Why Have We Boiled the Gospel Down to Sin Management?

From Dallas Willard to N.T. Wright to Scot McKnight the voices are piling up that our view of the Gospel has been too narrow. It isn’t some new fad dismissed by claims of cultural accommodations. Their arguments are deeply rooted in scriptures that have been hiding in plain sight. They are voices of those who have a respect for the authority of the scriptures to draw us back to biblical definitions of core biblical ideas and doctrines. Yes, our view of the Gospel became too narrow when we focused almost exclusively on getting our sins forgiven rather than the bigger picture of God making all things new and restoring all things (which certainly includes forgiving sins).

Why did we make this move? How did we go from a holistic view of the Gospel as presented in the New Testament itself to a gospel scaled down to what Dallas Willard called the “Gospel of sin management”?

When the Gospel started out with the poor and oppressed they understood that the Good news was about their needs as whole people. As Christianity has gotten more affluent and influential in society we believed we could take care of those other things ourselves. Does your body need healing? That is what the doctors and insurance are for. Even if you can’t pay your bills, it is no longer the church that stands in the gap, rather it is the government. We don’t even functionally believe in evil spirits any more so no need for exorcisms. We can get out of season fruit at the grocery store by shipping it from the Southern hemisphere…okay, now I am going a bit overboard but I hope you get my point. As we continue to learn ways to meet our own needs we end up like the people who are so hard to shop for at Christmas because they seem to have everything already…except one thing. There is one little thing left over that no matter how much money you have, no matter who you know or how what your dental deductible is you cannot atone for your own sins. It is the leftover item we cannot account for our insure our way to security on.

This is the item we were left with having to go to and through Jesus for so this is what Gospel becomes. This, I believe, is how we have functionally and then doctrinally ratcheted the gospel down to one item covering one aspect of our personhood rather than a big, broad, bold message of the kingdom and restoration.

What happens when we broaden our view of the Gospel out to what the scriptures themselves show us the Gospel is? We begin embracing a more biblical and robust mission. We begin relying on God for more and self for less. We change the way we see ourselves and our resources. We become bearers and givers of good news to those we can help whether it is helping them with a doctor’s bill, some food, or the message of Jesus…these things can and should all coalesce into a bigger picture in our minds of what the Gospel is and how we embrace and embody it today.

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  1. Are you going to the point where demon possession and miraculous healings are still to be expected?

    I follow the swing to materialism and self-sufficiency has taken people away from the relationship with and dependence on God (with or without the Gospel – same issue existed in days of Israel). But neither demon possession nor miracles were intended to prevent/heal that.

    Both of those were to establish, support, testify that Jesus indeed was who He claimed to be, rather than calling the people to restoration of relationship. At least, that seems to be the case in the Bible I read…

    • Rudy,

      If you drew a circle around all of the reasons why the miracles took place (healing, exorcisms, etc) establishing/supporting the veracity of the message would be in the circle. But is it the whole circle? I don’t think so. So I agree with you in part but I also believe there was more to it. Look at Jesus’ talk in Luke 4 in the synagogue. All of the things Isaiah talked about are the Gospel. They are all part of a bigger picture of the restoration of all things per Revelation 21:5. When Jesus healed someone he was demonstrating and exhibiting a glimpse of God righting wrongs. The world wasn’t intended on being a broken place full of sin and sickness. But we made it that. God is setting all of those things right again. So when Jesus forgives a sin he delivers them from the weight of their sin. When Jesus casts out a demon it is also an act of liberation against an oppressive and personal force of evil. The same is true with healing a dis-ease. They are all parts of a larger picture of what is wrong with the world that Jesus brought restoration to, first temporarily in his ministry, but ultimately for all eternity. I hope that makes sense. So in this way all of these things are components of the Good news – Jesus has come to liberate the oppressed from the forces that stand against us (evil spiritual forces, illness, sin, etc). He liberates and restores. He takes broken things and fixes them. He rights the wrongs. This is biblical restoration and it is all gospel. So there was more purpose to miracles than just saying, “See my message is true because this man was sick and now he is well.” I hope that makes sense. Great question!

  2. When we focus simply on having our sins forgiven mercy becomes selfishly reserved for self, rather than the way we approach those we meet daily. More times than none, if you were to ask someone in the conservative evangelical world if they are comfortable in showing as much mercy to others as they desire from God themselves, there would be a pause before the answer from most. The focus on “sins forgiven” turns inward.

    • Great point John! It is all over scripture that the vertical and horizontal are inextricably intertwined – Love God and love your neighbor as well as how can you love God who you cannot see if you don’t love your brother who you can see? Our salvation must impact our ethics.