What is the gospel?

For over two decades I thought I knew the gospel. I believed the gospel, preached the gospel, taught the gospel and shared the gospel. But it occurred to me sometime around 2009 that I could not articulate the gospel. The more I tried to answer the question, what is the gospel, the more elusive it seemed. Almost every Christian talks about the gospel. We say it is necessary, critical, essential, obligatory and primary. But what is it?

These days I have been increasing my reading to help answer such questions. I took a friend’s suggestion to read “What We Believe And Why” by George Byron Koch. The first point in the book is that we should differentiate between essentials and non-essentials of our Christian faith.

I would hope all Christians would agree that the gospel of Jesus is an essential. I believe the gospel is the one great, unifying rally cry that should permeate our lives. In my mind, the gospel is so essential that over the past three years I have been rebuilding my entire theology, bibliology, christology, pneumatology, cosmology, hamartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology all on the gospel. I have thrown out all my beliefs and will accept no belief unless it stems from the gospel. I am defining my faith based on an articulated defense of the gospel of Jesus.

Remember Jesus Christ. From a Biblical standpoint, we don’t have to look very far in the text to find the clear definition of the gospel: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained”  (2 Tim 2:8-9).

A more common, more detailed version is 1 Cor 15:1-5: “1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. ”

Clearly the gospel of Jesus stands on two pillars: 1. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. 2. Jesus died but came back to life. So in my mind, the basic articulation of the gospel (the “good news”) of Jesus Christ is this: Jesus is the promised Christ who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets through his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Forgiveness, not condemnation. I love the titles of Koch’s sections in his book. In the one entitled “Being Sanctified is not Forcing Correct Behavior on Others”, he writes (Kindle edition, location 1796, Chapter 7: Living With Unbelievers):

“I have seen people brought to tears by the forgiveness of God, who came to the altar in surrender, and who shared there the struggles that had brought them to the church and to the altar. Instead of being welcomed, they were told how terrible their sin was. The accuser had his theology straight but lacked love. The point of the Gospel is forgiveness, not condemnation. It is out of the soil of forgiveness that holiness grows, not out of the venom of condemnation.”

The “gospel of” statements. If the Bible declares the gospel, then certainly the Bible must define the gospel? Yes, I believe it does. I found numerous verses that explain the meaning of the gospel. What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, died and rose to life according to the Scriptures?

Here is what Scripture says the gospel is about…

  • It’s about Jesus

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1).

  • It’s about the kingdom

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14).

  • It’s about God’s grace

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

  • It’s about the glory of Christ

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

  • It’s about salvation

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (Eph 1:13).

  • It’s about peace

“…and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15).

Questions to initiate the dialog:

1. How would you articulate the gospel in 7 words or less?
2. What is essential to understanding the gospel?
3. What are the effects of the gospel on a person or community?


  1. Thank God that after 95 comments on “cult leaders,” we can perhaps change gears…and catch a breather.

    Thanks Brian! The main thing I realized about the gospel over the last few years is that there are NO COMMANDS in the gospel. The gospel (evangelion) is good news, NOT good advice. The gospel does not tell you to do anything.

    There are no commands, instructions, warnings, admonitions, or imperatives in the gospel. Granted, once the gospel is embraced, our life changes, and the fruits of the gospel blossom in us: repentance, faith, good works.

    This was so revolutionary to me because my entire Christian life of proclaiming the gospel for over 2 decades ALWAYS involved pressuring my Bible students to DO something: decide, commit, repent, make disciples, love God, feed sheep, etc.

    I had to repent, and unlearn what I did, and stop myself from pounding imperatives.

    • Excellent point, Ben. In fact, that is the point. Sometime recently the Spirit taught me that the gospel is about “nothing”. That is, there is no command in the gospel, and the gospel is not about us or what we do. The gospel is about what God has done and will do. The gospel cost God everything, but it costs us nothing to receive, just repentance (a change of mind) as in Revelation 22:17. The gospel is the free gift of the water of life from Jesus.

      This is where I used to get lost. How can we reconcile the plethora of commands in the Bible with this grace of God? I’ve taken a beating online (in forums elsewhere) lately because I won’t let go of this grace, and I will apply such grace toward all people in all situations and in all kinds of sins. I have discovered that grace is the engine of sanctification toward holiness (Titus 2:1-15 esp. Titus 2:11-14). And the furious love of God resolves the grace vs. law issues for me, as in Job 1:1-22 esp. Job 1:12. In fact, Job 1:12 has become my favorite gospel verse.

      I contend that if we understand the gospel in this way (the way you describe) then we begin to understand some perplexing statements made by Apostle Paul (like in Hebrews 4:1-16). And we begin to understand why Jesus expressed the gospel as a light and easy burden (Matthew 11:24-30). And we begin to see that the gospel was preached throughout history, even in the Garden.

  2. Great question. If I had to summarise the gospel today, I’d say it’s about:

    1) Forgiveness (of sin)
    2) Deliverance (being set free from Satan’s hold to live as we were created to be)
    3) Healing (physical, emotional, etc.)

    I think the good news of the gospel in the early church included all these aspects, but the modern church might focus more on 1) than 2) and 3). 1) will get us into the kingdom, but 2) will set us free from Satan’s bondage to live a life of power in the Spirit doing the works of Jesus, which includes loving others, performing miracles, walking in the gifts of the Spirit, etc. (e.g., John 13:34, John 14:12, 1 Cor 12:7-11). 3) is related to 1) and 2) but Jesus’ ministry definitely included healing and a gospel message which isn’t accompanied by a real demonstration of Jesus’ power to heal isn’t bringing *all* the good news. (1 Thes 1:5, 1 Cor 4:20) After witnessing a few healing miracles in our ministry recently, I realized that as Christians it is our authority and responsibility to heal people in the name of Jesus as part of our *gospel message*.

    • Ray, I think you are indeed expressing 3 aspects of the gospel. I am still learning how to differentiate the gospel from the effects of the gospel. I feel like I’m still missing the right word. I’m not sure if “aspects” is correct. But there is a nature of the gospel that is still within the realm of defining the gospel, almost like a scientific criteria. And then there are all the effects of the gospel, such as transforming power, effervescent joy, etc.

      As I study the work God did at the cross, I have discovered that there are not only the 3 “aspects” but at least 5. I can see that Scripture identifies five realities of our human condition, which correlate to five aspects of the gospel. I am still working on the right words to articulate this. Here is how I see the full spectrum of the gospel and how the gospel relates to our humanity. This understanding has opened my eyes to begin to see a glimpse of how marvelous, wondrous and magnificent the gospel of Jesus is!

      1. shame > Our shame can be resolved by the gospel of Christ’s glory, brought about by love.

      2. sin > Our sin (intentional and unintentional) can be resolved by the gospel of grace, fueled by by forgiveness.

      3. selfishness > Our selfishness (or self-centered-ness) can be resolved by the gospel of God’s kingdom, opened to us by God’s generosity as we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      4. curse > Our cursed world/nature (unexplained bad things) can be resolved by the gospel of peace, as we rest on contentment and explore the mystical reality of all-surpassing power.

      5. death > Our certain death can be resolved by the gospel of salvation, as we gain joy by putting our hope in the promises of God.

  3. Thanks Ray. Thank God for the healing miracles that you have experienced through your gospel ministry. It is surely such an encouragement to know that God is in our midst!

    I love this quote from Tim Keller: “The gospel is not about something
    we do but about what has been done for us, and yet the gospel results in a whole new way of life. This grace (of the gospel) and the good deeds that result must be both distinguished and connected.”

    Based on my observation, I think that UBF often does not distinguish between the “gospel,” and the “results of the gospel,” such as repentance, obedience, mission, etc. As a result many messages and Bible studies think they are preaching the gospel when their point is “live a life of mission.”

    They are simply stating a result of the gospel in the form of an imperative (live for mission), but they are NOT preaching the gospel. I think that such an understanding and explanation will clarify much of the confusion about the way UBF teaches the Bible.

    That is why I have often heard people say to me that no matter what passage of the Bible we study the point seems to be always the same: MISSION. Encouraging mission is NOT preaching the gospel, because mission is the result of hearing and embracing the gospel when it is clearly proclaimed.

    • Ben, you’ve touched on a key issue, as I see it. The problem exists in a lot of Christendom today, and I believe it explains the dual trends going on right now, at least in America, of people falling out of favor with “church” and yet gathering in larger and larger numbers to “fellowship”. I think that people will go where the gospel is preached, just as they did in Jesus’ time.

      The problem is idolatry, as I see it and as Tim Keller seems to point out correctly. We Christians have made the Bible into an idol, mission into an idol and even repentance into an idol. I call these the three new “isms” of our generation: biblicism, missionism and repentancism.

      Of course I made up those words (I think), and all 3 are important. However, as George Koch points out, they are not essential to the gospel. For example, the criminals on the cross next to Jesus had no chance to do a mission, no physical Bible and had no chance to “repent of their sins”.

      However, Jesus preached the gospel to them. One criminal accepted. He did in fact repent (change his mind), but he did not “repent of his sins” in any sense. He simply accepted the grace Jesus offered. That is the gospel. That is what then fills me with an over-the-top desire to engage in dialogues week after week, to serve in our church and to live my life for other people.

  4. Teach a man to obey, and he’ll be holy for a while. Teach a man to believe the gospel, and he’ll be holy forever.

    • Maria Peace
      Maria Peace


      Thank you for this refreshing post. Like Ray I want to say 1. The Gospel to me is about forgiveness. When I realized that Jesus forgave me, then I can forgive myself and others. 2. The essential in understanding the Gospel is God’s grace and mercy. Grace is to receive something we do not deserve and mercy is to not receive what we do deserve. 3. The affect of the Gospel in a person and community is Shalom. This is the full restoration of harmony in a person and the community they belong to.

    • Maria, amen, amen and amen! I wonder why it is so hard for us humans to keep such things clear?

  5. Thanks, Brian and Ben. Your point about separating the aspects of the *gospel message* from the *effects* of or the *response* to the gospel is very good. Another biblical example that comes to mind is Zacchaeus. Jesus came to meet him in his home and Zacchaeus was so happy to know his grace that he would come to dine with even the *worst* sinners. In Scripture, there is no record of Jesus telling him to *do* anything for others. But naturally Zacchaeus wanted to give half his possessions to the poor and pay back those he had cheated four times the amount. There was something about meeting Jesus (gospel) that led him to respond in this way.

    Mike Bickle has a quote I like: “Lovers will always outwork workers.” Those who are madly in love with Jesus will do crazy things for him with faith and joyful obedience, and will actually *do* more than those who are focussed on doing stuff. They will also be more effective and not get burned out. It’s kinda like gospel grace catapults us into a totally different and divine realm of *good works*. Works just happen naturally out of the overflow of spending time in intimacy and rest in Jesus’ glorious presence.

    • Ray, Zacchaeus is an amazing example of gospel-driven sanctification! I believe you’ve expressed one of the great paradoxes of Christian faith. The more you rest in the grace of God, the more inspired work you will do. The mystery is Christ living in you.

      Your mention of Zacchaeus immediately brought to mind another story, that of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. After a dialog about obeying the law (in good Jewish fashion I might add!), Jesus tells the rich young ruler that perfection is the standard, and if he wants to be perfect, he must: “…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      This tells me that obedience is related (somehow) to treasure in heaven, but not to salvation. The disciples even wonder after this: Who then can be saved? And Jesus’ famous reply is: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The gospel is about following Jesus, about something only possible with God, which then infuses us with obedience beyond anything possible by our own capability or good desire.

    • Ray, in pondering your thoughts more tonight, I am finding something very helpful. You talk of the “gospel message”. I think, perhaps, the message of the gospel is a big part of what has gotten lost and confusing for me over the years. The definition of the gospel has remained constant for me for over 25 years. But I am finding it immensely helpful to consider the message of the gospel and the influence of the gospel and the Person of the gospel.

    • Yeah, I think that’s at the heart of the issue for me as we’ll. Depending on our understanding (and thus sharing) of the ‘gospel message’ I believe we will get very different responses from people (and this includes our own response).

      I’m finding it helpful to think of the origin of the word gospel: good + spel = good news. With this is mind we can rephrase the question of the meaning of the gospel message to what is the good news Jesus brought with him? In reading the other responses I was again reminded of how shallow my understanding is and definitely want to read the books suggested. But one idea that is crossing my mind a lot recently is the aspect of a ‘kingdom experience’. For example, when John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the promised Messiah, Jesus replied ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’ (Luke 7:22) I believe Jesus’ gospel message didn’t only include words. It also included real kingdom experience through things like healing. Ultimately healings should lead to praise to the God that heals but I feel that many Christians have come not to expect miracles although I don’t think this would have happened in the first century. The year I was able to experience some miracles first hand and let’s just say that it was good news for everyone there and God’s name was glorified!

  6. Joe Schafer

    Brian, thanks for writing and posting this article.

    This is a very important topic. Perhaps the most crucial one of our times.

    A few years ago, someone whom I respect remarked (and this happened to be in a discussion about UBF, but it applies much more broadly), “I wonder how long a Christian organization can survive without renewing its basic understanding of the gospel.” It was a rhetorical question, of course. The implied answer was, “Not very long.” When the gospel is merely assumed, and longer articulated in a fresh, passionate, relevant and faithful manner, the lifeblood has been drained out, and rigor mortis quickly sets in.

    Brian, I have been asking this same question for the past 2-3 years. I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet (I probably never will), but I have learned a few things, and searching for the answer to this question has invigorated my spiritual life and made the Scriptures come alive.

    Like many evangelicals, I used to think that a presentation of “God’s Plan of Salvation” (as in, for example, the Four Spiritual Laws) was an adequate way to present the gospel. That presentation essentially boils down to

    gospel = the message that we are sinners, and if we believe that Christ died for our sins, then we are justified by faith and after we die we will go to heaven for all eternity.

    While the Bible does present God’s plan of salvation, I can no longer say that this is an adequate presentation of the gospel. Some of my reasons:

    1. Jesus didn’t clearly teach justification by faith. He hinted at it at times, but the centerpiece of his message was the kindom of God. If you say “gospel = justification by faith” then you are in the awkward position of saying that Jesus didn’t really articulate the gospel, and that the writers of the four gospels did not really articulate the gospel.

    2. The apostolic preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts didn’t focus on justification by faith either. They tended to focus on the resurrection and the lordship of Christ.

