“What is the Gospel?” Good Question (and chances are you are wrong)

David Williams has two recent posts (here and here) on the question, “what is the gospel?” [FYI,  with a captial 'G', Gospel refers to one or more of the four Gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. With the lower case 'g' it refers to the concept, as in "preaching the gospel." I usually charge good money for this information, but I'm in a good mood today. You're welcome.]

Some people roll their eyes, no doubt. “What a silly question, only the kind eggheads or confused people ask. The gospel is the good news that Jesus was crucified to save sinners so they can get to heaven. Period. Let’s not make it complicated.”

Fair enough, but the question “what is the gospel?” is a big topic nowadays. No, they are not trying to make something simple into something complicated to confuse people needlessly. Rather, the common Christian way of answering the question–like the example I give above–misses a lot of what the New Testament says about the gospel. Which, if true, is a big problem.

That is what Williams is getting at in his posts, and they’re well worth reading.

Williams points out that “gospel” as it is commonly understood, at least among conservative Protestants, is tied to issues that were big during the Reformation. Martin Luther and others were struggling with the question of how we are made right before God, or as we might put it today, “how do you get saved?”

To make a long and complicated story short and simple, Luther argued that we are justified before God by faith alone, not by works. As we might put it today, “good deeds don’t get you to heaven.” Luther got that idea from the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters–or better, how Luther understood Paul’s letters given the kinds of questions he was asking, but I digress….

Here is the point: How Luther understood “gospel”–how someone gets

gospel definer

right with God–is not really “the gospel.” Rather, it is part of the gospel, an implication of the gospel. Luther talked about the gospel the way he did to address a theological concern of his time, but that doesn’t mean Luther’s definition gets to the heart of the matter. In other words,

…the gospel is not about how you get saved.

That is Williams’s point, and he is right. Common definitions of the gospel today that stress personal salvation are equating the gospel with a topic of debate during the Reformation. What happens when you do that is you miss so much of what the Bible actually says about the gospel.

So, “What IS the gospel?! Thrown me a bone, here. You can’t just take away what I’ve always beleived and leave me hanging!!!”

OK, calm down. That’s what Williams’s posts are about. I’ll let you read them for yourself, but basically here is where he is going.

1. “Gospel” comes from a Greek word that means “good news.” That word already meant something in the first century Greco-Roman world before all the Jesus stuff happened. If you know that background, you will understand better why the “news” about Jesus is called “good”–or, why the news about Jesus is better than the “good news” others were offering. In other words, the New Testament co-opts a known concept and turns the idea on its head. That first century context is more important than the context of the Reformation for defining “gospel.”

2. According to the Gospels, the gospel is not about the afterlife, but what “kingdom” you belong to here and now. Jesus talks a lot about the “kingdom of heaven” (or “of God”), and this is commonly misunderstood as a kingdom “up there” somewhere. But read what Jesus says about the kingdom. It is about the rule of God on earth, with Jesus as king. “Kingdom of heaven” doesn’t mean “kingdom that is IN heaven” but “kingdom FROM heaven.” God’s reign, though King Jesus, is setting up shop here and now. The question Jesus asks the people is, “Do you want in or not?” (By the way, that’s what we mean in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”)

What “gospel” means is a timely topic that a lot of people are talking about–scholars and other leaders–and it’s good to be aware of the discussion. It’s not about novelty but trying to understand the Bible as it was meant to be understood.

  • http://wetlenses.blogspot.com Chris Oldfield

    Pretty wary of this. If being part of the kingdom of God is not becoming rightly related with God and others then I don’t know what it is. You are setting up a false distinction. I’m not familiar with Williams, but this sounds like what NT Wright has been saying very clearly and persistently for years – provoking a tension between what has been known as the “formal” and “material” principles of the reformation. Kevin Vanhoozer has a superb reformed response which Wright thoroughly appreciated: Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation: State of the Union Address.

