Do we make secondary issues the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Recently, I wrote about the topic of “What is the Gospel?” At this point, I think it’s important to answer what it is not. Now when I say the Gospel is not X, that does not mean that X is unimportant. X could be an issue worth studying on its own. It could even be something that is true. What I am saying is that we don’t want to marry it to the Gospel where that if X is not true, then we have no Christianity. So what are some things that the Gospel is not?
First, the Gospel is not inerrancy. Again, this does not mean that that is false, but it does mean that an error in the Bible does not mean we pack it all up and go home because Jesus did not rise from the dead. As I have said before, imagine going up to a skeptic. Their argument that Jesus didn’t rise? The Bible has errors in it. (This does happen. Someone like David McAfee in his book Disproving Christianity, which I have dealt with, argues against Christianity not by even touching the resurrection but by listing Bible contradictions.)
Suppose you respond to this person who has given you a web site of 101 Bible errors by going off and researching all of those errors and proving to your opponent’s satisfaction even that they are not errors. Will he convert? No. He’ll just go get another list of 101 errors. You will in turn be playing “Stump the Bible Scholar” over and over. In fact, you will STILL have to prove the resurrection lest he say that treating the resurrection as a fact is an error.
There are also plenty of devout Christians who do not believe in inerrancy. I disagree with them, but I don’t doubt their sincere love for Jesus. Of course, I am not opposed to Biblical reliability or anything like that, but the Bible is not an all-or-nothing game.
Creation is also not the Gospel. This is a big one in that we often think that unless the world was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago, then Christianity is false. Not for a moment. Someone still has to answer the question “What do you do with Jesus?” We all still have to explain the historical data surrounding Jesus.
Creation is a big one because so many ministries make their focus on creation. It’s as if if evolution were proven to be true, we would all be doomed. How would evolution show Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? The historical evidence is still right there. It still has to be explained somehow.
By the way, I mention young-earth creationism specifically because that’s usually the one this gets married to, but I would say the same if you married Christianity to old-earth creationism or to theistic evolution. Again, I am not saying don’t care about your view of creation or that it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying it’s not an essential.
Calvinism or Arminianism is not the Gospel. For the former, you can actually see a lot of Calvinists out there saying “Calvinism is the Gospel.” Well what does that mean for those of us who aren’t Calvinists? We don’t believe the Gospel then? Are we just second-rate Christians? What exactly?
Calvinism might explain how a person comes to believe, but how does that explain what happened to Jesus? It doesn’t. A Calvinist and an Arminian could use the exact same arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, I have many friends who are devout Calvinists and I have no wish to dissuade them from that, but I just caution them to please not marry it to the Gospel. Calvinists usually are the main ones doing this, but I’d say the same to Arminians and in fact to Molinists as well.
Eschatology is not the Gospel. Eschatology does have some tie-ins obviously with the resurrection, which is an eschatological event, but your view on eschatology is not the Gospel. This is probably the biggest one for me on the list because I am a staunch defender of orthodox Preterism. If I was shown to be wrong, I would have a hard time explaining a lot of passages, but my view of Jesus would still stand as far as the resurrection is concerned.
One exception I could make to this is the view that everything happened in 70 A.D. This position is problematic to me because I think in the end, it has to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Our future resurrection is said to be like His bodily resurrection. If our resurrection is not bodily, then neither was His, and that’s a big problem. That means Jesus did not really conquer death. Note then the one exception I have is an exception because of what it says about the resurrection.
As far as I’m concerned, these are the biggest kinds of issues often concerned with what the Gospel is. When I meet someone and I want to know if they’re a follower of Jesus, I ask them about their view of Him. I look for what they think about Him. If they accept His deity, bodily resurrection, and His being the second person of the Trinity, I normally have no problem whatsoever. Now could some of them have a false view of how they are saved? Yes. Some Protestants for instance can have a works view of salvation. I don’t think that disqualifies them. They can be saved in their ignorance. It’s also why I’m not ready to cast out my Catholic or Orthodox brothers and sisters.
When it comes to defending Christianity and the Gospel then, the #1 thing to defend is Jesus rising from the dead. If that’s false, then let’s pack it up and go home. If it’s true, then we will find an answer for the secondary issues somewhere along the way and even if we don’t, we still have Christianity.