The core of Christianity is the Gospel. However, the Gospel has many implications, and these are often misunderstood. Therefore, it can be easy to misunderstand Christianity’s core or conflate it with its implications. Christians should be able to articulate the Gospel and recognize when Christianity is being misunderstood or misrepresented.
My preparation for an upcoming interfaith dialogue has got me thinking about the biggest misconceptions people have concerning Christianity.
I think the biggest misconceptions about Christianity center around its central message and fall into three buckets: normative, situational and existential*. It seems to me that each bucket has a “positive” and a “negative” misunderstanding.
(Negative) Christianity is about making people obey pointless rules.
(Positive) Christianity is about making people moral.
(Negative) Christianity is about cultural and political power.
(Positive) Christianity is about social and interpersonal peace.
(Negative) Christianity is about feeling endlessly guilty.
(Positive) Christianity is about finding fulfillment in life.
Christianity’s Central Message
All of the above are either implications of becoming a Christian (e.g. finding fulfillment) or else perversions of Christian teaching (e.g. obeying pointless rules).
All six of these misconceptions are overcome when we realize that the Christian message is not about what we do, but what God has done through Jesus Christ on our behalf. This central message, the Gospel (good news) about Jesus is the central theme of the Bible as a whole, and it is also explicitly expressed, variously and repeatedly, in Scripture. Here are a few examples:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:14).
“He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Gospel is the heart and soul of Christianity. Because it is a unique message unlike anything offered by any other worldview or religion, it is often misunderstood. And because it has all kinds of implications for life and society and personal life (such as the importance of loving one’s neighbor) it can be easy for unbelievers to latch onto one of its implications and mistakenly think that is the core of the Christian faith. But it isn’t. The Gospel is.
Christians, we need to be able to articulate the Gospel clearly and identify when it is being misrepresented or substituted out for something else. The Gospel is the heart and soul of the Christian faith, and nothing else will do.
*Students of theologian John M. Frame will recognize these as his three perspectives (read more here