In looking at all of the Gospel presentations in the New Testament, it struck me as odd that none of them were given to a purely gentile contextual audience. In other words, the NT recipients of those gospel presentations always had a basic understanding or knowledge of the story of Israel, Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. They had “context” from which they could lay hold of or interpret the Gospel.
Much of the criticism of today’s evangelism centers around it being too salvation focused. Scot McKnight calls those who have placed an overemphasis on the salvation aspect of the Gospel “Soterians.” Scot’s basic premise is that the plan of salvation is not the principle message of the Gospel.
He says in his book The King Jesus Gospel, “we have succumbed to the Plan of Salvation gospel, in a reduced soterian form, as the one and only gospel.”*
I get what Scot is trying to say. I understand that the Gospel is much more than just salvation. I agree. What bothers me though, is that we may delay getting the Gospel to those who need it most by waiting around to wrap our brains around the rest of the story. Exactly how much of the Gospel is needed for a person to receive Christ? Again, Scot’s premise is that the Gospel is the complete story of Israel and the consummation and continuation of that story. He says:
The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible’s Story from Israel to Jesus is the saving Story. Just as we dare not diminish the importance of this Story if we wish to grasp the gospel, so also with the saving effects of the story. But equating the Plan of Salvation with either the Story of Israel or the Story of Jesus distorts the gospel and at times even ruins the Story.**
Getting back to the focus of this post. In every case where the Gospel is presented in the NT, we find either Jews, Non-Jewish Gentile proselytes, or those that have at least a basic understanding or context by which they can interpret the Gospel message. “Wait!” you might say… “what about Mars Hill?” It is highly likely that some of those Epicurean philosophers had not heard the Gospel previous to Paul’s arrival, but Paul’s ministry of the Gospel began in the Synagogues. (Acts 17:17) Paul spoke to the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks or Gentiles.
Where are the Gospel presentations to the pure unbeliever or those who had no context? Perhaps I’m just not seeing it. My point is this, before we dismiss modern-day evangelism and criticize it by saying it focuses too much on getting people saved, we might want to consider that we can get to the rest of the story after a person is “in” Christ. Since we have no clear examples on how to present the Gospel to a purely gentile or contextually unbelieving audience, we may as well begin with the salvation aspect first. If we want to get the Gospel to where it’s not known and preach it to the whole of creation, then we had better include those people (pure unbelievers) who have zero contextual data by which they may interpret it. I would never advocate truncating the Gospel and I still believe Scot is right. Evangelism is preaching the Gospel, the whole Gospel. No single member of the body of Christ should ever limit evangelism to the winning of souls. The Gospel’s purpose is to make disciples of Jesus. (Acts 14:21) It is the power of God “Unto” not “Into” salvation for those that believe. (Romans 1:16) It’s the “Into” salvation mentality that drives most of evangelicalism. We have to shift to the “Unto” salvation paradigm. Then evangelism, or preaching the Gospel and discipleship become life long and unified concepts. It seems though that suggesting that others need to know and be able to tell the whole Gospel story only serves to provide an excuse for not evangelizing or putting it off until they do. A few questions:
Did I miss it? Is there a Gospel presentation in the New Testament to a purely unbelieving audience? Where?
Isn’t it more important to get some of the Gospel out than none at all?
If receiving and following Christ (salvation) is not the proper response to the Gospel, then what is?
*McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 145). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
**McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (p. 37). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.