    Luther I believe captured not the gospel, which anyone who’s ever done some biblical theology of the Goldsworthy/Vos/Carson type will tell you is not a statement of philosophical theology but the proclamation of an event, but the whole meaning of the gospel for men and women. As Titus & John says, the whole meaning of the events of Jesus’ appearing is that the honesty of the God who is love has been manifested among us. If the meaning of the gospel (that according to matthew, mark, luke, john, paul, john, peter in the faithful witness of the Spirit embodied in the church) is anything less than “God loves us like crazy you can trust him” then you may have some noise but not the gospel.

    • peteenns

      Chris, David isn’t saying what you are saying he is saying in your second sentence. That is not the dichotomy he is addressing.

    • Spike

      Awesome! Another heretic! Are you having Christmas with Rob Bell?

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    A very good synopsis of the evangel (good news). When Christ proclaimed the evangel, he did not talk about dying for sins. He spoke of the kingdom rule of God coming. It was near, it was at hand, because God’s Messiah had come on to the scene with his evangel message, maybe summarised in places like Luke 4:18-19. It was good news first and foremost to God’s people that God was king and his kingly Messiah had come to take care of the enemy and make things right in accordance with the ways of heaven.

    This is gospel, the gospel Jesus proclaimed and the first Christians took forward. And it was through the most unique way – the crucifixion of God’s Messiah and his resurrection from the dead – that the good news of the kingdom would be realised.

    Brilliant stuff!

  • Jeff Martin

    Other good authors agreeing with this thesis are N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight

  • http://www.ericfoley.com Rev. Eric Foley

    Peter, thanks for this great post. Jeff mentions N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight as good follow-ons for further study; permit me to suggest one more that I think is even better, though less well-known. Steve Schaefer wrote a book called Living in the Overlap where he lays out the eighteen dimensions of universe-transforming change ushered in by the gospel. An earthquake occurs along one fault line. But the gospel “earthquake” occurred along eighteen fault lines simultaneously. Steve notes that when we ignore seventeen of those fault lines and focus only on the one—the forgiveness of individual sin—we give the hearer the wrong impression that everything else in the world has stayed the same. This is why many people hear the gospel and even accept it but see no need for fundamental change in their lives. In fact, they are led to believe that their acceptance of the gospel should make living their present life more manageable and satisfying. Anyway, I found Steve’s book to be a must-read on this important subject you’ve raised.

  • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

    Ok, so some little pin-head nobody (yes, I’m referring to myself) wants to know if both sides are in a Wittgenstein quagmire? Simplistically, is it – The good news of the coming kingdom is that sin has been dealt with, or is it the good news of sin being dealt with is that the kingdom is coming? You see, there’s fluidity, a symbiotic exchange. Do we need to have primacy here? Do we need to narrow and exclude one from the other? It seems odd to lower the substitution element on the totem pole, as though it is but a footnote to the coming kingdom; there would be no coming kingdom without substitution. Likewise, it seems odd to make substitution everything as though we meant by that, “And, oh, by the way his kingdom is coming.” The whole thing seems needlessly semantic and carries with it a sense of ‘reductionism’. We did this when we asked “What paradigm unites all of Scripture?” One said covenant, another said justification, while yet another, promise and fulfillment. On soteriology some say it’s ‘union’ others ‘justification’ and so on and so forth. I’m not advocating anti-intellectualism, but when reducing something down to an essential seems forced, perhaps backing off a bit is wise. We do need to be asking ‘how do the data relate’, and maybe we can’t escape primacy issues altogether, but pitting things against each other in so narrow a focus might need another look.

    • peteenns

      Sometimes it is necessary to counter prevailing reductionisms by posing a stark contrast. As Rush Limbaugh said years ago to critics who complained he had too much airtime and needed to be balanced by equal time, “I AM equal time.” (And no I am not Rush fan, in case someone is wondering.)

      What is also interesting is what “sin” and “salvation” mean in the Gospels vis-a-vis Paul and Reformation interpretations of Paul. But, in terms of “primacy,” no articulation of the gospel can avoid for long contextual issues like, “How did Jesus’audience understand his preaching?”

