The Gospel Is Made to Stick
In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Professors Chip and Dan Heath use the mnemonic SUCCESs to summarize the six properties of successful ideas. Reading the book I realized that the gospel satisfies these properties; the gospel is made to stick because it is Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and it has many memorable Stories.
The gospel is simple indeed: it is “The good news of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
The gospel is filled with unexpected events and ideas; here are a few of the most surprising:
The virgin birth: Jesus Christ, born of a woman without a human father, the only begotten son of God!
“The men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him!”
“When the multitudes saw [the healing of the paralytic man], they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.”
“When the demon was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.”
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings [of the Sermon on the Mount], the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
“When [the Pharisees and Herodians] heard these words, [Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s] they marveled at his answer, and held their peace.”
His crucifixion: A dead Messiah! The king, the hero of the story, suffers the most dishonorable death imaginable. “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”
His resurrection: Jesus Christ raised from the dead, alive for evermore. Even the disciples found it hard to believe.
His ascension: Jesus Christ our Lord now sitting at the right hand of God, all power given unto him in heaven and in earth.
His return: Jesus Christ will return to the earth to establish the Kingdom of God, which will catch everyone off guard.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come… While the bridegroom tarried, they all [both wise and foolish virgins] slumbered and slept.”
“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.”
Forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Savior:
“This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for many for the remission of sins.”
“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Gentiles included as children of Abraham by faith, heirs according to the promise:
“The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed… that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith… For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized have put on Christ… ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The gospel message is concrete. The Kingdom of God is to be on earth: Jerusalem the capital, Jesus the king, the saints the rulers with him, the Promised Land the territory, Israel the citizens, God’s rule the law of the land, and the nations sharing in the blessings. “The earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas.”
The gospel is credible. “These things were done to fulfill that which was spoken by the prophet.” Jesus came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He taught as one having authority. The Holy Spirit gifts given to the apostles made them credible; God testified to the authenticity of their message through the signs and wonders He empowered them to do. They had God’s stamp of approval. They could do these things only if they had been sent by God. It was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that all these things came to pass, and this is made clear to all who have ears to hear.
The gospel is truly emotional, as illustrated by these hymns:
“Was it for me that flesh was wounded sore” (Hymn 221).
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.”
“Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee” (Hymn 163).
“Hark, ten thousand, thousand voices Sing the song of Jubilee” (Hymn 296).
“Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning! (Hymn 294).
“A rose shall bloom in the lonely place” (Hymn 289).
The gospel is full of memorable stories, including some new ones we are still living. To illustrate, let me tell you a part of the story of how I came into the Truth.
I was not raised a Christadelphian; in fact, I was not raised in any church. I knew nothing about the Bible. In my senior year of high school, a friend had read Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, which claimed that Christ would return by 1988. I was skeptical. Being a debater and seldom at a loss for words, I argued that you could make anything out of the Bible, after all, there were so many churches, and they all taught and believed different things, yet they all pointed to the Bible as the source of those beliefs. Ex post facto, the Bible could be used to prove whatever you wanted to prove. Consequently, it was essentially useless to prove anything. Mind you, I knew nothing about it.
When I got home that night I found a Bible and searched the table of contents for something on prophecy. Finally, at the very end, I found a book called “Revelation” which sounded like it might be about prophecy. I read it straight through, and concluded that my earlier argument was clearly correct because no one could know for sure what this stuff was all about; it was so highly symbolic, with no obvious meaning anywhere near the surface. Of course, I had no background to make such a judgment and if I had stopped there, I would have been wrong, “dead” wrong! The real result of that night was that I committed myself to learn as much about the Bible as I could, not so much because I intended to believe it, but because I never wanted to be caught as unprepared for an argument as I had been that evening. (This was an essential method for success in debate: always be preparing for the next one.)
My grandma, Sis. Noma Hill, was a devoted Christadelphian and she read “the chapters” (from the Bible Companion) every day. I had been with Grandma to Sunday school and meeting a couple times and knew Christadelphians studied the Bible seriously. So, when it came to learning something about the Bible, I thought it made sense to get in touch with the Christadelphians. They knew their Bibles and I remembered there were Christadelphians who had been Baptists, or Catholics, or just about anything else, so I assumed they would accept people, including me, no matter their background, without prejudice.
I visited Grandma the summer before I was to start attending the University of Texas in Austin. She gave me a bag full of material, including lots of Heralds, an old copy of Christendom Astray, some Logos pamphlets, some Christadelphian Expositors, the 2nd edition (1946) of Bible Fingerposts, etc. Lots of stuff. One of the Heralds had Bro. Thomas’ “abjuration” in which he explained how Galatians 3:8 proved that the gospel was not merely the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as taught by most Christians, but that it also included the promises to Abraham. What an important breakthrough!
I loved reading all the material Grandma had given me. I discovered the flaw in my argument. Though the churches claimed to teach what was in the Bible, they really didn’t. It wasn’t the Bible that was the source of all the competing ideas, it was men and women. The Bible itself taught one truth, one gospel. And that gospel was different than the teachings of essentially all churches. For me, that was a new perspective. But it also opened my eyes to another critical idea: I had to study the Bible for myself, perhaps with the help of others, but never trusting in what other people taught. I was personally responsible for understanding what God said. I could not delegate that responsibility to anyone else. I could read and listen to lots of others, but I had to search the Scriptures myself to separate the wheat from the chaff.
To bring this story to an end, let me tell you about my first Sunday at the Austin meeting. I discovered that my new apartment in Austin was about four blocks from the YWCA where the ecclesia met. The first Sunday I was in town, I walked over, and was welcomed at the door by a woman I had never met, who said to me, “You must be Joe Hill!” What a nice surprise. Turns out that after my visit with Grandma, and before I showed up in Austin, she had attended Midwest Bible School where she told Bro. Joe and Sis. Marie Banta that I might show up and asked them to treat me nice if I did. The Bantas and other families in the Austin ecclesia “adopted” me as if I were their own. This is the primary reason I stayed in school for ten years — I didn’t want to leave my spiritual family.
Anyway, back to that Sunday morning. I was pointed to the teen class that was held in the back on the stage. There must have been 20 students in the class, which was being led by Bro. Rick Hollenbeck. The topic was miracles. We were going around the table with each student having to name a miracle. They all had their favorites: Joshua and the walls of Jericho, Daniel in the lion’s den, Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace, Jesus walking on water, Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter, etc. I knew none of these. From my reading of the material Grandma had given me, I could think of one miracle, the virgin birth of Jesus. But I was last to go, and there was no way it would get all the way around to me without someone giving this miracle. It was too good, too important. I was terrified. Here on my first day meeting these folks I was going to look like a complete ignoramus. What a nightmare. They kept going around the table, naming miracles by Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and the apostles. I didn’t know any of these. There were so many, because the Bible is full of great stories, many of them miracles. It finally got to me, and the virgin birth was still unnamed, so I lucked out. They all thought I was a genius, but I knew better.
The gospel really is a message made to stick. It is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and it is full of memorable stories. We should keep these principles in mind as we preach the gospel and as we teach the Bible. God has made the gospel easy for people to understand. It can’t help but be the ultimate SUCCESS.
Joe Hill (Austin Leander, TX)