One of the most popular New Testament paraphrases ever published in English was called Good News for Modern Man. The title was taken from the meaning of the word Gospel, which translates the Greek term euangelion, which, of course, means “good news.”
In Christian jargon, it is now commonplace to hear the term Good News used as a synonym for the term Gospel. But in reality, the “modern man” who hears modern forms of the Good News hears very little of the Gospel.
The Gospel is indeed good news. But we cannot reverse the subject and the predicate so that we identify good news with the Gospel. We know that not all news is good news. We also know that not all good news is the Gospel. When the boss tells an employee that he is going to get a raise, that’s good news—but it is not the Gospel. When the biopsy report comes back negative, that’s good news—but it is not the Gospel.
Here we must ask an impolite and perhaps disturbing question: When does an evangelist fail to do the work of evangelism? The answer: when he fails to proclaim the “evangel,” that is, the Gospel. Like anyone else, the modern evangelist faces the temptation to sugarcoat the Gospel—with the result that the good news he proclaims is not the Gospel at all. When an evangelist tells a person that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” he is telling him good news—but it is not the Good News of the Gospel. Likewise, when he proclaims to people that God loves them “unconditionally,” he is speaking good news, but not the Gospel.
The Old Testament is filled with examples of false prophets who told people “good news.” For instance, Jeremiah was surrounded by such purveyors of false teaching: “ ‘From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush’ ” (Jer. 8:10b–12a).
The message of “peace” from the lips of the false prophets sounded like good news for the people. As a result, the false prophets had far more converts than Jeremiah. But theirs was a false gospel. When the people heard “Peace,” they were not troubled. They saw no need for repentance. Indeed, there was no need for anyone to repent if he already had peace with God. In the same way, why should any modern person flee to Christ if he hears that God already loves him unconditionally? If that message is true, does it not mean that we can continue in sin without fear of judgment? If God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, how can my impenitence possibly disrupt that plan?
When we look beyond the modern distortions of the Gospel and return to its original proclamation, we see a stark difference between the true Good News and the “good news” of some modern evangelists.