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    I don’t disagree that the Gospel is much more than a lot of your average Evangelicals on the street might describe it as. Still, this post just gets Martin Luther wrong. I mean, he did talk a lot about justification by faith, but just in case anybody wants to know what Martin Luther ACTUALLY said the Gospel was instead of what caricatures of Reformation theology (perpetuated by both friend and foe) say they are, I present this quote from “A Brief Instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels”:

    “For at its briefest, the Gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things. This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents [in Christ's ministry] which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole Gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans [1:1-4], where he says what the Gospel is, and declares, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the Gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.

    There you have it. The Gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the Gospel in a nutshell. ”
    http://derekzrishmawy.com/2012/08/09/the-gospel-according-to-luther/

    There you have it: Martin Luther’s Gospel.

    • peteenns

      Derek, this is interesting and helpful. Do you know when he wrote this? I would say, though, that, if you are right that so many people have Luther wrong, that would ironically include a lot of Lutherans.

      • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

        According to the introduction provided by the anthology it’s printed in “Luther’s Basic Theological Writings: 2nd Edition” edited by Timothy F. Lull, it was published in the spring of 1522, after writing it as the intro to a series of model sermons, so pretty early on. This was within a year of the Diet of Worms. The whole little treatise is worth looking up. He’s got a great section on the one Gospel found in the many Gospels as well as in the Old Testament, as well as a beautiful section on receiving Christ as both Example and Gift in the NT.

        I mean, none of this is to deny that Luther thoroughly emphasized justification by faith and included it as a core of the Gospel. Still, statements like these help provide a more fully-orbed picture of the faith of the Magisterial Reformers that I think is consistent with a more strongly Kingdom-oriented Gospel.

        • https://twitter.com/sheetsjr Jr

          This misrepresentation of Luther and the Reformers is far too common in discussions like these. As Michael Horton has exposed at great length; NT Wright, in his reinterpretation of justification, habitually caricatures Luther and the Reformers in order to make his points. I don’t understand why this continues to happen. At worst it’s intellectual laziness. At best it aids further clarification through conversation and discovery. My hope for the sake of and peace within the Body of Christ is for the latter.

          Grace be with you -

          • peteenns

            Jr., I’m not sure fully agree with you. I respect Horton, but I don’t consider his views in this to effectively put NTW in his place. Ironically, as you may know, I was educated and taught in the Calvinist tradition, and when Wright began popularizing the NPP, many of us reacted favorably, since we had heard much of this already in Calvin and others. Justification by faith is not the Gospel, but union with Christ is the center of the faith and JF is one of the benefits. There is, however, a strand of Redoemed thought that is influenced by Luther, and many feel Horton is among them. I have no dog in that race, but that may influence how he sees all this. But, more importantly, many of the arguments I hear against NPP actually perpetuates the “misrepresentations” as you put it, and by trained people—which raises the question whether they are actually misrepresentations.

  • Joe

    Thanks for another good piece, Pete. I’ll share it on FB.

    As a side note that will further illustrate your point in important ways, here’s an alternate pic of Jesus instead of that Euro-centric one… ;)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Race_of_Jesus.ogv

  • chulyoo

    “…the gospel is not about how you get saved.”

    Was the Philippian jailer proleptically asking a 16th-century question? I am somewhat sympathetic to Tom Wright, but a statement like the one above will surely cause angst.

    • Gordon

      I suspect the Apostle Paul was also worried about 16th C. questions when he wrote 1 Cor. 15:1-4 – where the gospel Paul preached leads to the hope of the resurrection.
      Or indeed Jesus, when he preached “Repent and believe in the gospel” – in the immediate context of the arrest of John the Baptiser, who preached about, curiously, the very 16th C. idea of forgiveness of sins.
      Proleptically indeed.

