Sunday, January 23, 2022

7 Pictures of the Gospel: Healing Gospel, Grace Gospel, Penal Sub, Defeat of Satan, and Social Gospel

We all have a certain way we explain the gospel to ourselves and to those who need it.  I've heard the various formulas many times. Which one is most accurate? How do they fit together? Let's take a look.

Hurt/Healing Gospel

This is a popular gospel for the post-modern age. Common in megachurches. It goes something like this: You're in pain, you're hurting, you're discouraged and depressed and life seems meaningless. So turn to Jesus and he will heal you, he will help you, he will turn your life around, he will give you a new purpose. Jesus understands what you're going through and he's going to help you and heal you and carry you through. Believe in Jesus and you'll come out of darkness and into the light. 

This is certainly an aspect of the gospel, isn't it? But it's not the whole gospel.  It's just a part of it.  It limits Jesus to a sort of self-help guru who came to give you a better life. Of course that is somewhat true of Christ, he does give us a purpose and new desires and light to see the world as it truly is.  But that's just part of the gospel.  

Works/Grace Gospel

This is a popular gospel in baptist and non-denominational churches. It focuses on the dichotomy between grace and works.  It goes something like this: The main problem we face as humans is that we try to do good works instead of believe in Jesus.  Your good works are as filthy rags before Jesus. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion can save you. Only Jesus. Only grace. Any works you do are simply trying to do good works for your salvation instead of trust in Jesus. So only grace is allowed, and any works are immediately suspect, viewed as a believer attempting work for what God has already done. 

This is a generally valid angle on the gospel, the idea that for some, they will be obsessed with doing good works to try to appease God, which is completely useless. So they need to instead rest in Christ, by faith. But this concept does not necessarily apply to all people. This is again an aspect of the gospel, but not the whole gospel. And when we over-emphasize it, we end up distorting scripture. 

Courtroom Gospel (Penal Substitutionary Atonement)

This is by far my favorite depiction of the gospel, I think it outlines it in the clearest form. Fairly common in reformed churches. It goes like this: You owe a debt before God that you can never repay.  That is the list of sins that you have committed over your life.  You can't do any good deeds to repay for these sins. So you stand condemned before God, to hell. But Jesus Christ the God man came in human form, lived a perfect life, died, and rose again, to give you new life.  Jesus paid off your debt before God, on the cross, and if you will believe in Him and repent of your sins, you will enter into the "great exchange" your sins are transferred to Christ on the cross and Christ's righteousness is transferred to you. You are born again, and begin a whole new life.

Once again, this is an important part of the gospel, I would argue the most important, never-the-less it's not the complete gospel, there are other aspects to consider. And if we over-emphasize this portion of the gospel we can end up having believers thinking Jesus died for them but doesn't live for them, and doesn't bless them in any way apart from paying on their behalf. 

Defeat of Satan Gospel (Christus Victor)

This is a less common angle of the gospel but non-the-less it's quite valid, it goes like this: Because Adam and Eve rebelled against God, this put Adam and Eve, and the entire human race in bondage, caught in slavery to sin and death under the control of Satan the god of this world.  Jesus Christ came to defeat the works of the devil. By Jesus life, death, and resurrection, Satan was defeated and Jesus took from him the keys of death and hell. When we believe in Jesus, we are transferred from the tyrannical kingdom of Satan to the victorious liberty of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Jesus bought us from the devil with his own blood. 

When's the last time you heard the gospel described in this way? Pretty interesting, but once again it shouldn't be taken in isolation. Yes, fundamentally when we believe in Jesus we become part of the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of Satan. This is a great gift, but shouldn't be overemphasized over the other realities. (Similar to this perspective is the "moral government" view, that Christ was slaughtered as a display of God's righteousness and to show just how evil sin really is, though it's fairly uncommon these days as well.)

The Messianic Gospel 

The messianic gospel presentation is common in messianic Christianity, Pentecostalism and charismatic churches. This is an increasingly common perspective on describing the gospel that is very appealing for many reasons. This is describing the gospel from the perspective of the Old Testament system of sacrifices. For every sin committed by the people of the ancient nation of Israel, there had to be atonement made through the blood of animals. Animals were sacrificed as a stand in for the coming one who would finally be the perfect sacrifice. This is described powerfully in the book of Hebrews. We see the Old Testament sacrificial system contrasted with the coming of Jesus Christ, who would be the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. 

This is a great way to describe the gospel to a Jewish person or a mature Christian, but it will be a difficult for a modern/post-modern unbeliever to receive the gospel this way. For someone outside the context of ancient Jewish culture, which is, pretty much everyone, it's going to be a rather alien way of describing the gospel. There is also the danger of becoming more and more focused on Jewish cultural practices, Jewish feast days, and even Jewish mysticism, and eventually these OT cultural practices begin to take on a greater importance than the New Testament gospel to the gentiles. 

Oppression/Freedom Gospel

This description of the gospel is becoming more prominent in mainline protestant churches, in the context of social justice and systemic injustice in society. It goes something like this: We are all oppressed under unjust cultural systems, governments, and economic systems that leave us enslaved and in bondage. Only Jesus Christ can set us free from these systems of bondage, and make us free, and help us to work in society to topple these unjust systems. Jesus Christ came to set you free from slavery and oppression. 

This is certainly an important angle of the gospel, that in the world we often do find ourselves enslaved and in bondage. But more often than not, particularly in the west, we aren't as much enslaved by systems as we are enslaved by addictions.  The danger with this approach is that we can lose the emphasis on sin as a personal issue individual to each of us, and soon it becomes more about social justice and political activism, and less and less about individual salvation in Christ. 

The Social Gospel 

This is a perspective of the gospel common in Methodist, and The Salvation Army, to name a few. This views the gospel from the perspective of helping others, it goes something like this: Jesus Christ lived a beautiful and sacrificial life of helping others, healing people, feeding people, clothing people, affecting social change, and transforming the political world.  So believe in Jesus so you can live out his mandate of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, befriending the lonely, visiting the prisoners, and so on and so forth. 

This is of course an aspect of what it means to be a Christ follower. If we love Jesus, we ought to live as Jesus lived, Matthew 25,31-46 all those wonderful mandates to help people. But this is more our response to the gospel, than the gospel itself, though it's important to talk about, following Jesus is more than helping people, it's believing in Christ Jesus and all He did for us. 

There are still more perspectives, like the Catholic view, that one must receive the eucharist and the wine, and by doing so they are Christians. There is the hellfire and brimstone gospel, Repent or burn in hell, the sort of "turn or burn gospel." There's the angle of Christ as the second Adam. There's Christ as fulfillment of the Old Testament law.  There is the gospel of slavery/freedom. I could keep going. The cross is so rich with blessings and gifts, it's beyond fathoming.

So which of these is right? Well, I think each of this are valid angles of the same gospel, one might be from the side, another from the other side, one from the front, one looking down from above, one looking up from below it, and so on and so forth. 

In conclusion, as we consider these various perspectives on the gospel, how can we make sure we're speaking the full gospel to the world? I don't want to just carry some of it, or one angle, instead I want to carry it all, every word!