    3. Paul clearly taught justification by faith. But it wasn’t always his main message when he was gospeling. These days, in my reading of the Pauline epistles, I’m noticing that a great deal of Paul’s logic is driven by the themes that (a) Christ is the center of all things in heaven and on earth and (b) believers are “in Christ,” sharing a mystical union with Christ, sharing in his death, resurrection, ascension and reign.

    4. In the “God’s Plan of Salvation” approach to the gospel, the resurection is often treated as an afterthought. When I happen to hear old-school evangelical radio programs (like Unshackled), I’m astounded by the fact that the person presenting “the gospel” always declares that “Jesus Christ paid the price for your sins” but frequently neglects to mention the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The writers of the NT never treated the resurrection as an afterthought. In their gospeling, the resurrection was always up front and center.

    5. The “God’s Plan of Salvation” approach often neglects to mention the Holy Spirit. That is odd, because when Jesus preached the gospel (e.g., to Nicodemus) he emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. Paul almost never fails to mention the Holy Spirit. The life of a Christian is a Spirit-powered life.

    6. The “God’s Plan of Salvation” approach also usually ignores the resurrection of the body and the redemption of the earth. It supposes that heaven is our true home, and suggests that we will be there forever as disembodied spirits. But I believe the Bible teaches that human beings are embodied creatures made to live on this earth, and the message of a renewed and recreated earth (as in the final chapters of Revelation) is central to the Christian gospel. The last two statements in the Apostles Creed are about this, so it’s clear to me that the ancient Christians believed it was essential.

    There is a very lively and productive (and, may I add, civil) debate going on in evangelical circles about this very question: What is the gospel? One of the most thought-provoking books on this subject that I have seen is The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, which came out a year ago. The book that Brian mentions, What We Believe and Why by George Byron Koch, is also a fantastic resource. I’m about 40% through that book, and it’s awesome.

    Sorry for writing so much. It’s obvious that this is a topic that I’m passionate about.

    When the UBFriends website got started two years ago, I had high hopes that it would become a forum where Christians inside and outside of UBF, UBF leaders and ordinary folk, could engage in lively dialogue about issues like this. Perhaps it will still evolve into something like that. This article is a healthy step in that direction. But two years ago, I was naive in two respects. First, I underestimated the degree of dysfunction within the UBF organization. The organization is really unhealthy and cannot survive much longer unless major procedural and cultural shifts take place. I see some positive signs but also some discouraging resistance. We need a breakthrough. Second, I underestimated the depth to which current and former UBF members have been wronged and hurt by UBF discipleship practices over the last four decades. Many have told me that the discussions on this website have become too negative, unbalanced, bitter, etc., implying that this website is the problem. This website has not caused any of that. It has only exposed some of the raw wounds that were already there, wounds that have been festering year after year and have never been addressed or even acknowledged by UBF leaders (including myself). We need a breakthrough in that area too. I hope and pray that these breakthroughs will come soon, so that individuals and the organization will start to heal and get on with the real business of the church, which is to understand and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Brian is trying to do here. But I am convinced that we cannot get on with that business in any real way, at least not in the context of the organization, without some dramatic and visible repentance and renewal taking place at the corporate level.

    • These days I am learning from my wife who is embarking on an English PhD. One word she uses a lot is “meme“. I think you pointed out a couple gospel memes, Joe, and shared some important shortcomings they have. Those memes had a purpose and helped introduce people to the gospel, but they are not the gospel themselves.

      I think we all need to be willing to “lay down our memes” and discuss the gospel. I think the Jews are far better at this than us Gentiles. Jews know the power of debating and then leaving two or more ideas on the table, acknowledging that both ideas have value. I have learned from Jews to accept the power of “and”. We Christians tend to live in the world of “either/or” and end up shattering our own glass houses.

  7. Joe Schafer

    BTW: as an example of the lively debate going on in evangelical circles about the definition of the gospel, take a look at this nice article:


    • Thanks for sharing Joe. I have felt like using Apostle Paul’s expression in Galatians 5:12 from time to time this past year! I am sure that such comments were the reason Apostle Paul was accused of being a troublemaker.

  8. Thanks for your helpful comment and link, Joe!

    I started to understand that something was foul with my understanding of the gospel when I recognized that I was not even able to explain “who is going to heaven and why” to my then 6-year old son in a honest way that I found convincing myself. Evangelical Christians believe that the minimum required for a person to go to heaven is that he or she “believes in Jesus Christ”. But what then will happen with all the people who were born before Jesus, or who have never heared about him, or who have heared only a distorted gospel or rose up in a culture where it was difficult to get in strong contact with the gospel? Will all these people not be saved? Will they even go to a place known as “hell”? If God made everything, did He really create such a place? How does God feel if people are eternally tortured in such a place just for failing to have the right faith (not to speak of failing to “deny themselves and take up their cross of mission”)? No serious person and no person who believes in a loving God can believe that, yet if you take Evangelical confessions literally, you are required to believe such things. Many Christians prefer to just not think about these questions and would answer me I should ask only about my own salvation, not about otehrs (sometimes referring to Lk 13:1-5), but this is absolutely no satisfying solution for me. Also, if I’m required to care only about my own salvation, why should I care about evangelizing people then? So it does not work out any way. Yes, I agree it’s necessary to re-think the gospel. Otherwise, I could profess with my mouth, but my heart deep down will not really believe and my mind will not understand what I proclaim.

  9. Joe Schafer

    Chris, you’ve put your finger on an evangelical sore spot.

    In one sense, the doctrines of eternal damnation aren’t core teachings of the Christian faith. In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess of Jesus, “He descended into hell,” not quite sure what that means, but we aren’t required to say, “I believe in damnation and eternal, conscious torment for everyone who doesn’t confess Jesus as his Savior.”

    On the other hand, our beliefs regarding hell are extremely important, because they affect our understanding of the character of God, not to mention how/why we evangelize and how we relate to nonbelievers.

    I agree with you that many Christians refuse to ask this question, pointing to passages such as Luke 13:23-24, where Jesus appears to say, “Don’t ask about the salvation of others; just make sure that you are going through the narrow door yourself.” But the question needs to be addressed, because for many it is a stumbling block to faith. Huge numbers of people claim that they can’t believe in or worship a God who would create people with the foreknowledge that they would be damned to hell for all eternity. This is a question about God’s character, and such questions are never trivial.

    I don’t have a full answer for you. But I am convinced that there are at least some non-Christians (people who don’t consciously profess faith in Jesus) who will be saved. I don’t know how many. But there must be some.

    Roger E. Olson, a Christian writer whom I like (even though I don’t always agree with him), recently blogged about this. He said that we ought to make a distinction between being “Chriatian” and being “saved.” They aren’t necessarily the same thing. We know that there are plenty of Old Testament believers who never heard of Jesus and yet were saved. And it would be illogical to think that this is no longer a possibility after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He wrote this:


    Logically, if you can think of even one example of someone who was saved but not Christian (when Christianity existed), the distinction has to be made. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead there were no doubt people in the world who had a right relationship with God through what some call “Abrahamic faith”–faithful Jewish people of God and God-fearing gentiles. Some of them died before any Christian apostle or other emissary reached them with the good news of Jesus Christ. If they went to hell just because they never heard of Jesus, then Jesus’ death on the cross unsaved them. That’s absurd. For that reason (it would be enough) I am an inclusivist of a sort. I believe there are people in the world today who have something like Abrahamic faith–faith in the God of Jesus Christ. I believe such people, like those covenant people of God and God-fearing gentiles who lived in the ancient world and died before any Christian missionary reached them, are saved. I don’t know who they are or claim to have any litmus test to detect them. That there were such people then proves to me that it is possible to be saved without being Christian. And then there are all those people who claim to be “Christian” who know nothing about Jesus Christ except intellectually and have no personal commitment to or relationship with him. I doubt their salvation, but I leave them in God’s hands.


    That comment by Roger E. Olson appeared here:


    Certain evangelicals have insisted that “eternal, conscious torment for all those who don’t believe in Jesus” must be a key doctrine of the faith. Perhaps they are afraid that, if this hard line were dropped, then Christians will lose the primary motivation to evangelize nonbelievers. But other parts of the Church have not been so insistent. Many ancient and current streams of thought among Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christianity leave a lot of wiggle room to hope that at least some nonChristians will be saved. And they do not believe that because they are “liberal” or want to be “popular.” They have good, solid logical and biblical and historical reasons for believing that.

    Suppose someone hears a presentation of “the gospel” (by some definition) but rejects the message because the people proclaiming that message appear very unChristlike in their attitudes, words and actions. Has that person rejected Christ? I don’t think so. He has not personally encountered Christ in any real way; he has only encountered untChristlike Christians, and he has rejected them but not yet rejected Christ.

    • Alec Sitalo

      Roger E. Olson:
      Logically, if you can think of even one example of someone who was saved but not Christian (when Christianity existed), the distinction has to be made
      It can be agreed what Roger E. Olson sais here, except for one thing: here proof requires not “if you can think of even one example of someone…”, it requires to show an example of such saved non-Christian. Such person doesn’t exist in fact, and that’s why Roger E. Olson doesn’t show him, which could be much easer.
      What christians know about gentile world is: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them… so that they are without excuse…” (Rom 1:19,20) And apostle Paul says below, that the reason why those who didn’t hear about Jesus die is their heavy sins, not that they didn’t hear the gospel.
      Joe Schafer:
      Many ancient and current streams of thought among Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christianity leave a lot of wiggle room to hope that at least some nonChristians will be saved.
      These streams are not Biblical. Jesus sais: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5)
      As for righteous people before Christ, they were saved on the Great Sabbath, when He went to hell. “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1Pet.3:19) and after that “he led captivity captive” (Eph.4:8)
      God is everywhere, he knows those who seek him very well and sends them missionaries, so that they can accept Jesus. But he doesn’t send missionaries to those people who, he knows (because he forsees everything), will deny him, because in that case they will be beaten with many stripes (Lk 12:47), but God doesn’t want it.
      Concerning eternity of damnation of sinners.
      Firstly, the Bible doesn’t give any hint to understand that otherwise.
      Second, if punishment is not eternal, then why should beatitude be eternal? It is said in Mth.25:46: “these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” In Greek here “everlasting” and “eternal” is one word.
      Third, even consulting the history of ancient Eastern Church (VI c.) gives us damnation “If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place, let him be anathema” (IXth anathema against Origen) http://www.arcaneknowledge.org/catholic/origen3.htm#s3_3

    • Alec, I haven’t seen you here before, thanks for writing. Let me ask you a simple question then. Imagine a person who a) never had a chance to meet Christians or learn the gospel, or b) met Christians, but only those who misrepresented the gospel or behaved in evil ways. Think of any concrete example, such as an Arabian man 900 years ago who witnessed the massacres commited by the crusaders, or a native American 600 years ago before the oh-so-good Christians came to America, or a person in North Korea these days who never came in touch with the Bible because it’s suppresed by the government, or a person who was raised in a legalist Christian environment with no love but cruelty and beatings etc. so he never understood the gospel and got a bad impression of Christianity. None of these people could “accept Jesus” as Evangelicals claim is necessary. Do you really believe all of these people are not only not saved, but even go to hell and will be eternally tortured there? Please answer yes or no (as you don’t want to “wiggle”).

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, that’s an excellent question.

      The same could be asked about aborted children and infants who die before they have a chance to hear the gospel. Are they saved? Most Christians say yes, even though I don’t know of any solid biblical evidence for it. The inference is made not from scripture verses but from basic understanding of the character of God. If someone preaches that God must damn them to eternal conscious torment for all eternity, that is a message that I won’t accept, based on what I believe of God’s character. God is love.

    • @Chris. I think that you are putting too much emphasis on the human element here. The Bible and history shows that the most unlikely people, i.e. those who were perhaps the most disadvantaged, somehow received the gospel. A while back I heard a story about a prominent Muslim cleric who, completely devoid of any biblical teaching and with no access to a Bible, somehow had a vision of Jesus while he was in confinement somewhere. He distinctly heard Jesus words from John 10:11, “I am the good Shepherd.” He didn’t understand it at all at the time because he never read a Bible and in fact he had the whole Quran memorized, a book which explicitly opposes the major tenets of Christianity and the gospel. He only remembered being enveloped by a deep sense of well-being and love. At that, he accepted Christ and later learned where that quote came from when he read a bible. He has now dedicated his life to preach the gospel to Muslims though he faces the prospect of martyrdom.

      This story illustrates that we can never negate the ability of God to save whom he wants to save. Even if someone is exposed to anti-Christian philosophy for many years, God gives the ability (for he helps us by gifting us faith to believe in him) to accept his pardon when he offers it to them. Moreover, the responsibility falls to the one whom rejects this offer; there will be no excuse because God’s power is even greater than that of Satan’s (a much more powerful being than man) in terms of being able to influence a person. To be frank, I don’t see much wiggle room in this matter. Do you?

      @Joe. So many people have parsed out potential frameworks which address this problem. Personally, I think its a different issue than what Chris is raising, but I’ll leave it up to Alec to reply back on this one.

    • David, the question here isn’t about Gods ability to save in the truly miraculous way you refer to. But this says nothing about the millions who do not have such a story. What about them? I don’t understand your point.

    • Just to clarify, in saying that ‘God saves whom he wants to save’, it’s is not some hyper-calvanistic statement which minimizes the evangelist’s responsibility to present the gospel in an adequate manner. Maybe I can replacement that statement by more accurately stating ‘God has the ability to save anyone’.

      @Joe. We are also talking about the same God who willfully and justifiably punished Israel, as well as other nations, in some cases not sparing women and children. The imagery in the OT is quite vivid and the accounts are brutal. I’ve thought about the statement, ‘God is love’ as of late. I’m beginning to think that we (including me) do not fully understand the concept of God’s love.

      Jesus speaks of the reality of hell, that is eternal conscious torment, more than anyone in the NT. Would you say that Jesus is unloving then? Or you could just make some argument that we really don’t understand what Jesus meant when he talked about eternal torment.

    • Alec Sitalo

      Excuse me, let me introduce myself. I’m an orthodox seminarist. Writing my graduate work on UBF, since it sent the most missionaries from South Korea, according to “Operating World”, 2001.

      \\Do you really believe all of these people are not only not saved, but even go to hell and will be eternally tortured there? Please answer yes or no \\

      Yes, unfortunately this is the case. Bible says: “he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16) A person perishes as apostle Paul says, “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2Thes. 2:10)

      But for those who are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the truth, even their lives, God does everything, so they can be saved. He even destroys a country for a single person who firmly decides to strive to the truth.