      IMHO, we tend to over complicate things, and obfiscate rather than cast light on the matter. Meaning no disrespect, the two points in this blog post are hardly earth shattering – but they seem to be used to present the suggestion that the Church has been getting the gospel wrong.
      1) The 1st C. “secular” evangel is the good news of a proclamation – a victory in battle, or perhaps the birth of someone special. Curiously, the gospel Paul presents, and presumably the gospel Jesus preached, (because let’s remember, according to Paul the gospel he “recieved” and “passed on” was the message he recieved from Christ sometime in his Arabia / Damascus period – Gal.1) is good news about a victory and a coming one who has come! Sin and death are defeated, because the Christ has come.
      2) But according to Scripture the gospel is about where you are going to spend eternity. The problem for us is that we forget that destiny is settled here, and in a technical sense, begins here and now – where there is “now” no condemnation. If you are a beleiver now, you have eternal life now, because you have been brought from the kingdom of death to life.

      tl;dr version – “the kingdom” and “eternal life” mean the same thing – you don’t get one without the other. Praise God.

      • peteenns

        Gordon, perhaps I was not clear, but neither I nor David who wrote the post is saying that that individual is not relevant. It is not an either or. But, I would contend that your understanding of 1 Cor 15:1-4 and “repent and believe” in the Gospels is not correct–these are not most certainly not addressing medieval questions. I would also suggest that the gospel that is preached in the NT is not about “where you go to spend eternity.” Also, “kingdom” and “eternal life” don’t mean “the same thing.” I understand your passion for what you feel is at stake, but, as hard as it may be to accept, you are actually selling the gospel short a bit here.

        • Gordon

          Forgive me, but are you suggesting that the gospel offers us something other than eternal life, beginning and making a difference to life here and now, but extending into an eternal future?
          It’s just that reading your other comments in replies to this thread, you seem to root the benefits of the gospel firmly in this world – certainly placing far greater emphasis on the temporal benefits. I’m not saying there are none, but that is not the whole picture. E.g. What was Jesus talking about in Matthew 25?
          And why must we see the Biblical motifs of redemption (or even the expectation of redemption, a la the prayers of Mary and Zechariah) in purely temporal terms? Doesn’t the author of Hebrews say that the faith of the patriarchs looked beyond this world anyway?
          I think you have created a straw man when you try to present the gospel as flawed by those who present it in terms of eternal destiny. We just don’t focus on the temporal benefits at the neglect of the eternal, so who’s selling the gospel a bit short.
          As to the origin of that imbalance, I suspect if you try to interpret Christianity through the eyes of people who were obsessed with YHWH’s temporal benefits (which I suspect was the emphasis of 2nd T. Judaism – Messianic hope becomes the hope of removing Roman oppression) then you will end up finding a Christianity that is about temporal benefits. Much like today, if you try to interpret Christianity in light of the issues of the day, you’ll end up with a view of gospel that might place an unhelpful emphasis on human sexuality, etc.
          The thing I find with NTWian nue perspective stuffs is that it’s trying to understand Christianity through the eyes of Paul’s (and Jesus’) contemporaries, not through what Paul (or Jesus) was actually saying to his contemporaries.

          • peteenns

            Gordon, I’m not trying to change your mind. I wish you a blessed and humble life in serving God.But I am not creating an either/or here. In your first sentence you ask if I am “suggesting that the gospel offers something OTHER than eternal life.” The issue is whether “gospel” ONLY has benefits pertaining to eternal life. Not for Jesus or Paul.

            You mention Matt 25 and the prayers of Mary and Zechariah. Read those passages carefully for what they say and don’t say. Then read a number of commentaries. I think you’ll see what I am getting at.

          • Gordon

            Well, at the very best we are talking about a difference of emphasis. At the very worst, we are talking about one of us having something other than the gospel.
            What brought me here was the title you put on this point – implying that some people (and reading what you say, that would seem to include me and a lot of my friends) are preaching an inadequate, and wrong message. If your not trying to change my mind, I’ve totally misunderstood the purpose of your post. =)

  • Matt Colflesh

    Good stuff – reminds of Ridderbos and Dan McCarney’s Gospels course.

