An Inept Scholar

photograph of open bible

God's Holy Word (photo by Arvind Balaraman)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

I have been a student of the Bible my whole life.  I recall learning to recite the books of the Bible and John 3:16 before I even learned the alphabet.  I have loved God’s word all my life, and although I have not memorized vast portions like my grandfather did, I have always found that the more I learn the more I become aware of how much I don’t know.

I was about twelve years old when I first learned to present the gospel message, and I made sure all my school friends had heard the gospel at least once.  Over the years, I have learned several formats for presenting the gospel, including Evangelism Explosion, The Roman Road, and The Gospel ABC’s.  I have shared the gospel message many times, and have even had the privilege of leading a few people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

What I never fully appreciated, until recently, is how much easier it is to explain the gospel message to people who already have respect for the Bible as God’s word and a basic understanding of the more common Bible stories.  Growing up in the Bible Belt, virtually everyone I knew had at least attended Vacation Bible School each summer, and was raised to show respect for God and the Bible.

Over the past few months of blogging, I have become increasingly aware of how many people have either no knowledge whatsoever of the Bible, or a very distorted perception of what the Bible is about.  This makes it very difficult to communicate the gospel message using the tools I learned to rely on in my youth.

John 3:16 has little meaning to someone who has never heard of Jesus, doesn’t know what they need to be saved from, why they would want to be saved, or what they are expected to believe.  Add to this some common misperceptions of God being out to get people for slipping up, and the discussions quickly become cumbersome.

I would have thought the simple solution would be to encourage a seeker to read the Bible for themselves.  However, that presents problems as well, because any given portion of the Bible taken out of context, with no knowledge of how it fits into the whole, can be very confusing.  Plus, as discussed in a previous post, the gospel sounds all topsy turvey and irrational to someone who has neither understanding nor the guidance of The Holy Spirit.

So, here is my confession.  Although I have studied the Bible my whole life, I have discovered that I am completely inept at trying to explain the essential gospel message to someone who knows nothing about the Bible.  I am an inept Bible scholar.

Yet, being unwilling to give up without at least trying, I have created a page titled, The Essential Gospel Message in which I do my best to explain the fundamental biblical message in a few brief paragraphs.  The whole time I was writing it, I kept thinking how I have NEVER heard ANYONE explain the gospel the way I’ve done it here.  I even wonder how many of my friends who have attended church their whole lives will scratch their heads and frown in puzzlement at how I have attempted to explain some of the fundamental concepts of the Christian faith.

Here’s the thing.  I wanted to provide a basic framework to help a novice Bible reader to understand how whatever passage they are reading may fit into the whole.  So, I have attempted a brief summary of the fundamental primary story of the Bible, in as straightforward a manner as I could, with as little Christianeze terminology as possible, yet also explaining some of the more common biblical terms.

Take a look and let me know what you think.  You can access the page by clicking here.

How would you explain the gospel message to someone who has no knowledge of the Bible?


[This post linked to: God BumpsBeholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]

20 thoughts on “An Inept Scholar

    • Yes, I have been given an amazing heritage of love for God’s word!

      I remember listening to my grandfather leading Bible studies at his kitchen table, asking someone to read a verse. Then as soon as the reader finished the verse, Grandpa, with eyes closed, would get so caught up in the message that he would simply quote the remainder of the chapter from memory.

      I’ve never memorized the extent of scripture that Grandpa did, but the love for God’s word has definitely stuck with me.

      Thank you, Jennifer!

  1. Your getting it, bud. I don’t know about other Heathens but the moment someone begins to slam me with bible versus the tune out phase quickly initiates. Many times I have heard people quote this John 3:16 and the only thoughts that come to mind are “blah blah blah”. My advice while attempting to convert your Heathens.. try not not to lead with the bible jargon. It’s a bad move. At least try to get the know the person first. It will soften the blow significantly.

    For someone that is a thoroughbred Christian I will admit I am quite surprised that you are even able to recognize any of this. Based on my experience, the majority of Christians lack the flexibility or even will to step outside of their comfort zone and make the effort to meet the rest of the world halfway. It’s a step in the right direction, my friend.

    • Well, I figure if you’re willing to keep plugging away reading the Bible, the least I can do is try to offer a little input, now and then.

      Frankly, I’m a bit embarassed that I haven’t been more help than I have. I’ll just keep trusting that the Holy Spirit can show you what I cannot.

      In the meantime, maybe a frame of reference will aid you in your studies.

      Thanks, Nowhere Man, both for you candor and your encouragement. I truly appreciate both.

      God bless!

