Lee Wyatt Explains the Gospel

Lee Wyatt Explains the Gospel August 20, 2012

From Lee Wyatt:

“What Do You Say?  Evangelism in 2012

For some time now I have been pondering what the presentation of the gospel to the world might look like in light of some of the changes in biblical and systematic theology over last several decades.  I don’t intend to rehearse those changes here.  Others can and have done that better than I ever could.

However, how to articulate the gospel as an evangelistic message in light of these changes has received less and more piecemeal attention.  I will attempt here to draft a sample of what such proclamation might look like today.  Most of us realize that simple formulaic approaches to sharing the gospel (e.g., The Four Spiritual Laws, The Romans Road) no longer suffice (for a variety of reasons I’ll also forgo exploring here).  Theology has made a decisive turn to a narrative or dramatic mode, and evangelistic proclamation must follow suit.  Biblical theology has reshaped our understanding of the “story” the Bible tells in its many moods and modes.  Thus, the evangelistic message must retell that “story” as the narrative of our lives in 2012.

I imagine myself invited to explain the biblical message for a group of interested seekers open to hearing a fresh rendition of the gospel.  I would tell that story like this:

I’m no fortune teller or the son of a fortune teller, but I do know who you – each of you – are intended to be!  And that’s the story the Bible tells us.

Before I start with that, though, I’d like to apologize for all the ways Christians like myself have made it difficult for you to hear the truly good news of the Bible because of our missteps and misdeeds.  Our profession has so often been undermined by our practice.  We’ve made it hard for you to hear with a straight face our claims of God’s love for everyone.  And I am very sorry for that!  All we can do is acknowledge what has been and try to make a different future.  Part of that starts with getting the Bible’s story straight and that’s what I’m trying to do here.

The Bible’s story begins with God creating a world he intends to be a temple palace.  That’s right, a temple palace.  A temple is a place for God, the King, to dwell with his people.  That’s what this world was, and is to be.

If this world is a temple, somebody has to be the priests, even royal priests, because we children of the King.  Priests are the folks who staff the temple and perform its two major tasks:  representing God to the people and representing the people to God.  Who are these priests?  You guessed it!  Adam and Eve – who in the story are the symbols of the human race to whom God has given the extraordinary dignity and calling to serve him as priests in his garden temple.  When the Bible says we’re created in God’s “image,” this is what it means.

You may never have thought of yourself as a priest.  Priest may even be a negative image for you depending on your experience.  Yet, try to see it in terms of the Bible’s story we’re exploring.  God created you, man or woman, to together reflect his will and way to the world and protect and nurture this creation to its full flourishing.

That’s who you are – your primal dignity – and what your life is all about – your vocation.

Adam and Eve (us!) rejected this dignity and calling, choosing instead to tell God to buzz off with words I hear my two year-old granddaughter say:  “You’re not the boss of me!” This inexplicable, irrational, and heinous rejection of our royal priesthood in favor of wanting to be ourselves “God” turned out to be a bad deal – a really bad deal.  You see, we’re just not up to the job.

Before you know it, God’s creation came apart at the seams.  Things just didn’t hold together after we started to act as “gods” instead of God’s royal priests.  We are no longer at one with ourselves, with each other, or with the creation itself.  Everything now is fight and struggle, compete and conquer, a zero-sum game of scarcity and hoarding.  In short, the exact opposite of what God offers to us as his royal priests!

But God does not give in, give up, or give out in working to make his world the way he intended it.  He doesn’t clear the decks and start completely over again (though he was sorely tempted by this option in the Flood story in Genesis!).  He doesn’t change his plans and opt for a different result (that we live with him in heaven forever as “spiritual” beings while the earth and our earthly lives disappear, disapproved of in judgment).  No, God plugs on with renewed determination and creativity to have his creation as he envisioned it no matter the obstacles or cost to him of doing so.

God chooses Abraham and Sarah, nobodies from nowhere, and calls them to parent the people God will claim as his own, and gift and equip to show the world how things are supposed to be and invite all other peoples to join Israel as God’s royal priests in building God’s temple-palace all over the globe.