  • renmandfx

    or as Luther said — the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms….
    The Kingdom of God MILITANT (here on this earth working to combat Satan and all evil)
    and
    The Kingdom of God TRIUMPHANT (in heaven having won “the battle” and through salvation joined with God)

  • James Rednour

    These discussions seem a distinction without a difference. Isn’t the point of Jesus’ kingship that he has conquered the power that death and sin had over mankind? It’s great to say that Jesus is Lord and King, but without specifying what His reign represents it makes His Kingship somewhat benign.

  • http://www.jesusandthebible.wordpress.com Lucas Dawn

    Jesus’ kingship begins a new kingdom, different from all the kingdoms of earth–including the kingdom of Israel (the center of the O.T.). As mentioned above, Jesus’ kingship and kingdom are from heaven: at his baptism the Spirit descends from heaven and anoints him as the Messiah, the anointed king, but not the king of Israel; instead Jesus will be king over his faithful disciples, who seek to teach and follow their king’s commands through the power of the Spirit. Jesus’ international kingdom of disciples remains faithful to the will of their heavenly Father and king (Jesus) by means of the empowering grace of the Spirit, which Jesus pours out on all who turn over their lives to him as Lord/king. This new righteousness of a new kingdom under Christ/king and in the Spirit doing the will of the Father is the gospel of the N.T.

  • Andy

    The writings of NT Wright and Scot McKnight on this topic have really deepened my understanding of the gospel.

    Another question that I think is relevant in this discussion is what does ‘salvation’ mean…
    Does it just mean getting a ticket to heaven or is it more ‘holistic’?
    What does ‘salvation’ mean for a community in Africa where people are starving? Is it purely about getting people to raise their hand and accept Jesus at a rally or does God’s salvation also impact living standards, does his salvation also alleviate poverty and disease?

    I think understanding the end goal of heaven on earth…has to shift our understanding of gospel and salvation. It’s not to say that personal salvation isn’t an integral part of the gospel…but a holistic gopel is bigger and deeper and more beautiful.

    • peteenns

      Good points. In the songs/prayers of Mary and Zechariah in Luke, salvation means deliverance from Rome for the Jews.

  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    Andy – I think you are raising really important questions and points. Related, if the kingdom of heaven is breaking in, plus residing within us, perhaps we should ask not what the kingdom can do for us but what we can do for the kingdom. But I fear I digress.

    I don’t think the question “What is the gospel?” is simple at all. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue and I won’t begin to assume that I have it figured out. But this post raises some important questions: 1) what is being taught in churches today (and in seminaries and in the world at large) about the gospel; 2) how educated are congregants on these matters; 3) what is the ratio of importance between an intellectual understanding of the gospel vs. an embodied comprehension of the Good News and 4) who stewards this knowledge within the body?

    My introduction to the gospel did not come via a sermon. I experienced the gospel when I felt the Lord’s presence while in the middle of hell. Then because of my complete ignorance of the Gospels (with a capital “G”), I signed up to take Greek and a Gospels course hoping to learn everything I could of this profound Good News that knocked me to my news. “I just want the meat and potato courses,” I kept telling the seminary advisor. “I do not want to take church history or systematic theology until I have read the bible first.” I mention this because the Gospels course was excellent and kept the text grounded in a first century context, helping me to better understand the issues raised in this post. Adult Sunday school courses would be a great forum for discussing some of these matters because as Christ followers, we have an obligation to study, question and explore more. I doubt it was a simple task for the four Gospel writers to articulate the Good News and that the task wasn’t accomplished by pulling an all-nighter. (I am a little biased towards John’s take on things….) Thus, I think it is a challenge for all of us as well…

  • Leigh Copeland

    If return from exile can be equated with the coming of the kingdom, and if exile was for sin, and if return from exile is the forgiveness of sin that caused exile, then the kingdom of God is/means forgiveness of sin. Awkward when crunched down like that, but in a discussion of individual salvation and kingdom where everybody is referring to NTW someone needed to make those connections. For me, this reduces the ‘tensions’ or dichotomy.

