Darrell Bock, who is touring Australia at the moment, wrote a very good essay on “The Gospel Before the Gospels: The Preached Core Narrative” in the recent Howard Marshall festschrift. In particular I like these two quotes:
In the church today we often present the gospel as if it were about forgiveness of sins alone. Jesus died for our sins, so believe and be saved. However, what this speech [Acts 2] highlights is not so much how Jesus saves us, but where that act of saving takes us. It takes us to God’s Spirit and a restored relationship with God rooted in enablement to respond to God. This parallels what is said about the new covenant in Jeremiah, where forgiveness and the Law of God on the heart are the benefits God promises will come to his people one day. In this way, gospel and covenantal promise come together. God’s having exalted Jesus makes all of this possible. This is the message of Acts 2.
What is remarkable in our overview of these speeches is how little is said about how Jesus brings the forgiveness he offers. In fact, nothing is said about that at all. In these speeches there is no description of atonement, even though the scene of the Last Supper and the speech by Paul to the elders at Miletus indicates that that is precisely how this was accomplished. Wha tis pursued is a personal link between the exalted one and the person who responds to his offer. More than that what is also presented is the opportunity for life that comes from that forgiveness, often summarized in the promise of the gift of life that comes with the Spirit Jesus bestows to his own. How is this like what we see elsewhere in the NT?
I seriously wonder if we have two competing gospel visions in evangelicalism. On the one hand, the Paul-justification-forensic view (e.g., Dave Gilbert, What is the Gospel?) contrasted on the other hand with the Gospel narrative-Lord Jesus-multiple-salvation-images approach (e.g., Tom Wright, Scot McKnight, John Dickson, Darrell Bock). I think we are seeing a protest against Reformed tendencies to define the gospel strictly in forensic and non-narrative categories drawn strictly from Paul (and Paul = Galatians 2-3 and Romans 1-5) being unconsciously set over the rest of the canonical witness to the gospel.