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In February 2008, I began a blog series called “Gospel Definitions”, in which I posted (without comment) any and every definition of “the gospel” that I came across in books or online. Eventually, that series became the largest group of gospel definitions on the web. (See a full list or pdf here.)

As I have posted various definitions of “the gospel” on my blog, I have noticed that people hear the question “what is the gospel?” in different ways.

Telling the Story for an Individual

Some hear this question and immediately think about how to present the gospel to an unbeliever. Their presentation systematizes the biblical teaching of our sin and Christ’s provision. They usually begin with God as a holy and righteous judge. Then we hear about man’s desperate plight apart from God and how our sinfulness deserves his wrath. But the good news is that Christ has come to live an obedient life and die in our place. We are then called to repent of our sins and trust in Christ. (Greg Gilbert takes this approach in his helpful book, What Is the Gospel?.)

Telling the Story of Jesus

Others hear “What is the gospel?” and think of how the New Testament authors would define the word, which leads to definitions that zero in on the announcement of Jesus. They focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel, according to this second group, is telling people who Jesus is and what he has done. (Martin Luther, Graeme Goldsworthy, and John Piper take this approach.)

Telling the Story of New Creation

Still others hear the word “gospel” and think of the whole good news of Christianity, how God has acted in Christ to bring redemption to a fallen world. They focus on the grand sweep of the Bible’s storyline and how Jesus comes to reverse the curse and make all things new. (Tullian Tchividjian, Tim Keller, and Jim Belcher take this approach.)

Robust Gospel Discussion

Though there is significant overlap among these groups, advocates of each position sometimes discuss and debate the others.

The Individual-Story crowd says, If you only focus on the announcement of Jesus, you leave out the reason we need good news. In other words, zeroing in on the “Christ” part of God-Man-Christ-Response doesn’t tell you enough.

The Jesus-Story crowd says, You’re adding too much to the gospel, confusing the truth about our sin or our necessary response of repentance with the good news itself, which is only about Jesus. In other words, don’t add doctrines to “the gospel” that the New Testament doesn’t describe as “gospel.”

The New Creation crowd says, If you only focus on individual salvation, you leave out the cosmic sweep of what God is doing. You also leave out the necessity of the church. In other words, the picture of God’s redemptive activity is bigger than just God-Man-Christ-Response or even the Jesus-announcement. You need the bird’s eye view of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.

For the most part, I am encouraged by these discussions. How marvelous to see Christians – young and old – seeking clarity on the message that is at the heart of our faith! It is important to think clearly about the gospel, and the motivation behind these debates is to get the message right and – hopefully – to then take that message everywhere from our neighborhoods to the nations.

What’s Your Take?

I believe there is a helpful and biblical way to synthesize this robust discussion on the gospel. Everything mentioned by these three groups is good and is in some way connected to the good news. But we need hooks to hang all these good things on. We need to see how they fit together, and we need to make sure that the heart of the gospel stays where it is supposed to be. Providing a framework for thinking through this issue is the purpose of my book on the gospel. But before I give you a sneak peek at that framework, I want to hear from you.

  • How do you define the gospel?
  • When someone asks you “what is the gospel?” do you tend to think about how the Bible uses defines the word or how best to share the gospel with an unbeliever?
  • Though the New Testament generally defines “gospel” in terms of the Jesus-Announcement, are there hints in the Bible that the word “gospel” can be used more expansively?
  • What role does theological reflection play in how we define the gospel?
  • How can we make sure that the cross and resurrection stay at the center of our gospel definition and are not pushed to the periphery by important implications of the gospel?
  • What might be the dangers of pushing any of these three ways of defining the gospel to an extreme?
  • When you hear the buzzword “gospel-centered,” which of these three ways of defining the gospel do you think of?

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19 thoughts on “3 Ways of Defining the Gospel”

  1. Jonathan says:

    The gospel is the good news that Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, has fulfilled God’s promise to the world by being crucified, buried, and raised to new life as the exalted Lord of all creation.

    I would tend to lean more towards Wright’s “Jesus is Lord” announcement because I see that as a broad enough statement to include what everyone wants included. I know Piper says that isn’t good for sinful humanity, but I think that (ironically) is a somewhat man-centered answer. Jesus being Lord is objectively good whether or not anyone repents and submits to him. The goodness of the message does not depend on whether or not it is good for humanity.

