Is Your Gospel the Right Gospel?

Via Joe Boyd | Associate Press

*The following is a guest article by Joe Boyd. Find his info at the bottom of the page.

I am reading the book unChristian with about ten of my friends. It’s a book primarily about why people outside of Christianity don’t like Christians much anymore. (I didn’t need a book to learn that one.) A certain paragraph really struck me. It angered me, actually. Here it is:

Most outsiders are familiar with the story of Christianity-that Jesus was God’s Son who came to die to take away our sins if we believe in him. As you will see later in this book, the premise of Christianity is not a mystery because the vast majority of outsiders have been to Christian churches and have heard the message of Christ. -David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters

What stung me was the authors’ unconditional assumption that the story of Christianity (I think we would both call that the “gospel”) is that, “Jesus was God’s Son who came to die and take away our sins if we believe in him.” And, they claim,  that most “outsiders” (cringe) also believe that to be the gospel.

My blink thought was,

“Well, that’s not my gospel. I must be really UnChristian then.”

To be fair, it used to be my gospel. But not so much anymore.

I said this in our group discussion and one of my friends asked earnestly, “What is the gospel?” For some reason I stammered. I mean, I’m a pastor – the Teaching Pastor at a rather large and respected evangelical church. But I stammered over the question, “What is the gospel?”

You’d think that would be a hanging curve over the plate. But is wasn’t.

I spit out something like this: “I think it is the story of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and his message of the Kingdom, blah, blah, blah.” I was (mis)quoting Scot McKnight, the last author I read on the subject.

Nine months ago I would have quoted N.T. Wright and said something about the promise of Resurrection. Before that I would have regurgitated Dallas Willard or Stanley Hauerwas or whomever. Heck, if you traced my understanding of the gospel back far enough, you would eventually find the exact definition that angered me in the book.

In that moment I decided that what I think the gospel is doesn’t matter.

First, because I know that my definition changes every 6-18 months anyway. So why should I trust this current manifestation so much? Second, the gospel – any gospel – is supposed to be good news. That’s all the gospel is. Good news should flow easily from the heart, not methodically from a textbook.

The gospel is the good news you tell people.

So, that was my huge breakthrough. It seems simple, but it hit me like a right hook on the jaw this week.

My gospel is the good news I tell people.

Everyone who has ever tried to lift a friend out of mucky place has used their own gospel.

“Cheer up, man. There are more fish in the sea.” –The gospel of the next hot thing.

“It’s ok. Things happen for a reason.” – The gospel of magical destiny.

“Dude, let’s grab a beer. Don’t sweat it.” – The gospel of Sam Adams Winter Ale.

“Hey, we still got each other.” –The gospel of friendship.

So what is the gospel of Jesus?

Well, it seems to come in different forms. We should quit trying to pretend that it doesn’t.

Listen closely to these gospels of Jesus from some recognizable sources.

Do they all sound like the same gospel to you?

God knows who you are, He loves you, and He wants you to know and love Him. How do you do that? You must first admit that, like everyone else, you are a sinner. Being sinners means that we are imperfect and do wrong; we fall short of God’s perfect standard. It also means we are separated from Him and deserve His judgment. But He loves us! God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. He died for your sins. He was punished so you don’t have to be. Not only that; death did not defeat Him. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead, alive again! – Billy Graham

Jesus’ good news was God’s peace to all men of good will. That peace is something which is fundamental to the satisfaction of our most basic desires. It is a peace of the heart. -Mother Teresa

Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed. -NT Wright

Or, let’s just bite the potentially heretical bullet and go straight to the source(s):

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Jesus in Mark

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” -Jesus in Luke

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. – Jesus in John

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” – Paul in I Corinthians

And, let’s throw in one more version just to make most of us, including me, twitch a little:

“For many years, people have heard that God’s mad at them — they can’t live up to the standards. But our message is about the goodness of God, and it seems just that people come alive when they realize ‘God is for me. He’s got a plan for my life, and I can do something great. I can be who he wants me to be.” – Joel Olsteen

I hope you noticed at least one thing:

It is all good news.