Israel too, like Adam and Eve failed to be faithful royal priests.  Finally God did what he had intended to do all along – become a human being like us.  He too became a royal priest! Instead of coming in flesh just to deepen and enjoy fellowship and communion with his creatures in the most intimate way possible, his agenda was now more complicated.  In addition to leading us in reflecting God’s character in ever clearer ways and nurturing the creation toward its fullest flourishing, Jesus had also to renew and reestablish humanity’s relationship to God as its very source of life.

From the side of God (the eternal Son), Jesus lived out God’s love seeking his erstwhile royal priests no matter what the cost (to cross); from the side of humanity (the Incarnate Son), Jesus offers to God the life of utter fidelity and indefectible loyalty he desired from his royal priests (leading again, to the cross).

God raised Jesus from the dead.  This act was God’s great “Yes” to the way Jesus lived and died and signaled God’s triumph over all that hindered and opposed his will and way in the world.  The risen Jesus means “God wins!”  Jesus had come as one of us, lived as one of us, lived faithful and loyal as God’s royal priest as none of us had, died and was raised for us so that through him God could reclaim us (by forgiving us and reconciling us to God) and restore us to our primal dignity and vocation as royal priests.

Thus we can begin anew (for the first time) to use our talents, gifts, and resources to reflect God’s character and shape the creation as the royal temple-palace God always intended it to be.

Indeed, that’s just where the biblical story ends!  Though we cannot build this royal temple-palace by our own resources, we can use the gifts and abilities God has given us to do the best we can, assured that what of our work is done out of genuine love for God and humanity as faithful royal priests will be purified and preserved by God as part of his finished glorious temple palace!  The Bible’s image of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to God’s new creation pictures this reality.  This new city covers the globe and – surprise of surprises! – the city itself is not a building but the whole of this new world covered by faithful royal priests in unhindered fellowship with their great royal priest – Jesus, and through him, with God himself.  And the very last word the Bible says about human life and destiny is this:  “Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always” (Rev.22:5).

Basking in the light of God and “ruling” forever – that’s what God always wanted.  And that’s what God through Jesus has gotten – a whole host of royal priests caring for one another and the creation around them.  A second century theologian described it well:  “The glory of God is humanity fully alive, and life is beholding God.”

Well, that’s the story as I understand it.  I realize it’s perhaps a good bit different than what you’ve heard or experienced.  That’s why I wanted to share it with you.  In a sentence, God dearly loves us, created us to be his representatives in protecting and caring for this world, and has done all that love could do to reclaim and restore us as his royal priests.

Notice how “secular” or non-religious all this is!  It has nothing to do with a “spiritual” realm apart from the physical, material world or an “inner” life distinct  from our life in the world.  Living as royal priests is not a matter of going somewhere to do “religious” things nor of a set of practices to do in a certain way or at a set time.  Rather, it is a matter of living life in the world in God’s way, that is, by people-keeping and creation-keeping out of love and gratitude to God for the gift of life.  Nothing more or less than that!

I hope we can keep on talking about any of this that piques your interest.  I do believe that this is the true story of why we here and what our lives are all about.  And maybe through my telling the story in this way, you’ll discover that and embrace it as your story too!

There’s my attempt to tell the Christian story in today’s North American setting.  This is what I would say to a “naked lady.”  Doubtless it has many flaws and needs much refining or correcting.  But it is a start to try and articulate the gospel in light of the some recent developments and gains in understanding the Bible and of the situation of the church in our culture today.  I’d appreciate to hear what you think!

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  • EricW

    No mention of Satan or the world lying in the power of the evil one, who had bound many of those Jesus came to heal and free?

    No mention of the sending of the Holy Spirit as a fulfillment of God’s promise?

    No mention of Jesus fulfilling the Scriptures?

    Where does one begin (or end) with the things that could be said about this “evangelism”?

    I think I’ll take a pass on his story of the Bible.

