The Canned Gospel

22well_can-articleInlineIf you were to present the gospel in two or three minutes, what would you say?  In many Reformed circles today, I believe our mental Bible dictionaries probably have this entry:

gos·pel   [gos-puhl]  noun. 

Definition — justification by faith alone.

Certainly this is a part of the good news, but is that the whole of it?  It is great to boil down our message to its essential parts, but the essential parts are all essential.  Where in Scripture can we find the entire gospel with all its parts?  I want to propose that the gospel was a pre-packaged message containing all the essential elements that was handed down from apostles to the Christians of the early Church.  But where can we discover this canned gospel in the pages of Scripture?

Many pastors and church leaders are seeking to return to the patterns established in the book of Acts.  The Acts 29 movement and other church planters are seeking to use the basic elements of the early church to see a new wind of spiritual revival in areas lacking the gospel.  My question is: If Acts provides a prescriptive ecclesiological model, why not a prescriptive model of gospel proclamation?  Have you considered that there are at least six full length presentations of the gospel in Acts given by Peter (the apostle to the Jews, Gal. 2:7) and Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles)?  Additionally, have you ever noticed that the message of the gospel preached by Peter and Paul sounds quite similar–canned even?  The same phrases and elements appear over and over in these sermons.   Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:13-14, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”  With words like “entrusted” and “deposit”, you might almost think Paul was talking about a pre-packaged gospel…

What pattern of sound words can be seen in the four sermons of Peter (Acts 2:22-41; 3:12-4:4; 5:27-32; 10:34-48) and the two of Paul (Acts 13:26-43; 26:15-29)?  Here are the eight common elements found in each of these sermons.  Perhaps these ought to shape the way we think of the canned gospel…

1. God’s Plan: God’s work in the OT through his people and through his prophets points to the coming of the suffering Messiah (cf. Acts 2:22; 3:18; 26:22-23).

2. Jesus’ Death: Jesus of Nazareth was wrongfully condemned by sinful men and was crucified on a tree (cf. Acts 2:23; 3:13-15; 13:28-29).

3. Resurrection Testimony: Every single sermon contains the word “witness.”  God appointed eyewitnesses to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus was proof that God would bring eternal life to those who believed (cf. Acts 5:30, 32; 13:30-31; 10:40-42).  [Sidenote: Lebron James and Nike were not the first ones to use the catchphrase, “We are all witnesses.”  They lifted that from Peter.]

4. Exalted Messiah: There is a distinct emphasis on Jesus’ position as the true Son of God who inherits all of the eternal promises to the throne of David.  In fact, he has ascended to sit at the right hand of God waiting to return to judge the nations (cf. Acts 2:33-35; 3:20; 13:32-35).

5. Repentance and Belief: The call to listeners is a call inherited from Jesus himself: Repent.  The apostles carry this tradition as an essential element of the gospel equation (cf. Acts 2:38; 5:31; 26:20).

6. Forgiveness of Sins: The “good” part of this message, as far as sinners are concerned, is that forgiveness of sins is offered to those who believe (cf. Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38).

7. All Are Called: The message of the gospel is not for some or just for the Jews but is to be proclaimed to all people.  Regardless of race, gender, past sins, or any other barriers, the gospel is for anyone who will repent and believe (cf. Acts 2:39; 10:34-35; 13:39).

8. Response: Every single one of these presentations of the gospel ends with a response.  Whether acceptance, rejection, indifference, outrage, the gospel elicits a response from its hearers (cf. Acts 4:4; 5:33; 26:28).

What do you think?  I bet you could string these eight elements together using your own words in two minutes or less–the writer of Acts did.  All six of these sermons can be read in about two to three minutes each.  What elements are missing from your gospel?  They always say fresh is better, but I may stick with the canned gospel this time…

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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