Is your gospel missing something?

Hugh Whelchel » Biblical Theology Gospel

Your life will be shaped by some big story. Do you understand your part in the story, and how it calls you to participate in God’s mission of redemption?

The Bible opens with the creation of all things and ends with the renewal of all things. In between, it offers an interpretation of the meaning of all history.

One of the main reasons many Christians do not fully comprehend the biblical concepts of work, calling, and vocation is that we have lost the vision of this grand biblical narrative. The biblical narrative makes a comprehensive claim on all humanity, calling each one of us to find our place in God’s story.

This overarching narrative that we call the four-chapter gospel is the story that chronicles:

  • Creation: the way things were.
  • Fall: the way things are.
  • Redemption: the way things could be.
  • Restoration: the way things will be.

Yet over the past 150 years, the church in the Western world has looked at the Bible from a different and more limited perspective. In America, during the Second Great Awakening, revivalist preachers embraced a view of the gospel which focused on personal sin and individual salvation. While the movement had substantial positive effects, it and other historical events led to a truncated view of the gospel embraced by many Christians today, called the two-chapter gospel.

The two-chapter gospel

In the two-chapter gospel, the first chapter, the Fall, presents our problem: separation from God because of our sin. The second chapter, Redemption, presents the solution: Jesus Christ has come into the world to bring salvation and reunite us with God through his work on the cross.

The biblical narrative makes a comprehensive claim on all humanity, calling each one of us to find our place in God’s story.

While sin and salvation are undeniable realities, they are not the complete gospel. In this abridged version, Christianity becomes all about us. Our salvation simply becomes a bus ticket to heaven, and what we do while we wait for the bus is unimportant.

The two-chapter gospel ignores Creation and the final Restoration. It leaves out God’s reason for our creation and the Christian’s final destination. The Bible teaches that salvation is not an end in itself; it is a means to fulfill God’s ultimate plan for humanity on this earth in this age.

As Nancy Pearcey put it in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity:

Today religion appeals almost solely to the needs of the private sphere – needs for personal meaning, social bonding, family support, emotional nurturing, practical living, and so on. [This] represents a truncated view of Christianity’s claims to be the truth about all of reality.

Dallas Willard calls this two-chapter gospel the “gospel of sin-management.” As my friend Mike Metzger writes:

The new starting line was Genesis Three. It reminds people that they are fallen sinners. We’re both—made in God’s image and sinners. Yet the two-chapter gospel accentuates our wounds. The four-chapter gospel elevates our worth as image-bearers of God. The two-chapter story focuses on our deficiency. The four-chapter story reminds us of our dignity.

The gospel, when understood in its fullness, is not solely about individual happiness and fulfillment; it is not all about me. Only the unified biblical narrative, the four-chapter gospel, has the authority to enable us to withstand the competing humanist narrative currently shaping our culture.

The Bible teaches that salvation is not an end in itself; it is a means to fulfill God’s ultimate plan for humanity.

Tim Keller puts it this way:

The purpose of redemption is not to escape the world but to renew it. . . . It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things. . . . If we lose the emphasis on conversion, we lose the power of the gospel for personal transformation. We will not work sacrificially and joyfully for justice. On the other hand, if we lose the emphasis on the corporate—on the kingdom—we lose the power of the gospel for cultural transformation.

It is through the four-chapter gospel that we see and understand both the individual and corporate nature of God’s redemptive work.

Our role in his story

There is another important practical reason to read the Bible as one narrative: It enables us to understand our identity as God’s people as we see our role in his story. From this perspective, we clearly see our call to participate in God’s redemptive mission.

The truth is that the whole of our lives will be shaped by some grand story. The only question is, which grand story will shape our lives? 

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