What exactly is the Gospel? Yesterday, I met with the three men that I meet with each Sunday morning at a local coffee shop at 7 am. We fellowship and connect as brothers and this has been going on now for a long time. We are in our third year together. The topic of what constitutes the “gospel” came up in our conversation.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia states it this way:
The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8–11; II Cor 5:14–19; Tit 2:11–14).
A quick overview of the New Testament will reveal that the word “gospel” does not stand in isolation but rather it has several modifiers such as:
(1) The gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 9:12) and the gospel of His Son (Rom. 1:9). These two descriptions speak of the good news of salvation that comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the very Son of God in human flesh. Again, this is a good news of deliverance from sin’s penalty, power and presence through the two advents of Christ.
(2) The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) emphasizes that salvation in all of its aspects is on the basis of grace rather than on some meritorious system of works.
(3) The gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) is the good news that God will establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) The gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15) describes how this good news of salvation in Christ brings peace in all its many aspects (peace with God, the peace of God, peace with others, and world peace) through the victory accomplished by the Savior.
(5) The eternal or everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6) expands our perspective of gospel as we normally think of it. The gospel is not limited by time or effect and has depth and definition that will last eternally.
The very essence of the “gospel” is found in its root, that is being “good news” to the one hearing it. There is indeed good news in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son, and what He has accomplished in obedience to the Father, as He missionally and intentionally fulfilled the will of the Father. He did indeed bring the good news of peace and reconciliation and wholeness, as key components of the good news of the Kingdom of God and it was all through grace, the unmerited favour of God on our behalf. All of this is good news and it is good news further still because its quality is such, that it is everlasting. It is eternal.
But stripped down to the bone, how would you define “the gospel” and how would you do it in light of those who are Postmoderns, who no longer feel bound to the restrictions of the Enlightenment, but yet are not opposed to “good news”? How would we engage in this theological conversation, this philosophical discourse on why God would choose the Incarnation to be the vehicle to bring about redemption for mankind? Even if you conquer this mountain, there is still another to be climbed. How do you deal with the full implications of the “good news” and how it should impact social justice, and all the ills we see each day in our society? How is what Jesus has given to us through his life, ministry, death, resurrection, glorification and intercession, really affection our engagement with the world we live in, and those who have nothing good to see or hear about in their lives? How does this become relevant to the one who is suffering injustice and how we engage with them and become advocates for them? Is not the mandate of being a “follower of Christ” demand that we also take up our cross and follow after Him? Does this not mean we must share in the sufferings of Christ, on behalf of others?
Have we become so complacent and comfortable in N. America, that we simply do not “get it” when it comes to the importance of the “good news” and our being called to bear it and proclaim it? It is more than a “social gospel” but if the death and resurrection and reconciliation have any meaning or hope for our society, it has to have a social element where issues of social justice are part of, and flow from the full effect of what Jesus has already accomplished. It it does not, it is no longer “good news” for anyone!
The moral and ethical and social aspects we speak of are all about character and about our being renewed and transformed by the Spirit of God and the Word of God, and
in turn becoming agents of grace, “ambassadors” of Christ (II Corinthians 5) to others, of the “good news” of what God has already accomplished through Christ. Our lives bear testimony not about ourselves, but to Christ and what has been accomplished.
I am often saddened in N. America, that when we speak of the “word of testimony” it becomes little more than a “brag fest” about “me and Jesus and how I am now successfull and have it all together”! Tell that the Christians in Darfur, or those being persecuted and martyred in N. Korea, and those being targeted in escalated attacks and persecution in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Saudi Arabia. Their testimonies point to Christ, and their identification in His suffering, not in some secret recipe for success.
Many Postmoderns want to engage in conversation about Jesus the radical, the revolutionary, and issues of the Kingdom, and such things as social justice, equitty and conservation of the environment, as well as a host of issues. But they no longer hold the world view of the Englightment. How are we going to bridge the gap, empowered by the Spirit, and begin to build bridges to them through friendship and engagement, if we don’t begin to understand and appreciate what it is to be in a Postmodern society. It is time not only for some of us to re-engage with the culture, but to do so from a totally different orientation that is unfamiliar and foreign. Postmodernism needs to be viewed as an opportunity to retell the stories, the narratives of God and His dealings with the world. Through conversation and dialog we not only communicate our ideas, but share common stories and experiences, and in those very experiences we can testify, and put the proper attention upon Christ, and how relevant He is to our society and the multiplicity and complexities of Postmodern expressions of life, thought and belief.
I for one have chosen to “change gears” and adopt a posture of meekness and humility, and have begun to engage in order to understand how they perceive the world in which they live. Through friendship and conversation, and a lot of listening, my head and heart will become informed as to what is important to these people, and through grace and much love (from God, who else), I will pray and hope and work toward not only understanding, but also in communicating the narratives of God in the Gospels that reveal Jesus as not only the revolutionary, but as the only true Liberator! If the Gospel is “good news” it is found in the liberty that Jesus provides through His life and ministry, death and resurrection. That indeed is the Gospel! And that is good news for Postmoderns.