January 27, 2021

iMonk Classic: The “Absent Gospel” Series (2)

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Series from Nov, 2009

As part of our “Gospel Week” emphasis, we are reviewing Michael Spencer’s series on “My Strange Experiences with an Absent Gospel” from November of 2009.

Today, parts three and four.

• • •

My Strange Experiences With An Absent Gospel: Gospel Articulations (Part 3)

I’ve been trying to emphasize the Gospel as the foundational content of the Christian life for many years. While I’ve worked at fresh articulations of the Gospel, there are a lot of familiar articulations of the Gospel that show up in my preaching and teaching with high school students and the adults in chapel and in my classes.

For example, these are four different Gospel articulations that I’ve used repeatedly in speaking and teaching. They are not definitions or creeds. They are articulations that summarize and balance the content of the Gospel as I understand it. It’s language I want my hearers to hear frequently. Sometimes in phrases. Sometimes in whole sermons or lessons.

Announcement: The Gospel is the glad announcement that God himself, through Jesus, has done everything necessary to rescue his broken world and save its broken people from judgment and ruin. All persons are invited to believe this glad announcement, to be forgiven and to become a disciple of Jesus who is King and Lord.

God: In the Gospel, God shows us that he is the loving and gracious Father revealed in Jesus Christ his Son. This is the face of God that the Christian will look upon for all of eternity. In our Father, there is no condemnation or rejection for his Son or those who belong to God in him. Everything the Bible says about God is true, but for the Christian, God is Jesus in our experience. The Glory of God is the majesty and Glory of Jesus in the incarnation, his sufferings/resurrection and the scriptures.

Jesus: Jesus is our salvation. We say with Simeon: “My eyes have seen your salvation” as he held the infant Christ. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. He lived a life we could not live and and died a death in our place. He was raised to make us right with God and give us life in God’s Kingdom. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated the power of Satan, evil and condemnation. Jesus rules the universe today as the one true King and will return to rule over a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus commands all persons to repent and believe in him.

Kingdom: The Kingdom of God was announced and established by Jesus and it continues in human history by his authority and power. Salvation comes into history as the Kingdom of God takes root in the world. The Kingdom of God is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth where God’s righteousness lives and salvation is experienced. Jesus invited all persons to come into this Kingdom, to live in its new realities and to work for its inevitable triumph.

This is some of the “foundational content” that should underlie whatever applications we make and whatever we say that reflects on the Gospel.

It doesn’t seem that it would be particularly difficult to put the Gospel in a place where, for example, if we talk about God without Jesus or the culture war without reference to the Kingdom or salvation without reference to the person of Christ, it would sound wrong.

So why doesn’t it?

(By the way, I’m not offering these articulations for theological autopsy. This is how I talk and unless you are an ordination committee I’m seeking to get past, don’t treat me like my articulations are up for theological pinata practice.)

'Get Out Of My Head (Diet Day 52)' photo (c) 2010, Douglas R Witt - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/My Strange Experiences With An Absent Gospel: How It Feels In The Strangeness (Part 4)

The comments to the three previous posts have featured a variety of responses and reactions to the idea of “Gospel-less” sermons, teaching, testimonies, etc. I am happy for those of you who are in churches where this is unthinkable, but I assure you that here in the Bible belt, this is not an illusion, particularly at the ground level of the most basic understanding of what is being said or proclaimed.

For example, it is not unusual for me to hear sermons with no specific reference to the scriptural, creedal or commonly articulated central ideas of the Gospel. God is generic. The Christian life is “living for God.” The mission of the Christian is either public morality or “being a good witness.” The Bible is a collection of proof texts.

The internet theological class usually is careful to be in a church where all the proper bases have been touched and the theological content is high. But for many other Christians, the Gospel content of a Joel Osteen or the Prosperity preachers seems quite appropriate. Osteen has even said that traditional Gospel content is offensive to what he is trying to do. One can listen to the prosperity preachers or culture warriors for weeks and not hear a clear, cogent articulation of foundational content. Moralism, legalism, cultural religion and shallow sentimentality prevail.