It’s all gospel. And, if we are honest, it’s all a little different. Billy Graham’s gospel isn’t quite St. Mark’s gospel, which isn’t quite Paul’s gospel, which isn’t quite Joel Osteen’s gospel.  And as much as I would love to bash Joel Osteen, his gospel isn’t that far from St. John’s, the author of my favorite book in the Bible. They both seem to want you to have “your best life now.”

Luke’s gospel smells a lot like Mother Teresa’s good news. And it seems to me that Billy Graham and the Apostle Paul would likely ride in the same golf cart in my dream foursome.

All of these are the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, they are all the same.

But, all of these are also a gospel of Jesus Christ. So, they are all different.

Historically, we as Christians have spent a lot of time, energy and money trying to prove that our gospel is the gospel. I’m tired of it. It’s exhausting. I quit.

But…I do have my gospel. It is influenced by all of the gospels above. (Even Brother Joel’s if I am forced to be embarrassingly candid.) My gospel is evolving. It changes. But when I look back over the last decade of my life and ask what “good news” I actually tell people, my gospel starts to become increasingly more legible.

I tell my friends (and myself) that there is hope. I often say that whatever Jesus meant by “God’s Kingdom” is worth seeking. I say that when we all look for this Kingdom together, we start to find it. I say that in those unique moments when God breaks in and love reigns, we begin to experience eternity in the present. So, I will often say, let’s spend our lives bonded together in hot pursuit of Kingdom come with the belief that one of these days it will actually happen. Fully. On our watch. That’s my gospel. It’s the good news I always tell everyone, including myself, whenever I get the chance.

So what is your gospel, really? Not how you define the gospel, but what good news do you actually tell people? What do you tell your friends on their dark days? What do you tell yourself to pull away from the ledge?

That’s your gospel…whether you believe it or not.



About Joe Boyd:
Joe Boyd has forged a unique career as a movie producer, author, actor and pastor.
Joe is the President of Rebel Pilgrim Productions and the producer of four feature films including A Strange Brand of Happy, where he plays the leading role along side Academy Award Winner Shirley Jones.  The film expects a national theatrical release in late 2012. Joe is also the director of Hitting The Nuts, a poker-themed comedy farce that has won three film festivals including the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival.
Joe is the author of the fantasy novel, Between Two Kingdoms (Standard), now in its second printing.
As a pastor, Joe teaches at Vineyard Cincinnati, a 6,000-member church in Cincinnati, Ohio where he lives with his wife and two sons.

A pioneer of the blogosphere, enters its tenth year in 2012.

Find Joe:
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Twitter – @JoeBoyd

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  • RT

    This is great! Your writing gets better and more thoughtful
    with each post.


    Jesus is the Gospel incarnate. He is the “Good News”.

    So often we find ourselves swimming in the “My Gospel is
    bigger than your Gospel” mindset.  When
    this occurs, we need to take a deep breath and realize that our personal
    Gospels are snapshots of where we are at a particular time. What our Gospel is
    today could change tomorrow.

    We also need to remember that while the apostles were
    teaching the Gospel of Christ, they each had unique personal Gospels. Each of
    them had distinctive personalities and experiences which shaped their personal

    Each of us has a personal Gospel. It is about us, where we
    are and who we need to become.

    • Thanks RT. I especially like your first sentence if you are assuming Kurt wrote this 🙂 It makes up for all the people on my blog saying he is a way better writer than me after he posted there…

      • hahaahahaha! this is hilarious.  FYI – @twitter-14538033:disqus … @79f3d7175de5b92ef5fb36ebec9fb11a:disqus  is my dad 😉  Adds to the awesomeness of this.

      • RT

        Hey Joe,

        Actually Kurt had mentioned your Blog I and I do read it
        (Thanks for posting the King speech).

        This was just a friendly little poke at the boy in an attempt
        to keep him humble.