  2. Definitely been thinking about the same things. How much basic information people don’t understand. I have seen what truly makes a difference though- and that is our enthusiasm and different approach to life. Peace when there should be turmoil. Understanding when there should be hate. Our passion and compassion speak volumes to a world out of control. Ultimately it’s LOVE. I think we can read scripture all day long to them but until they know and see God’s love they won’t be able to understand it’s magnitude. Are you drawing people by God’s love or do they feel condemned? GREAT Post! and like Jennifer said- what a special gift of having a lifetime of learning God’s word. I got a late start at the age of 22. It was a long hard road of undoing 22 years without HIM.

    • Thank you, for your input, Paula!

      Yes, demonstrating the love of Christ is an absolute must. Only Christ’s love can draw people to Him.

      Yet, there still comes a point of needing to explain the gospel message. With many, this is an easy explanation, because they already have a respect for the Bible and belief in an almighty creator.

      For a skeptic, who shows enough interest to ask questions, yet has neither knowledge of, nor respect for, the Bible, and no belief in a creator, it is a bit more difficult trying to find a framework of reference on which to base a discussion, or for them to understand what they are reading.

      I’m still sorting thru it, but have made a start with “The Essential Gospel Message” page on this site. Still difficult knowing what level of detail to include, how best to explain, etc…

  3. I’ve found the same issue in sharing my faith that you have. I learned the old methods years ago and they do “miss the mark” when dealing with certain people. (Sorry for the bad pun!) Anyway, I’m so grateful that you’ve taken the time to offer this well thought-out tool! Thanks so much, Joe!

    • Hah! I love a good pun, and you definitely “hit the mark” with that one! 🙂

      Thank you, Beth, both for the levity and the encouragement!


  4. I think it’s so wonderful, Joe, that you are trying to make the Gospel accessible to those who have no background in Bible. Keep up the great work, my friend.

  5. I would take them to 1 Corinthians 15:1-31! I would explain to them that each of us have a sin debt to pay and that we can never do enough to pay it but there is one, Jesus Christ, who has already paid the debt for you! I would ask them when do you think you have do enough good in their life to earn salvation? I would show them with God’s Word that we can never do enough! Then I would allow the Holy Spirit to do the drawing to Christ Jesus!
    I would also show them with Acts 15, that anything added to this gospel, is an incorrect gospel!
    Here on my blog I have a great 23 min. teaching for anyone interested!

    • That would be an excellent approach, Clint, with an attentive listener who respects the Bible as an authoritative document.

      However, a skeptic, who does not yet have reason to believe the Bible to be either authoritative or God’s word, is unlikely to respond well to quoted scripture…especially when presented through the use of social media.

      I think we need to find ways to help people understand enough of the Bible’s message to want to read more, for themselves, so they can learn to trust the Bible.

      I’m so glad you’re using your blog to share the gospel message. Keep up the good work!

      • Our job is to proclaim the Gospel message, the true gospel message. Its the Holy Spirits job to draw to salvation, teach the scriptures as God intended and to allow one to be opened to the scriptures! I think finding new ways is a slippery slop, God is the same yesterday, today and forever and so is is salvation plan and message! We can slide into a “Seeker Sensitive” area if we try to be to new!

        • Yes, God is the same. Yes, the message is the same.

          However, we are commissioned to communicate the message to people in darkness. Effective communication requires trying to find common ground on which to base discussion.

          For you and me, the Bible is common ground.

          For a skeptic and me, it is not.

          Blessings to you, brother…and good fishing!

  6. iI am so encouraged to hear you share your faith. There is statistics saying only 2%of Christians in the US share their faith. That makes me so sad. Especially when the latest I heard in my city (Denver) 95% are unchurched. (Not sure how they measure that. I’m sure of those some are believers but I don’t know how many. So thanks for taking initiative in this!!!

    • Only 2%? Wow!

      If that’s correct, it makes the church sound more like a secretive anonymous society, rather than a group of commissioned evangelists!

      I wonder what’s holding us back?

      Thank you, Laura!

    • “The Upside Down Kingdom”

      An apt name, David, at least from the natural human perspective. Though, I suppose as we learn more to see things from God’s perspective, it becomes “The Rightside Up Kingdom,” huh? 😉

      Where “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Where the path to eternal life lies thru daily dying to self. Where liberty is found thru servitude and obedience. Where righteousness is attained thru laying aside my own righteousness. And where the King and Ruler of all has humbled Himself to become the Servant of all.

      Not an easy perspective to explain…

  7. Joe,

    I love where your heart is. It’s so easy for those of us who grew up in the church to take the knowledge we have for granted. The statistics Laura mentions are sad. Perhaps a symptom of American Christians taking for granted that which inhabitants of other countries are willing to give their lives for.

