When I was in seminary, we talked a lot about “getting the gospel right.” We read books about it. We wrote papers on it. We attended conferences about it. We each had our own (often conflicting) ideas of what it meant.
It’s easy to see why “getting the gospel right” is such a big deal for Christians. We believe the gospel has the power to change everything. So it’s worth making an effort to get it right—or at least try.
Yet the older I get, the less at ease I am with this phrase, for a couple reasons. I’d rather talk about “telling our story well.”
For one thing, I’ve seen firsthand how “getting the gospel right” nurtures a particular kind of arrogance. I’ve seen it in myself. I became convinced that me and my like-minded cohorts were the only ones who had it right. Everyone else was “compromising” the gospel in some way. After a while, even minor theological disagreements were conflated with the gospel itself. Soon, everything was a gospel issue. “Getting the gospel right” became a euphemism for agreeing with me on, well, whatever I decided you had to agree with me on for the sake of the gospel.
Two, we talked about “getting the gospel right” in the same way you’d talk about getting the answers right on a test. “Getting the gospel right” meant ticking the boxes next to a list of propositional statements, making sure we thought the right kind of thoughts about abstract theological concepts.
There’s just one problem. The gospel, as defined by scripture itself, is not a list of abstract concepts. It’s not something you can reduce to a few spiritual laws or sum up with a handful of verses extracted from the book of Romans.
What we often call “the gospel” is really just a set of propositional statements that we’ve separated from the story.
None of which is to say these statements are unimportant. But abstract theological concepts are NOT the gospel.
Which means if we care about “getting the gospel right,” then we need to tell the story well.
This is not a new idea. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel were told to share their faith with the next generation by telling their story of rescue. Not by delivering a theological treatise. All the decrees, laws, and rituals—they were not the story itself. They were not “the gospel,” as it were. They were prompts to tell the story:
When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
Getting the gospel right means telling the story well. It means telling the whole story. It means it matters what kind of story we tell. For example…
- Is our story about personal salvation only? Or is it about something bigger?
- In our story, are we saved from something, or are we also saved for something?
- Is the story we tell about escaping this world or transforming it?
- Do we begin our story in Genesis 3 or in Genesis 1?
- Are we passive agents in our story, or does God invite us to play a meaningful role?
I want to tell the story well for my children, which is what led me to write The Story of King Jesus.
Over the next few posts, I’d like to share some aspects of this story that came alive for me as I wrote. We’ll look a few key phrases from the book, which I believe are central to the story we should be telling our kids:
“Making the world right and good again.”
“Our king gave us a job to do.”
When we make these things part of the story we tell, I believe we can offer our kids a faith worth living for.
Image by Nick Lee