The gospel according to the Gospels: It’s not a get-out-of-hell-free card.

David Williams continues his “What is the Gospel?” series. To refresh your memory, Williams is arguing (as many do) that “fundamentally the gospel is the announcement of Jesus’ being Lord of lords, and that the NT writers did not equate the gospel with the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.”

In his first post, Williams looked at how “good news” (Greek euangelion/euangelizomai) usually functioned in the Greco-Roman world of the NT writers. In his second post, Williams looked at the ways in which “good news” is used within the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). (My comments on Williams first two posts can be found here.)

Today, Williams shifts gears a bit and looks at the “gospel according to the Gospels,” i.e., what the written Gospels have to say about what the gospel is.

Williams focuses on the first verse of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Here is Williams’s point, which he traces back to Patristic theologians: the “gospel” that “begins” in Mark 1:1 is not how the Gospels end: the crucifixion and resurrection. Rather, the gospel is the entire story of Jesus that Mark narrates throughout his Gospel. More specifically, the “gospel” according to Mark is “primarily a narrative of the dawning of God’s kingdom in and through Jesus Christ.”

This has some implications for how we read the Gospels and think of what Jesus was about. The “gospel” in Mark is not limited to a message of how Jesus “saves.”  Williams illustrates:

Here I wish only to take note of what Jesus says of the woman who anoints him: “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel (to euangelion) is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9)  It is hard to see why this anecdote about this woman’s pouring oil on Jesus would be as widespread as the gospel itself unless it was itself a feature of the gospel story, which would imply that the gospel story and the story about Jesus are one and the same.

All of Mark narratives the “good news.” And that good news is the declaration that the kingdom of God, and its rightful king (Jesus), have hit the ground running to transform this earth and all that is in it. Whatever you read in Mark bears on this kingdom project.

It may sound counterintuitive to put it this way, but the “good news” is about much more than “getting saved,” and to equate that with the “gospel” sells the Gospels short. It is, in effect, a misreading of the Gospels.

Williams promises to expand on this in his next post.

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First of all, there is no conspiracy. A review of “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” (1)
“aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (12): Megan DeFranza
  • Wyatt Roberts

    Tried to share this to facebook, and it prompted me to save a file named “sharer.php” to my hard drive. Weird.

    • peteenns

      No idea what that’s about.

  • Joel Batts

    Sorry Pete…I posted this response on FB and it may have taken up too much space…probably more appropriate to dialogue on the topic here anyway.

    Williams’ point reminds me of Ridderbos’ thesis in “Coming of the Kingdom” so perhaps he is just trying to restate that thesis for a contemporary audience. But in order to keep the baby in the tub while throwing out bathwater containing a less-than-comprehensive idea of “gospel”, need we make the following conclusion?:
    “…fundamentally the gospel is the announcement of Jesus’ being Lord of lords, and that the NT writers did not equate the gospel with the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.”
    Of course they did not equate their gospel as a 1-to-1 correlate with justification by faith alone! The object of justification – Christ – lived as the second Adam and part of the gospel writers’ goal is to convince its readers that this Christ is worthy of their faith as the god-man who accomplished what we could not (Luke 1). I’m struggling to see how A (justification) being a subset of B (the entirety of the gospel message) necessarily means that A ceases to be A. In fact, Williams says as much by saying that none of what he is trying to say removes the truth of justification by faith alone, yet he quotes RC Sproul’s website’s as an example of how evangelicals constantly equate A and B without allowing B to me anything more than A. Does Williams really believe Sproul sees no content to the gospel other than “put your faith in Jesus”? If not, what’s his point?

    I think I understand what Williams’ is communicating, and I agree with it…but, some of his statements make good examples of why doing theology via the Internet can be like answering your spouse when they ask if you think they’ve lost weight – it can be done honestly, but not without the risk of a helluva a lot of miscommunication.

    • peteenns


      Maybe travel over to David’s blog and ask him this very good question. I recall, though, in the first post of this series, he quotes some contemporaries about what the gospel is.

