The Gospel I Wish Evangelicals Understood

An evangelical critic of Rachel Held Evans, Bethany Jenkins, tweets: "Yes, Jesus is compassionate, kind, and just. But centering our faith on his ethical teachings is dangerous. He came to die. That's the gospel." Having been immersed in conservative evangelicalism nearly my entire life, allow me to properly frame a primary concern regarding evangelicals, that they fail to embrace the Gospel.

First, though, allow me to counter Bethany's remarks concerning the alleged danger of centering our faith on the ethical teachings of Jesus (i.e., being compassionate, kind, and just). God informs God's people: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8) I suppose those remarks, too, are considered "dangerous" to center one's faith. What of St Paul?
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:31)
I imagine that this remark belonging to the apostle Paul is also considered "dangerous" to evangelicals like Bethany. St Paul calls believers to walk not in light of the Death of Jesus Christ but in light of Christ's Resurrection. We live new lives -- renewed lives -- in Christ. We live into the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection our faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:17) What saith Bethany Jenkins?

But evangelicals like Bethany maintain a far worse problem: they either misunderstand the Gospel or they present a half-Gospel. Bethany's so-called Gospel is that Christ came to die. Well, Christ's death is included in the narrative of the Gospel, but Christ's death is not the Gospel. What is worse is that evangelicals think that the Gospel, in toto, is salvation by grace through faith. This informs us, then, that most evangelicals don't even understand the Gospel: they don't know what the Gospel entails, don't know the broader extent and proper frame of the Gospel, and don't know the core of the Gospel they claim.

Evangelicals confuse and conflate the Gospel with God's Plan of Salvation: they have redacted and recast the Gospel of Jesus and created an evangelical salvation culture in lieu of a Gospel culture. Dr. Scot McKnight, through the lens of the late Dallas Willard, helps us understand what evangelicals have done to the Gospel: they have reduced the Gospel to personal salvation and sin management.1



What is the Gospel? The Gospel (lit., Good News) is "declaring the Story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus."2 This biblical understanding of the Gospel is maintained throughout the early Church until the time of the Reformation,3 during which time the Gospel is redacted, and reframed as a notion of personal salvation by a God who (arbitrarily) elects to save some and not others. But this brand of "sin management," originating a salvation culture rather than a Gospel culture, creates proverbial vampire Christians, according to Dallas Willard:
"Gospels of Sin Management" presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind . . . [and] they foster "vampire Christians," who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.4
Gladly, this is not true of all evangelicals, but this misunderstanding of the Gospel is guilty of creating whole generations of would-be Christians who think that by mental assent, praying a prayer, and "walking the aisle" secures their eternal state with God in heaven. What of Israel's Story? What of that Story culminating in the life, teachings, death, burial, resurrection and Story of Christ? What of God's place in the Story of Israel, of Christ, of the Church? None of that is understood within the Gospel of evangelicals. What they know is: With every head bowed, and every eye closed, how many want to avoid burning in hell forever? Those who raise their hand are told to pray a prayer and to believe that, once he is "saved," he is saved forever. This is not the Gospel.

What is Israel's Story? God chose creation, and in particular human beings, as vessels of the presence of God. God chooses leaders in this renewed, redeemed, reimagined world to rule on God's behalf in one and only one fashion: redemptively, with justice, holiness and love. But all of God's leaders failed: Adam failed, Abraham failed, Moses failed, David failed, Solomon failed, Israel failed. This is Israel's Story. Israel failed to be redemptive and to bring the Gentiles into the fold of God.5 But there is hope -- hope only in Christ Jesus.

Where all of God's chosen leaders failed, where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds! "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) In every respect where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds, and completes the Story of God through the Story of Israel and in the Story of Christ. Those who believe into Jesus Christ are supposed to now be little christs who are carrying on the Story of Christ to all peoples -- supporting all, serving all, loving all.

Sadly evangelicalism has produced a personal Jesus with a personal relationship and a personal salvation that propagates individualistic philosophy proper to the neglect of the Body of Christ as a whole. We are to be one body with many parts working in harmony in one redemptive mission. Instead, evangelicals are parts and parts of parts, without a whole, presenting a supposed Plan of Salvation masked as (a hacked) Gospel with overtly distorted Religious Right political agendas. Modern evangelicalism more resembles the mentality of Constantine's Crusades than the redemptive Story and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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1 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 74-75.

2 Ibid., 79.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 76.

5 Ibid., 34-35.