        Oh one more thing, if Kurt had written this it would have
        been titled “Is Your Gospel the Left Gospel” as he tends to lean a little to
        that side of the spectrum. J

        • @79f3d7175de5b92ef5fb36ebec9fb11a:disqus … Leaning to the left is better than being “left out”or “left behind” I suppose.  And ya… I should have made the connection before… I think that @twitter-14538033:disqus ‘s blog is right up your alley dad.

        • This is awesome.

  • Larryt63

    I strongly disagree….

    • The great news for me is that my position is totally cool with you strongly disagreeing with me.

    • So where did he make up another gospel? Or do you mean that the ‘gospel’ he preaches is not that one which your tradition preaches?

  • I would have never articulated it this way – but you’ve brilliantly shed light on how I’ve been growing in my understanding of the gospel. It’s a brilliantly cut diamond with a million different facets and every time I read a book or article on one of the facets I’m tempted to believe THAT’s the REAL diamond… but another book, another facet and I am overwhelmed and awed again by the breadth of this Good News.

    Because I live in South Asia, I am learning to express our Good News in the language of a polytheistic society, with 10,000 gods and goddesses. So here I find myself pointing to the diamond facets of the Good News of the God who Hears, the Good News of the God who Gives Peace, and the Good News of the God who Brings Us Near to Himself.

    • Thanks, Sarah. I’d be fascinated as to how you process this stuff in that culture. Have you written about it anywhere?

      • Snippets of it leak out randomly on my blog, but I haven’t made any attempt to put it comprehensively in writing – I still feel very much in process. 🙂

  • Mike Ward

    Maybe I’m blind, but did you leave out:

    “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’.”

    • Mike,

      I left out lots of things 🙂 I almost used this passage as the synopsis for the Lukan gospel but went this Jesus’ response to John the Baptist instead. Obviously, the two are connected in Luke’s writing. This passages you quote announces the gospel. The passage I quoted defines what “savior…messiah..Lord” looks like.

      • Mike Ward

        In hindsight I think what I wrote might have sounded a little snarky. Honestly, I just wanted to quote that passage, and I know this will sound paranoid, but I was worried that you did quote it somewhere, but I missed it. I even did a ctrl-f search on your article for the word “Savior” to make sure I wasn’t overlooking and still feared I’d missed it ! (In case you are wondering I do check my pocket multiple times a day to see if my wallet is still in it.)

        I had started to write a reply that disagreed with part of what you said, but I held off because I’m not sure what I want to say. Partly, I think it is because I’m not sure I’ve grasped what you are saying so I’m still turning it over in my mind.

        Anyway, thanks for the reply to my comment. If you are still around it might help me if you explained why the definition of gospel you read made you angry. I think that threw me off and since I still don’t know after reading the whole thing that may be why I worry that I may not really understand your point.

        • It made me angry b/c it isn’t how i define the gospel and I didn’t like the assumption that all Christians define the gospel as he does. But, by the end of my post I think I am saying that I shouldn’t have been angry. I should just accept that we have the same but different gospel. My current understanding is closely reflected in Kurt’s blog about Scot’s book here – 

          • Mike Ward

            Thanks. I think I was lost because it was not clear to me that you were not angry at the end.

            I think I’m still unclear on how your gospel is really different from the one you quoted first. Is it that the original focused on salvation? Are you wanting to broaded the focus?

          • Mike,

            I hate to throw books at you, but my gospel was heavily influenced by NT Wright (Simply Jesus is a good start), Scot McKnight (King Jesus Gospel) and Dallas Willard (Divine Conspiracy – particularly his chapter on sin management.) Maybe you have read these and we are just having a hard time communicating via the interweb, but in line with them I see the gospel as Jesus and Kingdom. Salvation gets redefined in that context. I”m not that into salvation as afterlife (classic heaven/hell stuff). I still hold onto the hope of some sort of afterlife – maybe resurrection to a new heaven/earth as Wright claims. I believe in forgiveness of sin, etc. but to me it isn’t the gospel so much as one of many results of the gospel. 

