In my last post I wrote that the church has changed God’s story:
Sender (God) -> Agent (Us) -> Task (Genesis 1) -> Impediment (Genesis 3, Sin) -> Helper (Jesus) -> Receiver or End Goal (Blessing of Creation)
Sender (God) -> Agent (Jesus) -> Task (Salvation) -> Receiver (Us)
In this post we’re going to look at how this has affected the Church’s understanding of the gospel. Let’s start with a couple of popular treatments of the gospel. Some define it simply as justification by faith. John Piper is a very popular Bible teacher in reformed camps (where I got my two stories) so I was curious what he would say. Here is his definition: “The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy.” This fits pretty well with the reworked story. God sent Jesus to die so that we can be saved. This is of course great news, and very true, but is this the full gospel?
NT Wright defines the gospel as “the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord.” For Wright, everything else follows from that. This is probably too succinct, as he knows, but at least this gets us started in the right place. To me we have to have Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the kingdom of God, that the message saves, and probably some other things if our definition is going to be complete.
Scot McKnight recently put out a book called The King Jesus Gospel: The Good News Revisited which looks to be one of the more important books to come out in the last several years. Covenant Library doesn’t have a copy yet so I haven’t had a chance to read it, but Joel Willetts has done a 10 part review of it and Nijay Gupta has also put up a review. Joel Willetts offers a pretty extensive summary of how Scot McKnight understands the gospel.
“Like all presentations it begins in Genesis. But rather than focusing on the individual and his or her broken relationship with God, Scot begins with humanity as a entity. Humanity has sinned. They have “usurped” God’s governing authority. Instead of acting as his representatives, they attempted to separate themselves from him and run the show. The gospel the announcement of God’s solution to the problem of a usurping humanity who deserves death. This salvation solution runs through the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Joshua, Saul, David and Solomon and the Zerubbable, Judas Maccabee and John Hyrcanus. The story comes to is mid-point in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth the son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ public ministry, his arrest, his death on a Roman cross, his resurrection, and ascension as the Lord and King of this world. It continues in the and through the assembly of Messiah, the church, who as individuals hear the gospel, repent of their usurpation, entrust themselves to Messiah, and then together embody the Messiah to the world by the indwelling of the Spirit. The story’s end, although in one sense its new beginning, is the return of the King and of the coming of the new heavens and new earth.”
Maybe the problem is trying to reduce the gospel to one or two sentence sound bites. Or maybe the problem is focusing solely on “what’s in it for me.”