What is the Core Message of the New Testament?

What is the Core Message of the New Testament? January 4, 2011

This past semester I was in a Biblical Theology class at Fresno Pacific University’s Biblical Seminary.  We were challenged to write out what we believe to be the central message of the New Testament and to refine it throughout the semester, while keeping it under 100 words.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that keeping to few words is a challenge for me 🙂  Well,  I want to share with you my final draft of this and would love to hear two things:

1) What are your thoughts on my draft?

2) What would your summary look like in 100 words or less?

“God so loved the creation project, that he gave his Son”[1] to embody the “kingdom… on earth as in heaven.”[2] Humanity, lured by fallen powers, rebelled and needed salvation.  Jesus endured a substitutionary death for humankind, and in resurrection defeated the powers; vindicated as the world’s true Lord.  His “new humanity”[3] “groans”[4] by the Spirit with the “frustration”[5] of creation, drawn towards a resurrection future when Christ returns to earth to end all poverty, sickness, violence, and death.[6] The “new creation”[7] community (renewed Israel) exists as a signpost of hope anticipating God’s fullness of justice: “new heavens and new earth.”[8]

*** PS – If you have not registered for my Book Giveaway Contest, do so here before January 11th, 2011!

[1] John 3.16

[2] Matthew 6.10

[3] Ephesians 2.15

[4] Romans 8.23, 26

[5] Romans 8.20

[6] See Revelation 21-22

[7] 2 Corinthians 5.17

[8] Revelation 21.1

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  • Josh

    I liked how you sprinkled in some powerful messages throughout. I think you did a good job of stripping it down to the core (if that is even possible).

  • I like it! It captures the important elements of creation, humanity (as imago Dei), Israel's role, God's role, Christ's role, the role of the Spirit, resurrection, and judgment upon evil.

  • I am not a seminary student.. and I read along up until "substitutionary"
    and it got kinda sideways and murky for me after that.

    in business we talk about a elevator ptich.. the shortest version of the story you can tell someone, that communicates what you want, clearly, in an interesting way, that serves to measure their feedback.

    I cant see this as an elevator pitch. it is too coded with insider jargon-y language.

    • Kurt


      Sorry you feel that way. The language I used was theological because it was for a theology class. The central message in 100 words will have to be loaded with 'jargon' if we are going to attempt to convey the complexity of the New Testament. Otherwise it will become overtly reductionistic.

      • Interestingly, “substitutionary” is the only word that I might label jargony. For me it got more interesting from that point on. The preamble out of the way, we got into the meat. Writing an elevator pitch might be an interesting exercise too.

      • no worries. I didn't know the assignment, and like I said I am not a seminary student, just a regular youth volunteer.

        In my day job I do quite a bit of management communication and marketing stuff. So I kinda went with what I know —

        Which admittedly is pretty reductionistic 🙂

        • Kurt

          Jacksodj, I hope you have a wonderful week and thanks for your thoughts!

  • Michael Cooper

    The NT message is the same as the OT. The first two chapters of the Bible and the last two chapters of the Bible tell the same story. God desires to dwell with us. He walked with Adam in the garden and He wants to bring His presence in the New Jerusalem down to earth.

    • What about the bit in the middle?

      • Michael Cooper

        The part in the middle is where we separated from God and He is working to bring us back to Him – Duh! That's why He walked with man in the beginning and He reestablishes that dwelling at the end. It really is that simple.

  • I like how you have Bible references throughout. From your summary I would say you see the NT in terms of the Kingdom with principalities and powers figuring strongly.

    Over the past year I have seen the NT as bringing everything full circle. I would like to see other summaries. This is a really interesting exercise. Here's my stab at it:

    Fulfilment of the Law, instituted by Moses; the redemption of Man, spoiled by Adam; the restoration of creation, spoken into life and held together by the Word made flesh. The incarnation, faultless life, undeserved death, resurrection and ulimate victory of the bridegroom, come for his bride, the new Israel, the church. The complete and Holy Spirit inspired commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. The revelation of the Godhead: Father; Son and Holy Spirit. The beginning of the end and the end of all things. The fulfilment of God's desire to enjoy and have perfect communion with the pinacle of his creation.

