death on the cross, I’d say:

“Is there any reason why you should not accept Jesus right now?”

(Imagine the person says “No.”)

“Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart. Will you open the door and let him in?”

(“Yes, I’ll open the door.”)

“Then simply repeat this prayer after me…”

(The prayer is repeated.)

“Well, my friend, where is Jesus right now?”

(“Uh, I don’t know. Heaven I guess.”)

“Jesus was knocking at the door of your heart. You asked him in. So, where is he?”

(Looking confused, says, “I don’t know.”)

“You asked him into your heart. So where is he? He wouldn’t lie to you, would he?”

(Person blinks and thinks, “Oh God, no, Jesus wouldn’t lie. “Uh, he’s in my heart.”)

“Yes. You asked him in and now he’s in. He wouldn’t lie. Now, here’s more good news. ‘He who has the Son has life—eternal life’ If you died right now, you’d go right to heaven.”

(“Really?”)

“He who has the Son has life. Do you have the Son?”
(“I don’t know.”)

“When you asked Jesus to come into your heart, did he come in?”

(“Well, yeah, I guess.”)

“He wouldn’t lie to you, would he?”
(“Oh, no, Jesus wouldn’t lie.”)

“Then where is he?”
(“Ah, he’s in my heart.”)

“So, do you have the Son?”

(“Yeah.”)

“He who has the Son has life. Do you have eternal life?”

(“Yeah, I guess so.”)

“No guessing here. Do you have the Son?”

(“Yes.”)

“Then according to God’s word, you have eternal life.”

(“Oh.”)

“If you get hit by a car on the way home and die, you’ll go to heaven.”

(“Cool.”)

“So, your eternal life is settled once and for all. You’re saved and assured of eternal life.”

(“Cool.”)

“By the way, it’d be a good thing to read the Bible, pray, and find and attend a good church.”

(“Why?”)

“To help you grow.”

(“Oh. Okay.” Thinking these are nice “incentive added” features to the gospel.)

“It was nice talking to you, friend.”

(“Yeah. Thanks.”)

Bible verses and manipulative logic have replaced the New Testament gospel and the power of the Spirit. Those are the disappointing features of the reduced (soterian) gospel. That God has used the tiny gospel to save some is a tribute much more to his amazing grace more than to the slickness of the packaged sales pitch.

When someone is assured of heaven when they die in a moment after being manipulated into that salvation and assurance, they have no need for the Bible, the church, the sacraments, and the process of Christian formation. The big eternal deal is done. Case closed. “Heaven when I die! St. Peter will scan me into glory based on a manipulated prayer and assurance of salvation. Why sweat all that discipleship stuff?”

The health of any local church is based on the gospel that created it.

[SMcK: Many of you know that I have published a book on the gospel; some may not: The King Jesus Gospel.]

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.