… and which gospel outlines should we use? I have just been reading an article on Christianity today by James Choung who challenges the traditional gospel outlines.
Gospel means good news. The word is used to sum up the plan of God from creation to new creation, centred on Jesus. But this plan is big, how should we communicate it?
But first – there are a number of gospel outlines that can be useful in our evangelism. There are many, and none of them are perfect. One of the favourites taught in America seems to be the four spiritual laws. This outline concentrates on the sinfulness of mankind separating us from God, and the cross providing the way back. In many ways this is similar to the bridge illustration developed in the UK – this is one I like to use occasionally.
These are both useful, and get over one of the central messages of Christianity, that sin separates us from God and that Jesus has dealt with our sin on the cross of open up the way back to him, and that each of us can now approach God by accepting this gift of grace from God through Jesus. It deals with reconciliation of man to God, and atonement. One of the problems, however, is that this is all these outlines deal with deals with – a very personal decision of deciding to accept Gods grace. They focus on heaven as the reward and they do not say much about how a Christian is to live until then – maybe apart from individually thing to be a better person. It is also individual – a personal response – neglecting the other further reaches of sin which affects relationships between people, creation, and ourselves.
Another very simple outline is Do vs Done, which challenges the misconception that all religions are about trying to get to God. Religion is spelled D-O – doing things (rituals, prayers etc) to try to get to God. Christianity is not like that. Christians realise that, because of sin, we cannot get ot God on our own. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, as God has come to earth in Jesus and done everything required to get to God.
But the thing I find most difficult about them is that they start with personal sin. Let me be clear, personal sin is definitely a part of the gospel, but does it have to be our starting point? I have spent many conversations in the pub or over lunch with atheist friends trying to convince them that they were sinful (in the nicest possible way!), only to realise that most non-Christians these days do not have a concept of personal sin. And the concept of heaven (of Christians and non-Christians) is often cloudy. With a cloudy concpet of heaven – will people actually want to go to heaven anyway? Is there a better place to start?
In the UK, students are taught Two Ways to Live. This approach has many advantages, such as it talks about God begin the rightful ruler and creator of the world and that everything comes under his Kingship (kingdom appears a lot in the gospels). So, people can either live under the kingship of God or live under their own authority. This second choice is descibed as ‘sin’. It also talks about death as the consequence of not living under the kingship of God. This is good as it gets away from sin being just about bad things that we do, and there is an expectation that once poeple decide to follow Jesus (i.e. live under his kingship), it will have consequenses on how they live. However, the illustration is still very individual, focusing on the personal, and I have always found the 6 steps a little difficult to remember.
So what is different about James Choungs outline. In the article he doesn’t paint out the outline exactly (you probably have to buy the book for that) he starts with a concept of sin that is more real and ends with an immediate hope as well as a heavenly one.
Evangelicals have traditionally assumed that we have to start every gospel message by helping people see they’re sinners. If we don’t, then we can’t move on to salvation or how Jesus gives them assurance that they will be in heaven when they die. It’s not that this message isn’t true, but the approach is jarring. We haven’t created any common experience or authority so that our message will have any weight. We just come out and say it’s the truth. And in a postmodern setting, that sounds arrogant. How do we know it’s the truth? Have we ever been to heaven?
So at the beginning of the Big Story, we instead talk about our common perception: the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. We all agree with that. And we all agree that it makes us sick to our stomachs when we think about it. No one thinks that our world is great as it is. We hunger for a better world. And up to this point, there is no disagreement. We all experience this.
So whilst he doesn’t outline the approach, I imagine it goes something like this (Im not quite sure how the circles will fit in…). We see troubles, hardships and difficulties all around us. There are wars and conflicts, relationships between nations and individuals are broken. The world is broken, sometimes creation seems to be playing against us (tsunamis , floods, famines). Many people are not even satisfied with themselves, they have a low self-confidence, or try to ‘fix’ their bodies or minds. We hope for better. Everyone can agree with this. This is not how it is supposed to be. The world is broken because creation (including us) is broken and separated from God (This is all in Genesis 1-3 – maybe explain the fall here).
The good news is that we were created for better. God has a plan to restore his creation to what it was supposed to be, and it is centred on Jesus. He came to show us how to better relate to each other through his teaching and life, to enable us to better relate to God through his death and resurrection, and to enable us to begin to become the people we were created to be (bringing confidence in self-identity). His resurrection also shows us that we are created for a better world. By following him we can have the hope that there is something better to come (heaven and a restored creation) and start living that hope now – bringing that promise for the future into the present (how we should live now). We are not to just sit around waiting and hoping for what God might do next, but to actively participate in ‘kingdom’ actions.
This seems to have a much more rounded picture of the gospel in it, which begins in a place people can relate to, and has all the essential ingredients of the gospel in it.
It is always useful to have a gospel outline or two in our minds, to help us structure a conversation when someone asks. I like Choungs approach, but it seems to me that the best thing is for Christians to know the message of what God has done for us so well, and to continue learning and living it out, so that any response can be individually altered to the character of the speaker and the one who is listening.