Bringing It Home

Obviously, there’s no way to say in one post everything that needs to be said about the gospel. And there’s no way I can say in this post everything I’d like to say. But here are some thoughts about the implications of the gospel as I laid it out.

  • The gospel begins and ends with God. That is, the central focus of the gospel is on what God is doing in the world, not what my eternal salvation will be, as important as that is (to me). This is what distinguishes the gospel from other gospels that come to us in culture or other places. The good news isn’t only good news in relation to bad news. The good news doesn’t begin with shame or fear. It begins with God. And it has to do with what God wants for all of creation (and thus us individually as part of that creation).
  • The gospel is rooted in Scripture—all of it, not just the New Testament, and not just Paul. If we miss this point, we risk excising Jesus (and Paul) from his Jewish context, and when we make Jesus the first Christian—that is, picture him as overthrowing, denigrating, or making irrelevant the religious tradition that shaped him—then terrible things happen, and have happened. The center of the gospel is God; and Scripture witnesses to the enduring faithfulness and righteousness of God. Anyone who isolates the New Testament from the Old will miss this basic point, will not come close to understanding the New Testament, and will risk misunderstanding just how good the good news is.
  • When in the last post I said I struggle to believe the gospel, I don’t mean by “believe” simply giving mental assent to it. I mean giving my whole life over to it. As should be clear from that post, I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is about more than simply adhering to Christianity as opposed to some other religion. I believe it has to do with what it means to be truly human. I believe the gospel is meant to re-form us into the image of God, tying together God’s initial creative purposes with God’s eventual redemptive intentions and giving us a frame in which to live, move, and have our being—or not. The power of sin is still within me, continually tempting me away from the path God would have me walk. A reason to keep asking “What is the gospel?” is so we help each other remember where the path is when we’re tempted to step off it.

Well, there’s so much more to say, and I’ll probably return to this topic explicitly from time to time. But I wanted to kick off this blog with this series because it really provides a frame for what I want to do with the blog, that is, explore where hope is peeking through in the despair around us. In the end, I think the gospel may be the only legitimate reason for hope or faith.

But that leads me to one final point, and one more reason to keep asking “What is the gospel?” That is, the gospel—indeed, God—is always at risk of being drowned out, ignored, overwhelmed, distorted, abused, coopted, misheard, misinterpreted, and on and on. God comes in weakness: in the still, small voice; in the Spirit that hovers over the waters; on a cross; in a box (the ark); through other people, particularly the poor and oppressed; and through Scripture, which does not speak with one voice but many, which tends to obscure rather than clarify, and which offends us on so many fronts (e.g., the violence of Joshua and Judges, the patriarchal attitudes of Paul) that we may be tempted to say, “Umm, no thanks.”

Apparently this is the way God works. God takes the chance that we might be so offended, so hard-hearted, so churched, so educated, so Christian, so righteous, or so fill-in-the-blank that we might miss what’s good about the good news. And so we need as individuals and as churches to keep asking each other “What is the gospel?” in order to hold open the possibility that we haven’t heard all of the good news yet.

So I ask you: What is the gospel?