      Children who are aborted and not baptized don’t go to Kingdom of Heaven, of course, neither they receive punishment as they didn’t commit neither good nor bad.

      \\Moreover, the responsibility falls to the one whom rejects this offer\\
      The responsibility falls to the missionary only in case he communicates corrupted gospel – for false witness. His mission is to do it according to the tradition and in comprehensible language. But the choice is up to the listener – either to reject or to accept.

    • Sharon, I mean that how do we know that those millions were not encountered in a way similar to the Muslim cleric? We don’t know what people have personally experienced in their hearts, but we do know that God wants to save all people (1 Tim 2:4). So I don’t think that we can make jump to conclusions and make excuses for people but instead simply say that God is fair and intentional in all that he does. And if we are so concerned about those millions, then we should do whatever we can to partner with God to help them to come to saving faith.

    • Btw, to everyone in this convo (I know I barged in but couldn’t help), I love this type of dialogue because I think that we need to continually sharpen our respective views on this. I know that this is an emotive and controversial topic, so please let’s not allow it to get too hot in here (as in vitriolic), but rather HOT, if you know what I mean. I may not agree with you all, but I love you in Christ.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, you’ve raised many points here, and each one would take a very long time to discuss well.

      Regarding hell and eternal conscious torment (ECT): If you are accustomed to thinking within that framework, then lots of passages in the NT can be seen through that lens. But it’s also possible to build a pretty strong case that the NT supports annihilationism (possibly after a finite period of suffering). Just about every passage that people quote in favor of ECT can support annihilation. I’m not saying that I believe it. But ECT is not the slam-dunk that many have claimed. A good recent book on this is:


      About divinely commanded genocide in the OT: There are many ways to try to explain this, and each one is problematic. Regardless of what the OT says, I and many others have a hard time declaring with certainty that the same God who gave his life for us on the cross also wanted the Israelites to carry out horrendous acts of genocide. Some will say that if you don’t believe the literal readings of those OT passages as historical fact then you are completely trashing biblical authority. I don’t buy that argument. A nice summary article on this topic is


      Greg Boyd gave two awesome sermons on this topic. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of OT genocide, these sermons will really make you think:



      There’s lots more that I can say on these topics, but I’ll summarize them by saying this.

      I no longer buy the idea that if a Christian has a hard time believing in ECT for everyone who hasn’t consciously professed faith in Christ, or in divinely commanded genocide, then he has rejected scripture’s authority and undermined the central message of the Bible.

    • Joe, I find it nearly impossible to interpret a verse like Revelation 20:10 as a statement that can be used to support annihilationism. Let’s say for a minute that I am correct in espousing the ECT view of hell. What if God does this in order to show us the seriousness of sin? I mean, what if we don’t understand the ramifications of sin as well as we think we do? Perhaps this particular construct of hell is to serve as an eternal reminder of God’s utter holiness (which I think we, including me, poorly understand), his complete domination over all that is evil and his ability to render complete justice and vindication to his people. I think that something like the existence of a ECT hell communicates these attributes well. I don’t like the idea of it now, because some that are close to me are in danger of such an existence. But perhaps when God parses everything out, then it will make complete sense.

      On annihilationism in general, it seems as though for every verse you can bring up to support it, you can bring up a verse which seems to blatantly contradict it, such as Rev 20:10. One of my favorite, life-changing books is The Cross of Christ by Stott. I know that he supports annihilationism but I just can’t agree with him, regardless of his theological pedigree. Moreover, this doctrine is relatively new (around 1800’s I think, much like the doctrine of the Rapture, as we know it in our day), so we should vigorously and carefully question it.

      As far as the interpretation of the OT genocide events go, I think that there is just reason for them. I’m sure to get lambasted by being vague on this, but I only have so much time. Personally, I think that we are beginning to sacrifice the veracity of scripture when we say that these events may not be literal.

      Thank you for the links. I will sift through them, though it may take considerable time given my schedule, because I am genuinely interested in parsing this matter out. In due time I shall reply.

    • Hereticman has mucheth to saieth on the topic of hell and salvation… but hereticman is going to claim Romans 14 and keepeth quieteth righteth noweth, especially based on Romans 14:22. (But my thoughts echo much of what Chris and Joe point out, and quite a bit of DavidW’s thoughts as well).

      @Alec, I find numerous things disturbing with your words regarding salvation (but maybe it is a language/translation issue?). And would you share more details about your paper about ubf you are writing? I’m glad you began to share here, but are you a current ubf member writing from an internal perspective? Or just a third party student interested in Korean missions? I’d love to hear more about what you have discovered about ubf.

    • hmmm, but upon further examination of Rev 20:10, prior to that it says that those who marched with Satan were devoured by fire. One could argue that these were annihilated and in turn only Satan, the beast and the false prophet will experience ECT. Furthermore, those who are thrown into the lake (v. 15) will die out from the second death, something which is not prescribed to Satan and his previously mentioned cohorts. Maybe, but still other NT verses seem to support ECT, at least from my point of view.

    • David, I’m putting emphasis on the human element because I am a human. Like Joe, I believe God is love – that’s the starting point of all my faith and thinking about God. I cannot imagine a God who created billions of people who never heard the gospel just to eternally condemn and torture them. For God the human element is important. Otherwise, why did He need to become human to show His love?

      Another question to Alec and David, imagine you come to heaven and then every day for all eternity you have to see the billions of people who are condemned and tortured every day, just because they happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they rejected an offer to study the Bible in UBF. Could you live happily in such a place? Maybe seeing some of the people who rejected your invitation in the dormitory and thinking “well, I told you so, now you get what you deserve.” Such a place would not be heaven for me, but hell.

      “And if we are so concerned about those millions, then we should do whatever we can to partner with God to help them to come to saving faith.” Yes, this was what kept me busy in UBF and guilty every day in UBF. But even when I was able to save one or two, then at the same time ten or hundred others would reject me. This made things even worse and did neither calm down my concerns for those millions nor about the character of God who would create a gospel that didn’t really look like a gospel if it included condemnation and torture of so many people.

      If you’re honest to yourself you don’t really believe this either. You rather want to be believe an unverified story about a miracle in the Muslim world, or that God would crush North Korea if there would be good people there (seemingly there is not a single person in North Korea who is worthy enough for God to interfere?), or that Indians 600 years ago had a vision of Jesus? But why then did I never hear about an Indian who preached to his fellow Indians about Jesus 600 years ago? Even if you believe in these miracles, then these are singular cases and this would still mean that God lets billions of people who He created be condemned and eternally tortured.

      Another thing: I see an antagonism between your two concepts that “the choice is up to the listener – either to reject or to accept.” and “he doesn’t send missionaries to those people who, he knows (because he forsees everything)”. If God doesn’t send missionaries, how can they have a choice? Your “wiggling” between the position of eternal predetermination and free will makes my head spin. You may object that there is always some kind of dualism at work when it comes to eternal things but still it makes me feel giddy.

      Alec, your claim that “Children who are aborted and not baptized don’t go to Kingdom of Heaven, of course, neither they receive punishment as they didn’t commit neither good nor bad.” doesn’t seem to fit the Evangelical concept of salvation either, which is not based on whether a person is “good” and “bad”, and the concept of “original sin”. What about a child that dies with age 1 year? 2 years? 3 years? 4 years? When does a child end being judged according to whether it is “good or bad” and when does it start to need Jesus for salvation?

    • Joe Schafer

      David, thank you for being openminded and willing to discuss these things.

      No pressure, no rush. We have plenty of time to mull them over, whenever you can. Maybe sometime you can take a road trip to Happy Valley and hang out with us to discuss in person.

    • Alec Sitalo

      @Brian From the point of view of my Eastern Orthodox Church UBF is a sect. I would send you my 7-page insight in it’s teaching, but it’s all in Russian. I’ve just started, and rather hope you can help.

      All these words regarding salvation are not a joke (as well as being heretic) and not the issue of language/translation (as far as my English is English)

      @Chris THERE you might feel sorry if you didn’t do all your best before, and you will find no answer to their questions. But if you did – you will not feel sorry, it will be the time of reward, and this is what real joy is and why gospel is gospel.

      \\If God doesn’t send missionaries, how can they have a choice?\\
      Let me explain it more detailed. A person always has choice to act according or contra his conscience. So God is merciful to those who acts contra his conscience when he says to the apostles not to cast their pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6)

      A person starts needing Jesus from the time of conception. As it is said “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5) which makes
      “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph.2:3), which is alse purified in saving baptism, that “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5)

      BTW there are christians in North Korea.

    • Alec Sitalo

      @ Chris. A person is condemn (or glorified) not for knowing or not knowing about Jesus, but fro killing, adultery, thefts, etc.

      Biblical concept of salvation has the notion of the Fall (“original sin”) as its integral part. This is what the Bible tragically starts from. And “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” (Job. 14:4)

      I mean, babies do not do good deeds or bad deeds consciously, this is why there is no reason speaking of their punishment of reward.

      @Joe. If ECT doesn’t exist, why should eternal conscious beatitude exist? Why not people just somehow dissolve in God, as pantheists say?

      “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself SHELL BE SAVED” (1Cor.3:15) This verse excludes annihilation, says saint John the Chrysostom: “he himself will not perish as his deeds, will not turn to nothing, but will remain in fire”.

      The OT righteous people went to hell after death not because they held divine genocide, killing women and children. It was because the heavens were still closed by the Cherubim (Gen.3:24) and no one could access it (even Abraham went to hell), until Christ came from heaven laying the way for everybody.

    • Joe Schafer

      Alec, I do not firmly believe in annihilition or in ECT, and I don’t feel qualified to argue strongly for either position.

      What I think right now is that scripture and tradition do not always speak with one voice on these matters. Sincere and intelligent Christians who approach the Bible can and do reach different conclusions on these doctrines.

    • @Alec, “it will be the time of reward, and this is what real joy is and why gospel is gospel.” But that’s my point. When I go to heaven and find that next to me, billions are tortured including my neighbours, parents, siblings, friends and billions of people who never heard about Jesus, how can I be happy and joyful? When I love others like I love myself, how can I be happy and joyful when only I am saved, and the others not, but they are tortured instead? All my non-Orthodox/Evangelical friends together with Hitler and Stalin in the same hell? I really don’t want to live in such an eternal heaven where I know this is happening right next to me. Is all I care about only my personal “reward”? For me, I don’t want any reward. I just want to be close to God and that all the harm and injustice and suffering on this earth ends. A hell where people are tortured in all eternity for making one wrong decision of not accepting a gospel that they maybe never even heared, would not be the solution to injustice and suffering, but the ultimate continuation of these.

      “A person is condemn (or glorified) not for knowing or not knowing about Jesus, but fro killing, adultery, thefts, etc.” My Non-Christians friends never killed, never commited adultery, never stole anything. They are much nicer persons than many of the so-called Christians I know. Are they saved then?

      “A person starts needing Jesus from the time of conception.” So what about a 2-year old child who dies without having professed Jesus and without being “born of water and of the Spirit”?

      “I mean, babies do not do good deeds or bad deeds consciously, this is why there is no reason speaking of their punishment of reward.” So you still seem to have a concept of eternal punishment or reward depending on our good or bad deeds. Where does Jesus and salvation by fit into there? As I learned in Evangelical Christianity, the possibility that somebody is rewarded for good deeds is only a theoretical possibility, or not even that, since everybody is infected by original sin and thus is not able to do anything real good. So in the end it boils down to whether somebody “accepts Jesus” or not anyway.

      “BTW there are christians in North Korea.”

      Yes, I know, there are some underground house churches. But then only those few who were able to be reached with smuggled Bibles will be saved in North Korea? Fact is that millions and actually billions of people in North Korea (and China and India and the Muslim world …) have no access to the Bible or contact with Christians. And even if there is a theoretical possibility that they could be reached by Christians, your argument totally stops working for the native Americans 600 years ago and everybdoy who lived before Jesus was born.

    • @Joe. Thank you so much for the offer; I’d love to chat about theology and just fellowship in general. When I get some time off, perhaps my family and I can come and visit.

      @Chris. I’m not sure how far we can get in this conversation. You seem to want to read into the Bible text that are not there. For instance you use the word ‘torture’, as if that is what God does to those who don’t accept his pardon. But in fact, this word is found nowhere in any of the texts about hell. The word ‘torment’ is used, but this is much different. So the concept of an ECT hell is not a tool which God uses to maliciously punish people but rather they are tormented as a consequence of being infinitely separated from him. It is a mischaracterization of God to say that he is one who tortures, to say the least. Even when he punishes those who do not believe in him, he takes no delight in it (Eze 18:23). But perhaps you putting this forth for the sake of strengthening your argument. Either way, I don’t buy it.

      Furthermore you say “imagine you come to heaven and then every day for all eternity you have to see the billions of people who are condemned and tortured every day, just because they happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they rejected an offer to study the Bible in UBF. Could you live happily in such a place?”

      This is another fallacy because you are assuming that people are products of happenstance when in fact Paul says,

      “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26, 27).

      So when I meant that you were putting too much emphasis on the human element, I meant that we have to take into account God’s sovereign dealings with man throughout history. He intentionally orchestrates history so as to give man an optimal setting to pursue, reach out to and respond to his call of salvation.

      The Muslim cleric I mentioned is actually well known in the Christian world. Also, there have been many other stories of people in the Muslim world in which people receive visions and come to faith.

      Also, the head-spinning apparent dichotomy between free will and God’s sovereignty is a daunting conundrum. However, perhaps this is just another paradoxical truth within the subset of God’s variegated wisdom. We know that other such paradoxes exist but yet are true. A good philosophy that seems to explain free will/God’s sovereignty is molinism. I don’t know if you know William Lane Craig, but he and other good thinkers espouse this.

      Anyway, my long-winded post is just to say that this is a very difficult issue I think in part because we don’t quite understand our own sinfulness, God’s holiness and his love. These things are far more complex than we can understand in this lifetime. However, we should not use this as an excuse to compromise what the Bible says. Although determining what the Bible says is also a complex issue as well, I think some things are more clear but they become obfuscated when we try to make arguments that stem from largely emotionally driven concerns.

