Gospel Heresy

Heresy is a very strong word. In times past heretics (from one group’s perspective) were tortured, exiled, or killed for their beliefs. Therefore, we do not use the word lightly. It may be of value, however, to resurrect the word in Christian circles, because some of the “Christian” beliefs being espoused today compromise the gospel to such an extent that it may very well be heresy.

One of the most quoted passages in Luke is the announcement of Jesus’ ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor . . .” Following this announcement there is great joy. “The young precocious Jewish boy has grown up and will liberate us!” seems to be the sentiment. “All spoke well of him and were amazed . . .” Jesus rejects their adulation and their interpretation of the Good News. They clearly see his liberation as being for them and their group: the Jews. Jesus then talks about this liberation and healing being for a woman from Sidon and a man who is Syrian. Jesus brought Good News to the Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors at the same time.

It was a package deal.

They had mistaken the liberation and blessing passage as being for them alone. Jesus would not allow that kind of ethnocentric thinking about the Good News. It is good news for all or it is not good news at all. It is for your enemy, for folks who do not look like you (and it is for you). The Good News is salvation, it is liberation, it is healing, and it is reconciliation—all in one. If it is not this whole message, it is a message with a hole.

I believe that a gospel that is mostly or only for our own types is closer to the religion of a pagan than the faith of/in Jesus Christ. But we have things confused today, because our gospel is often too small. Evangelism that does not intentionally bridge class and ethnic identities—in other words, a gospel that allows people to retain their prejudices and narrowness—is not yet evangelism. It may be the start of evangelism, but to trust in Jesus means that you allow Jesus to be Lord of your identity. Your new identity is with him first . . . secondarily the multicultural body of Christ, and then with your family and ethnic group.

This is why we make a big deal about multicultural churches and cross-cultural ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. The gospel attacks sin, self-will, and ethnocentrism all at once. It is a one-size-fits-all gospel. If it is not, it is some other (not quite a) gospel. In fact, I think it is heresy. I pray that we will more clearly teach evangelism this way in our evangelical seminaries in the future. Apparently we have not done a very good job with this in the past. And for my part in this lacuna I apologize.


Scott W. Sunquist is the dean of Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies and professor of world Christianity. He has written in the areas of mission theology, pluralism, and global Christianity; his most recent work is The Unexpected Christian Century.

For more information about degree programs in intercultural studies, visit fuller.edu/sis.