  • Steve Driediger

    No mention of Satan or the world lying in the power of the evil one, who had bound many of those Jesus came to heal and free?
    “Everything now is fight and struggle, compete and conquer, a zero-sum game of
    scarcity and hoarding. In short, the exact opposite of what God offers to us as his
    royal priests!”

    No mention of the sending of the Holy Spirit as a fulfillment of God’s promise?
    “Thus we can begin anew (for the first time) to use our talents, gifts, and resources to
    reflect God’s character and shape the creation as the royal temple-palace God always
    intended it to be.”

    No mention of Jesus fulfilling the Scriptures?
    Maybe that one isn’t in there, or maybe I just couldn’t find it.

    The first thing that could be said about this “evangelism” is not that in it’s essence it is radically different from the one that you’re used to hearing but rather that when the gospel is ‘told’ (i.e. in narrative form) it sounds much different than when it is ‘explained’ (i.e. in propositional form).

  • Albion

    Starting with an apology for other silly Christians who don’t know how to tell a story sets the tone for the piece which, unfortunately, is more akin to milquetoast than red meat. Is this supposed to make our hearts burn within us? The story as told has been drained of any dramatic tension. Leaves a bland taste in the mouth, despite the exclamation points.

  • EricW

    @ 2. Steve Driediger:

    Sorry, I don’t see your quotes from Wyatt’s piece as adequate or Biblical substitutes or euphemisms or descriptions for what I wrote that I felt (among many things I didn’t write) his “Gospel” lacked.

  • Greg D

    Overall a decent narrative approach to the Bible story. But, it still sounds “churchy” to me. With words like: palace, royal priest, and fellowship. Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason ministries has put together something similar that avoids the use of Christianese. And, I agree with some of the other comments on here, it sounds a bit weak, with no substance to it. Nevertheless, this is much better than your typical Roman road approach to evangelism.

  • Adam

    I don’t really agree with this interpretation of things.

    “This inexplicable, irrational, and heinous rejection of our royal priesthood in favor of wanting to be ourselves “God” turned out to be a bad deal – a really bad deal. You see, we’re just not up to the job.”

    I don’t see the fall as trying to be god, but more trying to NOT be god. The serpent’s lie is that the knowledge of good and evil will make you like God. God never made that statement, and in later passages it’s made clear that God’s identity is rooted in Love, not Knowledge. So, the fall (and sin) is really about insanity, trying to be something without actually being that something.

    And the answer to our insanity? We humans were originally and purposefully made Not-God with the intention of being God. The only way that Not-God can be God is for God to become Not-God. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the fully human one. The one who is the pinnacle of what all humans are meant to be. Lee Wyatt made the destiny of humans Adam & Eve, I think that is completely wrong.

  • Adam O

    I found this to be a pretty enjoyable one, particularly for the introductory apology. That attitude of humility certainly ought to have a more promenant expression in our evangelism. Nevertheless, I do not find this quite as sharp as what is present in King Jesus Gospel, though maybe I am not taking audience into consideration enough. I think someone pointed it out earlier, but the Holy Spirit seems to be missing above. God dwelling with His people through the Holy Spirit and empowering His people for their priestly calling through the Spirit may be implied, but perhaps giving Him some explicit mention would help avoid odd sounding phrases like, “use the gifts and abilities God has given us to do the best we can.” I have found if you combine Scot’s narration of the Gospel with the presentation of Darrell Bock in his short Gospel book (which deals a lot with the promise of the Holy Spirit), then you get a good balance.

  • Thanks all for your responses so far to my piece on evangelism and the gospel. Wish we all the chance to sit around and talk all this through in greater detail. Let me begin to respond by saying there is a second follow-up piece to this in which I try to spell out what this kind of biblical vision might mean in daily living. So, yes, this initial effort to narratively describe the biblical story is more “churchy” (as Greg D., observes). The follow conversation tries to tell the same story is less “churchy” lingo. I do believe it is important to set the biblical narrative in its own terms as a template to guide later efforts walking folks through it significance for us.

