One of the things for which I am grateful about conservative evangelicals is there really seems to be a general understanding that evangelism needs to remain foremost in our mission. I think that is a genuine, preserving work of grace the Spirit of God has done among us. So, I hope that what I write the next couple of days will not come across as a scathing, holier-than-thou condemnation of the evangelistic efforts of modern evangelicals. But I have made two discoveries in the last two weeks which I find to be more than a little disturbing.

1. We seem to forget that the Gospel first and foremost is about God

I know that seems like an obvious statement, but let me explain what I mean. Christianity Today’s most recent issue (July 2008–an overall fantastic issue) has an intriguing story about a “new” Gospel presentation called “From Four Laws to Four Circles.” The article details the approach authored by InterVarsity’s James Choung. Rather than the standard “Four Spiritual Laws” (1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; 2. Sin has separated you from God; 3. Jesus died to forgive our sins; 4. We must personally accept Christ as Savior), Choung suggests 4 circles (you can see it here). They are:

  • We were designed for good
  • We are damaged by evil
  • We are restored for better
  • We are sent together to heal

I like the approach because it is a direct presentation of the 4 major Biblical themes: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Thus, this Gospel presentation shows that the Gospel addresses society’s problems and not just our personal feelings of dissatisfaction. This approach also demonstrates that our decision to follow Jesus is not simply a matter of returning to personal piety, but includes a call to be involved in the mission of God. It emphasizes discipleship, not just quick decision. This is not only a more fully biblical presentation of the Gospel, it is also, in my opinion, a more “relevant” presentation for Western culture, which is asking the question of what “earthly good” the “heavenly Gospel” can do. Community service is all the rage right now, after all.

The major omission in this presentation, however, is that it leaves the centrality of God out of the Gospel. You can see it in its first point: “We were designed for good.” That is true. But even more importantly, we were designed for GOD. 

The result of our rebellion against God is that our world is marred by destruction and evil. The fruit of our living for God is that we lived in peace and harmony with each other and our world. The root of those problems, however, is that we have have rejected God’s rightful rule and flouted His glory.

In other words, the “4 circles” starts with a man-centered view of the world. They present
the Gospel as if our main problem was disharmony with creation and
our primary need was to be restored to the good we were created. These
are important aspects of the Gospel, but the main “problem” that
the Gospel addresses is that we have offended a holy God by trampling
on His rightful glory and before whose righteous wrath we stand in
hopeless condemnation. The main “benefit” it offers is restoration to that God and the preservation of His justice.

It’s not that anything in Choung’s presentation of the 4 circles is wrong, per se, just that it presents the Gospel in a way that makes the creation the focus of the Gospel rather than the Creator. It fails to confront the idolatrous, man-centered worldview in which fallen man lives. Previous evangelical presentations of the Gospel simply presented Jesus as the great “need-meeter” without addressing our self-centeredness; this presentation simply morphs that into a “He’ll meet your needs and then others’ needs too” form–still without addressing our self-ward focus.

Most distressing to me is that in the presentation, when the question of “why Jesus is necessary to salvation” (i.e. why can’t we just fix our problems ourselves?), the answer given has NOTHING to do with the righteous anger of a just and holy God. It just has to do with needing strength to perform the healing.

In short, it leaves the centrality of God out of the Gospel… and any presentation of the Gospel that does not make God the main point of the Gospel is a woefully deficient Gospel, don’t you think? Paul said that the primary point of the Gospel was a demonstration of God’s glory and that its primary motif was the satisfaction of God’s just wrath at our failure to live for His glory: “to demonstrate God’s justice at the present time, that He is both just and the justifier of the one who puts faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25). This Gospel presentation would be greatly improved by leaving out a single “o”: from “we were created for good” to “we were created for God.”

What do you think? Am I being too hard on this?