      Unless you are going to the extreme to make some specific argument or to try to get us to realize some deep, detrimental flaw in our thinking (you seem to want to point out flaws in fundamentalist evangelicalism) I don’t think that we can progress too far in this discussion. But I’m still open anyway. Love you as a brother in Christ either way.

    • Alec Sitalo

      @ Chris.
      “In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Mt. 22:30) In the Kingdom of Heaven the family bonds which are not in Christ will be destroyed. “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?.. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt. 12:48,50) So there will be not seen relatives in hell in this sense.
      Those who never killed, never commited adultery, never stole anything and are Non-Christians are not saved. Christ is the light of perfection. “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light” (Jn. 3:20)
      \\So what about a 2-year old child who dies without having professed Jesus and without being “born of water and of the Spirit”?\\ He doesn’t go to the Kingdom of Heaven, the same as aborted kid. Jesus and salvation are by fit into here that it boils down in the end to whether somebody “accepts Jesus” or not anyway.
      \\your argument totally stops working for the native Americans 600 years ago and everybdoy who lived before Jesus was born\\ That gentiles are without excuse and that Jesus saved OT righteous when he went to hell after death is just a piece of God’s revelation as well as that God is love.
      @Joe \\scripture and tradition do not always speak with one voice on these matters\\ How then could apostle Paul command to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught” (2Thes.2:15)? Fifth Ecumenical Church Council’s anathemas to those who doesn’t believe in ECT “seemed good to the Holy Ghost” just the same as those decisions as in (Acts 15:28) because they are in the manner of “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2Pet.3:16) .

    • @David, the distinction between torment and torture is subtle. As far as I understand (I’m not a native English speaker), torment is more like mental pain, while torture is physical pain, and torment has also the connotation of being “self-inflicted” or “deserved”. But this does not make things easier to understand for me.

      “So when I meant that you were putting too much emphasis on the human element, I meant that we have to take into account God’s sovereign dealings with man throughout history. He intentionally orchestrates history so as to give man an optimal setting to pursue, reach out to and respond to his call of salvation.”

      If there would be an optimal setting for everyone, we would not need mission, right? In which way were the Indians 600 years ago in an optional setting to respond to God’s call of salvation? Or people in Muslim nations these days? What you say sounds good, but the reality is different.

      “The Muslim cleric I mentioned is actually well known in the Christian world. Also, there have been many other stories of people in the Muslim world in which people receive visions and come to faith.”

      These are what they are, “stories”. Sure, Christians like such stories and will always propagate them. We cannot verify their correctness. Likewise, Muslims will propagate stories where Christians started to believe in Allah and Muhammad through a vision ( e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG8SPH7q5oc). And there are many stories of Christians that were simply made up by people who wanted to get attention or “build up” people (http://mukto-mona.net/Special_Event_/Darwin_day/lady_hope290106.htm). Personally, I distrust every report of a miracle. Call me Thomas, but I do it for a reason: For every true miracle, there are certainly thousands of fakes.

      Anyway, even if there are such miracles, they are certainly the exception and I still wonder why there is no oral tradition or written report of Indian or Chinese man 1000 years ago who had a vision of Jesus and started to preach to their neighbors. The only case the Bible talks about is the Apostle Paul. But there are no reports of people in other nations who suddenly became apostles of Jesus through a vision. So I need to assume these people had no access to the gospel and thus no chance to be saved, which is incompatible with the concept of a loving creator God in my simple mind.

      @Alec, “So there will be not seen relatives in hell in this sense.” Luke 16 seems to contradict this. The rich man who was tormented in hell still recognized Lazarus (his neighbor) (16:23) and his father and brothers (16:27.28).

      “Those who never killed, never commited adultery, never stole anything and are Non-Christians are not saved.” Even if they had no chance to hear about Christ and the gospel? Also, if they are not saved, does it mean they are eternally tormented, or are they in a “interim state” like you said about the underage children, i.e. are neither saved nor go to hell? By the way, what happens to their souls? Do they simply stop to exist?

      “That gentiles are without excuse and that Jesus saved OT righteous when he went to hell after death is just a piece of God’s revelation as well as that God is love.”

      The two statements that gentiles are “without excuse” and that (who created the gentiles) “is merciful, forgiving and equal to love” still create such a big discrepance in my simple mind that it is impossible for me to believe both at the same time. Maybe I could somehow pretend to believe it, but my heart and mind would never really believe it anyway. So I stopped pretending to believe such things or trying to defend such positions in similar ways as you are doing now (yes, I once did the same) and started to speak openly about my doubts. As Luther said, it is neither safe nor right to go against your own conscience. So let me be anathema, but at least I want to be honest about what I really believe.

    • Alec Sitalo

      @ Chris. \\there is no oral tradition or written report of Indian or Chinese man 1000 years ago who had a vision of Jesus and started to preach to their neighbors\\ because all who saw a vision from Jesus ultimately joined to the Church, wich is his body, since that spirit “confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (1Jn. 4:2)

      The righteous always see unrighteous in torment in order that their joy grow more, because they see that disaster, which they managed to escape by mercy. And so they more give thanks to their Redeemer, the more clear they see in others what they could suffer themselves if they were left by God. However the punishment of unrighteous observed, doesn’t darken the light of such a great bliss in the souls of righteous at all, because where will be no compassion to disasters, there, no doubt, it will have no power to diminish the joy of the blessed. What makes you wonder, if the righteous, looking at the torment of unrighteous, multiplicate their joys through that, when even in art black color is put in the basis so that white or red color be seen more clear? For, as it was already said, the joys for the kind grow the more, the more clear they see by their own eyes those disasters of the condemned, that they eluded. Though they suffice their own joys for full delight… (sorry, I couldn’t shorter)

      \\ are they in a “interim state” like you said about the underage children, \\ “Interim” place doesn’t exist. In the hell there are different places, as in the heaven. Underaged children go the place with no penalty. The souls wich are God’s image don’t stop to exist. Some eternally decay, others eternally divinize.

      \\it is impossible for me to believe both at the same time\\ Keeping your doubts in secret doesn’t always mean that you’re pretending, it can be experimenting. If you see contradictions in the Bible it means that God wants to bring you to a new level of understanding, it doesn’t mean that they really exist.

    • Joe Schafer

      I’m sorry, Alec, but this line of reasoning is not convincing to me. I never want to become a person who can enjoy the bliss of my own salvation all the more because others who are not saved are suffering in torment. I believe that God derives no pleasure from punishing the wicked, and a godly person should take no pleasure in that either.

    • @Alec: This is also not convincing for me. If I can escape a disaster by mercy, I still have no joy in seeing those who didn’t escape. I rather get feelings of guilt because when I am saved but others are not, knowing that I am not better than they are. They are also human beings, just like I am.

      “because all who saw a vision from Jesus ultimately joined to the Church” – I don’t understand this argument either. Why was that a reason for them not to witness about their vision to others?

      “In the hell there are different places, as in the heaven. Underaged children go the place with no penalty.” But from where do you get this? Seems more like logical conclusions than taken from the Bible. In the same way, I make logical conclusions, starting from the premise that God is love.

    • David Bychkov

      ” I believe that God derives no pleasure from punishing the wicked, and a godly person should take no pleasure in that either. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/09/22/what-is-the-gospel/#sthash.phJH4D0G.dpuf
      Hi Joe.

      First, I found the topic very hard to think about and to discuss.
      Well, that said, I will share few thoughts. Here in Ukraine we live in pretty corrupted society. The political system is pretty corrupted. Recently a horrible event happened. Two police officeres raped, bitten and almost killed a young woman in a little town. The naked almost died woman was found in the morning and took to the hospital. She knew her offenders and pointed on them. But the police seemed to not doing anything about this. The people of the town was greatly frustraited, they wanted those police criminals to be punished, so they came to police center and almost crushed it. They wanted justice! Wicked murders and rapers should be punished! Was this desire ungodly? not human? I am convienced that it was not. And now, after I knew all the details of the event, and I know the total corruption in our country I also really want that those “policemen” will be judjed and punishment. And I will be frustraited if that will not happened. And I will be satisfied if they will be punished according to the law and just according to the truth.
      Now, when it comes to God and sinners, who 1) betrayed him without any reason 2) rejected the fullness of his love on the cross. I think this is much worse then the crime I described above. And I think it is nothing wrong when people who love God and his truth will see his just judge will receive satisfection and glorify him, b/c of his righteosness.

    • DavidB, we are talking about people who didn’t do anything like those in your example. Why do they receive eternal torment? And even if they did these things, why is there punishment and torment eternal, while their deeds happened in time? Also, I don’t understand why Christians who seem to understand justice and judgement so well and want such people to be judged, tell me I shall not judge when I’m searching justice at least inside the church. In your comment, you condemned and judged those policmen and politicians (probably rightfully), but tat the same time you (well maybe not you, but others on this blog) tell me I shall not judge based on Mt 7:1.

    • David Bychkov

      Hi Chris!

      “we are talking about people who didn’t do anything like those in your example. Why do they receive eternal torment? And even if they did these things, why is there punishment and torment eternal, while their deeds happened in time?” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/09/22/what-is-the-gospel/#comment-9471

      1) Well, they did. I believe the sin before God is much worsier then the story I described above. If it would be not true, why would God punish Adam and Eve and all humankind with death?
      2) The sin has no excuses. That is why it is so bad.
      3) The sin is against eternal and infinit God, that is why the punishment should be eternal.
      4) The people who are condemned to hell are still sinning. B/c they are not repent but increases their guilt by cursing God.
      (all those are just classical arguments.)

      “Also, I don’t understand why Christians who seem to understand justice and judgement so well and want such people to be judged, tell me I shall not judge when I’m searching justice at least inside the church.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/09/22/what-is-the-gospel/#comment-9471

      That is simply offtopic.

    • @DavidB, “all those are just classical arguments.” Maybe, but to me they are not convincing at all, rather deterrent.

      “why Christians who seem to understand justice and judgement so well and want such people to be judged, tell me I shall not judge when I’m searching justice at least inside the church.” -> “That is simply offtopic.”

      I don’t think it’s offtopic, not on this site, and not concerning the question “what is the gospel”. The gospel has much to do with judgment. But many fundamentalist Christians seem to have a very strange (to me) understanding of judgment and justice. That pattern is widespread, it is not only something I experienced.

    • Let me explain my concerns from a more personal perspective (sorry if this will become a very long posting), maybe you can then understand me better. When I started to read the Bible in UBF and started to accept the gospel personally in UBF, everything was great. Everything was love and light and laughter. But then came the day when an American UBF shepherd visited our chapter. I told him how I found God and how happy I was. Then he looked at me and told me “So you want to become a shepherd, too? Everything else would be egoistical, wouldn’t it?” I never saw the problem from this side. But this was the beginning of my end of my happy time with God. I had to admit he was right, I needed to share the gospel with others or I would be an egotist. So I became a UBF shepherd. Later, another American UBF shepherd gave me a tract. It had a picture in it that was horrible. There was an ocean with many people drowning. And there was a raft with some people on who seemed to be rescued from drowning. Some of those on the raft reached their hands to the drowning people around. Some of them just stood around on the raft, doing nothing. The symbolism was clear: The raft was UBF. The drowning people were the students on the campus who were lost without the gospel. Those who reached them a hand were the UBF shepherds who invited them and made Bible study. And those who just stood around were people like me who did not actively enough invite people and made Bible study, not caring that people will be lost and eternally tormented if they do no care. That picture had since then haunted me. It meant my life ended at that moment. I could not have any more friends, family, hobbies, pets, vacation, any things that would take time or distract me from my UBF shepherd job of saving the drowning people. How could I ever in my life have a vacation? That would mean I would become one of the people on the raft standing around again. So for ten years, I never had vacation. I gave up a good career in favor of a lowly job on the campus. My chapter leader wanted me to habilitate and become a “professor shepherd” but I didn’t want because I knew if I started to engage in research and education, I wouldn’t have enough time to be a real shepherd. I loved science and scientific activity, but to me it was clear that occupation with science (my “Isaac”) and occupation with rescuing people from hell were mutually exclusive. So it was with anything else in my life. I had to give up everything. Still, I always felt guilty because I could always do more and give up more to rescue the people. The gospel became a nightmare for me. It destroyed my life on this earth, I became I robot doing the same UBF activities every week without caring about my own life and dreams. I also became a nightmare because I experienced I could not even save those people. Sure, there were several students who made Bible study with me and liked it. But I could not make them to UBF shepherds. I was not good in training and manipulating them, as the UBF missionaries. Sometimes, when they did not seem to “grow” (in UBF sense) for months, I tried it against my conscience, only to get devastating results which made me feel even more guilty. The souls of the not rescued students on the campus started to haunt me. At the same time, another part in me never believed all this. That part in me never really believed that my fellow students, family members and friends who did not profess Jesus as I was doing were condemned to hell. So I developed a split personality in that regard, which made me feel all the more guilty. I believe all these feelings of guilt are the reason people stay in UBF. So what was the gospel now? Something that condemned everyone around me, something that made me always feel guilty because I was saved and others not and I did not do enough to help others being saved, something that compelled me to “deny myself” to the point that I was not longer myself.

      My point is: If your ideas about eternal torment are right, then the picture of the people on the raft was completely right. UBF had something compelling, because it was consequential, if you take that picture literally. If you really believe that, your life must end, and you must devote every minute of your life to mission. (Of course you shouldn’t compromise and marry and waste time for family or get a Ph.D. like UBF tells you to do. In that regard, UBF is not consequential.) But I totally reject that picture now. There is no Jesus in this picture who said “it is finished”. There is no loving God. There are only people thrown in a catastrophe. Nobody could have joy in the situation of that picture. Even knowing to be saved on the raft, how could I have joy seeing all the people around me drowning? The Bible commanded me “rejoice in the Lord!” but I was unable with that picture in mind.

