I’ve recently found myself in a number of situations in which preachers and Christians 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 also 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. Is the Gospel kind of like Math?–I may not know all 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 say that I have actually preached the Gospel?
The answer to this question is a resounding “no.” The Gospel is not like Math at all in that sense. The Gospel, in fact, is 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. If you have a couple eggs and some salt, 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 at all.
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 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.