Evangelism should begin not with abstract theory, but with Jesus, and the the Gospel as he presented it. “The Gospel according to Jesus”
Here is a summary of the Bible in 221 words according to DA Carson.
God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath.
But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects.
In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel.
Yeah, I believe it (though I strongly question “the only alternative” bit). But it does extract all poetry from our faith.
E. M. Forster says, “Yes, oh dear, yes, the novel tells a story.” For, as Woolf and Joyce began to experiment with stream of consciousness novels, the novel became capable of doing so much more.
So too, yes, oh dear yes, these summaries of the Gospel– as John Piper’s shorter summary here the gospel: the good news of Christ crucified in our place to remove the wrath of God and provide forgiveness of sins and power for sanctification– are accurate.
But they are the gospel for intellectuals, the gospel for those who think abstractly, for those with a sufficient theological vocabulary or cast of thought. I confess they do not send my pulses racing.
A far more effective way of presenting the Gospel—the Good News–is to present it in the way Jesus did, with an appeal to the emotions and imagination. It should be presented as the satisfaction for our deepest needs—as bread, water, wine, light–all metaphors Jesus used. It should use metaphor, imagery, parables, and story.
When we present it in the simple way Jesus did, the Gospel has an immediate appeal to the mind as well as to the emotions. It is capable of being understood by a 5 year old child and a 50 year old academic, and speaking to both of them, stirring both their emotions and spirits. It can appeal to the learned in Oxford or Harvard, as well as to people in, let’s say, Chad, Afghanistan or Belize, who might not have the same formal education but have the same human heart.
Evangelism should not start with theory and abstractions, even simplified ones like the four spiritual laws. Presentations of the Gospel should start with Jesus, and present the Gospel the way he did.
Okay, let’s try. Is it possible to condense the Gospel, the Good News as presented by Jesus in 221 words?
I came not to call the righteous but sinners; not to judge the world, but to save it.
Repent and believe the good news.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbour as yourself.”All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Don’t be afraid. Do not worry about anything at all. Peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
I teach so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.
When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for you.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.
Take and drink; this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
My Father will give you another counsellor—the Spirit of Truth. He will be with you and in you. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.