What is the “Gospel”? To Me it is…

Thanks for all of your great insights yesterday on what you believe is the Gospel! I loved reading them, and I generally like to think that the people that read this blog are at least 82.6% smarter than people who read any other blog :) Maybe it’s just that the people who have thought about what the Gospel means are the only ones who commented, but man, preach those definitions my brothers and sisters!

In the broader Christian world the word Gospel is thrown around so easily and quickly without a clue what it actually means. “Gospel” is now a part of the Christianeze language that, when someone says it, is to be automatically assumed they are: 1) A great Christian; 2) Totally know what they’re talking about. I would tend to say that neither of those points are accurate.

In fact, I physically cringe when I hear people say the word Gospel. I cringe because I know when people say it, that’s all I’m going to get from most of them when it comes to that word … just a bunch of lip service. This is kind of what I feel like when I hear most people talking about the Gospel:

Let me try and make this as clear as I can:

“Gospel” is not a word, it’s a way of life.

It’s not an understanding. It’s not a theology. And it’s sure not something that should ever be said lightly. Yet it has turned into all of those things.

In fact, I think the word Gospel should never be said.

You heard me right. Never. It should be lived. No one out there (especially those who are not Christian) cares about an over-used, under-impacted word that Christians say as the password to get in the club. However, through the message of Jesus living through you and I, we will be the hands and feet of Jesus’ reconciling work to bring ourselves and others into a restored relationship with God, each other, and have the strength to live a daily faithfulness of what it means to establish Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus references the word translated to “gospel” seven times, five of them coming in the book of Mark. Five of those seven times Jesus says something to the effect of “preach the gospel.”  Narrowly looking at the phrase “preach the gospel” it would assume most Christians are right today in their spoken usage of the word. The problem comes in to play when looking at the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry. His overtly intentional incarnational ways (not just as the God-man but also in the way he went about ‘living in the neighborhoods’ doing good deeds) were the presupposition to his earning the right to speak about what people call ‘the Gospel’ today.  

There is no such thing as a Capital-G Gospel

I say this because the capital letter denotes a person or a name; a label. You could argue that Jesus (a person) is the Gospel (a label to Jesus’ work). But the problem I see with that is that Jesus the person commanded us to live as he lived – not just label as he lived. So many times throughout Jesus’ life the roadblocks people encountered with him were because they weren’t ready to live as he lived (the Rich Young Ruler, the Pharisees, etc).

The “Gospel” is based on a life lived, not a construction of how to get saved.

The Gospel is meant to be a verb that describes an action; not a label of the ideal of someone’s actions for us.

So please, I ask you to stop saying the world Gospel and instead just faithfully live your life. The “Gospel” will be felt with more impact through active unspoken mediums than any intellectualized ones.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Matt

    Here’s a suggestion, Andrew.

    If the gospel is based on a life lived, and our lives are meant to be patterned by Christ’s, then the gospel is found first and foremost in Christ’s life and then subsequently embodied by ours as we follow him.

    The gospel, the message, the good news of Christ, would be the story of his life (Mk. 1:1).

    The only note of caution that I’d add, is that Christ’s life has a significance that ours does not in that he was God made man, that he died for our sins and that he is the firstborn from among the dead. It’s on that basis, I think, that we do have a message (some good news) to share which must form the foundation for how we live but to which the faltering witness of our lives can only hint at (or is that too weak?).

    Hope that’s helpful. I absolutely agree that the shouting of ‘the gospel’ to the converted, in apparent unconcern for all those excluded from it by our lives is worse than a tragedy.

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      Matt – I agree in that we definitely have good news to share! The problem I see is that Christians love to talk to other Christians about how they are sharing the gospel to other people. But when they share it, it’s an evangelism technique – not based on relationship and a lifestyle of gospel. I know you see that though…and yes, your point is well taken!

      • Matt

        Dude, I’m with you. ‘Evangelism technique’ … as though what the church really needs is to be more organised, more professional and to treat those outside the church as advertising targets.

        Hey, and if our church is full and our share-holders are happy, we don’t need to worry about the odd-ball minority who don’t want to buy.

        I think that qualified as a rant!

        • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

          Rants are allowed :)

  • Nicole Wick

    I have a bunch of words (and phrases) that I’d like to see us stop using….

  • Debbie Thurman

    “In fact, I physically cringe when I hear people say the word Gospel. I cringe because I know when people say it, that’s all I’m going to get from most of them when it comes to that word … just a bunch of lip service.”

    Hmmm. I understand that paradigm-busting is part of your MO, Andrew. We surely do need some of that. But in this case, I do firmly believe we must be careful not to flippantly discard the word “gospel.” Yes, clearly preachers (of the gospel) have a serious obligation to stand in their pulpits and boldly demonstrate through both word and deed what their call to preach means.

