I was at the EFCA Northern District Conference in Rochester this week and was blown away by the speaker, Jan Hettinga. I took notes assiduously and then boiled them down to what is below. This might drastically change the way I talk to people about the gospel and about how they should respond to Jesus. I’ll share this in two parts to aid in digestion. Hope it’s illuminating.
Dr. Jan Hettinga
EFCA NCD Conference
The same creative God who created the universe, our solar system, our eyes, our ears, our digestive tract, etc., also designed the gospel.
– Many of us (and many in the broader evangelical church) think that the gospel is up for grabs.
– People are rarely changed by the gospel that we preach. The gospel preached in most of the evangelical church is biblical deficient.
What is the content of the gospel?
Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
– The gospel authors summarize Jesus’ primary, gospel message as “Repent, the kingdom is near” (Matt. 4:17, cf. Matt. 3:2). That’s the gospel! And we do not understand it. Almost no one in our churches understands what repentance really is, and almost no one understands what Jesus or the evangelists mean by “the Kingdom.” (NB: The Kingdom is not ‘heaven,’ as is commonly believed).
– This is pretty critical—generally speaking we do not understand what Jesus and the evangelists called the “gospel.”
Why did Jesus come? According to him, it was not only (perhaps not even primarily) to die.
Luke 4:43: “…he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news (i.e. ‘gospel’) of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’”
– Jesus is about so much more than the cross and the empty tomb. So why does our gospel message typically only include the cross and the empty tomb?
– Again, look at Luke 9:6 (Remember, this is before the Cross): “And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” What are they preaching? What is the “gospel”? It is not the Cross and the empty tomb. This is before the death and resurrection of Christ. Their gospel message has to do with repentance and the Kingdom.
– Previous generations of evangelicals, heavily influenced by dispensationalism have assumed that the “Kingdom” gospel is the gospel for Israel, and when the ‘gospel’ went to the Gentiles it had to be morphed (by Paul, presumably) into a more Gentile-friendly relational and legal gospel. But that will not square with Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel of the Kingdom was designed by God to be a cross-cultural (“all nations,” not just Jews) gospel and a cross-generational (“will be…”) gospel.
– We also make mistakes if we believe that the “Kingdom” emphasis of the gospel is only common to the Synoptic evangelists:
John 18:35-37: Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have
delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
John 3:4-5: Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (NB: “Kingdom of God” does not refer to a future heaven. It refers to a present reality!)
v. 23: From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
v. 30-31: He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
What have we asked people to do to become Christians?
– Believe the gospel of Jesus Christ
– Accept the gift of God’s grace
– Receive God’s acceptance, love, and forgiveness
– Commit your life to Christ
– Make a decision for Christ
– Pray the sinner’s prayer
– Invite Jesus into your heart
– But your trust in Christ as savior
– Place your faith in the finished work of the Cross
– Respond to an invitation during a church service
– Be born again by accepting Jesus as your personal savior
We almost always miss (or omit) the elements of repentance and the Kingdom!
– Even when we include repentance, often we do not explain correctly what it means. It does not mean to feel bad for what you’ve done, or to regret your sin, or to want to “do better,” or to feel appropriate guilt. Repentance is not even primarily an ethical category when Jesus is speaking. That is, it doesn’t focus on not doing sinful things. It primarily has to do with repenting from self-government. It means laying down your rebellion to the Kingdom and accepting God’s leadership and authority in keeping with your entrance into his kingdom and government.
– We are far too hasty in our declaration that someone is “in.” This hastiness, combined with the lack of Jesus’ repentance and Kingdom focus on our gospel presentations are a large part of the reason that only 6-10 individuals from every 100 ‘converts’ remain committed and active, and bear fruit “in keeping with repentance.” We are actually often helping the other 90-94 people into a comfortably uncommitted, unchanged and unconverted state because we have assured them that “everything has been done for them.”
We have overemphasized the reception of grace and silenced the demand for a person to come under the Kingdom authority of Jesus.