The gospel starts with love

Marcus Borg wants us to stop thinking about Christianity the way he did when he was 12.

At the end of childhood, I would have said that the heart of the gospel, the Christian good news, is that Jesus died for our sins so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in him. That was the impression that I received growing up in a “mainline” Protestant denomination.

Right off the top I want to say that I came to Christ in a mainline Protestant denomination, and I can’t recall ever hearing anyone present the gospel this way other than in a sermon illustration of what the pastor in question was against or what — like Borg — he outgrew.

Reading Borg’s words, I thought of watching the video released last week to mark Billy Graham’s 95th birthday. And I realized what is left out of this loaded summary of the gospel. I recall hearing the excerpt of the Billy Graham sermon that speaks of sin and Jesus dying for sins, but it begins not where Borg starts but where John 3:16 starts.

God loves you.

I can hear Graham’s voice beating that sentence like a drum.

God loves you. He loves you. He loves you.

He loves you so much that he died to save you.

Now, I’m sure there are lots of rank-and-file Christians who would boil the gospel down to what Borg describes. I’m sure there are preachers who do just about the same thing. But it is doing violence to the gospel preached by evangelicals such Graham and John Stott and John Wesley to describe it without starting where they start.

God so loved the world …

That is the gospel.