    I have to go back to Paul in the New Testament here. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14, 17).

    We’d all rather “see a sermon than hear one any day,” as the old adage goes. But we need both. Paul declared he was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” It is incumbent upon us all to know what that gospel is. In fact, he uses the phrase “gospel of Christ” at least eight times in the N.T. One of those was in reference to people who were distorting the gospel. And he adjured Timothy to “preach the word,” to “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

    Not everyone who utters the word “gospel” is merely giving it lip service. Some are likewise living it.

    • http://six11.wordpress.com Shawn

      I was going to reply, but Debbie said everything I wanted to. Amen, Debbie.

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      Debbie (and Shawn) – At least in my own head, I have seen a discouraging trend recently that “Gospel” is turning into the new John 3:16 – so often quoted/said that it loses all impact or meaning. It would be a shame for that to happen, and thus, I think we should be cognizent from here on out to make sure Gospel is indeed what it is meant to be lived and spoken. This post was just a note to those who say Gospel over and over and over and don’t live it out in any sustainable fashion. I know that there are numbers of people who do live it out, and for that, keep on keeping on. This was more of a note for the others.

  • Haven

    interseting concept. I somewhat agree, but, based on my own understandings, somewhat dissagree.

    I guess I see the gospel as having two very distinct meanings. First, the four books of the bible named Mathew, Mark, Luke, & John. I think when the term gospel is used to directly relate to them, there is no real issue. I think that if someone says something like “the gospel says…..” and they are speaking directly to those books, well, then that is ok. That is just their name.

    But I certainly understand what you mean when you are talking about the gospel, meaning, the good news! (I feel that if it really is good news, it needs an exclamation mark.) I am a bit of a letter of James fan on this aspect, that the gospel should be lived, not proclaimed. And not for some fear of damnation, or desire for everlasting life. But rather because that is what is supposed to be done. I think that by living the gospel, we need never speak the word itself.

    Either way, I enjoyed your insights and appreciate what you had to say.

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      Haven – Thanks for breaking that down. I agree that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are called the Gospels; and I have no beef with that :)

      And PS – I LOVE the exclamation mark thought process! Brilliant.

  • John Dao

    Hmmm… you make an interesting argument, but the Gospel isn’t a verb. You can live the Gospel, for sure, and I agree that people who preach the gospel don’t always live it (and thus become false prophets and teachers), and in that sense the Gospel calls us into action, but the Gospel is also the Good News of God. Without the good news, in the eyes of the world, you’re just another person doing good things. The world looks at you and says “oh what a nice person” and keeps on walking, never being changed. Without the understanding behind the action, it’s just another good deed. You don’t need the Gospel to do good things and to serve humanity. You can live the Gospel without even knowing it.

    In effective in evangelism (which is a way of life, not a single instance), you need both. I think this is what you meant. Effective Evangelism consist of both living the Gospel and teaching it. And what is the Gospel? It is the good news of God, which to 1st century Jews was “the Messiah has come” or in other words “The kingdom of God is near” and our response is to 1 ) Repent (that is live the Gospel) and 2) Believe the message of God. (Mark 1:15) You really need both.

    The thing is, good news to the GLBT community isn’t “You are a sinner and Jesus died for your sins”. Actually, that doesn’t sound like good news to anyone. If we are to preach the good news of God, we should at least make it good news to hear. The word Gospel, like so many other words (like Christian, God, evangelism, etc.) have become tainted because they mean a million things to a million people as to be ineffective in defining anything. Whether you stop using them or not, you’ll need to be prepared to explain yourself.

    • http://six11.wordpress.com Shawn

      John,
      Can you explain this statement better: “The thing is, good news to the GLBT community isn’t “You are a sinner and Jesus died for your sins”. Actually, that doesn’t sound like good news to anyone. If we are to preach the good news of God, we should at least make it good news to hear.”

      To me, what I read you are saying is: Jesus saving us from our sin is not good news; and that we should change the truth of God into something that’s less truthful and more pleasant to hear (i.e. let’s not talk about anyone’s sin).

      Thanks for explaining.

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      John – I appriciate the ‘evangelism is a way of life and not a single instance’. My understanding is that:

      Failthfulness is the new evangelism. Funny enough, it was the original evangelism, we’ve just formulized it into something different today.

  • Derek Sellers

    I agree more with a couple of things some of the previous commenters have said, that it is necessary to be open and up front about the reasons we are called to live the way we live. There is a delicate balance that must be maintained between bashing people over the head with our beliefs and stifling the Word so as not to offend anybody.