  • Joseph

    I’m a layman myself and stumbled across this blog. I’m not an academic or a preacher but thought this was a helpful article.

    It seems like there is not a disagreement over substance as much as EMPHASIS. Everyone seems to agree that the good news is about personal salvation and God’s Kingdom coming. The problem seems to be the neglect of the “Kingdom stuff” over the past several hundred years. Since the “kingdom stuff” seems to be overarching to include conversion of individuals – this seems like a pretty poor area of neglect. I know that seeing the Gospel just in terms of personal salvation has probably lead way too much for introspection for me while the kingdom perspective seems to lead to more spiritually healthy models of thinking. But I could be wrong about all that – just some random thoughts.

  • Sarah

    1. Being pretty much the most famous Christian of the second millennium, Luther is habitually tagged with opinions and blamed with problems that are not his own.

    2. He who summarizes Luther’s teaching on the gospel as being chiefly about “getting to heaven” betrays an embarrassing lack of familiarity with Luther’s theology.

    3. Likewise, he who summarizes the gospel without any reference to the resurrection of Jesus and consequently of the dead–which entails “getting to heaven”–betrays an embarrassing lack of familiarity with the New Testament.

    • http://resurrectingraleigh.com David

      Hi Sarah,
      I hope you’re not talking about me with any of those because
      1. If you read my post carefully you’ll note that I nowhere critique or even summarize Luther’s view of the gospel. Rather I critique the Neo-Reformed (i.e., John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, et al.) equation of the gospel with Luther’s view of justification.
      2. I never said that. I admit that I am not all that familiar with the finer points of Luther’s theology (which is why I abstain as much as possible from summarizing or critiquing him). I’m not all that embarrassed about that though. There’s plenty of good stuff to read besides Luther.
      3. This is a series of posts about how euangelion/euangelizomai language is actually used in the NT. My first post in the series was about the Greco-Roman use of that language generally and my second was about the use of that language within the Gospels themselves. There is no place where Greco-Roman literature, or the Septuagint, or even the Gospels themselves uses euangelion/euangelizomai language with “reference to the resurrection of Jesus and consequently of the dead.” You have to go to Acts and Paul for that and I haven’t gotten to those posts yet. One thing at a time, please.

