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Ask anyone to describe the shape of a square, and you might expect a variety of explanations that yet have common talking points (for example, 90-degree corners with four equilateral sides). Get one of the defining features of a square wrong, and you’re no longer describing a square, regardless of culture, time, or place. Similarly, if a believer were to summarize the gospel, we might reasonably anticipate that each explanation would conform to a particular shape that transcends different communication styles, theological influences, and cultural idioms. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he provides a particular shape to the gospel of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3–4) by forming it around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He goes on to provide credible eyewitness reports from various sources to validate his claims, including his own testimony (vv. 5–8).
One facet of the Christian life where we see the importance of the shape of the gospel unfold is in evangelism. As we share the gospel, it is paramount to clearly articulate the redemptive work of Jesus for our listeners. Yet oftentimes our audience has not had access to the biblical worldview and doesn’t understand the biblical plotline. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul rooted his explanation of the gospel in the larger context: “in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 3). Not only did Paul want to provide a clear shape to the gospel, but he also wanted to demonstrate that the gospel was set firmly and securely within the framework of the story of God and the redemptive history of His people.
In order to grasp the context of the whole gospel, Paul demonstrates that a wide-angle view of the Scriptures is necessary. I witnessed this firsthand almost ten years ago when I traveled to New York City for the first time with the intent of sharing the gospel. Standing on a busy street corner in the Bronx, I was approached by a petite woman wearing dark-rimmed glasses. She startled me by giving my arm a small tug, and then she whispered something I didn’t hear. I leaned over and asked her to repeat her words. This time I heard her whisper: “Could you pray for me? I’m HIV-positive, and I don’t know if God loves me.”
In that moment, I believe God gave me great clarity in explaining the gospel to her as she listened closely. Yet she neither said, “I believe!” or “Thanks, but no thanks.” Instead, she began to ask me more questions about the Bible. As she contemplated each answer, it seemed to ignite a new series of questions. I could see her collecting, analyzing, and categorizing her thoughts as she struggled to make sense of the gospel and her suffering. For forty-five minutes we stood there on that cold street corner: two strangers conversing about the story of God. Hearing the gospel had confronted her worldview, and each answer I provided from the Scriptures seemed to distort her old worldview even more.
D.A. Carson writes,
[The] gospel is integrally tied to the Bible’s storyline. Indeed, it is incomprehensible without understanding that storyline. . . . But the point is simply this: the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ makes sense in the context of this storyline and in no other.
Regardless of our method of evangelism, we need to clearly present the gospel within the storyline of Scripture.
How did it all begin? What has gone wrong? Is there any hope? What will the future hold? These are basic worldview questions that every religion attempts to answer in some way. These are the questions behind the questions and comments we encounter throughout our day in conversation, social media, or from strangers sitting behind us at a restaurant. When bad news provokes someone to say, “How could a person do something like that?” or “What is it with him/her?” we would do well to recognize these are simply questions of “What has gone wrong?”
As we look to God’s Word to answer these questions, the major themes of the biblical worldview are revealed: creation, the fall, rescue (or redemption), and restoration (or re-creation). From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals that He is the author and main character of this story. It is this story that ultimately points us to Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Moreover, the biblical worldview not only provides the glorious backdrop for the gospel, but it also informs our heart for the lost.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is the story of God revealed by God that causes our hearts to burn within us (Luke 24:32). He must open our minds to understand it (Luke 24:45) and give us new hearts sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). As the Spirit ministers to us, we are reminded again and again of Christ’s work in our behalf found throughout the Bible. It is this story of redemption that continually grips our hearts and compels our mouths to speak to the lost. By grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, we share the gospel with others with the hope that their stories might be eternally united with His.