From Confident Christianity - What Makes a Good Gospel Outline?
Some outlines start with the fact of sin, and blindly assume both the existence of God and the fact that his character is morally pure. Other outlines start with a statement about the love of God, also making assumptions about his existence and character.
While many people hold vague assumptions about God's existence, they would seem to be even less certain as to what he is like.
It seems therefore important to start with an affirmation about God's existence, giving a good reason for such belief. That statement must then say what God is like, before anything else in the Gospel can make sense.
Many Gospel outlines hardly mention Jesus except to bring him in as a mechanism which solves a moral conundrum in the mind of God. They ask us to trust somebody they tell us very little about! Yet the Gospel is all about Jesus Christ. You cannot talk about the Gospel unless you are talking about him. By giving the existence of Jesus as the primary reason for believing in God, the outline goes to the heart of God's revelation of himself and avoids many peripheral issues.
A group of Christian students 'brainstormed' a list of the essential ingredients of a good Gospel summary. They came up with twelve items - but repentance was not one of them! Yet if any two words are repeatedly used in the evangelism of the New Testament, they are 'repent and believe'. Again and again modern evangelists tread lightly over the central call of the Gospel that people must change the way they are living if they are to come under the kingly rule of God.
The student brainstorming session put 'the cross' as the first ingredient in their list of Gospel essentials. They were entirely right that the death of Christ is central to the 'good news'. However, to explain the meaning of the cross requires prior explanations about the existence of God, his moral purity, the sinfulness of man, the impending judgment, the deity of Christ and the significance of such a blameless one coming under God's judgment. The cross then is not the first statement of the Gospel. Neither is it the fact that someone died on a cross that is important - all too many people did that - but that such a one should die this death. Neither are we saved by trusting in a space-time historical event. Rather we are to put our trust in the person of Jesus who died for our sins and brought about the possibility of our undeserved forgiveness. Hence the apostle Paul proclaimed 'Jesus Christ and him crucified'.
The student list did not itemise 'judgment' for inclusion among their Gospel statements. If any item will be omitted it will always be this one. It militates against the whole ethos of our culture which falls over itself not to blame anyone for anything. 'You make God sound like a Mafia Chief' was one response heard to a clear warning about the coming Judgment.
However, to ignore the Judgment is to make a nonsense of the Gospel. This above all other reasons is why well-meaning liberals are so ineffective in evangelism. If we are not going to be called to account for the way we have lived, then why do we need to be forgiven? What point is there in repenting of our sins? Why did God set out a rescue mission? Why did Christ suffer on the cross? Why did he send out evangelists? Why are we thinking about the essential ingredients of the Gospel? We are wasting our time and God clearly wasted his if there is to be no day of reckoning. The Judgment is like a corner stone against which all other walls of the Gospel building line up and without which the entire edifice collapses.
Christ more than anyone gave the most emphatic warnings that we shall all have to face the judgment seat of God. Such warnings pervade his teaching. They are spelled out in the parables, and permeate the Sermon on the Mount. They are explicit in his personal encounters and were graphically illustrated in his deeds. You cannot be faithful to the teaching of Christ and avoid his solemn warnings of the coming Judgment. (Note the difference between a warning and a threat.)
Neither is our society surprised to learn it. When the awful truth dawns, it is seen to make sense. How else should God relate to our generation - except to call us all to account? Our deeds are not meaningless nor are moral values an illusion. It does matter how we live, how we treat one another, whether we tell the truth, whether we harbour evil thoughts, whether we are faithful to our spouses, whether we fiddle the books, whether we abuse the environment, whether we are self-centred, whether we care. And modern man is not ultimately surprised to learn it. He has believed it in his bones all along. In fact it comes as very good news - for ultimately every detail of our lives has meaning, every thought, every word, every action. And the prospect of being forgiven and having a new start is quite the most exciting thing that could happen to any of us. That's why we call it 'Good News'!
Given that relativism 'is the central heresy of our culture' and can be very slippery to wrestle with, a good outline will anticipate the problems and not aggravate them. The objective nature of the empty tomb and the universality of the coming Judgment concern absolute truths which have implications for everyone, not just for believers.