      I came to the conclusion that not only I would be an egotist if I just stand on the raft doing nothing, but I would be also an egotist if I would have joy in that situation, because it meant I cared only for my own salvation, and I didn’t mind all the millions of drowned people. People on this thread are telling me “they all deserved it”, but my heart doesn’t believe it, that all these people who God created deserve to be eternally tormented for a vague definition of sin that could be anything from being a murdered to having “unclean thoughts” or in some way “rejecting God” or the gospel. I do not want to be an egotist in the first sense (just standing around), but I do not want to be an egotist in the second sense either (stretching my hands, but not really caring about the drowning people anyway, only caring about my own salvation). Yet, I learned that many people in UBF and other fundamentalist churches were of that ilk, and I started to feel really unwell among them. I was told to consider them as my brothers and sisters, but I felt I had nothing in common with them; they seemed to have a completely different value system concerning judgment, love, and compassion. They talked much about compassion and love, but in their hearts they seemed to be cruel and uncaring, both to the eternal torment of Non-Christians, and to the injustice happening in the church. How can you represent a loving and caring God in this world if you are like that? Rachel Evans described my thoughts and feelings very well in http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/scandal-evangelical-heart

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, thank you for taking the time to tell your personal story. Your story is a powerful one. I hope that through it, people begin to understand that there are good reasons to question many of the ways that western evangelicals (and Christians from any other tradition) have explained and presented the gospel. Your reasons for questioning the doctrine of “eternal conscious torment” do not come from your corrupt desires to water down the gospel message, to make it more popular, to get away with sinning more, and so on. Your reasons are based on your honest attempt to reconcile what you know about God and his loving character with the doctrines of ECT. That issue creates real cognitive dissonance which, for many people, is not easily resolved or explained away by the kinds of arguments that we have heard from defenders of ECT.

      I hope people understand that I am not arguing that ECT is wrong. I am questioning whether this doctine is absolutely essential. I don’t know if anyone who has commented on this thread believes that it is a crucial part of the gospel. The topic of this thread is “What is the gospel?” and so the issue is on topic.

      To those of you who seem convinced that ECT is correct and that this is the only biblically sound position, I would like to pose a question. The question is:

      How essential is the doctrine of hell to your explanation of the gospel? If someone has a hard time accepting the notion of hell as ECT, does that mean he or she has not fully embraced the gospel? If someone rejects ECT, has he or she rejected the gospel? If a Christian leader like John Stott teaches something other than ECT, or if he tends to avoid the topic altogether because he honestly don’t know how to reconcile it with God’s love, is he undermining the gospel?

    • @Joe: Yes, cognitive dissonance is the right term to describe my mental state in UBF. Not only regarding the way how I defended the all-too-obvious cult-like practices of my church, but also regarding my understanding of salvation and mission in general.

      All the arguments brought forth in this thread and all the arguments that I tried to find and invent myself did not help, they never convinced me but made things only worse. I realized this particularly strongly when I tried to explain my Evangelical world-view about salvation, who is God, and who is going to heaven and hell etc. to my young son. I found that I was not able to do it in any way that was convincing, consistent and simple enough to be understood by a child. Shouldn’t children be able to understand the gospel (Mt 18:3)? How can I explain to a child that God is love and all-merciful and all-forgiving and at the same time “there is no excuse” for people who did not do any extra-ordinary evil things like murder?

    • Mark Mederich

      fear & guilt, what would religion do without them? gee maybe sincere following God as we believe, sharing as He moves us, would spawn healthy sense of God, bold, thankful, happy living…just a thought

      Romans speaks of those who live ‘lawfully’ even if they don’t formally know the law, but are approved by God for the spirit not letter of law

      why can’t people seek God/fellowship together sharing perspectives without ‘forcing it down each others throats’? guess we really don’t have practical faith? that is, we don’t trust God to refine ourself or others (am i the same now as long ago? will i be the same in the future?)

    • Alec Sitalo

      @Chris. Your story is strikingly similar to the one I heard from my friend from UBF. He told he already overcame that situation when he realized, that God, as a perfect being, will always have much stronger desire than one of mine to save everybody.
      \\ Why was that a reason for them not to witness about their vision to others?\\ They did witness, but that vision from God first sent them to the flesh of Christ, which the vision witnessed (1Jn.4:3), a vision from devil sends far from Church.
      @Ben. By the way the people in UBF I speak often declare that God as an eternal Being who has eternally never ever had separation can be in torture as if he stops (for example seeing sheep dying) being “the blessed” (1Tim. 6:15), “in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). Of course he doesn’t! I really hope that’s not an official doctrine, because that teaching is really destructive, for why should I trust the God, who doesn’t provide eternal blessedness even for himself? Is he weak to do that? Where does he put away his blessedness? That faith is in another God. Hope you agree.
      Next, Christ never separated from God. How can they imagine that? As a human, Christ suffered dereliction of humanity by God on the Cross, as it was prophesied by the king David (that’s why martyrs are never derelict now) , but he remained being God these 3 days never separating from the Father, and as God always remaining “the blessed”. His body separated from his soul, but both didn’t separate from God. His soul became life-giving for the souls in hell, his body didn’t suffer decay.
      @Joe. If torments are not eternal, then “eternal life” is not eternal. Do you see, that it seriously violates Christian hope?
      \\ Based on what Paul says in Ephesians 5, I believe that in the kingdom, our union with Christ will bring the fulfillment of marriage. Fulfillment is not the same as annulment.\\ And I was absolutely agree with you here, when I was speaking of those not united with Christ.
      @Brian. \\ All 7.1 billion of us will stand before God with flawed doctrine.\\ That’s not true. The Holy Spirit, whom God sent to the disciples “will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). Will he then not guide? Or will all people break from him? Will not God’s promise (Mt. 16:18) be fulfilled? Where did you find, that \\the bible clearly teaches there will be no doctrine test at the gates of Heaven\\ ? On the contrary: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt.12:36) and “the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (1Cor.4:5) – everything will be estimated.
      @Mark. \\Romans speaks of those who live ‘lawfully’ even if they don’t formally know the law, \\ – yes, of gentiles, and that’s why they have no excuse in their idolatry – so that they have chance in their conscience to live by God’s law, but they don’t want to, but when they forsake former sins, believe in Christ, get baptized for forgiveness of sins, receive the Holy Ghost, do good deed, then they \\ are approved by God for the spirit not letter of law\\.
      @David. \\ I will be satisfied if they will be punished according to the law and just according to the truth.\\ – Me too. This is not violating Mt.7:1. 1) because courts are established by God. 2) Only God has right to condemn, not people, but one can and one must estimate actions to call black black.
      \\ For example John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from mother’s womb.\\ John the Baptist lived in the time of Old Testament, filling him and ancient prophets with the Spirit was just a shadow of abundant gifts given in New Testament through Christ. So it was not New Testament regeneration yet. That’s why Jesus spoke of John: “he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt. 11:11).
      \\ I believe that God can regenarate people even where the Gospel is not preached.\\ Apostle Peter addresses to Christians of his time: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God” (1Pet.1:23) Among them were no-one who was born in a different way as word of God. It’s impossible to believe without hearing the word of God: “and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Those who don’t believe the gospel are not regenerated: “but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16)
      @ All. Forgive me, didn’t mean to offend any person.
      (Won’t be posting during vacation – last long post)

  10. Darren Gruett

    Here is my version of the gospel in seven words, taken from 1 Timothy 1:15: Jesus entered the world to save sinners.

    • Excellent! I think the “internet monk” nails it for me (as usual): Summarizing the Gospel

      I am starting to see some criteria here for discerning between the gospel itself and the message/effects of the gospel, which was one of my goals in posting this. When we don’t have such discernment, we end up promoting an idol instead of preaching the gospel.

      I’ve started writing a book about the gospel, btw, which was another reason for posting this :)

  11. Joe, your thoughts reminded me of a related question that is very high on my thought-list these days: How do we present the gospel?

    Here is how one evangelical Christian answered when I asked her.

    Note: this person has never heard of UBF and I don’t know who she is other than she told me on another blog that I was on a dark road to hell…so I asked her to explain the gospel to me. Here is what she said:

    1) Tell them God loves them

    2) Tell them everybody sins and the sins need to be paid for. When they claim they don’t sin, you point them to God’s word to see His definition of sin. When they accept this and acknowledge that they are sinners, you can move on.

    3) Tell them only Jesus can pay for sins

    4) Tell them all they have to do is accept salvation and believe that God is true.

    Based on my understanding of the gospel, the above sequence is a gospel of condemnation that is not good news for any human being.

    Thoughts? Comments? Am I wrong somehow?

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, here’s my two cents worth.

      In my opinion, the problem with the above approach is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s woefully incomplete. There are so many things left out of this that it bears little resemblance to how the gospel was communicated to the first Christians through the witness of Christ and the apostles, and to how it’s been communicated to us through Scripture.

      This account jumps immediately from the sinfulness of humankind (Gen 3) to the cross of Jesus. If this is a sufficient presentation of the gospel, then why do we need any of the OT after Gen 3? And why do we need any of the NT after the crucifixion?

      Scot McKnight (who has influenced my thinking a great deal on gospeling) argues that, to be faithful to the Scriptures, we ought to be presenting “Jesus as the completion to the story of Israel.” The story of Israel cannot be an afterthought, an addendum to the gospel. God’s work in Israel through many centuries laid the essential groundwork for us to understand who the Messiah is and what he would do. He is the eternal King and new temple(fulfillment of Davidic promise), the fulfillment of the Law (Mosaic covenant), the promised seed (as in God’s covenant with Abraham), the Suffering Servant (Isaiah), the one who would bring a new covenant in which God’s law would be written on our hearts (Jeremiah), and so on. The gospel, at least as the four gospels present it, is “Jesus = Messiah has come.” To explain what that means requires us to be conversant in the narrative and typology of the Old Testament. So there really isn’t a quick, 5-minute presentation of the gospel that can actually do it justice. There are specific aspects and implications of the gospel that can be explained in 5 minutes (e.g. justification by faith) but those answers aren’t “the gospel.” The gospel is best communicated over time in the context of a loving, growing relationship between a seeker and a Christian community that immerses itself in Scripture with a Christ-centered hermeneutic.

      Five-minute presentations of “the gospel” are an attempt to streamline and popularize evangelism using a one-size-fits-all approach. But a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. People have so many different questions, and God is reaching out to them in so many different ways. If we are serious about evangelizing, we need to listen carefully to people to find out where they’re at in their relationships with God, and find out what their (often valid) objections to Christianity are, and address those patiently and thoughtfully.

    • Yes, Joe, that “jump” is something that bothered me too. I saw it as a jump that lands in a hole, a big hole that causes the whole conversation to come to a full stop.

      This sentence bothered me immensely: “When they accept this and acknowledge that they are sinners, you can move on.” How does anyone know if they have seen themselves as sinners? Is it just a onetime acknowledgement?

      I find that people who share this narrative (like I used to) get stuck when discussing further. They end up concluding that the gospel is “just trying to avoid sin”. They conclude that other people are sinners, but we are ok because we don’t want to sin. They then have no choice but to embark on either a rampage of holy soldier-like judging/condemning or limp along the sad road of repeatedly trying to avoid sin on their own power. No amount of coercing can make them experience the abundant joy and peace and hope that the Scriptures declare.

      Joe, I think you hit on something that has come up in my mind numerous times this past year: We need to understand what it means to “fulfill the Law and the Prophets” if we are to understand the gospel and correctly present it. I am convinced there is a redemptive narrative to be found in every OT passage, and that we should be reading the OT for such redemptive narratives, not as examples to try to imitate.

      I am becoming more and more convinced that I would use the word “fulfillment” if I had only one word to describe the gospel.

    • Joe Schafer

      I agree, in all respects.

      Have you gotten to the part of Koch’s book where he talks about obedience and law, and how love transcends the law? This is one of the clearest and best discussions of gospel and law that I have ever seen.

    • Not yet, Joe. I’m in the part where he distinguishes between salvation and sanctification, and mentions several things that are non-essential to salvation (but still important for other reasons). In the lady’s gospel narrative above, she clearly tries to include some elements of sanctification as being necessary for salvation. Koch urges unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in both. I love Koch’s “if and only if” logical (since we’re both database guys!)

      Koch’s words are just exploding in my mind these days, for example: “Though sanctification is non-essential for salvation, it is essential for life in Christ.”

      And this quote is at the heart of what I have tried so hard to communicate (but seemingly failed to). This is what I failed to understand for 20+ years:

      “If our salvation is falsely redefined to include our personal efforts at growth in Christ, then it becomes salvation accomplished by us instead of by the One who did it.”

  12. And regarding presenting the gospel from a UBF viewpoint. Any thoughts on this recent presentation of the gospel?

    By No Means!

  13. Thanks again for this discussion. Just ordered Dr. Koch’s book. Very excited to get into it.

    Last weekend I attended a church in Osaka, Japan called Jesus Lifehouse Church. It started around 4 years ago with a handful of people and now has over 300, with most of the members being under 30 years old. This kind of growth is amazing, especially in Japan.

    One of the things I noticed at their service was *freedom*. The worship music started at their regular Sunday service and many flocked to the stage waving their arms in the air in worship of the King. Japan is typically a reserved society. But these people were *free*. Free to express themselves in creative ways. Free from what others thought of them. Free to be themselves, love God, love others, worship, and dance!

    It reminded me of one Jesus’ first messages at the opening of his ministry in Luke 4:16-21:

    He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
    Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

    Wow! Jesus came to bring us freedom! And this freedom is also accompanied by peace, joy, confidence, etc.

    As I thought about this though, it seemed that *freedom* is both *part of the gospel message* as well as an *effect* of it. Any thoughts?

    • Ray, thanks for sharing Luke 4, which has refreshed my mind and contributed to my paradigm shift away from conformance to transformance in my journey. And I’m glad to hear about the service. I’d like to know more.

      One time I was talking with John Armstrong and he mentioned that Luke 4:16-21 would be his choice for the verses that describe Jesus’ mission statement. I was floored! I always considered the “go into all the world” verses as Jesus’ only mission statement. Probably both are correct mission statements, but at that moment I learned that Jesus was all about proclaiming freedom, and not so much about directing obedience. John was quick to remind me about taking freedom too far, as we need to curtail freedom with the rest of the gospel message and also not let go of obedience. So freedom is certainly a word to use when talking about the gospel.

      Is it part of the definition or the part of the message? I’m leaning toward part of the message/effect. Mainly the reason is based on John’s caution. Freedom itself can become anarchy, which is certainly not part of the gospel message.

      Regardless, based on Joe’s comments and other blogs, it seems the entire evangelical movement in the West (and perhaps in places like Japan?) is in great need of the gospel: they seem to be seeking freedom from oppression, and coming out of blindness.

