Okay, we’re really coming through this Triune Gospel topic. I think at this point, a brief recap of the series thus far will be helpful:
- We began by exploring how the gospel is relational and how that means the shape of (the Trinity) matches the shape of the gospel. (Along with an aside on how to weigh teachings).
- We explored the three-in-one structure of what I call the Triune Gospel.
- We unpacked each of the three journeys: The Relationship Journey, The Identity Journey, and The Destiny Journey.
With all of this established, it seems to be a good time to explore the implications of this Triune Gospel for the tasks of the Christian life. How does this affect Evangelism (the subject of this article) and Discipleship (the subject of the next article)? This is where we start to see how moving the way we think of the gospel to this triune structure really has some powerful implications.
What is the Message?
One of the first questions to wrestle with in all of this is this: what is the evangelistic message? What should we be telling someone when God is moving upon them to move them to salvation? This is a critical answer to have a solid answer to, and with how much more intricate the structure of the triune gospel is, this is a nontrivial question.
To find the answer, let’s circle back to the structure of the Triune Gospel that we laid out a few articles back. This may be easiest summarized in the “Shield of the Triune Gospel” diagram:
If we are to take this diagram at face value, then the answer becomes clear, if somewhat unexpected. The gospel is the Relationship Journey, and the gospel is the Identity Journey, and the gospel is the Destiny Journey, even though these journeys are not the same as one another. (This is parallel to the observation that if we were to ask the question, “Who is God?” the answer would be God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Spirit, even though the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct.) This means that “to share the gospel” could actually look like three different narratives and even though these narratives are distinct, they are each only one gospel.
To be a little more specific to move forwards, here are the 30-second versions of the story that invites us into these journeys:
The Relationship Story
- We as human beings are made for intimacy and connection with God.
- But sin has marred that relationship: rather than intimacy we have distance. We are out of relationship with God because of our guilt.
- Jesus demonstrated that life with God is still possible for human beings.
- …and he gave his life to obtain forgiveness for us and welcome us into a new relationship with God.
- So, if we accept his sacrifice by faith, we can walk with God through the rest of our days here on earth, and forevermore.
The Identity Story
- Humanity was created to be the crown jewel of creation; in fact, we were designed to be a walking picture of God himself.
- But we are not what we are made to be; we have each been broken by this thing called sin that lives inside of us and leaks out through us, regardless of how hard we would try to suppress it. At the core, we are broken as human beings.
- Jesus came as the first example of a reboot of humanity; he walked the earth as humanity was meant to be.
- …and by faith, we can join him in his death and resurrection. This means we can be born again, this time as humanity was designed by God; no longer broken in our being.
- So, if we accept Jesus by faith, we can experience being made whole, In fact, Jesus himself comes to live inside of us and through us to empower that.
The Destiny Story
- In God’s original design, we were supposed to partner with him to have stewardship over the planet.
- But this world has been subjected to spiritual powers that want to perpetrate evil instead. They have hijacked that authority and are using it to wreak havoc on the planet.
- Jesus came to begin to take the planet back. He demonstrated what it is to rule this planet and push back evil.
- …and he took back all authority on the earth, then he returned to heaven to send the Holy Spirit and he sends us out to continue to extend his authority, by the empowering of the Spirit.
- So, if we accept the calling into God’s kingdom, we get to join the effort and partner with God the Spirit to take stewardship of the earth back from the evil spiritual powers still out there.
Notice the structure is the same for each of them: this is “one gospel” pattern we noted a few articles back of (1) original design, (2) the effect of the fall (3) Jesus demonstrating the design (4) the atonement fixing the problem (5) a walk into an ongoing journey.
So the point is each: each of these stories (narratives) is the one gospel. Regardless of which concrete story we share, we are sharing the gospel with someone. Each one of these stories drives any given person to the point of decision to enter into the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning work. Once we are saved, we inherit all of these stories, the full godhead active in our lives and walking with us.
Cultural Contexts & Missiology
So…we’ve got three gospel narratives now? How does that help us? Well, it turns out this is actually a superbly helpful thing. Fascinatingly, cultural analysts have long argued that there are three classes of cultures: cultures based on guilt, shame, or fear. Missiologists (the people who study missions) have built upon this to suggest that we need to be aware of the culture we are working with and know how to communicate the gospel to this culture. One of the better representations of this that I am aware of is called the 3D Gospel. Here is a video that explores this viewpoint:
This is fascinating and profound to me! When we survey the globe, we find we need to be able to have three different narratives to be able to effectively reach every culture. These narratives precisely correspond to the stories we unpacked above. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that these three different classes of cultures are built around the fact that the fall of the world is perceivable according to the three different narratives:
- The fall resulted in a loss of relationship with God, based upon a breakdown caused by guilt.
- The fall resulted in a loss of identity in our own humanity, resulting in an innate sense of shame (something is wrong with me)
- The fall resulted in a loss of destiny in that our authority was hijacked by evil spiritual powers, putting us in a place of fear.
These three journeys precisely correspond to the message we need to reach every people group on the planet. Is that a coincidence? I think not; God has always been after redemption of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 7:9).
Evangelism in our Increasingly Heterogeneous World
These three stories (of the one gospel) are exactly what we need for effective evangelism. From a practical point of view, this means that our job as carriers of the gospel is to work to discern which angle to share the gospel from (as the video above suggests). Before we work to share the good news, we need to be looking for which story will resonate with the person we are sharing with and how that will resolve their felt sense of the effect of the fall in the world. I believe each person has a felt sense of the fall – it lives somewhere in the spectrum of guilt, shame, and fear. With eternity being placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), we have to work to dissociate from the awareness that things are not as they should be. Our task is to attune ourselves to what that awareness looks like with this particular person and share the gospel accordingly.
One more thought on this whole subject: it seems to me that this approach is probably becoming increasingly critical. The period of time where these three different types of cultures were largely separated from one another is no longer the world we live in. It used to be possible to analyze the world and come to a conclusion it looked something like this:
This type of analysis makes it look like these different cultures don’t overlap: they are cleanly separated by national borders, but the reality is this is far from the case. The world is increasingly globalized, which means all these cultures are mixing in ways they never have before. If you live in the West, I would suggest that we could find a broad spectrum of these cultures on the block that you live on. Once upon a time we could look at these cultures at the national level; now we need to be able to work at the personal level. To illustrate this, here is a map of the most common non-Christian religion in each US county (the people we are sharing our faith with):
When I look at a map like this, my conclusion is that to reach our increasingly globalized world – one in which you’re likely to have all three of these cultures living on the same street as you, we need to be competent at sharing the triune gospel, all three narratives, with those on the journey towards Jesus
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman