In this current series I’ve been asking the question in the title, using Greg Gilbert’s brief book as a backdrop. While discussion has been limited, there have been some very important questions and insights contributed by commenters. Some of these have centered around the suggestion that everyone, regardless of where or when they have lived, have struggled with the questions of what our condition and our prospects are as human beings. Using Gilbert’s framework of God-man-Christ-response allows us to compare the way in which Christians handle the questions of being with how others might do so.
Gilbert begins with creation, which is not so surprising. God is the reason for there being a world, and more specifically for there being creatures who ask questions. As was pointed out in the comments, the ancient Greeks had an awareness of God’s absolute presence in the world. The same could be said of other times, places, and peoples. So for Gilbert, the emphasis is twofold: we are responsible/answerable to this Creator; and it is important to know what sort of Creator we are dealing with. The latter issue is well addressed, in my view, in that we are prone to accepting a rather trivialized version of who or what God might be. If we miss the matter of His holiness, we construct a mental idol who expects and demands little of us but somehow owes much to us, usually far more than we believe Him to deliver on.
Thus far, there is nothing said that would warrant the word “gospel.” It is perhaps interesting, fascinating, or informative to know that there is a Creator, and that He has a certain character. But it is not necessarily good news, especially when judgment might be involved. And in the second movement of Gilbert’s scheme the news becomes even less “good.” It is that subject of our sinful human condition, the one that inevitably forms the Christian answer to a universal question: what’s wrong with the world? One can complain, as many have done, that the idea of a universal depravity is irrational; but after the complaints, we are still left with a world to explain, one in which things are not done in a morally responsible fashion. See Blaise Pascal on that one.
Gilbert’s explanation of sin, in my opinion, is a very effective as a summary, particularly in pointing out various deficiencies in the way even Christians see it. Specific misperceptions begin with the confusion of sin with sin’s effects. This leads Christian preachers to appeal to our sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, emptiness, etc., as that which needs to be corrected by Christ–rather than understanding that these very real and potentially debilitating feelings are themselves the symptoms of a deeper problem. We experience them because we have sinned. Another very current deficient view is to speak about sin as a broken relationship; it is this, of course, but we often fail to note the kindof relationship we are speaking about. It is not a relationship between equals that needs to be mended; it is one between a king and his subject. Sin is also not merely negative thinking, which once corrected will enable us to flourish in a variety of ways related to this world. Finally, Gilbert points to the confusing of sin with sins; it’s not just a matter of the things we do realization of what we are at our core–rebellious toward our Creator, insistent on our own design for life.
This is certainly not good news. But it is required nonetheless if we are going to get to what the Christian gospel is really about. I’m curious as to how the categories of misperceptions about the bad news have been experienced in your recent hearing of “the gospel.” Do you hear the bad news at all, and is it a watered down version?