As a child, I understood the good news to be this: Jesus died for my sins, and if I ask for forgiveness he will come into my heart so that I can live with him forever when I die.
The Problem: that doesn't work for me as an adult who is a Christian. Existentially, it doesn't ring as good news to me.
The Other Problem: the Bible never once poses the good news as what I just summarized above.
So: what is the good news that Jesus proclaims to first century Jews and Gentiles? And how does that translate to good news for today - to me in this twenty-first century?
Scot McKnight takes a shot at this issue in a blogpost (you really ought to take the time to read) titled: The Problem is the Problem. He writes:
To say that we Christians have the "gospel" is to say we have "good news that resolves the bad news." So, we ask, What is the problem to which the gospel speaks this good news? What is it that Christianity "fixes"? The most significant problem many presentations of the gospel face is that the problem the gospel is trying to fix is not robust enough. In other words, the problem has become the problem.
What is the need humans have that the gospel satisfies? I'd be interested in your response to this question.
Here's what I wrote as a response:
Scot, you ask: "What is the need humans have that the gospel satisfies?"
Humans need hope that there is a way that "works."
Is there a way to live that reduces/negates my fears?
Is there a way to live that helps me quit doing shameful things or takes away the shame?
Is there a way to live so that I can get along with everybody?
Is there a way to live so that my little part of the world stays beautiful?
A lot of people I know are giving up on hope that there is a way that works and are just trying to make the best of it. They are taking medication for the fear, hiding dark shameful secrets, walking away from friendships/family when it gets hard, and giving little consideration to how much they need to care for the creation around them.
For the people who haven't given up hope, they are still pretty frustrated that their way isn't working that well, and that so many other people don't seem to have it figured out.
I think the four "cracks" that you identify are on the mark.
I've never used the fear of hell to convince people to "believe" in Jesus, but I don't feel confident about the alternatives. I've drifted towards heralding how much better the way of Jesus is than the world's way, but I have a hard time connecting it to what the way of Jesus saves us from and what it saves us to. It's not been clear to me the connection between loving God/others and salvation/gospel.
Maybe I need to get some more of your books...
McKnight is a gifted writer, and he addresses this issue in more detail in his book Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us where he tries to define the problem by making sure we are asking the right questions. I've ordered it - I know I need it...