Message shapes mission. Our gospel defines what we do when we go. We need clarity on what God’s gospel calls us to do, the message we embody in his world.
David Fitch traces six gospels prominent in Protestantism in the last century. His article — “The Many Gospels: How the Gospel Shapes the Church for Mission” — is Chapter 12 of the 2021 book, Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (link below).
Here’s a summary of his 6 gospels. See if you recognize them.
1. Billy Graham gospel
- Starting point: the problem is personal sin
- Key text: Romans 3:23-25
- Core: justification by faith alone
- Jesus: Son of God, sacrificed in my place
- Kingdom: future (rescuing souls out of the God forsaken world)
- Mission: individual-to-individual
- Proponents: Billy Graham, D. L. Moody, Bill Bright
2. Social gospel
- Starting point: the evil at work in social systems
- Key text: Mark 1:15
- Core: reconstituting of the social order for his reign of goodness and love
- Jesus: prophetic revealer of social evils, initiator of God’s kingdom, teacher/exemplar
- Kingdom: God is in history, active in the world to develop his kingdom
- Mission: individuals from the church working for God’s justice as individuals in the world’s systems
- Proponent: Walter Rauschenbusch
3. Liberation gospel
- Starting point: the social evil in the West’s oppressive systems
- Key text: Luke 4:18-21
- Core: liberating humanity from the systemic oppression that oppresses marginalized peoples
- Jesus: exemplar, teacher, God among the poor to save the oppressed
- Kingdom: the good news is that Jesus brings the kingdom of God
- Mission: go and be among the poor and oppressed, discerning what God is doing
- Proponent: Jon Sobrino
4. Four-fold gospel (full gospel)
- Starting point: humanity’s sinful status before God (same as Billy Graham gospel)
- Key text: Isaiah 53:5
- Core: holistic deliverance (body, soul, mind, spirit, holiness)
- Jesus: saviour, sanctifier (with HS baptism), healer, coming king
- Kingdom: future (aligned with dispensationalist premillennialism)
- Mission: individuals engaging individuals
- Proponent: H. S. Maltby
5. Good gospel (Neo-Calvinist)
- Starting point: God’s fallen creation (with common grace)
- Key text: Col 1:16-18
- Core: individual salvation and social justice (using human power towards God’s ends)
- Jesus: atoning for individuals and Lord of the whole world
- Kingdom: Everything: Christ is king of all
- Mission: Partner alongside other institutions (spheres), working for the common good
- Proponents: Abraham Kuyper, Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, popularized by Francis Shaeffer, Os Guinness, Chuck Colson
6. King Jesus gospel
- Starting point: the world in disorder, manifested by sin (in individuals and social systems)
- Key text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
- Core: God is setting the world right in Christ (justification). An individual cannot enter redemption in Christ without entering his reign.
- Jesus: The entire life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ fulfils God’s promises and ultimately makes everything right.
- Kingdom: Jesus’ inaugurated kingship, embodied in those who recognize him as Lord
- Mission: to be the community in Christ, learning to live as the concrete manifestation of Jesus’ Lordship and reign
- Proponents: Scot McKnight, James Dunn, N. T. Wright, Matthew Bates
Fitch has been even-handed, quoting at least one proponent of each. A more nuanced approach would be impossible in such brief summaries. He recognizes that each version of the gospel contains some truth, even if inadequate on its own. His concluding thoughts are closely aligned with Scot McKnight’s (#6).
His conclusion (page 194):
We need a gospel that calls us to be the justice of God in Christ in order to witness to the justice of God in Christ and allow God to bring it patiently among the places where we live, relying on the nonviolent presence of God to change the world.
Here are some discussion starters for your friends or home fellowship:
- Who is Christ? Is he a personal saviour, dying in my place to save me from my sins (#1) and my diseases (#4)? Is he the global saviour, showing us the way of the cross that overcomes every form of oppression (#2, #3)? Is he a leader working in concert with other spheres (#5), or the anointed king raised up with global authority to lead us as God’s kingdom (#6)?
- What problem does the gospel address? Is it personal sin (#1, #4)? Is it the social systems (#2, #3)? Is it both (#5, #6)? Does every individual answer to God? Or is the problem bigger than me, existing long before I was born? Does God’s good news ultimately resolve personal guilt or global injustice?
- What response does the gospel call for? Is it a free gift of personal forgiveness with no strings attached? Or does God’s unearned grace call us to recognize Christ as Lord and live as the community under his leadership?
- How do we take the gospel to the world? Are we individuals calling individuals to make decisions (#1, #4)? Are we individuals seeking justice for individuals (#2)? Are we fighting systemic injustice (#3)? Are we partnering alongside other institutions for the common good (#5)? Are we a community embodying atonement (#6)?
- How did these six perspectives expand your horizons? What other questions did they raise for you?
David E. Fitch, “The Many Gospels: How the Gospel Shapes the Church for Mission” in Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now edited by Nijay K. Gupta et al. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021, 177–195. From Logos or Kindle.
- Billy Graham, How To Be Born Again (Thomas Nelson, 1989).
- Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology of the Social Gospel. Nashville: Abingdon, 1917.
- Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Translated by Inda Caridad et al. 15th ed. Orbis Books, 1988.
- Bernie Van de Walle, “Albert B. Simpson’s Fourfold Gospel: Both Product and Critique of Late Nineteenth Century Evangelical Theology.” in World Christianity and the Fourfold Gospel 1 (2015) 29–42.
- Richard Mouw, Abraham Kuyper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.
- Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.