You’re riding the bus to work and suddenly you have the opportunity to share the gospel with the person sitting next to you. (I won’t take the time to explain how that happened. I’m sure if you get creative, you can come up with something.) She’ll be getting off at the next stop, so you only have one minute. What are you going to say? There’s no pressure here, it’s just her eternal destiny that hangs in the balance. Are you up to the task? Can you share the good news in one minute or less? Ready, set, go!
Okay, so maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. But that’s still the impression I’ve gotten from some of the evangelism training I’ve been through over the years. Every good Christian should be able to share the gospel in one minute or less. Otherwise you might be unprepared for situations like these, which apparently happen to other people far more often than they do to me.
And last week I gave several reasons that I think there’s some value to being able to summarize the gospel quickly, clearly, and concisely. In that sense, the One Minute Gospel is a useful tool. But, at the same time, I think it’s a tragic mistake. Actually, I think it’s several tragic mistakes rolled into one.
Let me explain.
Mistake #1: We forget that it’s only a summary.
I often hear people summarize the gospel, and I have no problem with that. My concern is when people summarize the gospel but say that they are sharing the gospel. When we do that, we give the impression – to ourselves and to other people – that our summaries are the gospel. But they’re not.
If I tried hard enough, I’m sure I could summarize Les Miserables or The Lord of the Rings in one minute. But even if I could, no one would make the mistake of thinking that my summary was the same as the whole story. A summary is necessarily different than that which it tries to summarize.
But I think we forget that with our One Minute Gospels. We offer our concise summaries, but we think that they are the gospel itself. And that’s tragic because it blinds us to everything else that the gospel is about.
Mistake #2: We leave out too much.
As I mentioned in my previous post, every summary requires people to establish priorities. You can’t fit everything into one minute, so you have to make decisions about what’s most important and what can be left aside for now. But that means the usefulness of a summary depends on how good our priorities are. And when I listen to our summaries, I worry.
I won’t take the time to walk through this carefully. But try this. Take a few seconds and consider the things that you would include in a One Minute Gospel summary. Then read Acts 2:14-41. This was Peter’s great opportunity to share his gospel summary with the people on the day of Pentecost. And I see at least four things he does that are different from most of the gospel summaries I hear: (1) he grounds the gospel in the story of Israel, (2) he spends most of his time on the resurrection (vv. 24-31), (3) he emphasizes the importance of David and ruling on his throne, and (4) the gift of the Holy Spirit gets mentioned right along with forgiveness. There are others, but you get the point. Acts 2 isn’t a long summary. You can roll through it in less than a minute. And yet Peter still has time to include a whole number of things that we typically leave out.
The same is true with other gospel summaries in the New Testament. Most include things that we haven’t made priorities in our own summaries. That suggests to me that we’re doing something wrong. If our priorities aren’t the same as the biblical authors, we’re missing something. And that’s tragic.
Mistake #3: We think summaries are for beginners.
Of course, part of the reason that Peter and Paul can pack so much into their gospel summaries is because they can assume that their readers have a fair amount of background knowledge already in place. Peter doesn’t have to explain who David is because his hearers are mostly Jews. Paul can say that we need to understand the gospel “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3) because he’s already explained to his readers that this is the case. So their summaries aren’t for beginners; they’re actually for people who know quite a bit about the story.
Summaries are often most effective for those who already know the story. A good summary helps a person put all the pieces fit together. But, for that to work, you have to know the pieces already. And that’s how most of the biblical summaries work. They’re not for beginners.
But we create our gospel summaries as though they were for people who don’t know anything about the gospel. That’s a very different task, and a much more difficult one. I could summarize Lord of the Rings in one minute for someone who already knows the story. But to do that for a newbie, that’s much harder. I’m far more likely to leave out some important piece of information, and they’re far more likely to fill the gap with something they already believe to be true. Both are tragic errors.
A good rule to remember here is that any summary assumes a fair amount of knowledge about what is being summarized. If the person hearing the summary doesn’t already have it, you’d better get it to them quickly. Otherwise, the summary itself will create problems.
Mistake #4: We forget that summaries matter.
The way we share the gospel impacts the way we try to live out the gospel. Think about it. If the gospel is the central truth of the Christian life, and if our gospel summaries emphasize the things that we think are most important about the gospel, then our gospel summaries communicate a lot about what we think the Christian life is most fundamentally about. Evangelism and Christian living are inseparably linked.
That should cause us to spend a lot more time reflecting on our gospel summaries. Presenting the gospel poorly has implications not only for those hearing the gospel, but also for those sharing it. If our gospel summaries say nothing about the power of the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, what does that say about how we understand the Christian life? It doesn’t mean that we deny these things, but it certainly suggests that we see them as less essential, even optional, for the Christian life. They’re secondary matters that you can get to once you’ve understood the really important truths.
That’s tragic. Our gospel summaries omit some things that are critical for how we view the Christian life. And, as a result, our own summaries work against us. They’re like a hammer in the hands of a clumsy carpenter. Instead of being a constructive tool, they become a means for pounding our own thumbs into painful mush.
I could probably come up with a few others mistakes that we make with the One Minute Gospel. But I think you get the point. Summaries can be useful. That was all I was trying to argue in my previous post. But they’re only useful when we remember that they are summaries and when we construct our summaries carefully. Otherwise they become a tool that turns against us. And that’s tragic.