One of the hardest, yet most important, jobs that I have as a biblical studies teacher is to get my students to reframe their understanding of the Gospel around the Gospels. In particular, many of my students come to me only familiar with a “get-out-of-hell-free” version of the Gospel and struggle to make sense of Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God and the evangelistic sermons in Acts. Here is a version of a handout that I pass out yearly in order to try and get my students to see the profound differences between the truncated “heaven and hell gospel” and a more robust “kingdom of God” gospel.
The Heaven & Hell Gospel
1) Christianity is primarily about the invitation to experience eternal life after death
2) Christianity is primarily focused on escaping to the spiritual world (heaven) where we will experience eternal life as disembodied spirits
3) Our actions in this life are fairly inconsequential to our future of eternal life, so long as we check off the appropriate boxes to “accept Jesus” [requirements are different in each tradition]
The Kingdom of God Gospel
1) Christianity is primarily about the invitation to experience eternal live [enter into the Kingdom] now, during this life
2) Christianity is primarily focused on the redemption of this world (earth) and God’s will being accomplished with the end result of a New Heavens and Earth & a physical resurrection of the dead
3) Our actions in this life are extremely important to whether we enjoy the gift of God’s eternal life now (and if we aren’t in the Kingdom now, we might question whether anything will magically change after we die)
The “Heaven & Hell Gospel” is centered around (eternal) life AFTER death.
The “Kingdom of God Gospel” is centered around (eternal) life BEFORE death (which will continue on even after death).
4 thoughts on “The Gospel: Heaven & Hell or The Kingdom of God”
Do you think the ‘get-out-hell-free’ primarily arises from a prioritizing of Paul above all else (and I would say misreading of Paul, but for another day)? Or from a fascination with Revelation (again perhaps misread)? Or from something else all together, perhaps cultural or social factors?
If I had to guess it arises out of an ignoring of the Gospels (and prioritizing Paul) and cultural/social factors [deistic/gnostic/Americanized version of religion]. Perhaps the second [cultural/social] influences the misinterpretations of Paul, etc.
Have you found the same problem/tendencies? How do you counteract them?
I have seen the tendencies in wider evangelical culture, usually in books. But in most of the churches it have been a member of I have not found it to be a major issue. Think it is because usually expository preachers and hard in that case to never preach through a gospel. And if preach through a gospel pretty hard to ignore kingdom thread entirely.
Very timely topic for me. In yesterday’s sermon at my church the pastor was addressing this very issue. His perspective (and maybe this should be obvious, but I don’t think I’ve heard it elucidated very often in evangelical churches like mine) is that the Kingdom of God is eternal-in the sense that it has always existed- but it has manifested itself differently through the ages. From our earthly perspective, it is both “now, and yet to come”. He went on to emphasize that he thought the “central message” of Jesus was the Kingdom of God, and that all other things one might posit as Jesus’ central message (reconciliation, salvation, love, peace, insert your favorite) are all integral, but don’t stand alone outside this concept of God’s kingdom.