By Noah Shaw
Another renewal week has come and passed, and again I have failed to be renewed in any meaningful way. What I find missing from most renewal weeks, and most chapel services at that, is the gospel. The gospel is the lifeblood of the Christian faith; without the gospel, I see no way that Christianity continues to exist.
What is the gospel? In short, it is that:
- We are all sinners (Romans 3:23).
- Because God is good and just, we face the punishment of God due to us for our sins, which is a place called hell (Romans 6:23, 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
- Fortunately, God loves us so much that He sent His son to die an atoning death on the cross to bear the punishment for our sins so that we could stand righteous before God (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
- Therefore, if anyone repents from their sins and trusts in Christ as Lord and Savior, they will be saved (1 John 1:9, Romans 10:9).
Now, there are some who believe that the gospel is not “Jesus died to forgive your sins,” but that it is “love of God, love of neighbor.” I could not disagree more with this statement. Love God and love your neighbor is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:35-39), but in no way is that the gospel. Paul tells us himself what the gospel is when he writes that it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Therefore, to say that the gospel is “love of God, love of neighbor” is not only wrong, but would be to present a false gospel “which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:7).
I have heard chapel use language surrounding the gospel, but I have rarely heard anyone lay out the gospel similarly to how it was explained above. I’m not saying that I’ve never heard the gospel in chapel — occasionally via a Time Out or guest speaker — but I cannot say that I have heard the gospel preached by a PLNU chapel team member, or that it has ever been a central focus of chapel. Even if a gospel message found its way into chapel between the writing of this article and its publishing, that does not change chapel’s historic patterns.
During my years at Point Loma, I have heard things along the lines of “Jesus invites us to experience newness,” “through the death of Christ we are involved in a grand story of reconciliation” and “the restoration of Christ can be received through His invitation to us.” Jesus doesn’t seem to explain the good news this way. He never said: I come to offer an invitation to experience a transformative newness that comes from my life and sacrifice. He did say, though, that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He also said that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). Even when Jesus does say things like “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), those statements can only be truly understood in light of the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
Granted, I do not consider any of the illustrations I listed above to be factually wrong, but they utterly fail to effectively convey the gospel. While chapel may use many illustrations of the gospel, I believe that they should be more forward and honest about what the gospel is. Illustrations and alternative phrases can be quite useful, and can be used to support and illuminate the truth, but that can only be done when the foundation of the truth has been laid. There is a big difference between using illustrations to support the truth, and using illustrations to obscure the truth. Obscuring the truth is never helpful, and if illustrations of the truth end up replacing the truth, then the illustrations have become a lie.
This past week during Renewal Week, after Monday, I felt concerned because it seemed as though Brower-Latz was avoiding the idea of Christ’s death to forgive our sins, so I emailed the chapel planning team. In an email response, Esteban Trujillo assured me that she [Brower-Latz] does believe in the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However, during a chapel mentioning communion, she never said once that “Jesus died for our sins.” At the very end of a long list of reasons for communion, which are not the explicit reasons stated in the Bible, she did say that you could come to the table to “know that you are forgiven,” yet didn’t even mention how the cross could give us that forgiveness. It appeared as though the theme of forgiveness itself was treated as a side note.
The king of the universe bled and died so that our debt could be paid, yet the most profound event in all of history was not mentioned, even during the sacrament meant to remember it. She did, though, mention the greatest commandment: Love God and love your neighbor. The greatest commandment was given more time than the gospel, which is heartbreaking during communion.
This is my plea to Chapel: Please preach the gospel. Be honest about the truth. Be honest about our sinfulness, God’s wrath on sin, the reality of hell and the forgiveness that comes through repentance. Saying something like, “We are given an invitation to receive newness,” is not the same as preaching the gospel. Don’t veil the gospel behind different language, risking students walking away with a faulty understanding of the cross and of Christianity. The gospel is too important to obscure it behind vague and flowery language.
I do not believe that the Chapel team denies the gospel, and I believe they are very capable ministers. I do not want to think that the gospel is being intentionally ignored, so I am confused on why the core tenet of the faith never seems to be a prominent theme in chapel.
I believe that only through proclaiming the gospel, and the gospel in its entirety, can our campus have the revival and renewal it so desperately wants year after year. Chapel speaks endlessly about God’s love, yet often omits the greatest way that love was shown, in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
To close, I would like to repeat the gospel once again. To the reader, I want you to know that God loves you so much that He sent His only son to die in your place, taking on the punishment you deserve for your sins. Because of that, if you repent of your sins and trust in Christ, you will be forgiven, avoiding eternal death and gaining eternal life.