    • Kurt


      Favorite Line: "The complete and Holy Spirit inspired commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures."

      Simply wonderful!

  • Jason Kinzel

    I've never done an exercise like this. I've been inspired. Though there isn't feedback on yours necessarily, I hope that you're blog is partly to inspire. So you did. Sorry if you wanted feedback though 🙂

    • Kurt

      Jason… always glad to inspire, but really it was the New Testament that is inspiring. I simply summarized it 😉

  • Joyce Harback

    I kinda like my pastor's version from last Sunday:

    "The love of Jesus to me and through me."

    How's that for reductionistic? "…unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…" Matt. 18: 3

  • Nice focus on new creation but too much traditional baggage and cliche.

    I would say that the core message of the NT is the report of a 1st Century Jewish Messianic (i.e. liberation) movement proclaiming the inauguration of God as King followed by theological reflection, apocalyptic expressions of hope and missional correspondence. The paradoxical nature of this enthronement (i.e. death on a cross) coupled with inherent impulses away from violent nationalism and temple sacrifice provided fertile ground for various interpretations of events, the dominant of which, we have in the NT: Jesus died an atoning sacrifice to end Toraic rule, spiritual exile and establish the New Messianic Age. The NT witnesses this on-the-ground movement becoming a spiritualised religion.

  • kimberly quinn

    If your summery was aimed at fellow master's degree students you have a good summary. But if your target audience is the average layman or even a non-believer you missed us. I am not bible college educated, but I have been a Christian for over 30 years. While I understood what you wrote it felt a bit like reading a text book to me. I would use less formal or religious language myself.

    • Kurt

      Kimberly, Sorry if I missed ya on this one. This is intentionally theological because there is not another way to grab the essence of the whole of the NT without using jargon that has meanings that must be unpacked. 100 words without language like this would lean a bit toward reductionism. Now, if I had say 800 words so i could unpack the meaning of all of the theological terms, trust me, I do not think that I would have missed ya. Again, remember that I wrote this for a MA level Theology course.

      PS – Not every post on this site is so heady, i promise…

      • Keila

        I didn't feel like it was from a text book at all. It was directly from the Bible. Since I know all of those verse, it made complete sense to me. It also helps that I am familiar with theology words like "project" "powers" "community" and "justice" (which are not only theology words, but Mennonite theology words). But I still feel that those words are self explanatory even if you're not familiar with specific theological points of view. I am sure that the prof liked it Kurt.

        • Kurt

          Keila! You are too kind 🙂 I am glad that you liked it and yes, my prof did as well…

        • kimberly quinn

          First of all you don't have to use big theological words to express truth. Second of all I didn't say I didn't understand it, I am familier with the "jargon" of theology. My point was not my understanding but that you would easily have lost anyone not familier with the New Testament or church words. I believe the excercize could have been done without the jargon. And I may take up the challenge myself.

          • Kurt

            Kimberly… now I feel like you are upset and that was certainly not the tone I was trying to convey to you. Sorry if there was a gap in our communication.

            second, I certainly believe that there are other ways to convey essentials about the New Testament, but the goal of my exercise was to include as many "central" theological doctrines as possible in 100 words. That is what I aimed to accomplish.

            Third, please note that most of my statement was simply quoting scripture.

            Fourth, if i was addressing a new or unchurched person, there is at least 10 sermon series' packed into my 100 words. I would not hand them this statement and let them fend for themselves… that would be irresponsible 🙂 …which I think was your point.

  • Carmel

    Nice job Kurt, except I agree with the use of the word "substitutionary" and me the reader getting side-tracked… . : )

    My personal summary of the gospel: God loved(s).
    [but then I'm not in seminary…] : )
    ~ blessings always, Kurt!

  • Kurt

    Carmel and others on the word – "Substitutionary"… I think if you were to imagine the use of the term 'substitute' and then think of the book/movie "Lion Witch and Wardrobe" it would be much easier to understand. Edmund betrays good for evil. Edmunds penalty is death which will be carried out by the powers of evil, the white witch (aka satan). Alan chooses to substitute his good life for Edmund's bad one, thereby freeing the boy from death while eduring a substitutionary death himself. But, where is the victory? The victory is that Aslan (Christ) breaks the stone table and exposes the powers of Evil as powerless over him!!!!! Now, everyone who claims the victory of Aslan as their own by given their allegiance over to him will overcome evil…

    Does that make sense?

