I led the staff of New Hope Church through this material for two weeks in our general staff devotion time. I think it is absolutely crucial that church leaders, in particular, work harder at thinking biblically about what the gospel is and what happens when we confuse the “plan of salvation” for the gospel. Please feel free to read and use it in your own church, small group or another discipleship setting!
What Does It Mean to Proclaim the Gospel? (Part 1)
Defining the gospel is all about where you start. If you start with Paul’s letters and ways of thinking, and try to fit Jesus’s words and ways of thinking into Paul’s, your understanding of the gospel will have a distinctively “Paulish” flavor to it. On the other hand, if you start with Jesus’s ways of thinking, and try to fit Paul’s ways of thinking into Jesus’s, your understanding of the gospel may have an entirely different flavor to it. An important question, then, is: How can we proclaim the gospel in a way that reflects all of Scripture—not just our favorite parts?
“I believe the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about ‘personal salvation,’ and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making ‘decisions.’ The result of this hijacking is that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles.”
“For many people, ‘the gospel’ has shrunk right down to a statement about Jesus’ death and its meaning, and a prayer with which people accept it. That matters, the way the rotor blades of a helicopter matter. You won’t get off the ground without them. But rotor blades alone don’t make a helicopter. And a microcosmic theory of atonement and faith don’t, by themselves, make up ‘the gospel.’”
A Group Thought Exercise…
If you lived in first century Palestine and were a follower of Jesus, listening to his preaching, and building your life on his teaching (before there even was an “apostle Paul”), how would you explain to someone what the “good news” is? Try hard to avoid importing what you know now about the gospel back into what you would have been hearing from Jesus. What follows is representative of what you would have known about “the gospel.”
Mark 1:1: “This is where the good news starts—the good news about Jesus the Messiah, God’s son.”
Mark 1:15: “‘The time has come!’ he said; ‘God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn and believe this good news!’”
Matthew 4:17, 23: “From that time on Jesus began to make his proclamation. ‘Repent!’ he would say. ‘The kingdom of heaven is arriving!’ …He went on through all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news about the kingdom…”
Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went around all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news about the kingdom….”
Matthew 24:14: “[Jesus replied], ‘…And this good news about the kingdom must be announced to the whole world, as a witness to all the nations. Then the end will come.’”
Group Reflection Questions:
As an early follower of Jesus, what would you have understood that Jesus meant by “the good news”?
How should we reshape the way we think about the gospel and proclaim the gospel so that we’re reflecting all of what Scripture says about the gospel? Write out, in brief, a statement of the gospel that tries to do this well:
Concluding thoughts about why this is significant and worth thinking carefully about…
“Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. …Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and…aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.”
“Your system is perfectly designed to yield the result you are getting.”
…In other words: Is the condensed version of the gospel that we often share with people so focused on a “making a decision” that it is unintentionally helping people “feel saved” without calling them to be subjects of God’s kingdom—disciples of Jesus? Is this part of the reason we see so many unconverted “Christians” in our culture?
 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 26.
 N.T. Wright, “Forward” in McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, 13.
 All Scripture citations are my own rendering from the Greek text, with the aid of N.T Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (New York: Harper Collins, 2011).
 You would have heard other things from Jesus that may be part of the gospel (e.g. Mark 10:45), but you likely would not yet have heard these things connected to the word “gospel.” The word “gospel” is mentioned also in the following texts, but they do not clarify what the gospel is: Mark 1:14; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15; Matt. 26:13; Luke 9:6; 20:1.
 McKnight, King Jesus Gospel, 18.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 403, n. 8 as cited in McKnight, King Jesus Gospel, 75.