Evangelicals are first and foremost “gospel people.” Our very name comes from the Greek word for gospel. Our faith is centered on the gospel, the good news that through the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus Christ defeated sin, evil, and death. We are people whose lives have been transformed by the gospel. We are gospel people!
Unfortunately, evangelicals are not known primarily as “gospel people” in the broader culture today. The majority of Americans understand “evangelical” in primarily political terms rather than gospel terms. What a tragedy. For millions of Americans, “evangelical” doesn’t mean good news; it means bad news. And that’s our fault, not theirs. We have allowed ourselves to be identified by politics rather than the gospel.
As a result, the number of Americans who identify as evangelical continues to decline while those who identify as having no religious affiliation continues to grow in number. The Pinetops Foundation landmark study, The Great Opportunity¸ warns that if Gen Zers (those born after 2000) disaffiliate from Christianity at the same rate as Millennials, 42 million more people will leave the faith by 2050. Another recent study discovered that almost half of adults who were raised in the largest evangelical denomination in the United States have now left the church.
It’s time. It’s time for us to reclaim our identity as “gospel people.” It’s time for us to reconsider what it means to be a credible and compelling gospel presence in our society today. It’s time for us to refocus and recommit ourselves to the one mission we have on this earth—to testify to Jesus Christ.
We know that the religious landscape in America has changed. So have the questions and the objections to the gospel that many are voicing. The ways we’ve done evangelism and apologetics in the past just aren’t connecting with the broader culture like they once did. We need a new approach, one that listens carefully to those who are turned off and disillusioned by the Church. We need to rethink how we approach those tough issues that form barriers to faith. How do we engage the hard questions, the skepticism, and the indifference that characterize our times? How do we step into the brokenness of our culture with compassion and conviction?
These questions led Denver Seminary’s Board of Trustees this past June to approve the establishment of The Gospel Initiative (TGI) for the fall of 2020. Its purpose is to help the Church engage the difficult questions of our day in ways that commend the gospel with compassion and credibility. We won’t back down from tough and divisive issues like sexuality, racism, immigration, science and faith, partisan politics, religious pluralism, gun violence, and many, many others. We want to learn how to step into them with the goals of understanding how to address the needs they represent and commending the gospel to those whose views may differ from our own.
How will The Gospel Initiative accomplish its purpose?
- Research—We cannot commend the gospel to others if we do not know how they hear it and what they think about it. TGI will survey, aggregate, and analyze existing research on the state of the Church. And we will conduct new research, particularly in the Denver metro area, to discern the issues and objections that keep people from being open to consider the gospel. We will make the results of this research available publicly.
- Resources—TGI will offer workshops and conferences featuring thinkers and practitioners who are engaging the tough issues in ways that commend the gospel. In addition, we will publish digital and print resources to support churches, evangelists, and church-planters as they seek to create a compelling and credible gospel presence in the communities where God has called them. TGI will create resources to support Denver Seminary classes and programs.
- Relationships—TGI will create cohorts of practitioners who will meet regularly to share best practices, explore innovative ideas, and encourage one another in the work of the gospel. In addition, we envision developing cohorts of students, interns, and practitioners who are engaged in church-planting.
TGI will have both a physical and a digital presence. We envision a space on campus where we can convene conferences and workshops as well as support cohorts of practitioners. We also envision an expansive digital presence as we make resources available and convene virtual cohorts for those who cannot be present on campus. We are planning to hire two full-time staff members and support several student workers with scholarships.
The Gospel Initiative flows out of Denver Seminary’s identity and mission. We are a community of gospel-centered learners who have intentionally refused to take dogmatic positions on issues that divide the evangelical movement. We focus on the core beliefs of evangelicalism, the centrality of the gospel being first and foremost. Our mission is clear—we prepare men and women to engage the needs of the world with the redemptive power of the gospel and the life-changing truth of Scripture.
At Denver Seminary we are committed to being “gospel people” whose first priority is to create a compelling and credible gospel presence so that more men and women will come to know the risen Christ. And that’s why we couldn’t be more excited about The Gospel Initiative.