    Adam, I have to confess I don’t understand the thrust of your response. If you could restate it I could better respond to it. With Adam O., I believe we must start any attempt to share the gospel with an acknowledgment of our context. And that context in North America is indisputably one where the gospel has been smeared or rejected because of Christians “behaving badly.” If we don’t in some fashion make this acknowledgment we fail to be contextual and responsive to the needs of our hearers – they need to hear us acknowledge and address this huge stumbling-block to them hearing the message.

    I appreciate Steve’s comment about the different feel between a traditional gospel presentation and a more narratively-based one. That is just the point! I might demur this my telling is not really different than traditional gospel presentations, I think it is for the reason Scot makes clear in TKJG and his distinction between Soterian and King Jesus understandings of the gospel. I am among the latter. But more important is that there is difference, and that difference makes a difference in the way the gospel is heard. And I believe that the Bible clearly sanctions a narrative rather than propositional approach. Indeed, our propositions need to be enfolded and unfolded as the telling of the story itself unfolds.

    Several of you mentioned the lack of explicit reference to the Holy Spirit . That’s a fair point and as I rework this statement I will remedy that lack. On the other hand, in Scot’s treatment of Paul’s fundamental exposition of the gospel in 1 Cor. 15 there is no mention of the Spirit either. In my effort as well as far more importantly in Paul’s, the Spirit is implicit throughout, though, as I said I will find a way to make his work more explicit.

    On Satan and his defeat by Jesus: Here I followed the early church’s way of explaining the gospel (see Scot’s section on ‘The Sermons in Acts” in TKJG) which focuses on Jesus’ resurrection and the need to respond in faith to this grand announcement. I believe in the devil and in Jesus’ defeat of him – I simply tried to be true to the proportions of the apostolic retellings in my own. The reality is, as I understand it, that the devil and his minions have only the power over us we give them. The “devil can’t make me do anything” apart from my buying into the illusory web he spells about whose really in charge. In fact, the Seer John says we defeat the Great Accuser by the blood of Jesus, the word of testimony to him, and that we put our lives on the line for Jesus. When we a freed by Jesus to flee this devilish illusions we discover that he has never had any power over us but his deceit. Thus the announcement of the gospel reflects this: the issue is our turning and clinging to Christ as the truth and there finding the freedom and authority for which we were created (see Heb.2:5-10). The devil is not accorded undue prominence. Everything in every way comes back to your trust (or not) in the truth, power and goodness of God make known in Jesus Christ.

    One final brief remark: My whole exposition depends on Jesus fulfilling the story begun in creation so that it might reach it’s fulfillment in consummation. At every point and in every way he is the center and fulfillment of this story. I did not make explicit connections because I assumed my audience was typical men and women on the street today who would not know the Bible well enough to catch or make such citations meaningful.

    Thanks again for your comments and discussion. If you’re interested in reading the second installment, email me at lawyatt@aol.com and I forward you a copy.

  • Adam

    Hi Lee,

    Here’s a better phrase for the idea. Jesus is not Plan B. What you have described makes Adam & Eve Plan A, then they screwed it up, so God sends Jesus as Plan B to fix things. But, as already stated, Jesus is not Plan B. Jesus is and always has been Plan A. I think this is what Scot is talking about when he says King Jesus Gospel. The gospel is not how God figured out our sin problem. The gospel is Jesus as King. And for emphasis, the gospel has ALWAYS been Jesus as King.

    So, take away sin. Take away the fall. Take away the serpent and the tree. Where is Jesus? And I don’t mean a spiritual Jesus, I mean the incarnated Jesus as God-Man. Where is this Jesus in your theology if you don’t have a sin problem to worry about?

    On to the other parts of my post. I start with the phrase Son of Man. One interpretation of this phrase is “fully human one”. Jesus and only Jesus is the fully human one. We are to become like Jesus. We are not to become like Adam & Eve before the fall.

    I’ll support these ideas a bit further. You used the language of priests. As explained in Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest. Again, Jesus is the thing that we are meant to be. He is not patch or the bridge or the method to what we are supposed to be. He IS what we are supposed to be.