I use articulations such as the ones in the previous posts as component parts of almost everything I say. Tomorrow I will preach on “My Kingdom is not of this world,” but I will relate the Kingdom to Christ, the mission of Christians to the mission of Jesus and the Gospel’s diagnosis of the human situation to the entire mission of God. These will be component parts, not the entire message. The same will be true as I preach advent texts next week and so on.

Other Gospel appropriate Gospel articulations might center around grace, sin, judgment, community or love. I’d love to hear some of yours.

These component parts of teaching and preaching are one response to the issue of Christless preaching. I’d be very interested in your responses.

Many IM readers may not have read the original “Christless Preaching.” I’m linking it here for your reading and commentary. I’m also linking a similar piece: “No Jesus Needed.”

There was a time I wanted to fight this situation, but at this point I feel overwhelmed. I have to face it in the preaching at my own place of ministry and no amount of explicit addressing of what’s happening seems to ring true. Something is missing. It doesn’t feel like a false Gospel- though it certainly can amount to one- and I’m not looking foe minutiae and footnotes. It feels like something was laid aside, then lost and now everyone is used to it. We can sing about it and “amen” it, but there’s a tangible, pervasive absence of the Gospel as foundational content.

A few years ago I did a funeral with a local minister at a Holiness church. He preached first and never came near the Gospel. There was more Gospel at a Jehovah’s Witness funeral than at this funeral. I got up and simply presented the Gospel, especially how Christ’s life, death, resurrection and gift of righteousness gave hope at this time. There was an awkward silence.

If you live where I do, I have some advice: Book your own funeral preacher now and get someone who will preach the Gospel.


  1. “I got up and simply presented the Gospel, especially how Christ’s life, death, resurrection and gift of righteousness gave hope at this time. There was an awkward silence.”

    I recently attended a funeral where the pastor did just that. The pastor gave a wonderful eulogy and gave family ample time to share their tributes. But he also gave the gospel; that the pain everyone felt was because death is always an intruder, but in Christ there is peace, hope and comfort. This is in contrast to another funeral, where the pastor used the funeral as a platform for a four-spiritual-laws evangelistic sermon. Starting off this series first with important word definitions was a very good idea, starting with the definition of “gospel”. Many of those guilty of preaching gospel-less and Christ-less messages probably think that they really are preaching the gospel, simply because they have no idea what the gospel is.

  2. The gospel is electric. It rings the church bells of the spirit. When something is devoid of that good news it is boring. In fact it is absolute drudgery. I avoid one of our priests by checking online to see what Mass he is saying. He never brings the gospel. It’s just blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah. I can’t even tell you what he talks about. I just can’t take it.

  3. Considering it will be a Mass, I’m confident that the Gospel will be preached, and I’ve already got the songs picked out. I want a HAPPY funeral, gosh-darnnit!

  4. I would recommend two A B Simpson hymns to help quell this tide: “Jesus Only” and “Himself.”

  5. When I was a student at Ga Tech in the 1970s, I quit attending church during my undergrad school years (away from home and all that) but as a grad student finally accepted the invitation of the Wesley Foundation there to come to “Celebrate What Matters Most.” The campus pastor (sic) had more “Absent Gospel” homilies than I care to remember, but he had all of us in attendance eating out of his hand, convinced we had found some new enlightenment. We heard Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, and Robinson but little if any Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I thank God I finally heard and believed the Gospel but grieve for those who were duped by this charade and probably still think they know the truth because they continue to hear the same (non-) message in the churches they attend. Thank you for these articles.

  6. I appreciate Gospel week. I realize it’s not garnering a lot in the comments, but it’s extremely important to have these posts. I’m in dire need every day of drinking from this life-giving fountain, whether it comes from a blog or elsewhere. So Chaplain Mike and everyone at the iMonastery, you have my thanks.


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