A friend sent me a draft e-mail, that he wrote to a family member, who has rejected historic Christianity for progressive Christianity. He was asked to give the basics of salvation, and his attempt to explain the gospel to her is below. My advice included taking out the Christianese terms. Do you think he did a good job? I think his emphasis on what is not the gospel (what needs to be rejected) makes this a first-class explanation of the gospel.
So, you’ve asked the 10,000 talent question (alluding to Matthew 18:23-35). You are basically asking me what I think the Gospel is. I’ll try to answer that in a minimalistic way, using my own characterization of it rather than just making doctrinal statements.
One must accept that there is a God, who is a higher authority than themselves. How much one must first believe about that God is debatable, but candidate beliefs would be that He is personal (having a mind like, but greater than, ours), powerful, and the creator of this cosmos and everything in it — He owns it all. Our natural intuition is to see beauty, order, complexity, and “design” in nature. There is a difference in belief vs unbelief in that some think it is just the appearance of design and some acknowledge their intuition that it actually is designed.
One must acknowledge their moral intuitions, and recognize that there are actually right and wrong things in this world. It’s not just whatever you want to do, or whatever society decides in a given time or culture.
Given that morality is then understood to be a transcendent thing (universal and independent of time and culture), the connection is made to God as the author of this moral law.
One must then recognize that he/she regularly fails to live up to this law, even according to just their meager understanding of it, and even by the standards of morality that they make up for other people.
One must not try to suppress this, or therapize it away. One must recognize there is a problem and real moral culpability. One must recognize that they feel guilty and have self-esteem issues because they actually do have guilt and issues.
One must make the connection between guilt and their standing before God. Being good sometimes and in some ways does not erase the bad you do, past, present, or future. One must be willing to bend the knee to God’s will regarding morality.
One must also come to see the moral failure (sin) in their lives as a bad thing that they’d like to be rid of, rather than excusing it as the fault of others, or revelling in it as part of the pleasure of life, or shrugging it off as just “who I am.”
One must appeal to God in these matters for both forgiveness and help in living as they should.
Given that God has provided a champion for the problem that humanity faces (the backstory of which not all will fully know), one whose heart is truly yielded to all these things will naturally and eagerly receive Word of this as Good News. God has solved the seemingly irreconcilable demands of both justice and forgiveness in that champion.
Those with ears to hear will receive this solution — Jesus — and believe what He has done in life and on the cross for their sake — the resurrection being both confirmation of His divine authority and also the sign of the defeat of death which awaits us all, and is the only barrier between us and facing this God whom we fail at every turn. They will believe on (or upon) Jesus as Lord and their means of salvation, surrendering dependence upon their own ideas of self-righteousness and earning the favor of God.
The outward expression that we have understood and accepted these things is that we have made Jesus Lord and committed ourselves to following Him, conform our character to His, resist our sinful inclinations, and are interested in learning all about Who God is and what has been done for us in Christ.
This commitment to the Lordship of Christ naturally leads to the acceptance of subsequent beliefs. If Jesus is indeed Lord, then He holds all authority, and what He said and taught to His followers is our guide — the New Testament. And if this is the divine story, as intended by God for men, then we have reason to believe that it is comprehensible to us, and He will insure (in spite of the fallibility of men and demonic plots) that its essential message will not be lost or corrupted until all things are competed. Given that Jesus affirmed every categorical section of the Old Testament, and claimed to be its promised Messiah, then that, too, is a source of truth and understanding.
Those doctrines that are sometimes characterized as “essential” for salvation, are merely the highlights of this redemption narrative, which are those things being clear and consistent, and which indicate that someone has yielded themselves to the authority of Christ and the scriptures, and understands these things. It is not that believing them is what saves, but they are what the saved naturally come to believe. Confessing them is the tangible, verbal act of affirming the Gospel, but is not necessarily identical to a life committed to putting it into practice, which is saving faith.