“Jesus is lord, and everything else is bullshit.”

That’s the gospel according to Stanley Hauerwas. It’s a brisk summary of what Paul says in Philippians 3:8-11. Jesus is the end-game and everything else is rubbish (Greek: Σκύβαλον; skubalon; animal feces).

So what Hauerwas says is true, but it’s not the whole gospel truth.

In a 2011 interview with the defunct Greater Than Magazine, Brian McLaren said that the gospel is that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that we can be part of it. He added that God has a dream for the world and that we have an important role to play in keeping that dream from becoming a nightmare.

The Kingdom of God is at hand. We do have a role to play. McLaren’s summary is news, and some of it is even good news. But it’s not The Good News.

In a piece titled “The Radical Gospel of Grace,” Creflo Dollar writes that, “We should never think that the mistake we made is greater than God’s love and grace.” He continues, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more, which is the opposite of what religion tells us.”

God’s grace does abound. God’s love is greater than our sin. But while God’s grace and love are indispensable to the gospel, they’re not the gospel on their own.


None of these examples are meant to discredit or demean their subjects. These folks are a part of our batty Christian family, and they write and say a lot of helpful, challenging things (well, two of them do anyway). The examples are only meant to suggest that the gospel is easy to broaden or flatten or sidestep. We all do it, or at least we have.

Here’s an attempt at a gospel summary: The gospel is the proclamation that Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Furthermore, because we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s all.

The only role we play in the gospel is when God washes our sins away like a parent bathes a helpless baby. There are no moral imperatives. There’s no fine print and there are no hidden clauses. Jesus spilt his blood in our stead – all of us, sinners and traitors – and then rose again, conquering death itself. As a result, we’re forgiven. Full stop.

Our goal by God’s grace should be to get people to reject the gospel. One of our greatest hopes should be that the world storms off in anger after encountering and understanding the gospel.

justifiedPut differently, it would be a glorious day if we preached the unadulterated gospel, such that anyone who rejects it rejects nothing but the real thing. Instead, we’re often putting a counterfeit message or flattened sentiment on offer. When we reduce the gospel to Christ without a cross, glory without gore, jubilee without justification, we are robbing people of the opportunity to accept or reject Christ on his terms.

The whole thing disgusted the late Christopher Hitchens:

“I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption. I would not throw my numberless sins onto a scapegoat and expect them to pass from me…The whole apparatus of absolution and forgiveness strikes me as positively immoral.”

Citing Thomas Paine, Hitchens went on to say that, while self-sacrifice can be noble, no one may actually bear someone else’s sins as though they were their own. To Hitchens, the idea that Christ knew no sin and yet became sin on our behalf was a scandal. He held that substitution – Christ’s sacrifice in our place for our sins – removes individual responsibility, creates ethical and intellectual laziness, and robs human beings of the punishment or praise due them for their works.

That is a rejection of the gospel. The true gospel. Someone told Christopher that Christ truly swallowed up his sins. Someone told Christopher that, in Christ, those who once robbed or raped or murdered stand before God in the end as though they’d been totally blameless. Christopher stumbled over the suggestion that no one can bring any charge against those whom God has justified.


For the upright, the gospel offends because God does the work and we don’t, and because we have peace (the preaching of which, they think, leads to lax morality). For others, it offends because Jesus had to die in our place – which means we deserved it – and then there’s all that blood and guts and nudity and death business. For others still – people like Hitchens – it’s because the gospel lets people get away with anything or because it insults our ability to reason ethics without God.

For the Jew and the gentile, male and female, rich and poor, slave and free, you and me: the gospel offends.

If people are going to resist the gospel, then, may it be the gospel alone, and not because sanctimonious, judgmental Christians shun them. If they turn away, may it never be that we push them out by pettiness or abuse, but rather because they simply find the gospel repulsive. May it be because they’re fleeing the naked gospel, and not a gospel clothed in uninteresting platitudes and happiness schemes.

If people are going to reject Christ, may it be the crucified Christ alone.