Nearly all fundamentalists and evangelicals promote some concept of the Good News—also called the Gospel. In fact, the words ‘evangelical’ and ‘evangelism’ are taken directly from the New Testament Greek word for good news.
But what, exactly, is the Good News?
John 3:16, the most well-known passage in the Bible, is often shared as the epitome of the Good News message, and it’s a very good start!
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
However, this is only a limited expression of the Good News and has also attracted a lot of interpretive assumptions that negate much of its value as a ‘Good News’ statement.
The Limits and Misuse of John 3:16
Not only does John 3:16 cover just part of the Good News Jesus taught, but when conservative evangelicals read and share it they often assume negative doctrinal elements that are not implied by the text.
Here is the typical understanding of John 3:16 with the added doctrinal baggage:
God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life.
None of the bracketed concepts are part of the Good News of John 3:16 at all. They are inserted elements of misguided doctrinal assumptions, and they cause fear, alienation, and other great harm. In fact, they turn the good news of Jesus into bad news.
If John 3:16 does not express the full Good News message of Jesus, and if negative baggage often inserted in sharing the Good News is not valid, then what is the Good News?
Five Important Aspects of the Good News of Jesus
There at least five major components of the Good News. They are captured in the graphic below by my good friend Dick Ford, and they form the basis for a new series that begins with today’s post.
Good News! God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought but Loves Us Unconditionally
When I was a fundamentalist, I believed God was angry, harsh, and vindictive toward us. Perhaps you never thought this but multiple millions of people still do. I believed it for two reasons:
- The ministers and teachers of the church assured me it was so
- I read the Bible incessantly and it seemed to confirm what the church leaders said
Gradually, I began to focus on the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament and found that I, and my leaders, were absolutely mistaken. Instead of being harsh and vindictive, God loves us unconditionally and seeks our peace, happiness, and reconciliation.
When we feel alienated from God, it is Good News to learn that God is not alienated from us. He is not angry or vindictive but loves us individually very much.
Good News! God’s Love for Us Takes Away Our Fear, Guilt, and Self-Condemnation
Thinking that God is unhappy with us affects our self-image and leads to self-destructive behavior. This only intensifies when we face judgment and condemnation from others—including Christians. So when we are twisted with selfishness, hate, emotional scars, low self-esteem, and self-destructiveness, it is Good News to learn the Father loves us so much; it frees us from fear, guilt, and self-condemnation.
In response to the Father’s love, we can love ourselves properly and begin to love others as well. These are both acts of reconciliation.
Good News! We are not to Follow Religious Rules but to Live the Way of Loving People
When we are burdened by legalistic rules and the constant failure to measure up, it is Good News to learn that the Father is not interested in religious rules but in our loving one another with good will toward everyone. Jesus teaches us repeatedly to love others with genuine regard for their well-being.
Once we realize the Father’s love for us, and we begin to love ourselves, we can then grow in loving others by seeing them as the Father sees them.
Good News! As Followers of Jesus, We are Agents for Expanding God’s Kingdom on Earth
The first three elements of the Good News are so wonderful that anyone can embrace them easily, but the fourth element might cause some people pause. Following Jesus and his Good News also requires commitment.
Those who follow Jesus are expected to love others—all others. This is a growth process, but we should all be committed to growing in our love for people. Secondly, in following Jesus there is a commitment to help expand God’s kingdom on earth. We do this in several ways: by genuinely loving others, by continuing to develop as a follower of Jesus, and by sharing the Good News of Jesus.
Good News! Death is not the End because Jesus Offers Us Eternal Life and Happiness
The previous points of the Good News are so welcome that they would be sufficient in themselves, but there is a BONUS!
In addition to Good News that affects us in our life here and now, Jesus offers us eternal life—an eternity of peace and happiness. He demonstrates his ability to provide this to us through his resurrection and victory over death. So when we are fearful of death and the end of our existence, it is Good News to learn that there is provision for an afterlife of peace, joy, and happiness.
There are certainly other significant aspects of the Good News of Jesus, but these are the ones we will explore throughout the rest of this series. If you do not yet follow this blog, you can do so now to stay tuned and not miss any of the coming episodes.
In this series so far:
What is the Good News of Jesus Anyway? (Today’s Post)
God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought
God’s Love for Us Takes Away Our Fear, Guilt, and Self-Condemnation
Do You Still Feel Guilt and Fear because You Fall Short of what God Demands?