    So back to the Genesis story. The fall is not about Adam & Eve (us) striving above our station. It’s about trying to become what we are meant to be through methods that don’t get us there. The way to become like God (the image of God) is to become like Jesus and not through the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sin is not so much bad people and bad actions but insane people and insane actions. 1 – 1 will never equal 2 no matter how hard you try. Becoming the image of God will never happen through the acquisition of knowledge.

  • Adam,

    Thanks for your good response. I think we are closer together than you might imagine. I agree that Jesus is not Plan B. That’s the problem I have with what Scot calls the Soterian gospel. It seems to make Jesus Plan B in that his sole role is to deal with our sin. The King Jesus Gospel, as I understand it, says rather that Jesus has always been God’s Plan A. Adam and Eve were created to grow into Plan A “images” of Jesus, who, in my judgment, would have been incarnate to become one of us even if Adam and Eve had never sinned. God’s desire for fellowship with his human creatures is so profound that he pushes for incarnation from creation onward, even in Gen.1-2 where there is no sin (we see this, in part, in Rev.21-22 which pictures just this fulfillment where again, sin in no longer in the picture. I don’t know if Scot would take this particular view or not, but it is my reading of the biblical narrative. Jesus, the incarnate Son would have come and joined us in our humanity regardless of sin. Jesus, as our great High Priest (to whom you rightly point) is the image of God into whose image we are being conformed. He is High Priest because God designed the garden to be and his whole world to become his palace temple and Jesus, the great High priest in it. Sin complicated Jesus’ role as High Priest but did not change God’s ultimate plan or way of achieving it. We are to be priests in Jesus’ image. That’s why I propose a twofold understanding of the atonement as both reclamation (forgiveness, reconciliation) and restoration (reinstatement to our primal dignity as royal priests and our original calling.

    I’m enjoying our conversation, Adam. If you’d like to continue it, mail me at lawyatt@aol.com.


  • Brellis

    Put more emphasis on God. Most of your story was about us and what God can do for us. If you’re going to talk about us, talk about our depraved nature and rebellion against a holy God. We deserve the righteous wrath of a just Judge. After the Fall, we aren’t priests anymore. We are enemies of God – shaking our fists at Him. This reveals God’s love much more when we realize that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Which brings up another point: Use way more Scripture. Your story-telling doesn’t take the place of God’s Word. You’re blessed to have it. Use it.) The miracle is that He would choose to reconcile the relationship with fallen man. Let’s reveal reconciliation’s richness by showing how much we don’t deserve it.
    Finally, your whole narrative revolving around priesthood is dependent on a person who has an understanding of biblical priests. You recognize this in your presentation and add, “try to see it in terms of the Bible’s story we’re exploring,” but that’s not enough for people with no knowledge of the Scriptures.
    I understand your concerns about how things have been done, but I would much rather people hear the Scriptures using the Roman Road method than for them to hear your watered down gospel told in story mode. Keep working on it and don’t be deceived. Theology may change, but the gospel doesn’t.

  • Steve Driediger

    @ Brellis – re: “Most of your story was about us and what God can do for us.”
    If I can use the labels here, this is (from my understanding of it, anyway) one of the most significant differences between “Soterians” and “Evangelicals.” The Soterian is one who views the work of Christ in terms of what he gets out of it (i.e. Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven when I die). The Evangelical is one who views the life of Jesus primarily as instructive of and empowering for the work that God wants to do through (not for) him (i.e. When I give my life over to Jesus and worship him as king, then God uses me as an instrument [servant] through whom he works his redemption/renewal/re-creation).

  • Lee,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and taking a crack at this. Please send me version 2.
    Maybe you could find contemporary equivalents for ‘priest’ and ‘royal’?

    I would like to draft my own version. I would be inclined to start with the pleasures and problems of living in the Secular West. Maybe channel a combination of the Apostle Paul in Athens, Leslie Newbiggin, and either Tim Keller or Marc Driscoll.

  • Steve, can you write me at lawyatt@aol.com so i can forward you the second part of my presentation on the gospel? Thanks.