Always beware of ‘bait and switch Gospels’. This is where you’re told that the Gospel is larger than Jesus dying in your place as the atoning sacrifice for your sins. Some other element is introduced as being emblematic of the Gospel. Then substitutionary atonement is either set aside or omitted altogether.
The elements emphasised may often be part of the Gospel message, but when they are proclaimed to the exclusion of substitutionary atonement they are not the full Gospel.

From the Crossway blog:

In an effort to make the gospel bigger or more relevant, Greg Gilbert (author of What is the Gospel?) suggests that these substitute gospels are really less than the gospel, or no gospel at all. “Whatever the specifics, the result is that over and over again, the death of Jesus in the place of sinners is assumed, marginalized, or even (sometimes deliberately) ignored,” explains Gilbert.

3 Substitute Gospels
Adapted from What is the Gospel?

1. “Jesus is Lord” is not the Gospel
One of the most popular of these “bigger” gospels is the claim that the good news is simply the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord.” Of course, the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” is absolutely, magnificently true! And that declaration of Jesus’ lordship is essential to the gospel message. But surely it’s not correct to say that the declaration “Jesus is Lord” is the whole sum and substance of the Christian good news.

2. Gospel-Fall-Redemption-Consummation is not the Gospel
Actually that outline is a really good way to summarize the Bible’s main story line. God creates the world, man sins, God acts in the Messiah Jesus to redeem a people for himself, and history comes to an end with the final consummation of his glorious kingdom. In fact, when you understand and articulate it rightly, the creation-fall-redemption-consummation outline provides a good framework for a faithful presentation of the biblical gospel. The problem, though, is that creation-fall-redemption-consummation has been used wrongly by some as a way to place the emphasis of the gospel on God’s promise to renew the world, rather than on the cross. Just like the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is not good news unless there is a way to be forgiven of your rebellion against him, so the fact that God is remaking the world is not good news unless you can be included in that.

3. Cultural Transformation is not the Gospel
I think that is a noble goal, and I also think that the effort to resist evil in society, whether personal or systemic, is a biblical one. I actually think it’s possible to be a committed transformationalist and at the same time be committed to keeping the cross of Jesus at the very center of the biblical story and of the good news. My main concern is that cultural redemption subtly becomes the great promise and point of the gospel—which of course means that the cross, deliberately or not, is pushed out of that position. The highest excitement and joy are ignited by the promise of a reformed culture rather than by the work of Christ on the cross. The most fervent appeals are for people to join God in his work of changing the world, rather than to repent and believe in Jesus. The Bible’s story line is said to pivot on the remaking of the world rather than on the substitutionary death of Jesus. And in the process, Christianity becomes less about grace and faith, and more a banal religion of “Live like this, and we’ll change the world.” That’s not Christianity; it’s moralism.

10 thoughts on “The ‘Bait And Switch Gospel’

  1. Nathan says:

    Is it ok that I have a problem with your starting definition of the gospel – with the cross as the emblem – I think we can at times be too excited about the cross and not excited enough about the empty tomb.

    Surely our Gospel must include the resurrection or Good Friday is terrible and our faith is in vain… I’m sure you’re not advocating for this position, but my recent thoughts, and a future post, on this issue are that too much focus on the cross (and atonement) is unhelpful and that we should view the cross and resurrection as a package.

  2. Nathan says:

    So, I would say the gospel is “larger than Jesus dying on the cross in my place” – I’d say it’s that “he died on the cross in my place and then rose, also in my place.” Or something.

    1. gjware says:

      Well, the Gospel is Christ.
      Who He is, all that He has achieved, and our personal incorporation into Him.
      While you’re pondering these things recall that the signs and seals of His work that Christ committed to us were the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
      Baptism speaks of our ingrafting into Christ, our complete identification with Him.
      The Lord’s Supper speaks of our being partakers of His body and blood, with all the benefits that are His.
      You can also consider that the Larger Catechism puts before us the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, repentence unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
      Justification and sanctification are both clearly identified.
      You can’t separate them. But they do have a order.
      Systematics is helpful here. Biblical theology less so.

  3. Nathan says:

    I was, for want a better word, limiting my thinking to the atonement… and particularly the lack of emphasis we place on the resurrection in that context.

    1. gjware says:

      So, the atonement aspect of the Gospel:
      Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
      For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

      And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

      The resurrection is the authenticating sign that atonement has been made.
      It is something like paying a bill and receiving a receipt as proof payment has been made.
      In this case the proof our sins have been atoned for is resurrection.
      Resurrection also has other ramifications for our life as God’s people as well.

  4. Nathan says:

    I think Paul’s suggesting that it’s more than a receipt. It’s part of the transaction. A receipt is an authenticating sign, but the transaction can go ahead without the sign – I don’t think the atonement can occur without the resurrection.

    1. gjware says:

      Without the resurrection the atonement most certainly did not occur, we are still in our sins.
      Let’s put Romans 4:22-25 in the mix:”That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

  5. Monkeys for Jesus says:

    All a very good conversation. But “Jesus Christ is Lord” is the good news. And the gospel. Only a fragment of it. But nonetheless it is a proclamation of the gospel itself. Potentially the first point of the gospel. That the ruler and judge of the universe is Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by his resurrection.

    The good news that God is now also a righteous and merciful God, by paying for our sins on the cross. Is also a central, possibly the central aspect of the gospel. But atonement alone is not the gospel. Atonement is the payment of our sins. Which is a very important part of the gospel. A necessary part of the gospel. Im not sure it is more necessary than the element of Jesus being the King and therefore Judge, and it is Jesus we will have to make an account to – not Ceasar, Not Zeus, Not my ancestors. But my creator judge and my incarnate friend: Jesus.

    Obviously plenty of people would rather get rid of atonement than deal with it. But I think your premise “that these other elements are not central, and by themselves are not the gospel” is a faulty premise, because atonement by itself without the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a faulty gospel too.

    1. gjware says:

      Last night I spoke on Acts 5:30-32, Peter and the Apostle’s defence before the high priest:
      The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
      This testimony is a concise summary of ‘all the words of this life’.
      The week before I preached from Acts 10:34-43 and the content of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and his cohort.
      I accept the totality of the Gospel as the proclaiming Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
      While the atoning sacrifice of Jesus alone (which I in no way believe anyone should present as the totality of the Gospel) is a deficient/faulty Gospel in the sense that other material is missing, I still believe it can be functional.
      I can’t understand how Gospels without substitutionary atonement can be functional at all.
      That’s the major thrust of these posts.
      Not to champion a stripped down Gospel devoid of legitimate biblical elements, but to be wary of the sophistry which seeks to present an expanded understanding of the Gospel, but in doing so finds no room for substitutionary atonement as an essential element.

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