Casualties of a Cropped Gospel

BBall Crop

What if this cropped picture was all that an athlete was shown to understand the game of basketball? How would the crop affect his approach and mindset?

Sure, ball handling is an important part of the game, but if the picture was expanded, a few key elements would be brought into focus. The hoop, for one. Also a defender, other teammates, the lines on the court, and so on. The care of the ball would no longer be the center of attention.

I think the Gospel has suffered a similar cropping, and our limited view has crippled the unity, growth and effectiveness of the Church.

When we study the resurrection in my New Testament classes, I start with a Gospel presentation based on the one I learned growing up. I put together a synthesis of the Four Spiritual Laws and the Romans Road, and even mix the Wordless Book and Bridge Illustration in there.

Sin separates us from God. Jesus came to restore that relationship by presenting himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin, satisfying the wrath and justice of God. If we believe in Christ’s sacrifice, and accept Jesus as Lord of our lives, we can be saved, now and forever.

Heads nod from every denomination. I ask if I’ve left anything out, and people sort of shrug and shake their heads. That’s pretty much it.

Then I read I Corinthians 15:18: …if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins.

Wait. I thought Jesus died for my sins. I thought he said, “It is finished” on the cross. Why would Paul claim that it wasn’t finished until three days later? Would our faith really be useless if Christ had paid the price for our sins and simply gone to heaven? Did he really have to bodily rise from the dead?

There are other questions and concerns that would make me hesitate to share this Gospel presentation with a smart agnostic.

God was not bound to the sacrificial system. He made it up. Does that make him bloodthirsty? Am I supposed to forgive my brother 70X7 times, but God won’t forgive me unless something dies? If that’s true, what business did Jesus have in forgiving the sins of that paralytic with just a word? How could he forgive sins without sacrifice? And if he could, why not forgive everyone without going to the cross and making his father seem so unreasonable?

There are more worms in that can, but I think you get the point. Sadly, when unbelievers start voicing objections like these, young evangelists often leave the conversation shaking their heads, assuming the ground was too hard for the gospel seed. But what if the seed was too soft?

The penal substitution metaphor is legitimate and powerful. It helps us to understand the grace of a God who would be willing to give anything to restore relationship with what was lost. It is clearly part of a historical setup for the Jews, along with other feasts and rituals and holy days.

However, if we make penal substitution the only metaphor for salvation, we risk cropping out certain critical aspects of the Christian Gospel.

The Holy Spirit:

Many would agree that the penultimate presentation of the gospel is found in Romans 6 – 8. You may be surprised to find that the penal substitution metaphor is nowhere to be found in those chapters. It’s back in Romans 3 & 5. In chapter 8, the solution to sin and condemnation is the indwelling life and power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is the Holy Spirit ignored in our gospel presentations when it holds such a prominent place in the Gospel? Is it any wonder why we are so conflicted and confused about things like spiritual gifts, and the filling and baptism of the Spirit, taking the teaching and application to extremes?

The Resurrection:

Paul considers the resurrection of Christ as the critical moment of history. This is where Jesus becomes the first human being to ever emerge on the other side of death and depravity, inviting the rest of creation to join him there. When we are united with Christ in spirit, we share in his resurrection life. This renewal begins in our spirits, transforms our souls, and will ultimately change our bodies. From that perspective, we could say that we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved, all at the same time.

The resurrection points toward the new heavens and earth as presented in Revelation, a return to Eden, in a sense, which is the central hope of the Bible. Sadly, this hope is not a part of our Gospel presentations. Unlike Christ, we present an escape from this earth, placing an unbiblical emphasis on heaven and hell.


Our Gospel presentations tend to emphasize individuality over community. We call Jesus our personal Lord and Savior. According to the first of Bill Bright’s Spiritual Laws, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Sure. But should we also mention that God loves everyone, and has a plan for all of humanity?

What if a basketball coach emphasized individuality? “There’s no TEAM in I!”

What if a company existed primarily to pay your bills and give you great benefits? Maybe that’s why you want the job, but that’s not why the company exists. Companies exist to do something, and when you join the company you become a part of that greater mission.

What is our greater mission? Why did Jesus start the Church? Shouldn’t that be a part of our Gospel presentations?

There are more casualties of our cropping that come to mind. Our emphasis on “in or out” can dull our passion for things like spiritual growth, church unity, identifying the strategies of the enemy, or working toward the health of our bodies, families, societies or environments. If we already have our tickets to heaven, what’s the point of cleaning up down here?

Do you agree that our Gospel presentations could use an upgrade? If so, what adjustments would you suggest. If not, why not?

7 thoughts on “Casualties of a Cropped Gospel

  1. We could crop that loose canon of the Trinity to escape the idea that Jesus is God. Then we can rebuild on the biblical statements that Jesus is One with God who is Love. And yes, a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come. And yes, a major theme of Romans is that God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy. And Paul reminds us that we are seeing and not seeing; and hearing and not hearing. And Paul would say: Keep the Faith.


