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Abandoning an Incomplete Gospel
How one leader arrived at a more complete understanding of the Word of Life.

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I was abducted by an alien gospel. At least that seems like the best way to describe what happened when I was 11 years old. One day, during a summertime visit to my aunt's home, I found some matches and played with them in the back yard. As she was putting me to bed, my aunt, who had been tipped off by a neighbor, asked me if I had been playing with matches. Being an 11-year-old, I naturally said, "No."

"God knows if you were playing with matches," my aunt said sternly. "If you are lying, you are committing a sin. If you die tonight without having your sins forgiven, you will go to hell." That seemed awfully severe, but having burned my fingers earlier in the day, I didn't want to risk getting close to eternal fire. I eagerly asked Jesus to forgive me for lying, playing with matches, and an assortment of other sins. I fell asleep relieved that if I died during the night I would go to heaven. Now I was saved!

But was I? Had my aunt's "evangelism" ushered me into the new life that Jesus offers and that the Scriptures describe—a life of love, joy, freedom, and power? Or had I been abducted by a narrow, alien version of Christianity, which consisted of trusting Jesus to rescue me from hell and then faithfully trying to get others to trust Jesus for the same rescue?

In one sense, my aunt's evangelistic effort was effective. For 30 years I have been trying to follow the Jesus I prayed to that night, and I have been trying to introduce others to him. But I have become frustrated with the evangelism that I received and have practiced myself. More and more, I've sensed that the gospel I was told, and which I've been passing along, ignores the substance of life in its hurry to save me from eternal damnation.

Rethinking Definitions

This frustration caused me to revisit some old friends. Anyone raised in the evangelical Protestant world will be familiar with these memory verses:

  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:10)

  • For God so loved that world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

  • Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31)

For years my definitions for these italicized words went something like this.

Lost—Someone who is going to hell because he has not believed in Jesus for the payment of his sins.

Saved—Someone who has eternal life because she has believed in Jesus and asked him to forgive her sins.

Believe—To agree with the proposition that Jesus, God's Son, paid for our sins, thereby giving us eternal life. Generally we show that we "believe" in Jesus by praying a prayer asking him to forgive our sins and come into our lives.

Eternal life—Life in heaven with Jesus when I die. As millions of evangelicals have been taught to ask: "If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?"

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Topics:Discipleship, Enthusiasm, Evangelism, Outreach, Postmodernism, Relevance
Filters:Discipleship, Evangelism, Outreach, Pastor, Shepherd, Spiritual director
References:John 10:10

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments


September 25, 2007  10:49am

Really good! We needed to be reminded!


September 22, 2007  10:58am

Dieter made a valuable observation regarding the meaning of "repent". Too many modern preachers are unwilling to emphasize the need for a change in the direction of one's life away from sin. Rather, they like the "warm and fuzzy" idea that Jesus loves us just as we are, implying that we need not change our behavior and goals. This is emphatically NOT the good news Jesus brought to us and we should be sure that hearers of the Word get that message.


September 21, 2007  5:37pm

to answer questions about hell- read the text. when, how and where does Jesus speak about hell?


September 21, 2007  8:37am

Loved the article... and have been moving this way as a pastor/follower of Jesus for many years w/ several newly "saved" personal friends joining the journey. I do wonder though (along w/ Robert's question above) how does Dieter deal with the Biblical reality of hell? it seems as though most of us who "Believe" in the Good News as Dieter does NEVER preach/talk/teach about hell. NE comments?


September 20, 2007  7:55am

That truly is good news and a much more posiive way of expressing the gospel. It would be interesting to hear how the writer describes what happens to the lost if they don't get found. How does he express the destiny of eternally lost sheep?

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