A paradox, G.K. Chesterton quipped, is “a truth standing on its head, waving its legs to get our attention.” In the Bible, such paradoxes abound. Paradoxically, Jesus is both God and man; and, paradoxically, the Bible was given by both human inscription and divine inspiration. One such paradox, or seemingly contradictory truth, is rooted in the gospel itself – the gospel message is simple, yet profound.
The gospel is a simple message. Simple enough to be comprehended by a child, understood by the illiterate, and conveyed by those lacking formal education. In fact, at times in the New Testament the Apostle Paul, an educated man, seems to revel in the gospel’s relative simplicity. To the church at Corinth, he chided the Jews who desired authenticating signs and Greeks who searched for wisdom. On the contrary, to the Corinthian believers, Paul purposed to “know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.”
At the same time, the gospel is also a profound message. Paul, the church’s great missionary-evangelist, was also the church’s most accomplished theologian. Paul penned some 13 New Testament letters, explaining and applying the gospel. Moreover, the Pauline epistles both insist and assume believers to be students of Scripture, equipped and equipping others to defend the faith. In many ways, the New Testament as a whole is one large project in documenting, defining, and defending the gospel.
One need not look back to the first-century church to find this gospel paradox. In the 21st century, just like the first century, the gospel message – the simple gospel message – still saves. Yet the 21st century also brings with it a season of unique evangelistic challenge. Prior generations of Christians often had the luxury of presenting the gospel in a cultural context of shared presuppositions – even among the lost – concerning the authority of Scripture, the truthfulness of the gospel, and the realities of heaven and hell. In past generations, the great enemy of the gospel was frequently perceived as apathy among unbelievers, and much of evangelism was oriented toward persuading the hearers to respond to the gospel message they knew and acknowledged but had not yet personally embraced. Evangelism focused more on exhortation to believe the gospel than an explanation of the gospel.
Such is not the case now. Contemporary believers can no more assume modern man is predisposed to believe an ancient gospel message than we can assume a modern man would be predisposed to believe in ancient medicine. Therefore, when it comes to explaining the gospel less may be more, except when less is not enough. God’s people must not settle for only a rudimentary knowledge of God’s saving message. Rather, we must have a robust and confident grasp of God’s Word and be ready to field the questions of modern man. In every sense of the expression, we must be New Testament believers, ready to give an answer for the hope that resides within us.
In Paul’s day and in ours, the gospel is indeed a paradox. In its own way, to paraphrase Chesterton, the gospel stands on its head, waves its legs and demands our attention. This is a paradox worth embracing, celebrating, and proclaiming.
*This article was originally published on 4/12/13*topicsEvangelism, The Gospel