    Another word that has been shed in a sort of negative light nowadays is the word “Evangelism”. In the original context “Evangelicals” were Christians who cared about the people around them and wanted to share the message of Christ with the world without shame so that the world might hear and be given hope in his profound Love. The word has since become a derisive term for Christians who meddle in other people’s lives and who hypocritically clobber people with their own sins.

    So in response to this, are we to give up on Paul’s charge for us in 2 Timothy 4 to “Preach the word; being prepared in season and out of season; correcting, rebuking and encouraging—with great patience and careful instruction” no matter if the truth what we have to say is what people want to hear or not?

    Jeremiah, along with many prophets of the Old Testament had to deal with this question quite a bit back in the Old Testament. God sent them to speak the truth to their countrymen when Israel fell away from God, and they weren’t popular for it. They were beaten, humiliated, and martyred for saying things that people didn’t want to hear. The conviction placed upon Jeremiah’s heart near the end of his book was that, if he didn’t at least tell the people he was sent to inform of their need to come to God, it was as if he was condemning them to their fate himself, and therefore he himself was responsible for their fate. If he did tell them the things they didn’t want to hear, and they still chose not to listen, then they would be responsible for their own fate.

    I say this not because I think what your saying about preaching the gospel is wrong or illegitimate, it’s just that since reading your book and your blog I’ve been struggling with this question myself. Where do we draw the line between simply coexisting with everyone else and being truthful, active, fruitful, and faithful Christians?

    I think for right now, my answer is this: The Love of God is greater far than any mortal man could ever tell, we are charged as Christians to reflect that love in our lives and to use that love to fuel everything we do. Christ loved by giving grace and hope, but he also loved by rebuking and correcting. Everything he did, everything he said, popular or unpopular was fueled by his unfathomable love and passion for humanity. Anyone who speaks anything without that kind of love at his core, be it rebuke and damnation, or peace and safety, is only trying to build himself up in some way.

    That is why I say preaching the Gospel is not where Christians have gone wrong; preaching it with a selfish lack of Christ’s Love is.

    • http://six11.wordpress.com Shawn

      Beautiful, Derek:

      I think for right now, my answer is this: The Love of God is greater far than any mortal man could ever tell, we are charged as Christians to reflect that love in our lives and to use that love to fuel everything we do. Christ loved by giving grace and hope, but he also loved by rebuking and correcting. Everything he did, everything he said, popular or unpopular was fueled by his unfathomable love and passion for humanity. Anyone who speaks anything without that kind of love at his core, be it rebuke and damnation, or peace and safety, is only trying to build himself up in some way.

      That is why I say preaching the Gospel is not where Christians have gone wrong; preaching it with a selfish lack of Christ’s Love is.

      *A round of applause to you.*

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      Derek – Beautiful, indeed! Thank you so much for sharing such introspective analysis. Much love brother.

  • Sam

    I like your definition of gospel. My observation has been that few respond to the gospel they hear until they see it being lived out. What you or some preacher has to say means little to me unless I believe that you really believe it, as is proven to me by the way you live it out – how you treat others and me.

    Yell at me, call me names, spend your time and money to see that I don’t have the same rights as you have. In this country you can do all of those things. But please don’t expect me to listen to you telling me what your religion says and why I should accept that, whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. Unless you show, and not just tell me that you care about me and love me, I really don’t care what you have to say about politics, religion, how to stay healthy or whatever. (Unless you are my boss or some other authority figure in my life, then I may pretend that I care about what you have to say.)

  • ~steveT

    am~
    just a brief follow up on this amazing discussion (you, of course, always know how to hit me at the heart of my “aches”)……why is does it seem so difficult to communicate the difference between religion and relationship? i know often it’s, in part, because the language tends to be similar, but….as you’ve implied, there’s an empty and lonely chasm between the two.

    our danger is to become resentful and dismissive of those that seem to be wrapped up in the need to spiritualize the Good News and not live it. i ask Jesus to keep reminding us that many do this because they’ve been taught that this type of life is the “christian norm”. yet we know it’s simply not.

    we’ve been fortunate to meet heart-to-heart, a Jesus that is alive and interactive inside of us…..it makes an intimate relationship with Him essential and then becomes verified as truth when the miraculous happens and we actually start loving and living more in line with His heart and life.

    let’s not forget….Jesus loved/loves the pharisees as much as anyone else. and moreover, i’m convinced He wants to save christians too. it’s just sometimes a little tougher because they often think they have it all down pat…..grace! what would do without it?….and grace! how much He aches for us to live it to those around us who seem to be missing the point. how else will they sense that there really is more?

    love you brotherboy!

    ~steveT

  • ROsmary

    And where are the non-white, non-male people on this show? Geez. I just can’t stomach this anymore, it’s almost worse than the homophobes.

    • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

      Are you talking about the “Dodgeball” clip?


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