          • BobFreeman

            I was confused also at what your opening paragraph was saying. Now, after reading this post I fear you truly don’t understand the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.  What about when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father but by me”. I choose to believe the Gospel as written concerning Jesus Christ. You hope for some other existence after this life?  That’s not the gospel I know.  I’ll stick with Billy Graham’s definition of Gospel.  I’ll pray for you.

          • Mike Ward


            I hope I don’t seem contrary, but honestly, I have no idea what this means. I have not read any of those books, but I feel it aught to be possible to have at least a vague understanding of what you are talking about without reading a bunch of books.

            “I see the gospel as Jesus and Kingdom,” has no meaning to me. The good news is Jesus? The good news is his kingdom? The good news is that Jesus came and established his kingdom? If the last then this is a start, but why is this good? If this good because it brought salvation/reconciliation or somthing similar then we are back to were we started. If not, what then? Is the good news that the Kingdom that Jesus has established does so much for mankind? If so, trying selling that one to the uninitiated. I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. I’m just trying to reach an understanding with you.

          • Hmmm. The point of this post is that I don’ t think we have to agree. So, that’s good.  I do wish you could understand what I am saying. It would require a little reading perhaps. I think that is not b/c it is complicated to understand but b/c it is hard to get passed certain assumptions. Let me say that the best I can tell I had your gospel about 12 years ago. It’s taken me that long to get to this point. McKnight’s book might be worth the effort if you really want to understand ppl like us. Also, here is a post from my blog responding to this one that could possibly help. 

    • participant

      that’s a great point.  i also thought of the gospel “good news” being the good news of the existence of the Kingdom of God: a kingdom radically different from the one they had been experiencing. So that definitely would be good news. the savior paid for the advertisement and membership dues to this kingdom no one knew existed. 

      sidenote: I always feel a little contempt (which makes me wrong) when I hear about someone “discovering” something including the Kingdom of God. Like it’s some new thing. Everything was already here including the kingdom. God just came to let us all know that and that we could know more about it and be a part of it through Christ.

  • I tell people that God is always working to redeem, restore, and renew this world through Jesus. We put our trust in him and we begin to experience this, both in us and through us. I think it is heavily influenced by NT Wright.

    Some great things to think about here.

  • Ray S

    I like to think the blood paid it all, and if Jesus used all kinds of people, from doctors , tax collectors, and even, killers. I have good news too..

  • Erin

    Thank you. I quit with you too. While I never want to stop immersing myself in who Christ is, I want to be able to enjoy His presence too. I seem to have lost the capacity for that in all these “evangelical wars” (ha! Commenters from another recent post will find that at least slightly amusing). How are we supposed to love one another when our highest definition of love is to prepare for a whack job on the other?

    That being said, this means I still have Good News in the hyper-fundamentalist environment I find myself in. Sigh… where to start?

    • @c91f4d9122e93bc35c09c936bfc2a372:disqus … I’m amused! hahah

  • Ditto! My definition of the gospel has evolved. It started out as Brian McLaren describes it, “the Greco-Roman, constitutional” approach. You know the one: “Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and if we believe in Him we are saved and have eternal life.”  Boom… I’m in and you’re out.

    But no, that’s not the gospel I now know. Nor is it the one that I think Christ exemplified. Instead, Christ died on the cross in order that ALL men may be saved (good news). But, that’s not all. We have been reconciled to God (good news). We have been set free from the bondages of sin (good news), and the kingdom of God is here… now (good news).

  • Anonymous

    Wherever in our lives we need to be saved, Jesus is the gospel. His saving reflects what we need to be saved from and so much more…

  • Noone

    So . . . you can talk about everything, and say nothing, except the usual false humility. It’s
    easy to be confused when you live in the “need for approval” Christian world where you
    are more interested in being “in” and “exciting” than theologically correct. Still, you did
    get a few more folks to read your blog . . . . and you did meet your writing deadline. It’s just
    a shame you did not have something more important to say than you are personally confused!

