It seems that some people are taken back by the question of what Christian gospel is. That’s understandable for those who have been involved in churches for the better part of their lives. And it also seems silly to ask where we find the core of the Christian message, that which is indeed worth calling “good news.”
In selecting a bite-sized summary, however, we necessarily leave vast portions of the Bible out of play, at least momentarily. I would argue that the ability of one’s summary to account for the rest of the scripture in a way that is compatible and consistent is a measure of the validity of that summary. If it leaves too much unexplained, we rightly question whether we’ve really grasped the “full gospel.”
These issues, to reiterate, are raised in a brief book I’ve been dealing with–What Is the Gospel?by Greg Gilbert. The author asks some of the questions I’ve been posing, answering some of them well and some of them not as thoroughly as I would like. He tackles the defining question by looking for the most comprehensive answer provided by the Bible itself; that is, what text most completely describes for believers and non-beievers alike what the message is all about. He finds this in the first four chapters of Romans, then summarizes that passage with a four-word formula: God, man, Christ, response. Each of these words, of course must be further specified, which invites us to do with a question for each one.
Here are his questions:
1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it?
4. How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else?
On one hand, it seems to me that the author implies a lot of answers in the very wording of the questions. I think he is importing a lot of assumptions about the Bible’s message into the way he asks the questions. On the other hand, there is a basic similarity with other authors, some of them more academically oriented, about the kinds of questions any faith (including faith in an atheistic universe) must answer if it is to be taken seriously. Let’s rephrase them just a bit; they are quite recognizable by those who have ever read James Sire, Nancy Pearcey, Francis Schaeffer, N. T. Wright, Diogenes Allen, or a host of others:
1. Why is there a world, and why the world that is?
2. What’s wrong with the world, or, more specifically, with people?
3. What is the solution to the problem?
4. What happens to us, both as individuals and as a human race?
We’ll explore how these questions and proposed answers are elaborated in upcoming posts. For today, what do you think of the questions as expressions of universally felt conundrums; and should we express them as such, without reference to the solution in veiled ways when we ask them? And what kind of answers must we assume before the gospel becomes “good news”?