I have recently read several writers who state with conviction that the traditional transactional gospel message is incomplete.
They maintain that what has been, and is being, preached is only part of the message Jesus and the early church proclaimed. These writings have underscored a concern I have had for many years.
Shortly after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Cassidy, a South African evangelist. He had preached often in Rwanda and he also was very involved in bringing together leaders of different ethnic groups in South Africa in the successful work of ridding the country of the scourge of apartheid. The Rwanda genocide began on April 7, 1994. In less than three months nearly a million Rwandans were killed – and all were killed by “Christians.” At the same time in South Africa Nelson Mandela was elected president and apartheid ended.
I asked Michael how could Rwanda, one of the most Christian nations, undergo such a tragic thing even as the peaceful transition was happening in South Africa? I don’t recall the exact words in his answer, but in essence he said that in Africa we have preached a message of salvation and not the Kingdom of God. He said that he had stood in the huge stadium in Kigali with people streaming forward to confess their sins to be saved, but if you would come back a year later the same people would again be coming forward because they wanted to be saved from the penalty and pain of their sin – not to be saved from sinning.
No doubt this answer does not give credit to the Christ followers in Rwanda who lived their faith. Many Hutus were killed because they refused to murder their Tutsi neighbors. And after the genocide people from all tribes have worked for forgiveness and reconciliation, but the happenings in Rwanda have caused me to question the typical message of salvation that I was taught through much of my journey with Jesus.
The traditional Gospel message is well documented from the Bible:
- We are all sinners (Romans 5:12 & many other passages)
- Jesus died for our sins (Romans 5:8 & other passages)
- We ask Jesus into our hearts (A little harder to get a specific passage on this one – but in Acts 2:38 Peter tells them to “repent and to be baptized)
- We go to heaven (John 14:1-4) and if we don’t accept we go to hell (Luke 16:19-23)
However, when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the gospel (Luke 9:6) this was before the death and resurrection of Jesus so what was the gospel message they preached?
I have many pages of quotes on the difference between the transactional gospel and the kingdom of God that Jesus and Paul taught. I will only quote a few.
The Limited Transactional Gospel
“When we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think “personal salvation.’ We are wired this way but these words don’t mean the same thing. What has happened is that we have created a ‘salvation culture’ and mistakenly assumed it is a ‘gospel culture.’” ~ Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
“Jesus did not define the gospel as the forgiveness of sins. The vast majority of New Testament scholars today, whether evangelical or liberal, agree that the central aspect of Jesus’ teaching was the gospel of the kingdom of God. Forgiveness of sins is at the center of Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom – but it is only part of it.” ~ Kingdom Calling by Amy L. Sherman
“In Jesus’ day kingdom language was contemporary and relevant; today, it is outdated and distant. In addition, for many people today, kingdom language evokes patriarchy, chauvinism, imperialism, domination, and a regime without freedom. So we must discover fresh ways of translating Jesus’ message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world.” ~ ~ The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren
“The Plan of Salvation leads to one thing and to one thing only: salvation. Justification leads to a declaration by God that we are in the right; it doesn’t lead to a life of justice or goodness or loving-kindness.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
“When we say ‘Jesus died for our sins’ within a message about how to escape this nasty old world and go to heaven, it means one thing. When we say ‘Jesus died for our sins’ within a message about God the creator rescuing his creation from corruption, decay, and death it means something significantly different.” ~ Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
“For many evangelicals the word gospel means ‘justification by faith,’ and since Jesus didn’t talk in those terms, he flat out didn’t preach the gospel. The result of this hi-jacking is that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
“A salvation culture does not require the decided to become the disciplined because its gospel is shaped around getting a decision rather than a transformed life.” ~ Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
“The gospel is declaring the Story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus. That was Paul’s gospel, and it was the apostolic gospel tradition, and that gospel shaped everything in the church until the Reformation, at which time that gospel was slightly shifted and eventually gospel was submerged under salvation so much that gospel was equated with Plan of Salvation.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
The Larger message of Jesus and the Early Church
“There is a Person at the very core of the gospel of Paul. It is the Story of Jesus Christ: Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Savior, and Jesus as Son.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
“Did Jesus preach the gospel? Yes, he preached the gospel because the gospel is the saving Story of Jesus completing Israel’s Story, and Jesus clearly set himself at the center of God’s saving plan for Israel. Jesus preached Jesus and Paul preached Jesus and Peter preached Jesus. Preaching Jesus is preaching the gospel.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
“Instead of suggesting that we could escape the earth to go to heaven, Jesus’s good news was about heaven coming to earth. The message of Jesus, and the message about him that the early Christians called good news, was not about how to escape the world. It was about how the one true God was changing it, radically and forever.” ~ Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
“The Story of Jesus is about his kingdom vision, and this kingdom vision emerges out of the creation story, out of Israel’s Story of trying to live out God’s design for Israel, and out of the vision of the city in the book of Revelation. The Story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord resolves what is yearning for completion in the story of Israel. This Jesus is the one who saves Israel from its sins and the one who rescues humans from their imprisonments.” ~ The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
“Jesus announced a kingdom with a different kind of power, the power of the gospel. The early believers called it the power of agape. Jesus declared that the kingdom of God runs on love. That is the good news.” ~ Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
My final quote is this unique thought from N.T. Wright:
“Albert Schweitzer said that Jesus was like a man convinced the wheel of history was going to turn in the opposite direction. He waited for this to happen, but it didn’t. Then he threw himself upon the wheel, and it crushed him—but it did indeed start to turn in the other direction. This is why the kingdom of God was inaugurated in a whole new way with his death and resurrection. What was holding back the kingdom was the dark power and on the cross that power was defeated.”
A final word
My purpose in putting together the above quotes is to help those of us who are seeking a better understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. An understanding that will help us communicate to a broken and needy world what God wants us to know. I want to be one who is living the transformed life of a kingdom of God person. And I want to be part of Jesus’ benevolent invasion in my part of the world so that others will join me now on this kingdom journey.