A few days ago, I heard someone talking about the megachurch that they were attending. They were frustrated about "old style" churches that were so focesd on doctrine instead of the "practical" and "outreach-focused" ministries that were common at his church. Of course, I know this person (and the church) well: what he really meant by "practical" was "non-doctrinal"; and by "outreach-focused", he means, "upbeat enough to draw a big crowd." Their church has what I would call a redemption-only focus: all that they talk about is "how Jesus can make you better". They have devolved their church into a series of weekly self-help meetings, set to a trendy musical score in a beautiful, non-traditional building.
Also a few days ago, a friend posted on Facebook the complete opposite extreme, which is well in line with his personal theology: all that matters is the Cross, and everything in Scripture or life must be viewed through that window. All that matters is the atonement aspect of Christianity.
Still others teach a salvific-only message, where all of Scripture is compressed into "the only thing that really matters: accepting Jesus".
The problem with all of these approaches, and with the majority of modern American churches, is that we teach incomplete Gospels.
The Gospel of our faith is like a five-act play: Creation, Fall, Atonement, Redemption, and Resurrection. Unfortunately the modern trend is to pick one of these acts and make it your entire "mission" as a local church body. Thus we end up with one church that focuses only on God as the powerful Creator who is sovereign over everything, while another church spends 80% of their teaching on how the culture is full of sin and decay, while another church focuses on sacrifice and confession and Cross only, while a fourth church focuses only on how God makes our lives better, while another church spends all its time talking about getting people to heaven.
Are all of these things good? Of course. Are any of them complete? No.
We must be focused on teaching the entire Christian message. The culture at large (and within our church walls!) needs to know that we are not drive-by-preachers solely focused on trying to get you to make an emotional decision; we are not judgmental hypocrites who want to tell you how evil your lifestyle is; we are not somber, sad old men living lives of painful sacrifice; and we are not masculine wild men who get together to curse and drink and talk about how we love Jesus.
If you "zoom" your focus in only on one aspect of the Gospel, then you lose the perspective of who Jesus really wants you to be. And, ironically, the more focused you become on one particular part of the Gospel, the less solid your entire foundation becomes.
The true Gospel, in its entirety, means letting into your life the truths that:
* Creation: God created everything around us, including us, with a divine purpose. Our lives are not meaningless but have a very specific, eternally-important, goal. And God did not design the world to be one of pain and suffering, but one of completion and joy. He made us capable of achieving amazing, great things.
* Fall: Man in general, and you in particular, have rebelled against God in a thousand ways. We are selfish and are capable of just as much evil as good. Each of us knows what it means to treat people right; and each of us, each day, rebels against it. Because of our nature, it is impossible for us to be pleasing to God based upon our own works, or achieve any worthwhile goal based purely upon our own willpower.
* Atonement: God mourns for this separation between Him and man, so He created a plan of atonement. He took human form; lived a sinless life; taught how to live morally; loved sacrifically; and eventually willingly died as a sacrificial atonement to repair our relationship with God.
* Redemption: God wants to take our lives and redeem it, make it better. It might not be better in the eyes of the world, but it will be the life that God wanted you to have. Loyal following of Jesus, and a willingness to surrender to His plan instead of your own, is all that it takes. This does not require working harder at being good, but rather surrendering to Him and letting Him lead your life: trying "softer".
* Resurrection: God will, at the end of time, resurrect all of Creation--making a new heaven and earth, back to its Edenic origins. And in this New Jerusalem, this eternal city of light and peace and joy, He will raise those who were loyal to Him, give them bodies freed from the stains of sin, minds freed from disease and worry, and let them join His eternal dance of joy.
This is the whole Gospel of the Lord Christ. It requires one to understand and embrace the duality of their nature, as well as the duality of Christ's nature. It requires one to transfer the trust of controlling their life to God instead of themselves. And it requires loyalty to Him--and in the end, the promise of hope that we receive is this: that God wlil put all things back as they were intended, and we get to be a part of this rebuilding.