      But, if Sproul were asked “what is the good news of the gospel” I don’t think he would hesitate to say something very conventional like–”Jesus died so you wouldn’t have to, appeasing the wrath of God, eternity in heaven in fellowship with God and the saints.” I’d like to be wrong.

      • Joel Batts

        Thanks Pete. Agreed he would say that, but it seems to me the content of that response assumes a Jesus who is rightly the object of our faith, demonstrated in part, by tne Gospel writers’ biographical account of him bringing the realization of the kingdom of God to the world. In other words, “Jesus died” only has meaningful content for faith in the context of who he was in life.

        So, are we trying to solve a semantic issue with the word “gospel” such that it’s range of use in the text makes or breaks our view of justification? Because it seems to me that we have other books of the bible to consider before making such a conclusion.

        Just posted a response to David on your FB thread, with some of these questions, but it doesn’t appear to have uploaded…that’s what I get for using an iPad!

        • peteenns

          I think there are some problems with FB tonight.

  • John W. Morehead

    I appreciate this emphasis upon what the gospel is, and the reductionist form found in Protestant fundamentalism and evangelicalism. We need to rediscover this, and how it fits within the overall poetic biblical narrative of God’s Grand Story of his work in the missio Dei, the restoration of the cosmos through the Kingdom work of Christ, so that we can not only correct things within evangelicalism, but also present and incarnate the correct story to the world.

  • Jeff Clarke

    Another excellent commentary on the nature of the Gospel. I agree with you that we have often interpreted the nature of the Gospel almost exclusively through the lens of the passion narratives, while excluding the ministry of Jesus. What impact has this had on our understanding and application of the Gospel?

  • James

    While watching a movie on gender confusion in the Victorian era I took a break for a bike ride. On the path, in the midst of creative diversity, I solved the problem of sexual diversity–based on the meaning of the gospel you suggest. In Christ, God is making everything new. I asked myself what changes in my life and my relational circle would signal the coming of the kingdom as yeast rising. I replied–in sacrificial love, forgiveness, humility, courage, wisdom, justice, etc. The cultivation of these virtues would make us more human in a new creation sort of way–even with respect to stranger, enemy and our own persons. We’d be more honest and open, less self-centered, more Christ centered. What about our gender identity and sexual orientation–how might we move these toward telos? In all of the way listed above, remembering Paul said significantly that in Christ there is neither male nor female for we are one in him. But isn’t physicality part of new creation? Of course, and we should become more human in the respect we accord our own bodies and those of others–remembering even sexuality and gender are being transformed…t’is mystery all. So maybe we would lighten up on anatonomical based differences with their orientations and desires and bring the lump sum of our beings into loving submission to Christ–and see how that expresses itself in all our personal relations. Maybe some would rather live by rules.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great topic Pete.

    The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18) makes the goal of his coming very clear

     “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

    How can we miss the fact that this is a gloriously dynamic statement? It speaks of life to the full, in Christ. Life hums, life……lives, life is now. Yes we are saved…..we are saved to live in and for Christ, now. When  we do that insurance policies become a bit beside the point, a bit prosaic. Life wins!

  • Jon Ruthven

    I find this article fascinating. The nature of the Gospel is the focus of my new book, *What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology: Traditions vs Biblical Emphasis (Tulsa: Word & Spirit Press, 2012). I argue that the Protestant “gospel” is actually the first part of John the Baptist’s message: “Repent and be baptized”–then be good until you go to heaven. Protestantism denies the punchline of the Baptist’s message: “One mightier than I comes who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit (and fire)” AND the punchline of the keynote address of Christianity, the Pentecost sermon–a quotation from Isa 59:21 “‘I, even I,’ says the Lord, ‘The Spirit that I put upon you and the words I put in your mouth [Jesus, Isa 61:1-2] shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouths of your children’s children, forever.’” In Luke, Jesus is the *bearer* of the Spirit (Kingdom). In Acts he is the bestower of the Spirit. Isa 59:21 explains this transition and the reason for the book of Acts. It’s all in the book!!)