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  • Rick Moncauskas

    When I first started reading everyone’s responses to Pete’s question, I got frustrated. “Why is everyone talking about Luther and NT Wright? They are missing the point of the post.” But then I went and read David’s posts and now I see why you are all discussing Luther & Wright. But, I still must say, spending so much time on Luther and Wright is, for me, off subject. What we’re trying to get right, and must get right first, is what did Jesus (thru the lenses of the gospel writers) mean when he said “Repent and believe the good news!”? I won’t quote sources, but I like Tom Thatcher’s books on Jesus, and he was the first one to point out to me that when the early Christians said “Jesus is Lord!” they were leaving out the rest of the sentence: “And Caesar is not.”
    There is so much comparing and contrasting that is going on in Jesus announcement of the Kingdom. When Paul talks about the dead rising and meeting Jesus “in the air” (Wright points this out) this is a parody (?) of what the Romans would do when Caesar (or other high official?) would meet with a community. The ekklesia (the community rulers/leaders) would meet Caesar outisde the city and escort him back to their city. (This parallels Jesus coming from heaven, where he rules from, we meet him, and then go back with him to the land that is His. The idea here is not that we are ‘raptured’ up to heaven, but that he is the ruler of the earth and our ruler.) The quotes that David gave about Caesar being ‘the Savior’ (= soter) are so important. All the words being used by the gospel writers are given/take their meaning from the Roman context. This is what our High School English teachers all told us what to do: Compare and Contrast. The Roman government is being compared and contrasted to. And THAT is where we should get our meaning first when we want to discuss what Jesus meant by the KofG. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is the kingdom where Jesus is Savior/Ruler, not just in a spiritual sense, but in a very literal physical sense. I liked what Pete had to say: Jesus was asking us: “Do you want in or not?” The rest of the gospels are about and the parables of Jesus illustrate in elliptical images/pictures/movies of the nature of that kingdom (compare and contrast again often with mundane real life illustrations/images). The people in the KofG are like seeds planted in soil, etc. “Do you want in?”, “The KofG is among you.”, “…thy will be done on earth…”, “The KofG is near.”, “Do you want to enter?”
    The Kingdom of God is what Jesus was ALL about (in the synoptics. John is a little different. See: “eternal life”). He came to get the Kingdom started. He described it in word pictures and stories. Deciding to become a member means you commit to “Love God, Neighbor & Self.” Entering the KofG results in my/your/our salvation as we participate in the activities of the Kingdom. That decision to become a member results in a life of service and self-sacrifice, where we all serve each other in the name of , and under the rule of, King Jesus (and NOT Caesar). “You’ve heard it said that the rulers lord it over their servants. It is not to be so amongst you.” “Love your enemies.” And we can start doing that right now. Nothing is standing in our way to be members of that Kingdom. That’s the Good News (= the gospel) as I see it from the synoptics (I’ve still got to work on John.)
    The Gospel (= Good News) is not that we are set right with God (yet), but that the Kingdom is here, now. We can enter it anytime we want (and our churches should be the center where the KofG radiates from and is practiced most clearly). When we make that committment to become an active member, that results in the beginning of our redemption which results in our salvation (= healing).
    So, to the extent that Paul, Luther, Calvin or Wright think that ‘the Gospel’ aligns with Jesus’ ‘Good News’ about the Kingdom of God/Heaven, and NOT Caesar (a proxy for ‘worldly’ values), they are worth discussing and studying. At least that’s how I see it. Understanding of the Text, Context and Subtext is required to understand the meanings of the Gospel writers. (I could go on, but that’s enough).

    • Rick Moncauskas

      A summary idea: the gospel isn’t ABOUT salvation. It INCLUDES salvation (= healing). My participation will result in my salvation (= healing). But it is much bigger than MY healing. To paraphrase Wright: It’s about the Cosmos, and I get to participate.

  • Dave c

    The historic Reformed confessions and catechisms are also a good resource on this question.  For example, Q&A #22 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

    Q:  What, then, must a Christian believe?

    A:  All that is promised us in the gospel, a summary of which is taught us in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, our universally acknowledged confession of faith.

  • Curt

    Wright says the reformers misunderstood the biblical definition of gospel because they were captive to their historical circumstances, but seems to think he has been able to escape the flow of history himself. Wright is trying to redefine the gospel in terms of politics and social change because the systems of this world say those are the only things that make one relevant. Captive to his own culture, he is misrepresenting the gospel just as much as the reformers ever did. Jesus repeatedly rejected the defining of his mission in terms of politics and social power. The religious right and the religious left keep trying to turn Jesus into their poster boy because they are seeking to be justified by their political agendas and thus damn those who disagree with them. Jesus the King stands in judgment over conservative and liberal social agendas and brings members of both groups to their knees so they must stand united under his grace. Turning Jesus into a poltical activist is a corruption of the gospel. The gospel is utter foolishness to the systems of this world. Trying to make the gospel relevant by seeking their favor is a disaster spiritually.

    • peteenns

      I’m not sure I recognize NTW in you comment, Curt, though I could be wrong. Could you elaborate? My understanding of NTW is that he is trying to uncover the Second Temple/Greco-Roman context of the NT, which is, for better or worse, a political one. That strikes me as a more deliberate attempt to understand the NT on its own terms than reading it in in terms of medieval Europe.

