Summarizing the Gospel?

Our friend Andrew has asked a couple of good questions over at StrangeBaptistFire in his post “God loves you and Jesus died for you.” Is this the gospel message we must proclaim? The title of the post is very telling as to what his questions are.

1. “Is the statement, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you,’ an accurate summary of the gospel?” 2. Given a very brief amount of time to explain the gospel, should we tell non-Christians, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you’?

These questions make me think of Tom Ascol’s question Have we lost the Gospel? from last year, Nathan Finn’s post on the most pressing issues in the SBC and my recent observations that a form of Pelagianism may be a serious issue. The point is that if the above statement, which seems to be a common way of sharing the Gospel today, is not an accurate summary then maybe we have lost the Gospel.

Now let’s take a look at the questions.

1. “Is the statement, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you,’ an accurate summary of the gospel?”

Given that Jesus and the Apostles didn’t share the Gospel this way in “long form” my initial reaction is that it is not an accurate nor necessary summary.  Some may say that this is being too harsh and complicated.  I posit that the above statements without a context don’t really mean a whole lot.  It sounds like good news, but why would anyone need to know such news?  If someone doesn’t understand the bad news that they are condemned all ready in their sin the proposed good news doesn’t make much sense.  The Gospel is reduced to a half, so to speak.

Will Metzger explains.

How dangerous a half-truth can be when presented as the whole truth!  For instance, the truth that God is love is a wonderful part of the gospel.  However, if the whole presentation of the gospel is built primarily on this truth, distortion develops.  Sinners can relax with the thought of God’s love for them and find an excuse to delay repentance.  This biblical truth is inverted by non-Christians to mean, “Love is God.”  Then a human definition of love (nice, tolerant, nonjudgmental) is substituted, and sinners find great comfort in this personification and deification of love.  The love deity is programmed to only treat us kindly.  We have a “mush” god.  A biblical truth thus becomes twisted into an excuse for complacency.  Such a view of God contributes to the pervasive idea (even among Christians) that God is obligated to save me.  Created humanity is put on par with the Creator and his autonomy, and salvation by grace is devilishly undercut.
But what if the truth that God is love was balanced with the truth that God is light?  God is morally pure, holy.  He is a just judge.  He is angry with sin and will punish those who persist in it.  The love of God is now given a backbone. It is seen as a tough love, not as sentimentalism.  That he can still love sinners and freely offer himself to all who believe becomes astounding news.  One good question to evaluate an gospel presentation of God is, “Was the nature of God defined clearly and its implications impressed on the mind and heart lovingly and firmly?”
Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth. 3rd. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002: 39.

I conclude that the statement in question is not an accurate summary of the Gospel.  I believe Metzger’s quote above answers the question well.

2. Given a very brief amount of time to explain the gospel, should we tell non-Christians, ‘God loves you and Jesus died for you’?

Again, given that the regular presenting of the Gospel was not given in this way I see no reason why we should do it this way.  Again, to tell non-Christians this second statement doesn’t really tell them much.  In other words, what does it mean to someone that only hears, “God loves you and Jesus died for you?”  This bare statement gives no context.

The statement is not a calling, a pleading or a command.  It is basically just an informational statement.   We don’t see the Apostles evangelizing in such a manner.  There is no call to repent and believe in this approach.

Even the most famous Bible verse, John 3:16, in context goes beyond just saying the God loved the world.  Just reading to verse 18 we see, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”(ESV)  This shows the non-Christians’ state before God which is condemnation.

So what should be said with not much time?  This is a good time to re-visit the idea from Mark Dever that I blogged about of presenting the Gospel in 60 seconds.  His approach takes the structure of God, man, Christ, response.  Using this approach I came up with an acronym during a recent week long workshop.  I was able give this presentation at the workshop.  I used Dever’s structure with what will hopefully help people remember better.  I will post that idea very soon.

For what it’s worth…


p.s. Greg Koukl has a great piece on “God loves you” evangelism going through the book of Acts summarizing the evangelism.  Preaching God’s Love in Acts?

in Culture,relativism,theology

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 ABClay July 5, 2008 at 12:40 am


I cannot disagree with your conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the Gospel presentation as “God loves you, Jesus died for you”.

If you are only passing by someone and you may or may not ever come in contact with them again, perhaps it is better to tell them that they are destined for death because of sin and Jesus is the only cure.

Of course, this would not pass the Rob Bell Culturally Relevant Test but we don’t have to answer to Rob Bell.

Grace and Peace….



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