We are not to Follow Burdensome Religious Rules
We are Agents for Expanding God’s Kingdom on Earth
Death is Not the End because Jesus Offers Us Eternal Life and Happiness
When the Good News of Jesus Doesn’t Sound like Good News At All
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs. If you find the blog helpful, consider following to avoid missing future posts.
In the column to the right, you can follow by email (most dependable), Facebook, or RSS.
Have a great day! ~Tim
I always said that fundamentalism was bad news for modern man.
Let us return to the good news.
I like that: ‘Bad News for Modern Man’.
The Good News is good.
The Kingdom of God is about being an inclusive and universal family and community.
Too often and too much of fundamentalism is about the isolation and dominion of tribe and empire.
Doug, I think you are right on target.
I think you are on the right track Tim. When you strip away all the baggage that been added in the last 1600 years, The ancient apostolic Faith begins to blossom forth. This is really the good news of the Gospel.
One of the many things we agree on, Marc!
Tim, the Good News that I am required to give others is the following: We are all separated from God before we were even conceived, so we cannot avoid doing things that lead to suffering, but God has provided a way for us to come out of that separation and into His Presence. That way is to believe that Jesus was His Son. Once we have done that, we are in a relationship with God, so we can learn from Him and receive His love. We can thus avoid doing things that cause others to suffer.
The thing that should be noted about this message is that it requires an awareness of separation from God and the effect that it has on us. Without this understanding of separation, there will be no entry into the Presence of God. In the past, it was thought that it was our sin that caused this separation, but it is the separation that causes us to ‘sin’ (i.e. do things that lead to suffering).
However, many people will not be able to accept this message, because they think it is wrong, or that there is no separation from God, or that Jesus was not His Son, or that Jesus is God.
I agree Chas, but I think the alienation (feeling of separation) is all on our side; I don’t think God is alienated from us. This is why we need to share the good news of God’s unconditional love so that people can experience reconciliation and overcome the feeling of alienation.
Tim, you are quite right, the alienation is all on our side. God loves us and would like us to do only those things that do not lead to suffering, but we have free will, so we tend to do things that do lead to suffering. When we have not listened to Him, we have become less attuned to His ‘voice’ influencing us in the right direction. We might regard that voice as our conscience. People who consistently do those things that cause suffering become hardened against hearing God’s ‘voice,’ so they no longer hear it at all.
Chas, I think you are absolutely right.
I don’t think we are separated from God even before our conception. I re-read your post on Original Sin, and I agree with the concept that it is our self-centered nature that leads us astray. I wonder when this was introduced into humanity. I think it is part of our evolutionary process–the need to survive, added with self-awareness, ends up with a humanity that is so focused on our own perceived needs, that we hurt those around us in pursuit of those perceived needs. Of course, every person requires food, water, and a safe shelter, but we also need to have healthy relationships with those around us. I think many people are merely ignorant of the great love of God, and that God will reveal that aspect of himself in Jesus Christ to everyone. I believe in the possibility of repentance after death, as described by Rob Bell in his wonderful book, “Love Wins”. Just a few thoughts in this part of my journey.
Like you, I don’t think we are separated from God even before our conception. And I agree with your assessment of how our self-centered nature came to us.
Now I understand!
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Original sin doctrine is b.s.
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My grandmother wasn’t a Christian but she taught me to stay away from ‘isms’ because “they trap you within the thoughts of other men”. She taught me to think independently. Of course, I didn’t listen to everything she said and learned that she was very right about ‘isms’, the hard way. Now, I focus on the person, Jesus because even Pamisms can limit my spiritual growth. My thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts and neither are the thoughts of anyone else. It is in examining Who Jesus is as a person that I receive the everyday guidance I need to live the godly life I am called to live. Jesus is life and there is no life in any religion, fundamental or otherwise.
Independent thinking and ‘isms’ don’t go very well together. I try to share Jesus and encourage people to think for themselves, but I would be horrified to discover that people were following Timism. I hope to be helpful, but Timism would be as much of a problem as any other.
I have found out, sometimes the hard way, that a lot of the times, folks really don’t want to hear about God, Jesus, religions, or anything attached to these.
BUT, do an act of kindness, of love, that they understand.
So , this helps me to feel God in all of us. Even if it is without a name.
Well said James!
