What is the Integrated Gospel?

This blog is about pursuing an “integrated gospel.”  So what is the integrated gospel?  The backstory goes like this:

American Christianity – especially its evangelical wing – is bogged in a debate between two gospels, two versions of the “good news,” the central message of Jesus and his Apostles: The Personal Salvation Gospel vs. The Kingdom of God Gospel.

The Kingdom of God Gospel emphasizes the restoration of the whole creation into a perfect world, a place where God reigns as king, his will done on earth as it is in heaven.  It seems to have been the main message Jesus preached.  Read the Gospels and you’ll hear some version of it over-and-over again.  “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). 

The Personal Salvation Gospel emphasizes the problem of sin and its solution: cross, atonement, justification, sanctification, all by grace received through faith.  It seems to be the main message in Paul’s epistles, especially Romans and Galatians.  The rediscovery of this gospel and its keynotes, grace and faith, sparked the Protestant Reformation and changed the Western world.  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16).

So Kingdom and Salvation are both buttressed with Bible.  But in books, sermons and studies, they’re increasingly pitted against each other as a series of rivalries: Jesus vs. Paul, Gospels vs. Epistles, cosmic vs. individual, big gospel vs. small gospel.

This tug of war plays out every week in churches all over America.  Some are keen to emphasize the Kingdom of God with only passing mention of personal salvation.  Such churches feature plenty of instruction on the ethical teaching of Jesus, social justice and loving thy neighbor.  But they get visibly nervous discussing sin, judgment and atonement.  This trend is noticeable in self-consciously “progressive” evangelical churches.  It’s also standard fare in mainline traditions that have been influenced by the Twentieth Century’s Protestant Liberalism movement.

Others are eager to preach the Gospel of Personal Salvation.  Such churches feature plenty of teaching on sin, grace and the Reformation’s crowning insight, justification by faith.  But an equally robust teaching on Kingdom of God is missing.  This trend is noticeable in self-consciously “conservative” or “Reformed” evangelical churches.

Granted, this scheme is over-simplified.  Kingdom folks believe in salvation and salvation folks believe in the kingdom.  But the polarity breeds two very different kinds of Christianity.  One is about living like Jesus taught, doing good and turning this world into a better place (Kingdom).  The other is about receiving forgiveness, battling sin within and going to heaven when you die (Salvation).  And never the twain shall meet.

Therein lies the problem.  Few, it seems, are putting these two together into one coherent story.  Sometimes it is (rightly!) suggested that both are the gospel, told from two complementary vantage points.  But rarely are they told together as one single gospel.  So what is the integrated gospel?  I don't think we know.

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Reader Comments (4)

Thanks Hunter, great post.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChase

This blog would have been really helpful for me in 2009 when you grilled me with questions about my view of the gospel. I'm looking forward to reading more in hopes that I can go back in time and respond to your questions appropriately.

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVince

Hunter, I couldn't agree more. I often find people in either camp straw-manning the other side. Those who want to emphasize Personal Salvation to the degree that Kingdom ethics are lost believe they're standing on the truth and unafraid to discuss difficult issues like sin. On the other hand, those who emphasize the Kingdom of God to the detriment of Personal Salvation are often reacting against "soterions" or "salvationists" thinking they're correcting an imbalance. I appreciate leaders who understand the unity and distinctiveness in the Gospels and Paul. Jesus and Paul believed in the same gospel but articulated it differently in different contexts, and we would be wise to do the same.

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJay O'Brien

Thanks for the post. You are giving words and ideas to consistent problems we face in the church. The concept of "missional" has at times been overused and needs this kind of undertaking for a healthy future. Looking forward to future posts.

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChad

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