    • Brian, sorry for being late…

      Jesus Lifehouse International Church started in Tokyo about 10 years ago, with a missions team from Australia and a Japanese couple. They’re part of the Hillsong family and hold most of their meetings in Japanese and English. I don’t have much exposure to them yet, but what I can tell their outreach, music, and love for Jesus and each other are awesome. Since they started, there have been several church plants throughout Japan and some other countries. They’re holding a conference in November which I’m planning to attend from Oita…

      Here are some sites if you’re interested in checking out more:


  14. John Y is back!

    Ah, I see all my fellow UBFriends have been quite active these days during my online blogging hiatus. It’s going to take a while to catch with all these new ongoing conversations. For example, Joe’s article on the fallibility of Paul deserves far more discussion and attention than it is currently receiving (but only as long as it doesn’t threaten our #1 status of Most Viewed Article!), right Gerardo R? Still #1, baby!

    Okay. I got that out of my system.

    Anyway, thanks Brian for this awesome article on the Gospel. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking a lot about the Gospel and the ways I need to be “re-evangelized” by the Gospel and “re-introduced” to the Good News in various areas of my life. Personally, I think our UBF community as a whole is in a season where we collectively need to go DEEPER with the Gospel (evangelize ourselves by going inward) before we start mobilizing ourselves to go BROADER with the Gospel (evangelizing others by going outward)

    For example, one real big spiritual breakthrough in my life has been allowing the Gospel to break through the performance mentality of always trying to measure up,and trying to build my identity and “measure up” in the eyes of others through my personal and spiritual achievements.

    But Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? and Jerry Bridge’s book (Discipline of Grace) both really introduced me to the side of the Gospel that I really didn’t appreciate. I still remember one line (paraphrased from both books): that (1) there is nothing that I can do that is so bad that it makes God love me less, putting me out of the reach of God’s grace; and that (2) there is nothing I can do that is so good that it makes God love me more, putting me out of the need for more of God’s grace. For some reason, the Gospel to me for the first 25 years of my life was only about (1). But now in this hopefully next 25 years of my life, I am finally accepting (2) in the various areas of my life (though I’m still being renewed in this area). It’s sort of liberating.

    On a related topic: I would really like to hear everyone’s opinion on how the Gospel speaks to the issue of “identity.” The issue of identity seems to be a resonating issue on the minds of young people. How does the Gospel speak truly Good News to the issue of our identity? I want to better understand this.


    • Welcome back John Y! We need your viewpoints!

    • Joe Schafer

      This is actually Sharon, John. Hi! I think the main way the gospel speaks to identity is that it roots us in the unconditional absolute unfailing love of God. The gospel says that God loves us. Period. There is nothing that we have done or can do to change this fact. God delights in us because he made us and he died for us to prove it. He rose again to be with us and transform us from the inside. We don’t have to add anything to make him love us more. The gospel therefore cancels our need to seek approval and love from Him or from anyone else through our performance and behavior. It sets us free to just receive and give the transcendent love we were made for
      …..so many implications to this, don’t you think?

    • I like what you said a lot. It sounds beautiful just reading it off the page. Thanks Sharon (Joe Schafer). By the way, talk about online (one flesh)! Profound mystery.

      I want to experience the liberating freedom of simply receiving and giving the transcendent love we were made for–as His treasured possession and his cherished beloved.

      Random prayer: “Who am I? Help me to know and experience all that you have for me when I confess to you, I am Thine, O Lord.”

      I hope a certain end-of-the-year’s conference for young people held in a certain place called Grasslake, Michigan at a certain time, let’s randomly say Dec 27-30th, will bring out the beautiful dimensions of the Gospel in all its glorious beauty. Someone should really talk to the folks leading this conference about the pearls of the Gospel that are being discussed on this blog right now. :)

    • John Y, I join you in that prayer.

  15. According to Gal 5:1 freedom should really be an effect of the gospel and it seems to be purpose in itself. God wants us to have freedom.

    • Thanks, Chris. I think Galatians confirms it for me, that freedom is part of the effect of the gospel. I am seeing the crusty, austere image of Jesus melting away and seeing the liberating, vibrant Jesus coming alive in Scriptures more and more these days.

  16. Welcome back, John Y. Your “re-discovery” of the gospel is perhaps similar to many who comment on UBFriends. Though we have been Christians “forever,” we suddenly felt a new dawn and a new song and felt, “I was blind, but now I see!”

    Regarding identity, of course, I would say that I am a servant of God, and a man in Christ since I became a Christian 3 decades ago. But functionally and practically, my identity was virtually entirely shaped by how people perceived me, and by my own ego and achievements, as inconsequential as they might be.

    I needed a major paradigm shift to find my entire worth, value, validation and vindication from the gospel, from God, in Christ, and not from anything else. That freed me in countless ways to truly be myself in Christ (which may not be good, because I am at heart a polemic bulldozer!).

    The gospel indeed also freed me to discover what grace truly is. This quote from Paul Zahl’s book, Grace in Practice, explains grace that speaks and appeals to me:

    “Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. Grace is irrational. Grace alone achieves what the Law demands.”

    Zahl’s point is that Grace is one way love, while Law is two way love. All my life as a Christian, and even to this day, my sinful fallen default is to the law and to 2 way love. But grace is all of God and none of me. That is just so liberating.

    Then I realized that such grace “scares” people, who then start saying that I am an antinomian, and that I am teaching cheap grace, and that this grace is dangerous because it allows people to sin freely and to do whatever they want. But that’s another story.

    • Sometimes we need a “polemic bulldozer” Ben! I am so excited to see these dialogues moving into some of the same issues that Spurgeon and other Christian greats wrestled with. I too am continually amazed, surprised and furiously overcome with grace!

    • Ben, regarding the antinomian charge, this Justin Taylor article helps me discern between the antinomiam charge and the gospel of grace: Gospel Grace, the Pursuit of Holiness, and the Charge of Antinomianism

      I’m still processing these things, but Michal Horton’s words strike me as true:

      “What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel! In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.”

      And Martyn Lloyd-Jones belief is assuring: He believed there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism.

  17. Thanks, Brian. So true. I love reading Justin Taylor and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

    In the past, I believed the gospel, but I didn’t believe the gospel. What? Am I schizophrenic? Probably! In my head, I believed the gospel, but what I practically believed in was in imperatives and biblical commands to obedience to “get the (gospel) job done.”

    To get technical, in the words of Richard Lovelace, I based my justification on my sanctification. (I base how holy and spiritual I am on how good or well I perform.) Now because of the gospel, I am reorienting myself to base my sanctification on my justification. Nothing can undo what Jesus has done for me when he said, “It is finished.”

    Sorry for loving the play on words!

    • Ben, your semantics are fine with me. Grace is indeed the engine that drives holiness and allows the Spirit freedom to transform.

      I’m a database programmer so semantics is my life. And if the semantics are wrong, the program doesn’t work. And then you get people calling you saying “My computer doesn’t work!” Semantics matter.

      I have observed that we Christians often get the semantics wrong and then wonder why people leave. Biblical semantics are dearly important to me when it comes to the gospel.

  18. Another good read that may also help in rediscovering the gospel is avaliable here: http://www.jakecolsen.com/contents.html

  19. I like Brian’s point about the gospel being partly about God’s kingdom (Matt 24:14). Also, as Joe pointed out earlier, a general notion in evangelical Christian thought is that we are some day going to heaven. But the Bible explicitly says that heaven is actually coming to earth (Rev 21:1-2), hence Jesus instruction that we should pray ‘your kingdom come’. I wonder why we tend to accept the former view (that is, escaping from earth) from others without correcting it, for it has major ramifications for how we live. The gospel view that we are merely going to heaven might lend itself to an escapist attitude, that is, ‘Lord, thank you for saving me; please come soon and get me out of this mess!’ Whereas a more accurate and robust view of the gospel would have us rejoice even while in the earth because the gospel is effecting real, palpable change here and now. When we participate in believing in the gospel, it so changes us internally that the world around us is collaterally affected in profound ways. History, both past and present, shows that through the gospel, countless Christians have massively impacted culture and thought in many ways that we take for granted today; Will Wilberforce was one example. These changes are precursors or tell tale signs that God’s kingdom is surely coming to earth. I brought this up because I feel as though it’s a part of the gospel that is often taken for granted or easily overlooked.

    • Joe Schafer

      Couldn’t agree more.

      Roger Olson has proposed a litmus test to reveal whether someone truly understands the gospel. The test focuses on whether saving people from hell is the sole/primary motivation for evangelism. Olson asks:
      “If God revealed to you in a way you could not deny that, indeed, many will be forgiven who never hear the gospel from a human missionary or evangelist, what would be your response with regard to missions and evangelism?”
      Olson writes:
      It’s amazing how many people who claim to be born again immediately say something like “I wouldn’t bother with it anymore.”

      My response is always to press further… For example: “Really? So you don’t think there’s any reason to tell people about Jesus Christ other than to save them from going to hell?”

      At that point most will pull back a little and says something like, “Well, maybe, but not enough to risk my life.” …

      My sad conclusion then is that such a person knows Jesus only in their head and not really in their heart. They may be forgiven, but I cannot believe they have experienced God inwardly.

      These quotes are from

    • I like Olson’s “litmus test”. I think it should be applied even more generally. The question is, if I knew I would be saved “anyway”, would I still care to live a Christian life that pleases God? Einstein once said in an interview “What a miserable creature man would be if he were good not for the sake of being good, but because religion told him that he would get a reward after this life, and that if he weren’t good he’d be punished.” I think Einstein really touched a crucial sore spot, and this statement also echoes my own thinking since I was a child. Sometimes when being among “Christians” or UBFers I had the eery feeling that people were driven mainly by either this fear (often seen in ordinary members) or this desire for honor and reward (often seen in leaders). That’s probably also why leaders think they must push members and question their salvation, or flatter them as being “great leadership material” because without such “motivation” they would do nothing and be only “sitting ducks” as Samuel Lee liked to say. Or, as some liked to say, without pressure, UBF would not work. But then, why do people claim it’s a spiritual organization where people are driven by love to God and their neighbours? The more pressure you create, the less likely is that this is true. And the crazy thing is, people cannot even be sure about their own motivation any more. I personally often didn’t even know myself whether I did things out of love and faith, or because I just wanted to please my shepherds, or avoid trouble, or to compensate feelings of guilt for not being as good and sinless as I believed I should be as a Christian. Even it such things were not the main motivation, they were always kind of “mixed in”.

    • Yes, Charles/Chris/Joe, your thoughts ring true to me as well on these points.

      Our friend John Armstrong just wrote an excellent piece related to your comment, Chris, regarding our motivation:

      “Sometimes when being among “Christians” or UBFers I had the eery feeling that people were driven mainly by either this fear (often seen in ordinary members) or this desire for honor and reward (often seen in leaders).”

      John wrote:

      “St. Augustine’s reasoning, on force and human freedom, demonstrates how essential it is for Christians to balance their desire that all persons know God’s truth as revealed in Jesus Christ with their recognition that the only coercion they should apply is that of reason and love.

      The essential flaw of Augustine’s argument is the assumption that the end justifies the means. The end, in this case, is commendable. But the question that must be posed is clear: “Does love not decree the means as well as the end?” Agape love never allows one to detach the means from the end.

      Love may reason, urge and plead. But love does not coerce or force. Christians cannot employ means that do not give the fullest attention to the latter’s freedom and personal integrity. Agape simply cannot use force by definition. To apply love in this way usurps God’s prerogative and contradicts love’s very nature.”

      I think at times, even Augustine and Aquinas need to be challenged.

      (Incidentally, in case you didn’t guess it, John is the person who recommended the Koch book to me.)

    • Joe Schafer

      Just finished Koch’s book last night. It’s fantastic. And deeply convicting.

      Through the book, I could see a painful picture of myself as someone desperately seeking acceptance and approval from God and from people. And trying to escape judgment and disfavor. That, as Koch points out, has nothing to do with — in fact, it’s a cheap substitute for — agape love.

      The last few chapters of the book, which focus on how we treat and ought to treat Christians with whom we disagree, is the most hard-hitting and challenging message to the church (and to me) that I have seen in recent memory.

      I purchased the book for my Kindle. But if anyone wants to order a printed copy, you can get a significant discount; see John’s blog for details.


      I’m almost speechless.

    • I concur, Joe. I’m working through the book slowly but surely. My mind may explode if I move too quickly :) Besides the “essential vs. non-essential” type thinking, the most profound truth I’ve learned so far is regarding salvation.

      The gospel drives all three parts of our journey following Christ: salvation, sanctification and glorification. Although salvation is necessary for sanctification to occur, the reverse is not true. Sanctification is not necessary for salvation.

      This contradicts the way I used to view salvation (which Koch explains well). I used to see salvation has being made up of three parts: justification, sanctification and glorification. That explains why I ended up on a sin/repent hamster wheel trying to please God by my obedience and not tick off God by my disobedience.

      Now my journey is SO much more lively and active since I realized this correction, which came partially from seeing Scripture through the proper lens of grace.

    • Well written by John Armstrong. Apropos John, there is a wonderful passage in John 3, right between UBF’s favorite stories about Nicodemus and the Samaritian woman. In this passage, John the baptist says: “He must become greater; I must become less.” I think that should be the motto of every Bible teacher when talking with others about Jesus.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, your comment reminds me of something I read a while ago in a book on Christian leadership. The book is called Leading with a Limp, by Dan Allender. He says (and this is a paraphrase): The goal of a true leader is to replace himself as quickly as possible with someone who can do the job better than he.

  20. Thanks, Chris, I downloaded the 192 page book, but don’t know when I will read it. Can you give a brief synopsis of what you got out of the book?

    Here is Trevin Wax’s 31 page pdf document of Gospel Definitions from renowned Christians, past and present: http://trevinwax.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Gospel-Definitions2.pdf When I read this a few years ago, I realized for the first time that I had no clear well thought out way of answering the question (“What is the gospel?”) with conviction and clarity, and with passion and purity.

    My short version of what is the gospel is 3 words from J.I. Packer: “God saved us” (Tit 3:5).

    My 7 word (perhaps more cumbersome) definition of the gospel is “Redeemed trinitarianly by love, mercy and grace.”

    • Ben, I think I would do the book a disfavor by summarizing it in a few words. It’s something to read during the holidays or a quiet weekend. Ideally suited to be put on an e-book reader and then be read outside in nature.

  21. As I delve into the meaning of the gospel, I find an abundance of questions, all of which tie into some “ology” of Christianity. One of those questions is “What does it mean to repent?” I am preparing another article on this topic, deeply related to “What is the gospel?”

    Any thoughts on this quote I found? I am extremely troubled by this articulation, but I’m not able to express why as of yet.

