The Complete Gospel, Abridged

Here, Scot McKnight describes some positive and negative aspects of the “Romans Road” method of presenting the gospel, including this sage comment:

First, it is only one “language game” for the gospel. The Romans Road is not “the” gospel but “a way” of expressing the gospel. It tells the truth about the gospel, but not the whole truth.

I agree that it’s not the whole story, but I have systematic theology texts on my shelf that are longer than the Bible itself, yet still aren’t the whole story. Have some Christians presented the Romans Road as the whole of the gospel? Definitely. I think that if you asked them, they would agree that there’s much more to the gospel than a handful of verses from Romans, but when you repeat an abbreviation over and over again, it becomes louder than the complete message.

To put this crassly, think about an entrepreneur’s “elevator pitch.” It’s not designed to give the whole, agonizing back story if the company, its product, production methods, target market, etc., etc. Instead, the 15 or 30 second elevator pitch is supposed to give a brief-yet-true glimpse of the business, to draw the interest of the investor or customer. Using this model, the Romans Road would be perfectly appropriate in a conversation with a stranger or in introducing a friend to the basics of the gospel for the first time, but completely inappropriate for teaching someone what it means to follow Christ daily (the “long obedience in the same direction” that Eugene Peterson writes about).

Keep in mind, of course, that as soon as you substitute any particular method of evangelism for the true gospel, you’ve settled for something sub-Christian. One of the dangers of the elevator pitch is that you’ll begin to believe it. When you describe something via shorthand, that shorthand starts to change the way you think about the original something. For a simple example, think about our nicknames for our loved ones. Another example is corporate branding. Wal-Mart has sold itself so well as the home of “lowest prices guaranteed,” that they now have trouble selling more upscale products.

This is why we have to careful about the shorthand we use to describe the gospel. Any shorthand presentation must be carefully sculpted to be completely true, even in its brevity. We must also continually return to Scripture (our primary source of the gospel). We must be reminded that God’s good news is much larger and much more grander than we can express in a few words, a sermon, or even a lifetime of books.

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