    • Carmel

      Ahhh… yes! That's a wonderful analogy, Kurt. Love learning so thanks!

  • Juli Litchford

    Love it! 🙂

  • Karen holt

    The longer I spend in the Word, the clearer I see Jesus pointing to the Fathers goodness. I think His miracles were a way of saying, "God REALLY is good". I'd have included His vindication of the Father.
    From the beginning of the scriptures …"cleave to his wife"…to the end, "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'come' "…, the Bridegroom is preparing His Bride. Can't leave these out, it's His passions!
    Interesting and challenging effort, Kurt.

  • kimberly quinn

    I just reread this and I find it a bit offensive that the whole of creation in your mind is a "project", especially the human beings. We are far more to God than some "project".

    • Kurt

      creation project is simply a way of translating the greek word "cosmos" which is often translated "world." You are projecting your assumed meaning of "project" into my paragraph… not fair.

      PS – still not sure why you are being rude here… Please dont assume the worst. Of course I dont mean what you say I mean by project. Think of project as God moving creation from a garden (Genesis 2) to a city (Revelation 21-22).

      • kimberly quinn

        O.K. I am really confused here. I read your message on my wall, which was concerned about my feelings, then I come here and you are calling me rude.

        • Kurt

          I felt like you called me "offensive" and that felt rude. I wrote to you on FB after all these comments and have since let you know more of what I think. Hope you are not upset on this, but the "project" comment seemed to assume the worst about me and my thoughts on God… that is why I received it as rude. Lets put it all behind us 🙂

  • kimberly quinn

    O.K. so I attempted a less "text book" feel to your version. And this is what I came up with. It may not be any better, and I may just feel better about it because it's mine. It's hard to be objective when it's your own thoughts. I welcome your impressions on my version.

    God so loved every one of us that He sent His Son to make life on earth as it is in heaven. All have sinned against God’s rightful authority. He is a righteous judge and must punish sin. This penalty is death. However, God being a loving God does not wish any to die, so He through Jesus paid the penalty. All of those who believe are new creations, filled with longing for heaven and an end to the injustice of this world. One day He will return to restore Israel and to establish the new heaven and new earth.

    • Kurt

      Here I would say that you put forth a good effort. I would like to hear what others think of your paragraph.

    • Amy

      Good work! I am looking forward to getting started on my own version (if I would just pull myself away from making comments, I might be able to get started 😉 )

      some thoughts:

      1) What is the nature of God's son? How does his death have any more power than any other human death? If God does not wish any to die, why would he intentionally send his son? What kind of loving parent does that? Are Jesus and the Son of God the same individual?

      2) This is an individualistic model. The church and interpersonal relationship with God is absent.

      3) Israel only shows up in the conclusion. What does Israel have to do with the sin and punishment of individuals?

      4) If God paid the penalty, why is there not an end to injustice already? Humanity still reaps the consequences of sin.

      5)The crime/penalty model of justice is quite unlike the restorative justice model practiced by Israel in the OT, and not particularly applicable in contemporary collectivist cultures. What is the NT message to those who do not have a Western concept of justice and don't typically think of personhood in terms of individuality?

      6) Why are a new heaven and new earth needed?

      Again, I applaud your work. You definitely have a solid sense of where you stand in the theological landscape. Soon, I will post my own for comment 🙂 . As you may be able to tell, 100 words will be a real challenge 😕 .

      • kimberly quinn

        Hi Amy,
        I appreciate your feedback. Alot of the vagness in my summary is that I took Kurts and "tweeked" it. So I'm not sure I would even have written this summary this way at all. Also as you say the 100 words is a big challenge.