    “Yes, Christians sin. But Christians fall into sin and when they find they are sinning, they reject it and struggle to get out of sin. If someone is not struggling with sin, they are not a Christian.

    On the other hand, someone who willingly dives into sin, embracing their sin and accepting is not a Christian. They are not saved.

    Are they not saved because they sin? No. They are not saved because they are refusing to turn away from sin (that’s called repenting) and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

  22. Thanks, Chris, for your accurate observation regarding fear in juniors in UBF and honor in senior leaders, which to me is very unhealthy, unbiblical, and unspiritual.

    My explanation is the implicit prevalent idea that unless a younger Christian fears an older Christian whom he can see, he/she will not fear God whom he/she cannot see.

    I used to believe this, but not any more.

    This unbiblical fear of man stifles and suffocates the initiative, creativity and freedom of younger Christians, because “they must humble themselves and submit” to their leaders without question.

    This excessive honor of the leader is also horrible for him, because it causes him to think/feel implicitly that he cannot be touched, and should not be questioned or challenged by citing Heb 13:17, while ignoring countless biblical passages about humility, and not lording it over others.

    Such unhealthy teachings happen because of an improper understanding of the gospel and of the Trinity, for the Trinity emphasizes the equality of all men, regardless of seniority status or missionary status.

    This must change and is gradually changing.

  23. Just read this blog today. Found it appropriate to the discussion.


    • John, the blogger in your link seems to understand what I mean when I say the “hamster wheel of sin/repent/sin/repent” and is attempting to get off that wheel. He is on the right path I would say.

      I really liked this: “What I haven’t understood to the same degree is the value of preemptively preaching the gospel to myself.” The power of grace is not simply in being reactive *after* sin, it is in being proactive *before* sin.

      It is similar in my mind to John Piper’s “future grace”. In Piper’s mind, the future is the next 5 seconds. So he advocates living in grace constantly, building on the foundational grace found at the cross.

    • Ben, I’ve been hoping to see someone ask the questions the blogger does in your link: “But is it fair? Is it just?”

      When Jesus proclaims grace, we all like it. Crowds flocked to him. But then something happened. They all started to realize that Jesus was talking about grace, all grace, and nothing but grace.

      I believe the primary reason Jesus was crucified was that people could not see His grace as fair or just. Crowds loved His teaching at first.

      The expert law teachers immediately sniffed out that Jesus didn’t seem to have a “fair or just” moral backbone that they could recognize. So they concluded he was not just. Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be God. This blew their minds. How could God act like Jesus, they thought? God would never touch a leper. God would never associate with prostitutes and tax collectors. Yet some of the leaders at least, knew in their hearts that Jesus was actually living out the very law they claimed to know and teach.

      Sure, in regard to ourselves, we readily accept and apply grace. But to one of “those people”? We somehow can’t process grace toward other people who are clearly sinners (even though we ourselves are just as bad).

      Grace reminds me, these days, of God’s question expressed through Ezekiel 18:29 “Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?”

  24. Some questions about scope… What’s the difference between the “Bible” and the “Gospel”? Is the Gospel a *subset* or some kind of core *summary* of the Bible? Or is the Gospel the *entire* Bible? Given the above discussion by Joe and others, it seems clear that both the OT and the NT are part of the Gospel story. If so, where do we draw the boundaries? We can say the Gospel is about Jesus, but given their perfect unity, we can’t really separate Jesus from the Father and the Holy Spirit and surely all three were actively working and involved during Jesus’ ministry. And then there’s a question about time. Did the “Gospel” happen in Jesus’ time only or did it begin earlier and is it still going on today?

    • Ray, this opens up a whole new level of thinking! Here are my initial thoughts…

      What’s the difference between the “Bible” and the “Gospel”?
      > I see the Bible as the God-inspired written declaration of the Gospel as the Gospel was proclaimed in various contexts throughout history.

      Is the Gospel a *subset* or some kind of core *summary* of the Bible?
      > I would say neither a subset nor a summary. The Gospel is a specific collection of facts which tell a message; a message that was/is embodied in the Person, Jesus.

      Or is the Gospel the *entire* Bible?
      > I see all 31,103 verses (depending on translation) as declaring the Gospel message in some form.

      Given the above discussion by Joe and others, it seems clear that both the OT and the NT are part of the Gospel story. If so, where do we draw the boundaries?
      > I say we don’t draw any boundaries. Hebrews 4:2 says that the gospel was preached to the ancient Israelites, as well as to us. Hebrews further describes the Gospel message as “entering into God’s rest”, which I believe is the most comprehensive articulation of the Gospel. To describe the gospel message as “entering into God’s rest” then, gives meaning to the restless wandering curse at the Fall, as well as new meaning to Cain’s life story. And we see why God was SO angry with the Israelites in the desert and said “They shall never enter my rest”.

      Did the “Gospel” happen in Jesus’ time only or did it begin earlier and is it still going on today?
      > The Gospel was always there. Jesus made the Gospel much more clear, that which the ancients only looked forward to and couldn’t understand. But people like the Psalmist in 119 could see the marvelous beauty of the Gospel in the law.

      > And the Gospel was certainly preached to Job and through Job. I am eager to do an in-depth study of Job’s three friends and their advice. I am certain that if we did so, we would discover the Gospel message and see why present day churches struggle. I believe a lot of well-meaning Christians express the Gospel the way Job’s friends did. God’s furious love and righteous anger is revealed in the multiple chapters at the end of Job full of rhetorical questions that will make any legalist weep!

    • “…is it still going on today?”
      > I say yes! I believe the canon of Scripture is closed. But I am becoming convinced that God does not want us Christians to put the Bible into practice verbatim. Instead, I believe we should learn what/who the Gospel message is, study how it was preached/lived/expressed in the various contexts from Genesis to Revelation, and then submit to the Holy Spirit to find a proper contextualization for our generation in our part of the body of Christ. That is why, I believe, people like Spurgeon were so influential. And yes I believe that kind of expressing the Gospel is still going on today and will until Jesus returns!

  25. Joe Schafer

    We’re not the only ones asking the question, “What is the gospel?” A website run by Leadership Journal has just started to post a video series in which well known Christian leaders present the gospel in five minutes or less. The first video appeared yesterday, and it’s by Ravi Zacharias:


    • Joe, I appreciate Ravi’s discernment to see that the gospel in our generation has been thrown into the self-help, answer-to-all-problems mish-mash of diluted and polluted ideology.

      I also appreciate his speaking about the emptiness of this life. The gospel addresses this emptiness, which is another reason why I contend that one of the gospel “words” is fulfillment.

      He also speaks of alienation from God. This is good. But I wonder if Ravi understands the alienation from Christianity that has taken place? Maybe he does.

  26. I just have to share this summary of the gospel, from a Facebook friend of mine, Douglas Sloan:

    What is “good” about the Good News is that we are called by God
    to be in loving relationship with God in a way that exceeds any contractual covenant with God
    to stop seeing each other as sinners
    to stop looking for ways to see each other as sinners
    to see justice as repair, rehabilitation, and restoration
    to value reconciliation over judgment
    to value inclusion over exclusion

    What is more important and more powerful than any human exclusion is that we are called by God, without exceptions and without conditions,
    to be the body of Christ
    to be sisters and brothers in Christ
    to be children of God
    to be the family of God
    to be citizens of the Kingdom of God
    to be the Kingdom of God
    to live it and exude it and provoke it here and now, constantly and forever

    The Good News has 3 inseparable messages:

    1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent
    unrestrained Love and unconditional Grace of God; and
    2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming Compassion and the reparative rehabilitating restorative Justice of the Community; and
    3) The inclusive Hospitality and joyous Generosity and healthy Service of the Individual.

  27. Since I hear crickets chirping… more good words from Douglas:

    “The message heard through the entire Bible; as the prophets repeatedly admonished the people of Israel and as Jesus preached and taught the Disciples and crowds, what God wants is not the enforcement of the letter of the Torah. What God wants is that we embrace and live the spirit of the Torah. God does not want a community whose purpose is focused on sin and legalism, on exclusion and punishment. God wants a community whose existence and purpose is based on and focused on justice and compassion. God does not want individuals who are legally obedient and ritually clean. God wants individuals who are generous and hospitable and who, in a healthy and wise way, serve those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, hurt, imprisoned, enslaved, oppressed, lost – and those who just arrived and do not know the way.”

  28. Joe Schafer

    Another short video on “What is the Gospel?”

    This one is by N.T. Wright.


    • Very good explanation by Wright. He rightly includes the kingdom message of the gospel. The Lordship doctrines are sorely needed these days, especially in the UBF context. When I first believed the gospel, I loved to proclaim “Jesus is Lord”. I even made a big sign an taped it to my car window :) But as time in UBF went on, I lost the Lordship message and felt it wasn’t proper to bring up “Jesus is Lord” because clearly other people were “lord”.

  29. Joe Schafer

    After listening to Wright, I realized how important it is for us to have our allegiance and identity attached to Jesus Christ. Not to the church to which we belong. Not to our preferred teachings or doctrinal systems. Not to our distinctive religious practices. Not to our accomplishments. Simply to Jesus himself. That is not easy for Christians of any stripe, no matter what church they attend.

    • Frankly, Joe, I am finding it very easy to have my allegiance and identity “simply to Jesus himself”. What I struggle with these days is how to love Christians. For example, if it is true we are mandated by our Lord to love all people, then there must be a way to love even Westboro Church. There must be a way to love the pharisee. I find it natural these days, to obey the voice of God.

      I find it a huge struggle to have any kind of allegiance or identity in Christendom.

  30. Every man’s (sinful) default is ALWAYS to anything but Jesus only. If we are a committed Christian, then our default is to our particular stripe or tribe or favorite Christian author, preacher, theologian or teacher, and to our own particular unique teachings, doctrine, practices, methodology or even oddities and eccentricities.

    Until we do not insist that things must be done in a particular way that we are accustomed to, any church or ministry will just become more and more sectarian with an exclusivist, seclusive barricade mentality.

    Then what happens is that Jesus is not the highlight or high point of our church/ministry, but something else which is good, such as social justice, mission, discipleship, etc.

    • I think, Ben, that such default nature of humanity is why we need to find our tribe, our place, our community. If such a tribe is not exclusive, then we should have freedom to find our role and place.

      So far, I am still wandering outside the gate of Christendom. I would love to find my “Cheers”, but every tribe in Christendom seems to be mutually exclusive, and riddled with requirements, not able to think or question beyond their little niche.

      I think these things are why Christianity is such a paradox. We humans need to have our tribe, and yet that tribe must be inclusive to be a light to the world.

  31. @Alec:

    “From the point of view of my Eastern Orthodox Church UBF is a sect.”

    Yes, from almost any point of view, except the internal view, ubf is a sect. Do you have any experience with Russian Icons? I really want to go to Russia again and paint an Icon in St. Petersburg. I long for the kind of spirituality Icons provide.

    “I would send you my 7-page insight in it’s teaching, but it’s all in Russian.”

    That’s fine, I am not good at Russian, but I would like to try and understand it.

    “I’ve just started, and rather hope you can help.”

    Sure, just contact me on my own blog page contact form. I reviewed a Korean paper about ubf from 1998, here is the review link.

    I wrote this a while ago, hope it makes sense: Моим друзьям в России

    Мой русский язык не хорошо :)

    • Alec Sitalo

      \\Do you have any experience with Russian Icons\\
      Yes, you know, icon veneration is a dogma in Orthodox Church which proclaims God’s incarnation. Praying with icons eliminates “fantastic prayer” of mind giving him real images instead of what he intents to imagine and real spirituality.

      There is a big icon school in Sergiev-Posad. And we had a one-year course of Church art at the seminary.

      Btw, don’t you know David Barro who also came to Saint-Petersburg at the UBF member and after that quit UBF and now he is a member of Orthodox Church in America?

    • Joe Schafer

      I know David well. He lives in my town. We see each other fairly often.

    • Thanks Alec. No I don’t know that David. I was in St. Petersburg in 1992.

  32. Thanks, Alec, for starting an interesting thread on hell. Welcome to UBFriends.

    At the risk of oversimplification, the comments seem to be about ECT vs. Annihilationism vs. Rob Bell’s Love Wins (which seems to advocate postmortem conversion and salvation). John Stott had made comments that could be interpreted as supporting annihilationism, which he may have subsequently either retracted from or wishing to no longer being vocal about because of its controversial nature.

    My thoughts about hell begin with a God who is love, and about a God who subjected Himself in the Person of His Son to a separation during his crucifixion and death, that brought forth an unbearable agonizing cry of dereliction (Mt 27:46). Though the separation from the Father by the death of Christ lasted only 3 days in the grave, yet for a an eternal Being who has eternally never ever been separated, it was torturous beyond anything that we humans can ever truly know or experience. Even in eternity future, the Son will bear the marks of the cross on His Person. Yet, this most agonizing excruciating moment in the Godhead is the utmost expression of God’s love for man.

    Next is that man is created in the image of the eternal God. It is theologically hard for me to conceive of man who is created with an eternal soul by the eternal God to cease to exist should he be separated from God after death.

    It is also hard for me to conceive of Rob Bell’s idea of Love Wins.

    That said, I am troubled to personally think if I would be eternally separated from my loved ones. I honestly don’t quite know how to emotionally or intellectually or spiritually resolve it. Nonetheless, I rest on my hope and faith in the God who I know is a loving gracious merciful forgiving God (especially toward me, a sinner condemned unclean), and in a God who will always do the right thing out of his perfect love and perfect justice.

    @Chris, I think I resonate with you in this: “I loved science and scientific activity, but to me it was clear that occupation with science (my “Isaac”) and occupation with rescuing people from hell were mutually exclusive. So it was with anything else in my life. I had to give up everything. Still, I always felt guilty because I could always do more and give up more to rescue the people. The gospel became a nightmare for me. It destroyed my life on this earth, I became I robot doing the same UBF activities every week without caring about my own life and dreams.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/09/22/what-is-the-gospel/#comment-9475 Like you, I no longer buy such dichotomous thinking that our lives become compartmentalized and segregated as though one particular aspect of our live (say our church life) is more important than another part (say our vocation). It is exclusivist, elitist, unhealthy and I believe quite unbiblical.

    • “Like you, I no longer buy such dichotomous thinking that our lives become compartmentalized and segregated as though one particular aspect of our live (say our church life) is more important than another part (say our vocation).”