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Very interessssting 🙂
I don’t understand the whole “born into sin” either. It seems more like a manipulation tactic to me, than a revelation from God.
One item that I believe is this, all of us were given different pieces of God, to understand and carry on/pass on/teach to others.
Even different religions have parts of God. But they also have the same issues a lot of us see inside the bible.
If an Anthropologist were to examine a traditional Native group say maybe 600 years ago, you would see that they very much focus upon the family, upon the village. They seek to improve themselves, so as to benefit the village. Any of this sound familiar.
However, any of these groups can also take this concept TOO FAR. Such as slavery, torturing captives, barbarism, etc. But they would do it for the village’s safety and prosperity. Many wars were waged for FOOD. Does any of this sound familiar.
As far as I can see, so many religions are written from one perspective, but how can this explain God’s perspective, when God is omnipresent and omnipetent? Would not God’s perspective be Infinite?
Incidently, a lot of tribal communities, can not understand “sin”. But yet they have guide lines and lessons. “Each of us have two wolves within us, one that is disciplined, patient, peaceful, loving, the other is ravenous, angry, combative, explosive, destructive. So which one wins??????? The one you feed the most”
My point to this story, I believe that God has taught all of us, but in our own languages.
I would view the concept of ” my religion is the only way” as pretty arrogant. Jesus is the only way to the father. And Jesus can be anywhere, anytime.
Love God with All your heart, Love your neighbor as yourself. Sounds pretty good to me.
James, when you say “Very interessssting” I imagine you behind a plant wearing a military helmet. I don’t know if that is the reference you intended or are even aware of.
Thank you very much for insights from Native American groups. And though I think Jesus is the unique son of God and the agent of Good News and the resurrection for all mankind, I agree with your view of “the concept of ‘my religion is the only way’ as pretty arrogant.”
Yes, very interesssssting. 🙂
Anyways, totally, Jesus is the only Begotten son of God. But I don’t believe that the Christian belief system can even come close to helping others to understand Jesus.
I have come to see, that Jesus did go to India, there is evidence of a Christian monastery in China, I think around 500 A.D. There is even evidence showing “the lost tribes of Israel” made it to Ireland, England, Scotland, even the Norse countries were said to have influenced . And yes, some believe that during Jesus’s missing years, he visited SO MANY places.
I can not claim to be an expert on Native stuff, there are so many different cultures within that group.
Someone I met once, he actually reaches out to try and explain it. He wrote papers and articles upon cross-comparing Native and Catholic belief systems.
God sent us Jesus to save us. But the way I see it, God also gave us a lot of Helpers as well, not to save us, but to help us grow, to guide us.
I won’t knock anyone down for their beliefs, God talks to all of us in languages we can understand. That is just one of the amazing attributes of Jesus.
Sorry, my phone isn’t so good at edits. A
What I was trying to say in my last reply, was this……….
Jesus is so amazing, how can one religion explain all there is to him?
I have seen the hatred and death caused by that thinking. Would God withhold this love from ANY of us??
Even a “pagan”would be saved, just as long as Jesus’s spirit touched them, so they would know him.
James, I think various groups do have valid insights into God and how to respond to him. I think Jesus does include all people in his restorative work and in the resurrection. But I also think their quality of spiritual life does improve markedly when they encounter the uncorrupted good news of Jesus.
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Amen to this post!
Readers: I recommend Josh’s post on the topic at http://bible.joshway.com/2014/06/10/repent-of-bad-religion-part-2-dismantling-the-bad-news-gospel/#comment-2432135671
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“Great Points! Appreciate your wisdom and willingness to imbibe souls with God’s words….Amen to this post!
To end with…
“”My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn. 15:12-13)””
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Good thing to end with, Garry!
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What could be more angry, harsh, or vindictive than Matthew 25:41–46? I say this as someone who does not believe that simply denouncing Trump supporters on Twitter (say) automatically puts me among the sheep. Rather, I risk putting myself among the goats just by avoiding making eye contact with a panhandler on the street when I have a couple of bucks in my pocket that He doesn’t have and that I’d like to hang on to.
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Hieronymus, I am not totally certain what your question is; but it seems to be a claim that Jesus is angry, harsh, and vindictive or represents God as angry, harsh, and vindictive in Matthew 25.
But I don’t think Jesus is telling us here what is going to happen in the future. Instead, it is part of a graphic parable as I explain here if you are interested:
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