What is The Gospel?
Any time a person decides to communicate the gospel there are always several things that need to be considered. Here are just a few: What is the gospel? (In other words, what are we trying to communicate?) How is the gospel best communicated? What aspects of people’s “being” do we need to consider as we share the gospel? How does the culture of the person with whom we are talking effect what that person hears/understands? How does our culture tend to shape our presentation of the gospel?
Unfortunately, very few “Great Commission Christians” take the time or energy to consider these issues when they seek to witness within their own culture, much less when they try to share their faith with people from other cultures living around them.
What is the gospel?
We don’t have time here to analyze why, but Christians in the United States mostly have reduced the “gospel” to a series of concepts or truths to be believed – and if a person accepts, or “believes,” these concepts, he/she is born again spiritually. This approach has been enshrined in such gospel-sharing techniques as “The Four Spiritual Laws” or similar doctrine-centered approaches that for 50+ years have been the basis of most evangelism training in the United States (and in countries where our missionaries have taken such techniques). We need to recoup the New Testament gospel based on how Jesus and the Apostle Paul viewed the gospel.
The gospel in the New Testament was centered in a Person, not in concepts or even teachings. Jesus did not draw people to a set of doctrines, but to himself. Encountering and getting to know Jesus was what transformed people’s lives in the Gospels. Jesus never told Zacchaeus that he had to believe certain doctrines (man is a sinner, sin brings death, believe in Me and your sins will be forgiven, etc.). In the Gospel accounts He didn’t even tell him he needed to return the money he had illegally charged . . . but he did, just because he got to know Jesus. Just meeting Jesus, and getting to know Him, radically transformed his life.
Paul, when he preached, centered his presentation on Jesus, not Jesus’ teachings. In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul said: “2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” In Galatians 1:6 he said: “6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:” It was the grace of Christ that caught their attention at first, not doctrines.
Are there doctrines involved in a person’s salvation experience? Certainly! Everyone who comes to know Jesus personally will have to recognize that he/she is a sinner and will have to understand that the penalty for sin is death. They will come to believe that Jesus is God, not just a prophet or a good man. They certainly will need to understand that there is nothing a person can do to merit salvation because Jesus has paid the penalty they should have paid for their sin. But believing these things will not save them, will not transform their lives. Only the Person of Jesus Christ can do that, and a person needs to spend time with Jesus (through a study of the Gospels) in order to come to know Him and become convinced that He is the only Savior.
This truth, that the gospel is a Person, not a set of doctrines to be believed, will have a profound impact on how we evangelize and how we train people to evangelize. Rather than training people to present a concept-focused presentation of four or five spiritual truths, or even a graphic presentation of the gospel, we must train people in how to introduce people to Jesus Christ through spending time with them in the Bible, especially in the Gospels. Experience has taught us that life transformations that lead to people becoming disciples of Jesus mostly take place over a period of time when they are reading, meditating and studying the Gospels, or encountering Jesus Christ through gospel-centered preaching.
Can concept-focused presentations or graphic illustrations (like the Bridge illustration) be useful in evangelizing people? Of course, they can. That is why we train people to use them. But these usually are clarifying, later steps in helping people come to know Jesus Christ.
Can God save a person after a short concept-centered presentation of gospel truths? Certainly He can. God can do anything, and He sometimes does bring people quickly to faith in Christ. I have known people who were initially brought to faith in Christ by a simple “God loves you, man,” spoken in passing by a stranger on a sidewalk. But that is not generally how it happens.
 I use the term “Great Commission Christians” because I no longer believe that today the term “evangelical” is useful. Our culture has infiltrated much of what historically has been called “evangelical” Christianity and has diluted what it meant to be “evangelical”.
This is the first article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.
Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization. He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.
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Read More in the Series
How is the Gospel Best Presented? If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel. Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people…
What Aspects of a Person’s “Being” Do We Need to Consider as We Share the Gospel? There are three aspects of every person’s being which need to be active in “believing”…
How Culture Shapes our Presentation of the Gospel How does culture tend to shape our presentation of the gospel? I have already touched on this some: we are much more…
Has your church/ministry decided to start an ESL ministry with the hope of opening doors to share the gospel with non-English-speaking people in the community? If so, the million-dollar question is: how…