      • Curt

        NTW is right that the NT uses terms that in the Second Temple/Greco-Roman context could have been interpreted politically. What he fails to see is that Jesus reinterprets those terms in light of his own mission in radically anti-poltical terms. In terms of Second Temple Judaism, he is continuely correcting and even rebuking his disciples and the crowds for trying to make him into a poltical messiah. In terms of the Greco-Roman world, Jesus tells Pilate that he is not a political king. Just because NTW is trying to interpret the gospel in light of its cultural context does not mean he got it right. Just because he sees how the reformers were affected by their cultural context does not mean he has escaped the influences of his own. In our world, we are constantly being told that unless we are doing something political, then what we are doing is insignificant. I think NTW has been swayed by his own culture so that he interprets the gospel in ways Jesus rejects. I hope I do not say this in self-righteousness as I am sure I am also affected by my cultural context. The best we can do is to be aware of this and listen to one another’s perspectives that might expose our blind spots as we all seek to be submissive to the Word. I think we are to quick to dismiss the reformers as being culturally biased when we fail to acknowledge our own bias. After all, the reformers were humanistic scholars that were trying to understand the NT in light of its original context. That does not mean that they got it right. But it does mean we ought to be as suspect of ourselves as we are of them. Everyone in every age is tempted to think that the cutting edge thinking/scholarship of their time has finally acheived the clarity that escaped all the generations before them. This hubris of my contemporary experience needs to be tempered by the reality of history which shows that the latest and greatest ideas are just one generation away from being viewed as a passing fad.

        • peteenns

          Maybe not anti-political, but a new politic: the kingdom of God….

          • curt

            It may well be that I do not understand NTW properly but I believe I read an article he wrote where he defined the gospel in terms of social and cultural change. I believe social and cultural change flows from the gospel but it is not the essence of the gospel which is God graciously reconciling the world to himself through Jesus. I believe Wright takes something that is a consequence of the gospel and makes it the gospel itself and thus alters it in a very unhelpful way.
            Jesus uses political language in a very ironical way compared to how the world defines it. He is a king with a crown of thorns not one of gold; he reigns from the humiliating cross, not an earthly position of power. He conquers the world through the foolish weapons of preaching the gospel and acts of love and mercy which testify to his grace, not through military might or through political parties.
            If we make the gospel about changing the world through politics, I think we completely misunderstood Jesus’ mission. As I said earlier, Jesus rejects this understanding of his mission over and over again. The gospel is about reconciling the world to God through Jesus. That is our mission. If we do that, the world will change.

  • Eddie R

    The gospel, as understood by Paul and individual people, includes a variety of things. As the fulfillment of prophecy, the gospel is that God once again has heard peoples cries and has come to bring relief (see Like 4). At the same time it includes the in gathering of all peoples into the Kingdom of God as a literal, even if spiritual reality. The preaching of John and Jesus was repent for the Kingdom is at hand.

    In contrast to the Jewish expectation of a nation based on circumcision and Law, it is to be one based in the character of God – humble love. As we find in Scripture there are concrete expectations of those who live in that kingdom and those expectations have little to do with “being saved” in the evangelical sense, in getting to Heaven, or in reciting creeds. It has everything to do with comporting oneself as Jesus would with character that arises from inside rather than imposed from outside.
    The gospel then is that God has come to set the world right and an invitation for you to participate right now and right here. Not by being saved and resting on your laurels, but by being transformed and then living as a loving light on a hill.

    Can it include the Jailer’s concerns? Sure, but his request is rather narrow and does not speak to the actual broader import of the kingdom gospel.

  • Eddie R

    ” I think NTW has been swayed by his own culture so that he interprets the gospel in ways Jesus rejects.”

    I find this interesting. In what ways does Jesus reject views held by NTW?

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  • http://scarletyarn.com Shawn Woo

    Thank you for this piece and for pointing me to David’s articles. This is certainly an important aspect of the gospel and it’s distilled beautifully in the angel’s announcement in Luke 2:10-11 “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” However, I’m not sure why you think sola gratia and sola fide are inadequate expressions of the gospel. Isn’t it impossible, in the end, to separate the gospel of the Kingdom from Paul’s soterian gospel? Doesn’t Christ establish His reign through His death and resurrection? Doesn’t King Jesus reign from the cross?


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