This question has been circling my mind for a while, and has been alluded to in a few posts- What is the Gospel? We all think we know. And yet we argue about it. We disagree vehemently about what this “good news” actually is. We say we are about the gospel. But what is it? What is this good news we are called to proclaim?
One group making a lot of noise on this front is The Gospel Coalition. Christ-centred or Gospel-centred get thrown around a lot. This group of Calvinist leaning (sometimes called the new Refomed) evangelical leaders have, in their minds, an explicit, Christ centred view of the gospel. Basically, they suggest that the gospel we are to proclaim is that God is Sovereign, and mankind has rebelled against him, and Christ died to atone for this rebellion and mediate salvation for mankind. For a good, succinct rundown of this view, check out Joe Thorn’s definition in his post on Gospel-Centredness (for a slightly longer articulation, here is Justin Holcomb on the Resurgence blog, or R.C. Sproul, or John Piper).
I find this view troubling; not because it’s necessarily theologically wrong, it’s just too narrow in my mind. Soteriology (doctrine of salvation) is not the sum total of the gospel, nor is substitutionary atonement the sum total of salvation. David Williams points out:
their account of the gospel… is, properly speaking, the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith, i.e., justification sola fide (by faith alone). So, for instance, on the Resurgence’s “What is the Gospel?” page, between the headings Jesus Died and Jesus Rose is the heading Jesus Exchanged, invoking the Reformation idea of dual forensic imputation: Our sin imputed to Jesus and Jesus’s righteousness imputed to us
There is more to say specifically about the dual imputation soteriology, but we’ll save that for another time.
So, what then is the gospel, if not that Jesus became our sin that we may take on his righteousness? Well, Williams (of InterVaristy, NC State) has put together a great rundown of something the new Reformed/Calvinist crew (The Gospel Coalition, Acts29, The Resurgence, Ligonier) misses (part 1, part 2, part 3 please, go read these posts, the give a great summation, better than I could do here). Williams and others, like Scot McKnight (Professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary), and Bruxy Cavey (Teaching Pastor, The Meeting House) have begun unearthing this idea of the Gospel as the proclamation of the Kingdom of God (which includes the salvation of sinners by grace through faith). On this front, you should all be aware of G.E. Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom (Paternoster, 1959), a phenomenal book I recommend to all.
Here’s Bruxy on the gospel:
Did you catch that? The gospel is not “Jesus died for my sins” but “Jesus is Lord” (See Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:9-11).
The Kingdom of God is surprisingly absent from too many theological discussions. It is central to Jesus’ message (perhaps that’s the reason the New Reformed folks miss it, since they tend to focus much of their attention on the events of Easter, and rarely reflect seriously on the teaching of Jesus). But here’s some stats: The Kingdom (Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, or simply Kingdom) shows up in Matthew 50 times, in Luke 39, and in Mark 14 (See “Kingdom of God/Heaven” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Downers Grove: IVP, 1992). Many of Jesus’ parables begin with “The Kingdom of Heaven/God is like…” (some examples: the parables of the weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, the settling of accounts, the workers in the vineyard, the wedding banquet, the sower of seeds). Jesus made it his business to talk about the Kingdom. Paul did also (Acts 19:8, 28:23, 28:31).
The gospel is the proclamation that the King is reclaiming his creation. The King is defeating his enemies (the last of which is death). The Kingdom of God comes in Jesus Christ, who begins the work of transforming the world. The removal of sin is one part of this grand proclamation. The attempt to “simplify” the gospel or to make it “explicit” leads many to miss the point; it is to look at a single pine tree and call it the forest. The gospel is huge. The gospel is far beyond my own personal moral failures, and God’s provision of forgiveness. It is the transfer of creation into the Kingdom of God- as Revelation 11:15 states, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” It’s not just about the payment of the penalty of sin. It’s about God being King and ordering the universe according to his good purposes.
So, here’s my take, my attempt to summarize the gospel in a couple of paragraphs; this is what appears in the current draft of my ordination statement:
The coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh is good news- gospel (Mark 1:1; Lk. 2:10-11). The Scriptures tell us that his arrival is proclaimed as euangellion- the Greek word used to describe the proclamation of the ascension of a new king/emperor or a decisive victory in battle. The gospel (the Scriptures also use “The gospel of the Kingdom”, “The gospel of Jesus Christ”, “The gospel of God”) is the proclamation that God has arrived to reclaim his creation, and reign as the rightful king, defeating his enemies- people who oppose the reign of God, as well as those intangibles which are corrosive and toxic to the purposes and design of God; e.g. death, sin, injustice.
The gospel is the announcement that God in Christ is setting right the world. This end is achieved by the salvation of people who will receive Christ as King under the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Lk. 22:20; Heb. 9:15) the end of sin and death, and the ultimate recreation of a New Heaven and Earth. Thus, the gospel proclamation, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil. 2:9-11), sums up what this mission of God is rooted in- the submission of all things, under the true Lord (Col. 1:15-20) and the gathering of the people of God (1 Pet. 2:10).
While ministering on earth, Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23, cf. Matthew 9:35, Acts 1:3, 8:12, 19:8, 28:23, 28:31). Jesus himself, though he is the good news, proclaims good news- the good news the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:14-15). As the Kingdom of God comes, people are forgiven of their sins, and receive eternal life. But there is so much more.