There are two ways to present the gospel. Tim Keller calls on a systematic-theological way to do it and a biblical-theological way to do it. We need both ways for different times and contexts. We at CFBC are constantly drilled and taught and brought up in thinking of it in systematic-theological terms. I regularly teach the four propositions/truths that are timeless: God, sin, Christ, faith. (Hear John Piper explain it here.) These statements are true, but they don’t really tell the story of the Bible though they are based on and a true explanation of the biblical message.
The other way to present the gospel is biblical-theological, which takes us through the story of the Bible. This is an effective and helpful way to explain and present the gospel, particularly to postmoderns who love stories and despise propositions. Again there are 4 words:
1. Creation – Theme: nature of God; nature of people.
2. Rebellion – Theme: tension between God and people; Messiah (predicted).
3. Redemption – Theme: Messiah (arrived)
4. Consummation – Theme: Messiah (returned)
I’ve known this way for a few years, but have not heard it effectively and engagingly told until yesterday. Here’s Randy Newman telling the gospel by telling the story of the Bible (Questioning Evangelism, Kregel:2004, pp. 138-140) (see if you can identify the main points and themes in this quotation):
When everything began, there already existed an eternal God who created all that is. He created us–people–as the high point of His creation and fashioned us after Him. We were made to have an intimate relationship with this creative, communicative, loving , powerful, and sovereign God. Maintaining this intimacy was the most important thing for people–Adam and Eve. Today, it’s still the most important thing for us. Something within us cries out for this kind of intimacy.
It is unfortunate, however, that something within the first man and woman rebelled against this relationship. Just as we still do today, they sought to be their own bosses, thinking that, on their own, they could provide what was best. The results were disastrous–and eternal. God is eternal and He created us as eternal beings, thus, the consequence of their rebellion was eternal–eternal separation from Him and everything that is good and holy.
The recurring themes within the Bible’s stories reflect this created-for-God/rebelling-against-God tension. The lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the collective experience of Israel embody this tension. God’s choosing of Israel and His giving of the Law to them showed how a relationship between God and a group of people was supposed [to] be. It was to be a relationship characterized by holiness and graciousness on one side, obedience and worship on the other. The poetry of the Psalms and other wisdom literature paints pictures of how it feels to be close to God (worship) and the results of turning away from Him (lamentation, confession, and alienation). The Prophets and other didactic parts of the Bible taught the Israelites ways to draw close to God and warned them of the consequences of not doing so.
Another theme intertwines with these stories–the theme of an Anointed One, a Person who would someday rectify the alienation and eliminate the tension. He was introduced in the Bible right after the first rebellion and was identified as a human being (Gen. 3:!5). As the best prophet ever, He would someday be our teacher (Deut. 18:18).
Whenever this Anointed One was mentioned, an unusual language was employed that caused the reader to slow down. Like rumble strips on a highway slow you down as you approach a toll booth, messianic prophecies slowed readers down and made them wonder, Who will fulfill such things?
He was described as a King who will someday reign (2 Samuel 7), a Servant who will someday suffer and die (Isa. 53), and a judge who will someday return (Zech. 12-14), and He was actually declared to be God Himself in human form (Isa. 9:6).
The dramatic high point of the Bible occurs when this Anointed One arrives–as a baby who is born precisely when, where, and how it was predicted. He taught us the most amazing lessons ever proclaimed and pointed to Himself as the One in whom people could find their redemption. His death paid for sin, and His resurrection validated the completion of that payment. He was the One to whom the Bible had been pointing and the One for whom our restless hearts have been crying. His name is Jesus, a name meaning “salvation.”
The Bible ends with the consummation of the story–a picture of eternity when all of the redeemed people relate to their God with perfect intimacy. Fulfilling the very reason that they were created, they worship this God the way He deserves and without the hindrances of sin, sickness, sadness, and death. If we respond to this story in the way it says we should, we will experience an abundant, eternal life–in quality and quantity–united with our Creator-Redeemer God.