What Is the Gospel, Really? Part 2

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”?

3 thoughts on “What Is the Gospel, Really? Part 2

  1. The universal conundrum as it realtes to the gospel is a question of access. If the only way God has set in place for the message of gospel to be communicated to all mankind is word of mouth, then a huge chunk of humanity has lived and died with no chance to respond to it. Can one believe in the universal availibility of the gospel without being labeled a “univeralist”? Colossians 1:23 just might leave room for that.

    • Food for further thought (and I hope to give a lot to it in coming months): the Christ who became incarnate already existed before that event and as God, shared the characteristic (attribute) of omnipresence. There are implications here, though we need to be very cautious about taking them places where the Scriptures do not permit. Another related question–and this is an area where Gilbert’s thesis can be challenged–is whether the gospel is more a message or a person.

  2. I started with Vatican II, moved to Derrida, so now let’s try a stoic philosopher

    Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
    For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
    Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
    Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
    For we are indeed his offspring… (Arastus’ Phaenomena 1-5)

    According to the author of Acts, line 5 is what the Apostle Paul used in Athens.

    Arastus work was to describe the Cosmos, he started with a god and a bit about
    his character, and then our relationship to him.

    Paul parallels this in saying in Acts 27. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being. [then line 5]

    I think Wright condenses the narrative (or at least the Pauline narrative) into three questions:

    – God, who is he (monotheism)
    – Who are God’s people (election)
    – Where is this going (eschatology)

    Between Zeno & the Stoics, Paul, and Wright I’d be hard pressed to dissent.

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