  • James Stacey

    Hat off for getting me thinking before 10 o’clock in the morning! Thanks. (I liked your post enough to link to it in my blog:

  • I would think not just our verbal proclamation of the gospel matters, but how that gospel is enfleshed. Osteen’s might sound like John’s or whomever’s, but it is certainly enfleshed differently than Mother Theresa’s, and therein lies the rub.

  • Considering that someone decided to quote Galatians 1:6-10, I’d like to tip in Philippians 1:15-18.  I remind myself of the passage often.  Especially when I am reading a blog post about someone I generally disagree with, like Mark Driscoll.

  • Anonymous

    Joe, Really enjoyed your blog post and have added your blog to my google reader. Looking forward to reading more from you. The past 3 years have been marked heavily with wrestling with the idea of “gospel,” and my concept has definitely changed and expanded. The idea of the Kingdom and and the person of and work of Jesus have become my rosseta stone for understanding scripture and the Gospel. I appreciate the grace with which you respond to all of the different versions of “gospel.”  I can easily feel anger over the Gospel message or perhaps even more specifically the presentation strategies of the message from the church culture of my youth.  I smiled when I realized you were a Vineyard pastor because I joined my local Vineyard community this past summer. 

    • Thanks Penny. The Vineyard has a way of collecting people like us 🙂

  • participant

    I don’t really see the need for confusion. The gospel encompasses most if not all of the descriptions above.  It would be a serious error to leave Jesus out of the equation though since He’s the one who started the whole thing and His blood paid for the advertisement.

    You know, Christ said that all men (the world/outsiders or whatever the “enlightened” call them this week) would know who His disciples were by the love they have for “one another.”

    Sometimes, I think many of us are like the children of Israel who got tired of waiting for Moses to get back from his meeting with God. They started throwing off what truth they had and came up with their own crap.  We should be renewed to what was established not constantly trying to come up with a new hype to attract people who are more interested in their own sin than a relationship with Christ.

    If the world doesn’t like Christians (and I’m not so sure we we’re all that loved at any point in history even in the so-called “good old days”),  I wouldn’t automatically assume it’s all our fault.  It seems we care more for the admiration of the world than for one another.  I suppose what we’re showing the world is a reflection of our care for one another. And, if that’s the case, I suppose we’re getting what we’re putting in.

  • Robert Revier

    Parts of the Gospel are easy to accept because our spirits are raised and parts of the Gospel are hard to accept because they bring us to our knees…

  • I like it. And my gospel of Swedenborgian Christian origins is that God shines through my life, every day, if I let Him. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” God will not get closer than I allow, which is very kind, and leaves me in freedom, which is *the* essential human quality. If you thought the second coming had already happened, in our minds, and that we are empowered to effect others positively with the spirit of God, now, not later, not waiting, how would that belief lead your life? It’s led mine thus far with great joy and hope and action. Thanks Joe for the post.

  • Mverburg1988

    Could you elaborate you what you do not like about Joel Olsteen’s gospel? Am I missing something here?

  • Joe – I lovingly disagree. I reflected on this all last night.  In issues like this, we have to get really real with one another.  Here’s the simple truth and it’s laid out in I Corinthians 15.3-4:

    It’s not YOUR gospel, it’s not MY gospel, it wasn’t Peter’s or Pual’s or John’s or Luke’s, etc.

    It’s Jesus’

    Plain and simple. 

    Let’s not over complicate this. 


  • “Most outsiders are familiar with the story of Christianity-that Jesus was God’s Son who came to die to take away our sins if we believe in him. -David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters.

    wow. that is some epically myopic crap about what the gospel is. it verges on heresy.

  • preach the gospel. use words if necessary. that is st. francis. using the terrible gospel reductionism of gabe lyons, it is impossible to preach the actual gospel without words. in that lies the basic godlessness and heresy of it. I am the liberal, and I am the one that declares his gospel is intellectual man based thinking, not grace filled, spirit empowered transformation that cannot be defined or contained.