I’ve recently found myself in a number of situations in which preachers and Christian speakers were conveying what, I would call, “half of the Gospel.” By this I mean that they teach parts of the Gospel perfectly, even brilliantly, but simultaneously fail to mention key parts of the Gospel. It’s not that these teachers were saying anything wrong, but they were not conveying the whole truth either.
Now this has always bothered me, but I was willing to look past it. After all, God IS love, so it’s great to hear a sermon on loving the poor and caring for the needy. And God IS a God of holiness and judgment, so it’s important to learn about the severe implications that His character has for our lives. Because God is infinite, it would be impossible to encapsulate all that He is into one sermon. And so I rationalized that these messages about “half the Gospel” were ultimately ok. Hearing half the Gospel is better than hearing none of it at all, right?
But recently I’ve started to reconsider this position. In fact, I began to wonder if “half” the Gospel is really even the Gospel at all. For instance, is the Gospel kind of like Math?–I may not know all there is about Math and its abstracts concepts of calculus and algebra, but I know how to add and subtract, so I can definitively say that I know Math.
In the same way, if I only learn one part of the Gospel, can I then claim that I know THE Gospel? Or if I preach just one part of the Gospel, can I then say that I have actually preached “the Gospel?”
The answer to this question is a resounding “no.” The Gospel is not at all like Math in that sense. The Gospel is instead more like a cake. As a friend of mine so cleverly put it, if you only have half the ingredients of a cake, you don’t have a cake at all. You have a couple eggs and some salt, but that’s not a cake–that’s scrambled eggs.
And that is what we get when we only preach half the Gospel–we get a scrambled eggs theology that ultimately looks nothing like the Gospel we find in Scripture.
Some of you may be thinking this is a bit harsh. After all, if God is love, and we preach love, are we not still teaching the heart of God? I would argue no, because preaching God’s love without God’s judgment is to fundamentally misunderstand God’s love in the first place. God’s love is so radical because of the judgment that we deserve. He is a righteous, holy God who has every right to condemn us, yet He does not.
Thus to preach a Gospel of love without judgment is to domesticate God into some sort of warm and fuzzy deity in the sky who is devoid of wonder and fear-inspiring awe. It is also to make the cross utterly incoherent. Why would God let His Son endure such a gruesome death if not for his sense of justice?
What’s more, you have to look at the implications of “half the Gospel.” Yes, Jesus cared about the poor, but if our ultimate goal is to feed the poor and clothe the hungry without ever addressing people’s spiritual needs, then what are we left with? Say that we were able to clothe everyone, feed everyone, and heal everyone, would that change eternity one bit? No. Scripture tells us that life on earth is but an instant compared to eternity, so we would be laboring to make one instant better, while ignoring the glaring blind spot of peoples’ eternal needs. As Derek Webb puts it, we would ultimately be clothing corpses.
In this way, half the Gospel is not really the Gospel at all–it is either secular social activism, or Pharisaic religiosity, but it is not the Gospel. For that reason, keep your eyes and ears open for these speakers of half-truth. And more importantly, make sure your life preaches the whole truth, because half the truth is actually little more than a dressed up lie.
I agree with you on the half-gospel. But I want to play with it a bit.
I read an article by John Perkins (who I greatly admire) about the importance of preaching the whole Gospel. He speaks of it in a way that is different than how you seem to be speaking about it. He argues that many preach just spiritual salvation and miss the social implications that come with the Gospel. He really seems to capture James’ sense of “the whole Gospel.”
Things get complicated when you throw in Paul.
In Galatians, Paul argues that there are others who offer a different “gospel” that is NOT the Gospel and that is purely dangerous. Yet in Phil 1:12-18 talks about preaching “Christ” while Paul is in prison and he argues that many are using false motives and false spirits to proclaim the Gospel, yet he rejoices that the Gospel is still being preached. It would be interesting to ask Paul what he would think of the groups that your picture implies: those who proclaim salvation in an uncomfortable, in-your-face and non-relational way. Do those folks miss the Gospel if they misunderstand love and grace? I’m reading The Ragamuffin Gospel and according to Brennan Manning (from what I’ve read so far) would seem to think that if we miss humility and the impact that grace has on us, that we would be very gentle, empathetic and loving towards non-Christians–implying that we are missing part of gospel of grace if we negate love.
I’m unfortunately not really taking a stand on the issue, but I was curious about what you thought in light of those other ideas about the half-Gospel that are rambling around in my brain
You know that is a really good point about Paul’s words in Philippians! To an extent, we should be grateful whenever the Gospel is preached, even if it’s for the wrong reason. This teaching pushes us to give one another the benefit of a doubt, and it prevents us from standing on a pedestal of self-righteousness, judging those who don’t measure up to our own personal standard of model Christianity.
However, when it comes to ascribing to certain teachers, or deciding what church to attend, that is when you need to be more discerning. Over time, any preacher that has a giant blind spot in his or her teaching or theology is going to slowly lead their listeners awry. It can happen gradually and without anyone even noticing, until one day the Church has stopped being remotely Scriptural at all.
While there is no perfect preacher or perfect church, there is certainly a healthy middle ground between basic human imperfection, and blatant picking and choosing out of the Bible. Don’t be too judgmental about the former, but definitely watch out for the latter.
hello, thought you might like a look at this website as there is a lot happening in the spiritual.
concerned about today’s gospel message. full gospel, or half gospel…you decide. don’t listen to what is being preached…ask the Lord.
Correct, Don’t ask yourself, ask God!
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.