      • The Gospel is the Good News that Christ has brought our salvation. John 3:16 is the most common notice of this. 1John 4 expands on this and the idea that God is love. 1Corinthians 13 defines love.

        This applies to those who are hearing but not hearing, as it is unlikely that anyone has not heard of the Gospel. Most of the people we encounter are simply not “hearing” the Gospel and may see it all as a scam. Paul cautions us to present a sane and sober front.

        There are three points that should be clarified:
        1. Jesus speaks in parables because we hear but do not hear. OT stories should also be thought of as parables so that we are looking for the real message and not just the story.
        2. Salvation is through Christ, but is not dependent on reverence or knowledge of Christ. God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy, and is concerned about spirit rather than icons. When the veil of the temple was torn, it opened the Most Holy Place to all people.
        3. God created diversity following the Tower of Babel. People who do not know our language, culture, or religion are being cared for by God and have been saved by the sacrifice of Jesus. That is unconditional love. We should not judge others but we can offer the Good News that salvation has been given. Consider God’s mercy on Nineveh. (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32) Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32)


  2. Peace with God is a shared peace – one that only God, Author of life and Creator of the world, can mediate. It is the kind of peace that every human endeavor, even without the specific illumination of divine revelation, chases after. Yet, apart from the living Christ, present through the Holy Spirit, no one can experience more than a part of it; and we more often attain hell as a result of distorted ideas of what pertains to true peace.


  3. Everyone who draws near to God necessarily ends up drawing near to one another as well. You cannot follow Jesus in isolation. Whether we like it or not, all Christians are in the same boat. So, I like your question: what is our mission? What will we do on and with that boat? Hoist the sails, it’s time for an adventure! The call to Christ is a call to join Him and His Church in doing good works (Ephesians 2:10) and proclaiming the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)! And other things too, of course.


  4. The death of Christ for our sins, His burial, and resurrection is of course the heart of the gospel(1Cor 15:3) but to understand how this results in our salvation I would suggest the following points:

    1) The trials and sufferings of Christ are not substitutionary in the sense that Christ suffered so that we don’t have to. Indeed, the Christians greatest privilege is to suffer with Christ(Rom 8:17). He did not die as a substitute, but as a “an approach present and a sacrifice to God, for a fragrant odor.(Eph 5:2)” A sacrifice is not something that calls for God’s wrath(the bible never says that God was wrathful towards the Son of His delight), rather, a sacrifice is something in which God takes delight, is acceptable to Him, and is well pleasing.(Phil 4:18). The trials and sufferings of Christ provide the context in which Christ proved and demonstrated His worthiness: his devotion to His Father’s will, His obedience, His faithfulness, His humility, etc. These are the qualities in which God delights and these are the qualities that God glorifies with the reward of power and authority.

    2) God delights in His worthy Son, the Son that will do His will no matter the cost or sacrifice involved.

    3) God rewards His worthy Son in Whom He delights with resurrection, a throne, and all power and authority in heaven and on earth.

    4) Jesus Christ uses the power and authority given to Him to save, judge, redeem, abolish death, etc.

    5) A redeemed creation praises, glorifies, honors, and bows before it’s Savior.

    Perhaps this is better understood in the type of Joseph: The context in which Joseph demonstrated His worthiness was the suffering and trial of being sold into slavery, falsely accused and then cast into prison. Joseph’s worthiness is a delight to all who know him and to God. Pharaoh(god) rewards Joseph by exalting Joseph to His right hand and giving him all power in Egypt. Joseph then uses His power and authority to save Egypt from famine and death and to buy the Egyptians for Pharaoh. And all of the Egyptians and Joseph’s family bows before Him and honors Him.

    That is the story of redemption.

    This is also the story of all of your favorite movies:

    1) Superman: Thank you Superman for saving the world once again! You are a worthy guy to have such awesome powers! Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

    2) Lord of the Rings: Thank you Frodo and hobbits for saving Middle Earth from Sauron and destruction! I bow before your worthy devotion and your heroic determination to accomplish your goal!

    3) Star Wars. The worthy qualities of love, devotion, and endurance of the heroes(Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Princess Lea, etc.) combine to foil the plot of the Dark side of the Force to take over the Galaxy. Thank you Luke Skywalker for saving us! We honor and praise you!

    4) The Little Princess(One of my personal favorites): The little girl demonstrates her worthy qualities in her sufferings when her father is lost in war and she is made to be a servant and persecuted in the girl’s school in which she was once a student. Then her father is found and she is saved and her father buys the school and the school is saved from the tyrannical headmistress. My eyes tear up just thinking about it. 😉

    This is the “Christus Victor” model of Salvation.

    And it is a model that is used in most movies. You create a hero with some worthy qualities that the audience can praise and honor. The hero demonstrates those worthy qualities within the context of some trial and suffering and the world gets saved, or his family gets saved or there is some sort of redemption and judgment taking place and bingo, you have a box office hit!


    • That is terrific, Charles. Really, truly. Thank you for that. And I find it interesting that Hollywood, of all places, promotes these ideals. Just goes to show you how primal these truths really are. Deep down, we all cheer for the same thing, and that “thing” is bound to Christ.


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