The apostles evangelized by telling the story of Jesus. Our gospel preaching and evangelism tend to tell the story of how to be saved personally. There is a major difference between the story of Jesus and a Plan of Salvation ….
First, our gospeling tends to reduce and aim at one and only one target: the sinner's heart. Evangelism's focus is on the individual person, and it is on getting that person to admit that he or she is a sinner and then to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and solution to the sin problem. In the words of Dallas Willard, our gospel is about sin management. But the apostolic gospel can't be reduced to a gospel of sin management because it was a gospel of Jesus-declaration (that included the defeat of sin and death).
Don't get me wrong, the apostolic gospel did promise the forgiveness of sins. But it did so by telling a (saving) story about Jesus. I am always struck by Luke's recounting of how the Jerusalemites responded to Peter's first gospel sermon in Acts 2:37: "When the people heard this [gospel about the Story of Israel coming to completion in the Story of Jesus], they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" … Peter focuses on Jesus, and the Jesus Story awakens a consciousness of sin and a need for Jesus to be their Messiah, Lord, and Savior.
Second, the question that many are asking today reveals that there's not enough Jesus in our gospel. The question is this: Did Jesus preach the gospel? If we are tempted for even a passing moment to wonder if the Gospels preach the gospel, then we have fallen from the apostolic gospel. Why? It was the apostolic generation that called Mark (and probably Matthew) the "gospel." Why? Because the gospel is the completion of Israel's Story in the Story of Jesus, and that is precisely what the Gospels in fact do. But if we are asking that question, it is probably because we have succumbed to the Plan of Salvation gospel … as the one and only gospel.
We need to talk more about Jesus and know that telling others about Jesus is half the battle when it comes to fear of evangelism. We can improve our evangelism simply by learning to approach the gospel in the apostolic manner. That's the easy part. The hard part is creating a gospel culture that expands (and supplants) our reduced salvation culture.
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Articles by Scot McKnight for Christianity Today include:
Working on Eternity | Ben Witherington sets earthly labor in kingdom context. A review of 'Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor.' (June 15, 2011)
Jesus vs. Paul | Many biblical scholars have noted that Jesus preached almost exclusively about the kingdom of heaven, while Paul highlighted justification by faith—and not vice versa. What gives? (December 3, 2010)
Review: Brian McLaren's 'A New Kind of Christianity' | Brian McLaren's 'new' Christianity is not so much revolutionary as evolutionary. (February 26, 2010)
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