There is a difference. One way conveys the truth within which are hidden volumes of mystery and complexity. The other way, though perhaps effective in communicating an essential component of truth, fails to relate the vastness and the beauty of the promises God made to Abraham almost 4000 years ago.
We live in a sound bite culture, especially where modern technology and the pace of life has caused people to become constantly distracted and virtually unable to sit still. Who has time for a slow cooker when there is a microwave available? Now, in this microwave society riddled by 300 television stations, instant online gaming, DVR’s and MP3 players, it seems that any explanation lasting more than 30 seconds is considered ad infinitum and complicated. It is this brooding impatience that I believe has most negatively impacted the presentation of the gospel, to its detriment.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV)
We have taken the words of the gospel-writers or the epistles of Paul, distilled and truncated them, and delivered them in true bumper-sticker fashion believing that our audience is no different than their audience, that our world is no different than their world, and that the Word of God is impervious to manipulation, misuse, and abuse! And we have been wrong on every count.
And if you require proof, then consider the massive flow of professing Christians out of the church. They are leaving in droves because they were sold a bill of goods that cannot be delivered. They heard a gospel message that has been robbed of the potency and richness of the promise to Abraham and so excised of its depth and power. They heard countless sermons admonishing love and [sometimes] obedience without the Biblical foundation or practical direction that Paul’s audience had. They were told that the gospel begins and ends with the cross rather than understanding that the crucifixion is only a single chapter in a much larger story that is still being written.
Considering this more practically, while saying “Jesus died for our sins” may be semantically accurate, it fails to convey the fullness of what he achieved through his life and his resurrection. When presented as the crux of the gospel, this statement is both simplistic and short-sighted. I am not suggesting that it is irrelevant. On the contrary, I am saying that such a simplistic presentation fails to capture the significance of what was actually accomplished on the cross and even more so greatly diminishes its relevance in the larger pattern of exile and redemption portrayed within the Biblical account.
The gospel is not a statement. It is a story. And we all, Jew and Gentile alike, have the opportunity to be a part of that story.