    Furthermore, I don’t think man’s sinfulness should be included in the gospel. The gospel is the announcement of God’s solution, not the problem and the solution put together.

    There are a few passages that I think make sense under the broad definition I have given. For instance:

    Romans 2:16 – “On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the Christ, the Lord. Therefore, he has been established as God’s judge of all the world. That makes sense.

    Galatians 3:8 – “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.'” I would not say justification by faith is the gospel, but I would say this is an instance where God’s promise to humanity has been fulfilled in Jesus, Israel’s Messiah (which may imply justification, but not be synonymous with)

    Those are just two passages I was thinking of off the top of my head. Anyone’s thoughts?

  2. Clay says:

    I’m no theologian, so I’m sure there will be plenty to critique here, but this is my shot at defining the gospel:

    The gospel is the news that 1) in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, humanity and all things have been reconciled to God (Col. 1:19), 2) in His crucifixion, Christ freed mankind from sin by defeating death (1 Cor. 5:14-15), thereby making it possible for mankind to experience this reconciliation, and 3) in His resurrection and ascension, Christ has joined those who choose to follow Him to God (Col. 3:3-4) so that we may participate in His very life through grace and repentence (2 Peter 2:3-4).

  3. Ps Jon says:

    Gospel = born once, die twice; born twice, die once.

    (John 11v25-26)

    1. Brent Cletheroe says:

      Amen you got it bro Acts 2:38!

  4. Your desire to synthesize the three perspectives reminds me John Frame and Vern Poythress’s “Tri-perspectivalism”. In one of his teaching lectures Tim Keller mentions this three-faceted nature of the Gospel and makes the point that if you follow any one of the three all the way to the bottom you discover the other two.

    Looking forward to hearing your further thoughts on this.

  5. Luke says:

    This seems like a helpful way to think about it. The Jesus-Announcement is the normative aspect, because it provides the objective basis for the good news. The Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation schema is the situational aspect, because it provides the framework within which the gospel is to be understood. The God-Man-Christ-Response presentation is the existential aspect, because it applies the gospel to individual sinners’ lives.

  6. Trevin Wax says:

    Thanks for the feedback, all.

    Michael, there is certainly a good deal of synergy between me and Keller and others on this way of thinking through the gospel.

    Luke, I like how you point out the objective basis of the announcement, but see the need to have that situated in the story and responded to (community). That’s a helpful way of framing it.

  7. Kevin Simpson says:

    I think you’re all mistaken. Im not saying you are mistaken but i think that you are missing the point. Jesus didn’t preach that he came to die for our sins. He preached that the Kingdom of God (in Mark, Luke and John) and the Kingdom of heaven (Matt) had come and that he was the king of that kingdom. The announcement ie gospel was that the kingdom was at hand. The Jews were waiting for the promised Messiah, one who would re establish the throne of David. It was a kingdom that would never end that was promised. The good news was that it had arrived! Luke 4:43
    But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
    Luke 4:42-44 Matthew 12:28
    And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14
    But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
    Matthew 12:27-29 . the kingdom would not have been complete without subjects, so he had to redeem us before his work could be completed.

  8. Brent Cletheroe says:

    The Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We obey the Gospel when we identify with Jesus Christs death on the cross, by repenting if our sins, we identify with His burial by being water baptized IN JESUS NAME and we identify with his resurrection by the receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost speaking with tongues. See (Book of the Acts of the Apostles.) for numerous examples.
    Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed? The Holy Spirit leads us and guides us into all Truth. Hallelujah!

  9. Chandler Walsh says:

    How we think of it is important insofar as we need to be adept at sharing it. Understanding the gospel’s multifaceted nature is important since everyone is different and we need to be sensitive and aware of the particular person’s spiritual need and what will be good news to him/her. As we listen to hear that need, or ask questions to uncover that need, we can then share our own faith journey as it relates to that need and share the biblical content that addresses that need through the life-death-resurrection-ascension-2nd coming of Christ. Finally we can look ahead to the New Creation as real possibility for the individual’s experience sharing in the glory of Christ. I don’t believe that theology should be disconnected from people’s lives. True, it’s not about us, it’s about God. But natural man is self-centered, and if he is going to become a worshipper of the True God, he needs the Gospel speaking to him. The spiritual man is “in Christ”, so the things of God are very relevant to him as well.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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