      The problem is you can’t stop such thinking without changing your understanding of judgement, salvation, hell etc. In that regard UBF is much more honest than those Christians who believe they are saved, have their family life and hobbies, but don’t care that the rest of the world will be condemned and experience eternal torment.

      Maybe you as Americans don’t see it so drastically as we Europeans. Most of your neighbours are probably in some kind of Evangelical church. So you may believe most of who you know go to heaven. But in Germany there is only the Catholic church and the very liberal Protestant church, and both are shrinking. Nearly none of their members would qualify for salvation according to the strict requirements of UBFers or most Evangelical fundamentalists. Most Europeans are secular nowadays. Nearly every person I know would be condemned and eternally tormented. Tell me how I can live a “family centered life” with that in mind. In that regard, UBF is completely right.

      Writing this, I remember how my Korean shepherdess told me about her friend in UBF who was so sensitive that he could hear the screams of the souls tortured in hell. It was so scary when she told me such things. But all of this created an immense pressure on me to go fishing on the campus and save those poor souls. Still, the image of a loving God, of Jesus who gave his own life and taught us to be forgiving, and at the same time had “no excuse” and eternal torment for all these people around me created a dichotomy that I was not able to sustain with a sane mind.

  33. This has been a highly interesting discussion for me to follow. I’m not prepared to engage in the detailed discussion at this point. But I want to express a few things that this discussion has surfaced in my mind.

    Chris, I feel almost exactly as you do. I am ashamed of what American Evangelical people have done in the world. They are doing it big time in Africa now. Such things as you mention are some of the reasons why I am outside the gate of Christendom, at least in America. Rachael Held Evans has been a huge source of inspiration for me as well, and also the “naked pastor” and Brian MacLaren. I’ve not read Rob Bell yet.

    In regard to my helliology (is that a word, maybe its just part of soteriology…) here are my beliefs right now.

    Hell does exist. Satan and his demons will be in hell one day. Only God can make the decision to send someone to hell or not, and He is the one we should fear. I have a holy fear of God, and no fear of hell. I used to fear hell more than God. But now the fires of hell don’t scare me at all, now that the Spirit has opened my eyes to see more of who God is and what He is doing. My Lord Jesus is far stronger than the strong man of hell.

    Live as if we all will be in Heaven. Who will be in Heaven? Do any of us know? No, we don’t. The worst person you know today may suddenly be inspired tomorrow, like Saul on his horse. We don’t know who will be in Heaven, no matter how many litmus tests of doctrine we find. Surrender to grace. Be overcome by the furious love of God for you and for all humans. Maybe my act of generosity or my expression of love or my piercing words may impact someone for eternity. Preaching then, is no longer dictating doctrine. Preaching for me is showing love. I am an outlaw preacher, and as such, I live by four words: I owe you love. I surrender to our Lord Jesus, the Master Outlaw.

    And third, the bible clearly teaches there will be no doctrine test at the gates of Heaven. Jesus told us what will happen. He will not ask about our “ologies”. All 7.1 billion of us will stand before God with flawed doctrine. None of us will get it fully right. What will Jesus ask? He will simply ask “Did you visit me? Did you feed me?” Matthew 25:31-46. I think these final questions are like the massive litany of questions at the end of Job. In some sense, they are rhetorical, meant to obliterate any pride and to demonstrate the magnificent grace of God. Who can answer “yes” to Jesus final questions? We’ve all fallen short and must admit we did not see Jesus in that man who knocked on our door or the woman who needed just one word of encouragement. Jesus’ final questions demonstrate all our good works are but filthy rags compared to His riches.

  34. Joe Schafer

    Ben, you said, “I am troubled to personally think if I would be eternally separated from my loved ones.”

    So am I. Not just in the sense that some of them may go to heaven and others will go to hell. But also in the sense that, even within the kingdom of heaven, Alec has claimed that human family ties will be dissolved, based on what Jesus said in Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25 and Luke 20:35.

    If you look closely at these verses, what Jesus actually says is that, in the kingdom, no new marriages will be established. He doesn’t say that all existing marriages will be annulled or dissolved. Personally, I have a hard time imagining that as long as my wife and I both live in this world, we are supposed to love each other deeply and exclusively, but when we suddenly find ourselves in the kingdom, our special bond will disappear and to her I will be just like any other guy. Based on what Paul says in Ephesians 5, I believe that in the kingdom, our union with Christ will bring the fulfillment of marriage. Fulfillment is not the same as annulment. Even Paul didn’t know how to describe this, and in the end he says that it is a mystery. A great deal about the kingdom is just that: mystery. Which is why I have grown more and more uncomfortable with people drawing hard lines in the sand over doctrines of hell and such. There is a great deal that God has not told us, a great deal that we do not yet know, and our human attempts to formulate locically consistent doctrines about these mysteries are not necessarily bringing us any closer to the truth; they may be sending us away from the truth. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be thinking about and discussing these things. We should. But for many of these questions, the best answer for now may be, “We don’t really know.”

  35. @Joe, I ditto your comment: “Which is why I have grown more and more uncomfortable with people drawing hard lines in the sand over doctrines of hell and such.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2012/09/22/what-is-the-gospel/#comment-9484

    Did you read or watch Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward”? Reading the book earlier this year felt as though it was exactly describing my religious Christian life in UBF, and then helping me to evaluate my life in UBF. Here’s the video, which summarizes the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1kXeklcmMI

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the link.

  36. David Bychkov

    Hi everyone. Appreciate the discussion. Well, I intented to write some reflections and answers, but as Chris did, I will just share some of my experience and struggle. May be I will add some thoughts and conlusions later.
    I began to read the Bible and attend church may be because of the lack of meaning in my life, b/c of emtyness of my heart and b/c of frustration in myself and the life itself. I was caught by the New Testament, image and words of Jesus. It was light, fresh, living water. Many promises and parables was so true and so sweet, that I just loved them.
    But very soon my life became like a hell. It became much worse then it was before. Very soon, while reading the New Testament I realized that there is not just eternal life/heveanly kingdom promises but Jesus spoke much and clearly about the reality of hell, about God’s wrath etc. I realised that I’m a sinner, that I’m not just aparted from God, but am on my way to hell and living under God’s wrath.
    So my life became like a hell. I think I didn’t care that much that people around me are going to hell. But I was convienced that this is my reality and it was just killing knowing, so I didn’t thought much about anything else. May be I tried to do it, yes I really tried, but I still lived all the time with such reality, feeling in very real way my sinfulness, sinfulness of everything around me – my family, my friends, my nation etc, and feeling the wrath, anger of God to me. So, I think I literally hated my life, my family, my friends etc (Luke 14:26). Sometimes I tried to change my life, I tried to overcome my sins, but I failed every time. So I believed I am going to hell, the world I live in is going there as well. And I was fully agree with it.
    Well, I lived like this 1.5 years. And it was just terrible. But once I accepted God’s love through Jesus Christ to me. Somehow I believed that God loves me inspite of my sins, I believed that it is just his work to change me. And with time Christ blood was becoming more and more real in my life. I learned to come to God through Christ blood only, to be convienced in God’s love b/c of Christ cross only. It was grace, forgiveness and love. Well, it was amazing grace.
    That was so amazing and conviencing that few things came very naturally to my life. 1) I began to love those who are in Christ, those who loved him and experienced the same. (1 John 5:1,2) 2) I realized that I am different from those people who was in my “world” life. I repented in my sins and came to Christ, and they didn’t. (1Cor 6:9-11, Eph. 2:1-5) 3) It was natural to me to witness to them and to others people my experience and faith, so more people from category 2) will come to category 1).
    And may be I still was not that concerned about their eternal fate. 1) I was very happy to ovoid God’s wrath myself. 2) I was glad to realize his life 3) I was glad to find my new christian family (which happens to be UBF church) 4) I was pretty optimistic about my witness to my family, friends and people 5) I was (and I am) fully agree with the rigteous of God’s wrath. 6) I already was separated from people of the world including my family and friends b/c of the fact that I became Christ posession, while they didn’t.

    So for me the Gospel, Jesus Christ, his Cross, God’s wrath, hell, sin are so much connected so I just can not imagine how we can talk about the Gospel, without much attention paid to seriosness of sin and reality of God’s wrath. My experience is very personal, and I believe it is pretty inline with what the Bible talk about this things.
    I can’t see much place for such things as redemption, grace, cross if people are not that sinfull, if hell is not that horrible. I believe that as much cross is about the love of God it is also so much about horror of sin and God’s wrath. So, if you will take those out. I don’t know what is cross about at all. I don’t think we even can talk about God’s love on the cross if people are not that bad and punishment is also not that bad. Why God’s Son should be crusified then? Why God just does not tell the people – well, come to me I love you. And as they really not that bad, they surely will come.

    Regarding the discussion related to annihilism, I will not be that much concerned if the reality of sin and wrath of God will be still in place. Though, as I read in the Bible the reality and horror of hell (no matter what it is), and I have my own experience which confirmed the truth of this doctrine and the Church tradition is pretty strong on this topic – I believe my duty is to put it to attention as much as Bible does. And by the way, I don’t think the annihilation will be that helpful to overcome dissanance. It is still horrible, death itself horrible, the separation with God is horrible anyways. So if you think that if believe in ECT should push you to evangelism non-stop, I don’t think annihilism will help you solve it. Even if you think you should be motivated by God’s love to bring people for knowing him, you will be still uncare egoists if you don’t dedicate yourself to this topic (in case you really concerned of God’s love, people around and your responsibility to help them). I think just universalism would help.

    Something more about this dissonance/struggle. I am not sure if overcoming this struggle is what you really need to do. May be yes, may be not. Ap. Paul seems to have the same struggle (Romans 9:1-3). I believe such way of thinking – “the doctrine of hell brings dissonance to my life” -> “I can’t believe is” -> “I should be honest about it” -> “So I wouldn’t believe it” is wrong. B/c you make yourself the measure of the truth. And that is something I’m really concerned about. What if God want me to live with such dissonance? Or may be Bible can suggest some solutions. I don’t know. I also have it.

    And I still don’t think that Evangelism, saving people from hell is main mission of the believer. Main mission is to glorify God and to rejoice in him eternally. Evangelism is the work of the Spirit himself, and people should do it as much as He does.

    Well, few words regarding babies/gentiles. I believe that the main way of the sharing good news/salvation is preaching the gospel (1 Cor.1:21, Rom. 1:14-17 etc.). And we are tied with this way. But not God (John 3:8). For example John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from mother’s womb. I believe that God can regenarate people even where the Gospel is not preached. But his normal way is – through the preaching.

    • Mark Mederich

      “So I believed I am going to hell, the world I live in is going there as well”

      yeah sometimes it feels that way, or seems better than fallen world:)

      (maybe that’s where old rock song came from: ‘Highway to Hell’)

    • David, annihilism was one of the theories I used when I was in UBF to somewhat reconcile the love of God with the existence of hell. At that time I didn’t even know that there was a word for it. It may help a bit but doesn’t solve the other problem fundamentally: How can I be joyful knowing that all of the people around me simply will stop to exist, any only I will survive eternally?

      “I believe such way of thinking – “the doctrine of hell brings dissonance to my life” -> “I can’t believe is” -> “I should be honest about it” -> “So I wouldn’t believe it” is wrong. B/c you make yourself the measure of the truth. And that is something I’m really concerned about.”

      I know and understand your objection very well. But you misrepresented two things: First, the problem was not just a “dissonance” in my life (that sounds more like a “inconvenience”) . The problem was rather a “dis-integrity” in my life (accompanied with arrogance, hypocrisy and lack of empathy). And that is a much more serious problem. Second, I do not make myself as measure of the truth, but I make my conscience as a measure of what I believe and live by. I don’t say it’s the absolute truth, and I don’t force anybody else to live by it. What else can I make a measure? The Bible is not clear about these things, at least not to me. The reality is that the Bible contains many different commands including stoning certain people to death and it also contains many contradictory statements about theological questions and the character of God and the way of salvation, otherwise there would not be so much dispute and so many denominations. It is our task to make sense of it all, using our reasoning, our conscience and our heart. I cannot live by a self-contradictory set of doctrines that my heart cannot believe. I have done that for too long in UBF. I still believe the best thing Luther ever said is “It is neither safe nor prudent to do anything against conscience.” When I talked about that with a Korean UBF missionary, he basically told me that the term “conscience” cannot be found in the Bible and should not play a role for a Christian. People who believe such things concern me much more than those who don’t believe in the Bible. And then, there is also the Holy Spirit. To me the Holy Spirit never gave peace concerning the idea that all Non-Christians (in the sense of Evangelical Christians) are condemned and eternally tormented.

  37. @Alec,

    I find it difficult to understand much of what you say here. I just don’t follow your logic. And I’m not convinced of much when you use prooftexting as your method of explanation.

    “That’s not true. The Holy Spirit, whom God sent to the disciples “will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). Will he then not guide? Or will all people break from him? Will not God’s promise (Mt. 16:18) be fulfilled?”

    So you really think that phrase “guide you into all truth” means that some of us will understand truth so well that we have no flaws? Apparently that would be you, right?

    “Where did you find, that \\the bible clearly teaches there will be no doctrine test at the gates of Heaven\\ ? On the contrary: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt.12:36) and “the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” (1Cor.4:5) – everything will be estimated.”

    So you really believe that Matthew 12:36 and 1 Corinthians 4:5 teach we must each face a doctrine test in order to enter Heaven? I can’t fathom this from these verses, nor from the chapters that contain them. Maybe you could explain your thinking here? If you are correct, then could you explain to me how I can pass the doctrine test and enter Heaven?

  38. In light of our lively week long discussion on hell, ECT, annihilationism and universalism, perhaps this Tim Keller quote from Counterfeit Gods might be apt:

    “Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.”

    Thank God that by God’s grace, we may respect (and respectfully and graciously disagree with) each others differing views, opinions and perspectives while remaining fully engaged.

    • “Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.”

      The interesting thing is that UBF is not much in danger of making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, they rather fall from the other side of the horse by not caring about doctrine at all. Moral rectitude also not that much. But ministry success and absolute obedience towards UBF practice and leadership directions and traning, that’s their idol.

      Still, there are some doctrinal issues, core points in Jesus’ teachings that deserve fighting for and not avoiding conflict. There is a good example in 2:14. Paul firmly stood against those who taught (indirectly) that following certain practices and rules were necessary, undermining the gospel that teaches justification by faith and not by works.

    • Galatians 2:14 I wanted to write. You probably guessed it.