Kevin DeYoung wrote an excellent article comparing the “new” gospel message that has become so common in today’s evangelical discussions. He starts the article with four features of the new gospel:
It usually starts with an apology: “I’m sorry for my fellow Christians. I understand why you hate Christianity. It’s like that thing Gandhi said, ‘why can’t the Christians be more like their Christ?’ Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous. I know we screwed up with the Crusades, slavery, and the Witch Trials. All I can say is: I apologize. We’ve not give you a reason to believe.”
Then there is an appeal to God as love: “I know you’ve seen the preachers with the sandwich boards and bullhorns saying ‘Repent or Die.’ But I’m here to tell you God is love. Look at Jesus. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He loved unconditionally. There is so much brokenness in the world, but the good news of the Bible is that God came to live right in the middle of our brokenness. He’s a messy God and his mission is love. ‘I did not come into the world to condemn the world,’ that’s what Jesus said (John 3:17). He loved everyone, no matter who you were or what you had done. That’s what got him killed.”
The third part of the New Gospel is an invitation to join God on his mission in the world: “It’s a shame that Christians haven’t shown the world this God. But that’s what we are called to do. God’s kingdom is being established on earth. On earth! Not in some distant heaven after we die, but right here, right now. Even though we all mess up, we are God’s agents to show his love and bring this kingdom. And we don’t do that by scaring people with religious language or by forcing them into some religious mold. We do it by love. That’s the way of Jesus. That’s what it means to follow him. We love our neighbor and work for peace and justice. God wants us to become the good news for a troubled planet.”
And finally, there is a studied ambivalence about eternity: “Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in life after death. But our focus should be on what kind of life we can live right now. Will some people go to hell when they die? Who am I to say? Does God really require the right prayer or the right statement of faith to get into heaven? I don’t know, but I guess I can leave that in his hands. My job is not to judge people, but to bless. In the end, God’s amazing grace may surprise us all. That’s certainly what I hope for.”
So what’s wrong with the “new” gospel?
It shouldn’t be hard to see what is missing in the new gospel. What’s missing is the old gospel, the one preached by the Apostles, the one defined in 1 Corinthians 15, the one summarized later in The Apostles’ Creed.
Pastor DeYoung goes on to give the example of Paul’s sermon at Athens as a good example for how we should present the gospel to non-Christians:
Paul’s approach with non-Christians in Athens is instructive for us (Acts 17:16-34). First, Paul is provoked that the city is so full of idols (16). His preaching is not guided by his disappointment with other Christians, but by his anger over unbelief. Next, he gets permission to speak (19-20). Paul did not berate people. He spoke to those who were willing to listen. But then look at what he does. He makes some cultural connection (22-23, 28), but from there he shows the contrast between the Athenian understanding of God and the way God really is (24-29). His message is not about a way of life, but about worshiping the true God in the right way. After that, he urges repentance (30), warns of judgment (31), and talks about Jesus’ resurrection (31).
The result is that some mocked (32). Who in the world mocks the New Gospel? There is nothing not to like. There is no scandal in a message about lame Christians, a loving God, changing the world, and how most of us are most likely not going to hell. This message will never be mocked, but Paul’s Mars Hill sermon was. And keep in mind, this teaching in Athens was only an entre into the Christian message. This was just the beginning, after which some wanted to hear him again (32). Paul said more in his opening salvo than some Christians ever dare to say.
We may not be able to say everything Paul said at Athens all at once, but we certainly must not give the impression in our “pre-evangelism” that repentance, judgment, the necessity of faith, the importance of right belief, the centrality of the cross and the resurrection, the sinfulness of sin and the fallenness of man–the stuff that some suggest will be our actual evangelism–are outdated relics of a mean-spirited, hurtful Christianity.
Pastor DeYoung finishes his article with a plea:
Please, please, please, if you are enamored with the New Gospel or anything like it, consider if you are really being fair with your fellow Christians in always throwing them under the bus. Consider if you are preaching like Jesus did, who called people, not first of all to a way of life, but to repent and believe (Mark 1:15).
And as me and my friends consider if we lack the necessary patience and humility to speak tenderly with non-Christians, consider if your God is a lopsided cartoon God who never takes offense at sin (because sin is more than just un-neighborliness) and never pours out wrath (except for the occasional judgment against the judgmental).
Consider if you are giving due attention to the cross and the Lamb of God who died there to take away the sin of the world. Consider if your explanation of the Christian message sounds anything like what we hear from the Apostles in the book of Acts when they engage the world.
This is no small issue. And it is not just a matter of emphasis. The New Gospel will not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save. It is crucial, therefore, that our evangelical schools, camps, conferences, publishing houses, and churches can discern the new gospel from the old.
I think he’s absolutely correct that this “new” gospel is not the same as the old and that it is something we should all be concerned about.
If you’d like to read the whole article, you can click here.