In an effort to make the gospel bigger or more relevant, Greg Gilbert (author of What is the Gospel?) suggests that these substitute gospels are really less than the gospel, or no gospel at all. "Whatever the specifics, the result is that over and over again, the death of Jesus in the place of sinners is assumed, marginalized, or even (sometimes deliberately) ignored," explains Gilbert.
3 Substitute Gospels
"Jesus is Lord" is not the Gospel
One of the most popular of these “bigger” gospels is the claim that the good news is simply the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord.” Of course, the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” is absolutely, magnificently true! And that declaration of Jesus’ lordship is essential to the gospel message. But surely it’s not correct to say that the declaration “Jesus is Lord” is the whole sum and substance of the Christian good news.
Gospel-Fall-Redemption-Consummation is not the Gospel
Actually that outline is a really good way to summarize the Bible’s main story line. God creates the world, man sins, God acts in the Messiah Jesus to redeem a people for himself, and history comes to an end with the final consummation of his glorious kingdom. In fact, when you understand and articulate it rightly, the creation-fall-redemption-consummation outline provides a good framework for a faithful presentation of the biblical gospel. The problem, though, is that creation-fall-redemptionconsummation has been used wrongly by some as a way to place the emphasis of the gospel on God’s promise to renew the world, rather than on the cross. Just like the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is not good news unless there is a way to be forgiven of your rebellion against him, so the fact that God is remaking the world is not good news unless you can be included in that.
Cultural Transformation is not the Gospel
I think that is a noble goal, and I also think that the effort to resist evil in society, whether personal or systemic, is a biblical one. I actually think it’s possible to be a committed transformationalist and at the same time be committed to keeping the cross of Jesus at the very center of the biblical story and of the good news. My main concern is that cultural redemption subtly becomes the great promise and point of the gospel—which of course means that the cross, deliberately or not, is pushed out of that position. The highest excitement and joy are ignited by the promise of a reformed culture rather than by the work of Christ on the cross. The most fervent appeals are for people to join God in his work of changing the world, rather than to repent and believe in Jesus. The Bible’s story line is said to pivot on the remaking of the world rather than on the substitutionary death of Jesus. And in the process, Christianity becomes less about grace and faith, and more a banal religion of “Live like this, and we’ll change the world.” That’s not Christianity; it’s moralism.
Adapted from What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.