We’ve been looking at how the gospel is like my wife’s purse: a bag filled with treasure. Some of those treasures seem pretty “ordinary.” Others are treasures that we’ve forgotten all about. And some you never knew about in the first place. If you have a gospel bag like that, what do you do?
With a purse like my wife’s there’s only one reliable method for discovering everything that lies within. Every now and then, you have to turn the bag over and empty it on the table, giving it several good shakes to make sure that each wrinkled corner surrenders its precious cargo. Then you can pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and examine what fell out.
That’s why I’m writing a book about the gospel. Like my wife’s purse, we need to dump the gospel on the table and rediscover its amazing contents. Some things will be relatively “ordinary,” treasures that we know well and use regularly, but whose true depth and mystery we need to see again. Others are things we’ve heard about, but have since forgotten. And if we look closely enough, we may even find some things that we never knew about in the first place. Regardless, sometimes we just need to pour a cup of coffee (latte, tea, chai…whatever), sit back, and experience again the amazing glory of God’s good news.
Spend some time unpacking the gospel. You may be surprised by what you find.
How Do You Do That?
Before I wrap this series up, I’d like to offer some suggestions for unpacking the gospel more. Some of these will be fairly obvious, but that’s okay. As we saw before, sometimes we need to be reminded about “ordinary” and obvious things.
1. Read the Bible as a Story
I’m sure most of us read the Bible at least occasionally. But we read the Bible for a variety of purposes: worship, moral advice, tips for successful living, learning about God, and so on. If you’re going to understand the gospel, though, you need to spend some time reading the Bible purely for the purpose of catching the overall story of salvation. Read it like a story. Don’t stop too long to ponder the many interesting and difficult theological questions. Just enjoy the story. Who is it about? Who are the other people in the story? What do the main “characters” want? How do they go about trying to get it? What problems arise along the way? How do they respond to those problems? Just enjoy the story.
It’s an amazing story. And like most stories, you need to read it for yourself. Although later I’ll recommend some books about the gospel, reading about the story just isn’t the same.
2. Attend a Church that Preaches the Gospel
I can’t emphasize this enough. The gospel isn’t one of those things that you can understand once and move on. We humans have an amazing ability for forgetting and distorting the gospel over time. So we need ways of hearing the gospel again. And again. And then some more.
To be clear, I’m not necessarily talking about churches that value “evangelistic” sermons. I grew up in churches like that. Many of these sermons have nothing to do with the gospel until you get to the very end. Then the pastor quickly runs through a 3-point gospel presentation and calls for a response. There may be a place for that, though I’m skeptical, but I’m talking about something else. If you really want to unpack the gospel regularly, you need a church where the sermons (and sermon series) routinely walk you through the whole story of salvation and connect that story to life and ministry today.
3. Share the Story with Others
I enjoy reading novels. Every now and then, one of my daughters will see me reading one and ask me what it’s about. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read the book, that question always trips me up. It takes a while to switch from someone who’d read the story to someone who understood the story well enough to explain it to someone else.
Sharing a story shapes the story-teller at least as much as the one listening.
So find someone to share the story with. And again, I’m not necessarily talking about evangelism, though sharing the story with people who don’t yet believe it is always a good thing to do. Since Christians also need to hear the story regularly and from different perspectives, you can share the story with just about anyone. If you want, share it with your dog. You’ll still benefit, though your dog may prefer playing fetch.
4. Find Some Good Books about the Gospel
I said above that you can’t replace reading the story for yourself. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still supplement the story with some other books. If nothing else, the Bible is a tad long. So it can help to read it in shorter forms.
And, if you just read the Bible, odds are that you’ll always read the story in exactly the same way every time. That would be fine if you understood the gospel perfectly. But you don’t. None of us do. So other books can let us see the gospel from different angles, stretching our horizons, and helping see more of how amazing the good news actually is.
So, what do you read? That’s a tough question to answer because there are a lot of really good books about the gospel out today. But here’s a short list to get you started. (Of course, the first book that you’ll want to read is mine. Sadly, it’s not out yet. So you’ll have to settle for these other books.)
- Darrell Bock, Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News
- J.D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary
- Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
- Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything
- Sean Gladding, The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible
- Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope
- Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (This one really is about the gospel. Trust me.)
What about you? Do you have any other suggestions for getting to know the gospel better? What are your favorite books about the gospel?
[This is an excerpt from my book Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story.]