        I wanted to comment on #2, I deliberately made it individualistic. God is an individualistic God, He doesn't just love the whole world, most people have no problems with that concept. He loves me, Kimberly, the God of the universe loves me. For me that was the biggest draw to saving faith. I knew I had done wrong and on some level lived in fear of an almighty God. So the concept that a God who could easily have judged me and distroyed me and been justified in doing so, still loved me and made the ultimate sacrifice for me was almost something I couldn't comprehend. I also think that most people are searching for that love, just as I was.

        • Amy

          In a sense, your summary was an interpretation of Kurt's summary. I am fascinated by this because I didn't recognize a similarity. In fact, I found them extremely different. Hmmm… ❓ . Each of our assumptions really flavored the way we read his words. Interesting.

          I agree that God deals with us as individuals. You are right on when you say that "people are searching for that love." I disagree with the idea that "most" (regarding the individualized aspect) of the world is searching for God's love through absolution from wrong behaviors.

          Most of the world exists outside of Western culture. While God clearly deals with individuals (Abraham, Moses, David, Judas, Peter, Paul, etc.), God is also communal (doctrine of the trinity, for example) and works through communities (Israel, Sodom, The Church, the Household of Cornelius, etc.) en masse. The group aspect of Christian faith is more powerful to many people than the individualistic. I am not implying that individuals don' t have to make personal choices to become disciples, but much of the world does not envision their need as a need to be forgiven for their individual sins, but for reconciliation and restoration from shame. These must both be addressed (and this notion is plentiful in the NT, significantly so in Paul's epistles) in order to have a complete theology of the Gospel. Without it, the Gospel does not speak effectively to the "two-thirds world," making it irrelevant to most of the people that God has come to save. So, the perceived need that drew you into the desire to become a disciple is not even on the radar for many (if not most) other people in the world.

  • Amy

    What a tough assignment. I love it! I really like how you begin and end with creation. Nice full circle.

    three initial thoughts:

    1) Does God love the creation or the project?
    2) What is humanity needing salvation from?
    3) I have to agree with the critique of "substitutionary", not because I disagree with the notion, but because of the baggage of the word. I felt like you were moving in a lovely narrative fashion before that, and then shifted into a systematic mode that, in my mind, pigeonholed the crucifixion. Maybe you disagree, but I would be more inclined to say that God self-sacrificed on our behalf. That leaves room for a richer variety of coexistent atonement perspectives. Just my opinion.

    three more:

    4) You seem to be mixing metaphors when you begin with creation, move to substitutionary language, then move into warfare/victory language, and return to creation. I'm left wondering why a substitute for errant humanity was needed in order for God to have victory, vindication, and enthronement. And, how did the weakness of humanity place God in disrepute?

    5) When you move back into new creation and restoration language, I wonder how the new king effects a new creation, and what justice has to do with creation (I think I know what you mean, but "justice" is a loaded word that tends to imply punishment and restitution rather than restoration and reconciliation).

    6) Forgiveness, discipleship, and the church are only cryptically implied.

    I want to give this a stab myself. What a challenge! Notwithstanding my critique (which, probably, have more to do with my own theological preferences rather than your efficacy as a communicator), I think you did a solid job.

    • Kurt

      Amy, I will respond to your thoughtful critique in using the “number system” that you employ to match. Also, get ready for my overtly verbose writing style to come out 🙂

      1) God loves both the creation and the creation project I suppose, at least in the sense I assume you heard it. I borrow “creation project” from NT Wright as an alternative way to translate kosmos from “world.” World has often implied merely the humans in the world, when many scholars are convinced that God loves the whole universe. Now, that said, Creation project is to say that God loves ALL that he made and has given it the potential to flourish. “Project” also signals the fact that God did not create a static world and step away from it, but is intimately involved from start to finish… from the garden to the city so to speak. Humanity screwed that up by not following the image-bearing commission, but God loves his whole creation so much that he will be faithful to the project in spite of humans choosing alienation from God, each other, and creation. That leads to the second question…

      2) Humanity needs salvation from slavery to the principalities and powers. Simultaneously, humanity needs salvation from the alienation (the result of rebellious sin) between them and God. Shalom, as we both know is a word that signals this. When a person is right with God, others, self, and the creation; a person is fully human in Jesus Christ.

