What is the gospel?

It has occurred to me that the gospel – the Christian “good news” – has changed over the centuries, so that what many call the gospel today is not necessarily what the authors of the Bible had in mind. One of the things that has stood out for me over the years is that Jesus did not present today’s gospel. He never had an altar call, he didn’t baptize anyone, he only called for a handful of people to follow him, and sometimes he sent them away. Even when he healed some people, he told them not to tell anyone!

So why are we so focused on getting the gospel right? As a Lutheran, I was never trained to “witness” or “lead someone to Christ,” so when I got involved with a bunch of evangelicals I was quite intimidated by the whole thing. It just seemed so complicated. The Four Spiritual Laws, the “Roman Road,” “praying the prayer,” all seemed so regimented. What if I didn’t do it right? After all, people’s souls were at stake!

Now, I realize that this was all a kind of holy superstition, not based at all upon the Good News that Jesus preached (or the Lutherans, for that matter). Jesus even said, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” (Matthew 13:13). Not the methodology recommended by evangelists today. Did any of the people who heard Jesus speak ever die without accepting him as their personal savior? I imagine so. Did the thief on the cross understand the gospel? I doubt it. So what exactly is the good news that Jesus preached, and what are its implications?

Things have, of course, changed since then. Jesus died and rose again, and that changes a lot. But what about the gospel message? Has the essence of that changed? Was it supposed to change? And what are the essentials of the gospel (in other words, what do people have to believe in order to be saved)?

This is what I will try to explore in the coming days, starting with the earliest version of the good news – that proclaimed by the angels – going through the Bible and hopefully down through history to see how we got where we are. It should be an interesting journey; for me, anyway.

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