What Happens When Our Gospel Definition
Is Too Small? Or Too Big?
Christianity includes something besides the gospel. If we make Christianity equal to the gospel alone, then we are likely to fall into one of two
errors. The first is to depreciate everything in the faith that does not fit our
definition of the gospel. The second is to expand our definition of the gospel
to include other forms of Christian belief and activity.
The first error is committed by those who wish to limit Biblical inerrancy to the Bible’s saving message. Doing so allows them (as they see it)
to affirm inerrancy while also affirming that the Bible makes mistakes in
matters of science and history. Since science and history are supposedly not
part of the Bible’s saving message, they do not count against inerrancy.
The second error is committed by varieties of people who wish to “
front-load” the gospel with their pet doctrines and theories. An example is those
folks who insist that we do not have God’s Word unless we have all of
God’s words, and that we have all of God’s words only in their particular version of the Bible. At the opposite end of the theological spectrum,
representatives of the emergent church make a similar mistake when they
try to include social, psychological, or environmental concerns as part of the
Some doctrines and practices are essential to the gospel. Others are not.
Error in the essentials constitutes apostasy. Error over nonessentials does
not. If we fail to maintain this distinction, we will end up charging with
heresy anyone who disagrees with the details of our doctrine or practice.
Such a charge is clearly not warranted: a person who holds the wrong view
of the sons of God in Genesis 6 is not an apostate.
Nevertheless, we must not drive a wedge between the gospel and the
rest of the faith-once-delivered. Simply because a teaching is not the
gospel does not mean that it is unimportant. Simply because a teaching is
not essential to the gospel does not mean that it is disconnected from the
In fact, absolutely everything in the faith is connected to absolutely
everything else. The Christian faith is a system of doctrine and practice. The
elements of this system are integrally related. A discussion of Christology,
for example, may lead into soteriology or anthropology, and from there it
may wander into hamartiology, only to turn eventually toward ecclesiology
Everything in the system is connected. For that reason, changes to one
element of the system typically produce a ripple effect throughout the
system. A denial or alteration of one doctrine frequently leads to denials or
alterations of other doctrines.
Kevin Bauder (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; PhD, Dallas Theological
Seminary) is research professor of systematic theology at Central Baptist Theological
Seminary, Plymouth, Minn. This article is an excerpt from Dr. Bauder’s weekly blog, In
the Nick of Time.
Too Small or Too Big?
Three Theologians Discuss a Properly Defined Gospel
by KEVIN BAUDER