      3) Substitutionary is an important word and I am attempting here not to throw out the baby with the bathwater I suppose. Mark B would say that he believes in Substitutionary atonement, just not the popular forms of “penal satisfaction” that often are attached to the term. I am showing my reformed friends that the substitution here matters, but not in the sense that it has been used. Jesus, the one who knows how to live in shalom perfectly, allows the principalities and powers to pour out their wrath on him; in place of humanity who has chosen rebellion by living in the cycle of alienation they have created. In order to restore relationship, Jesus chose to take our place as a substitute. In the resurrection, he exposed the powers and alienation for what they are, a cheap imitation. Also, I have no prob with your “self-sacrificed on our behalf” but that would put me over 100 words 🙂

      4) Amy, I would say that a victory over the powers via substitution as outlined above is critical for new creation to be possible!!!!! I see Scripture as a drama that unfolds… Act 1-Creation, Act 2-“Fall”, Act 3-Israel, Act 4-Jesus, Act 5-Church, Act 6-Renewal of Creation. If humanity rebelled, then Jesus had to show us what it means to live as truly human image bearers. By dieing and rising, he released new creation into the world for us and defeated the powers. If humanity’s rebellion and the rebellion of fallen powers are the “problem” in the Creation project, then both had to be dealt with appropriately for new creation to be possible! And because of this victory, Jesus was vindicated and thereby enthroned as King (which was really complete when the corrupt system of the Temple was destroyed in 70). Not sure if that answers this one as well as you would like, maybe in person convo is needed 🙂

      5) “Justice” for me in this paragraph means the restorative and reconciling Justice of the perfect God, embodied in Jesus. Justice means that the poor are rich, the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the dead are resurrected, and that evil is eradicated. Justice is as I say above: an “end all poverty, sickness, violence, and death.” It is the Creation Project being made everything that God intended it to be from the beginning, which the pinnacle of creation, humanity, taking their rightful place as image bearers.

      6) Here your point is noted with acknowledging that I only had 100 words. Discipleship for me is what I say above about groaning, feeling drawn towards the world as it ought to be. It is the kingdom on earth as in heaven as I say… but, this would need to be unpacked to be complete. Forgiveness is there in my statements about the atonement and “new humanity” but not outright stated, which may be a weakness I suppose. And church, I talk about a new creation community aka new Israel… implied in this is that as such they are living together in light of the resurrection.

      OK, I took about 800 words to answer you…I do not do this very often. Well, that is simply because you challenged me and I respect your ideas a lot… not because I am defensive 🙂 I also had about 15 mins on my hands so I went for it! Hahah…

      Would love to hear more of your thoughts!!!!! Thanks Amy for engaging me and making me think!

      • Amy

        Clearly, verbosity is a talent that I too possess 🙂 . Thanks for your response. It is so difficult to condense the whole of the gospel into 100 words. It's far too rich to truly convey is so little space.

        (I like lists)
        1) “Project” also signals the fact that God did not create a static world and step away from it, but is intimately involved from start to finish…

        This is a very important point, and something that makes the Gospel very attractive to me. I like the thought of being on mission with God to create new life.

        2) Humanity needs salvation from slavery to the principalities and powers. Simultaneously, humanity needs salvation from the alienation…

        Yes! But, how do you say all of this clearly in 100 words when language is so influenced by the reader's assumptions? Aaargh!

        3) Substitutionary is an important word and I am attempting here not to throw out the baby with the bathwater…

        Yes. I agree, and it is biblical language too. Just loaded right now as it gets entangled with penal theories. Your diplomatic approach is laudable and meaningful. It really demonstrates your commitment to staying connected with the broader community and being generous whenever possible.

        4) Ya. I'm having trouble making the leap (it feels like a leap to me) from the creative impulse to kingship. I know that both are biblical and both are important, I'm just not linking them. Maybe I could see something along the lines of lineage and creation in terms of reproduction of sons and daughters? Getting a little far afield though.

        5) “Justice” for me in this paragraph means the restorative and reconciling Justice of the perfect God…

        That's what I thought, but again, words are rife with potential for misunderstanding. Brevity can bring clarity, but also ambiguity.

        Thanks for engaging. I have lots to work with now. 🙂