    Paula makes a good point about showing love. That is where I’ve felt God leading me more and more. Certainly the Word charges us to be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have. But the way we treat others and the way we respond (not react) to others during crisis or personal attack (not necessarily physical/life threatening, but even hurt feelings), should be the catalyst for us having to give the reason. They should see something in us that causes them to seek out information.

    Jesus charged His disciples to preach the good news. (How does HE define “the good news”?) But we aren’t to do that until we are empowered by His Holy Spirit. Even Jesus waited for the Holy Spirit to begin His ministry. He also promised signs would accompany those who believed and that after His resurrection He worked with them and confirmed His word with the accompanying signs (Mark 16: 15-20). Where are those signs today? Sadly, Christians have become known more for their words than for their actions. Then we wonder why people aren’t convinced.

    The Word tells us we are to make disciples. Discipling implies a relationship. We are to build relationships. It is within those relationships that others see God’s love in us and that love causes them to want what we have. Not an “I wouldn’t mind havin’ me a little o’ that” kind of want, but an “I’ll do anything I have to do to get a piece of that” deep, aching desire.

    Somewhere along the way, many of us traded that living example for a talking explanation. Just as with writing, the best way to explain is not to tell, but to show! Telling is easier, but showing is more effective. Perhaps we favor talking because it’s so much easier than behaving. Given the break-neck speed our lives race along, perhaps the appeal lies in a conversation requiring minimal time investment from us versus the commitment of discipling. Or maybe our pride gets in the way a bit – we can showcase our intellect with a well crafted presentation but humble acts of love might initially go unnoticed. As with writing, maybe we are more confident in our message being articulated if we tell them. We doubt they will “get it” if we only show them. The problem is, telling rarely inspires, whereas showing engages others – it’s what lights their fires!

    Jesus taught, but people were drawn to Him because of who He was…Who they saw in Him. It is interesting that the term Christians primarily, if not exclusively, is a term that was assigned to Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ followers did not call themselves “Christian”. Others gave them that distinction because of how they behaved. If I have to identify myself as a Christian, I’m not sure it counts!

    At one point I realized that I had become so familiar with Bible stories that much of my knowledge was man’s interpretation that I had accepted on faith, rather than receiving God’s inspiration. I put my study Bible aside and started using a Bible void of man’s notes. I asked the Holy Spirit to show me His Word fresh. I was amazed at some of the truths I had completely missed.

    I still haven’t figured out how to explain without using Christianeze terminology, as you call it. That, too, is so ingrained until I often don’t recognize it. As I read your explanation through the link, in the first three paragraphs, I found terms I would consider somewhat peculiar to Christianity: heavens, covenant, His Spirit, communion, and His own nature within their spirits. The fourth paragraph begins with “Indwelt”, another term I would dub Christianeze, and interweaves all of these foreign concepts together. Foreign, that is, for one who didn’t grow up churched.

    I was visiting with a friend recently. She has a neighbor who put up goth yard displays through the year, especially intense at Halloween. She prayed for them but at some point God got ahold of her and dealt with her judgmental spirit. He asked her just to love them. She resisted for awhile. Ultimately she gave in. She went and bought them groceries and wrote a note. She confessed her religiousity had kept her from loving them, asked their forgiveness, and requested they receive the gift as from the Lord. The couple said they didn’t even realize she knew they existed. The goth decor is completely gone and this last Halloween they put out no decorations. When the man’s mother came to visit, she came to my friend’s house and told her that the son’s home was completely different.

    Another man saw the wealthiest man in the community on a downtown street corner. The Lord impressed him to give the wealthy man a $20 bill. Feeling foolish the man resisted. Eventually he gave in. He approached the man apologetically, “I don’t want to offend you. Your financial status is well-known. I know you don’t need this. But, I’m asking you to receive it from the Lord. He asked me to give it to you. I don’t know why, but God wants you to have this $20 bill.” The wealthy man began to weep. He explained that every time someone approached him it was to ask for money or a favor. Noone ever wanted to give him anything or do something for him. He was feeling used, abused, and uncared for. In that moment, at the very precise moment when he was giving into bitterness, God worked through one of His children to heal a hurting heart.

    A simple act of genuine love from the heart of God breaks strongholds. Our actions and words have to be undergirded by the Holy Spirit. He is the only One who can make them effective.

    • Very well stated, Janey!

      Yes, it is absolutely through our actions that Christ’s love is reflected, much more than our words. And yes, only God’s Holy Spirit can really speak to another human heart.

      Now you’ve got me thinking about how that plays out on the internet and in social media…a form of interaction that is predominantly written words…

      I’ll have to spend some more time praying about that…

      Thanks for your insightful words of encouragement!

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