I’ve been asking the question in the title by looking at one man’s summary, namely Greg Gilbert’s short offering in What Is the Gospel? There are several things I like about Gilbert’s book. It is readable without being simplistic; it is informed by an awareness of the church and its history; it offers a neat framework by which a crisp presentation of the gospel can be made and adapted according to an audience and its level of familiarity with Christian teaching; and it does not downplay the severity of the human predicament. By using the formula God, man, Christ, response, we indeed have mental roadmap of where we need to go in speaking the gospel, one which does not seem to be forced onto the biblical accounts.
In the later chapters, however, I became just a bit uneasy about, of all things, the author’s insistence on the cross as the goal of our understanding. He seems to make the absolutely necessary means an end in itself. He does this, it appears, out of fear that any other stated goal implicitly, if not explicitly, diminishes that necessity. Hence, he looks at those presentations of Christianity which, for example, emphasize the Bible’s storyline by way of the creation-fall-redemption-consummation summary as endangering the centrality of the cross. He is skeptical of messages which present the gospel as a story through which we can join in the work of God in transforming the world.
If the gospel does become reduced to getting our hands dirty in the effort to change the course of our communities and nations, then Gilbert is right; and there are those who tend to present this, sometimes overtly. He doesn’t want us to bypass the messiness, the offensiveness, and the downright distasteful idea that the death of Christ is God’s means of saving us. Point taken. But one must ask whether there is an overemphasis on means and underemphasis on the goal–the telos. Is one implicitly undermining “the gospel” by saying that the cross and the resurrection and ascension of Christ are the necessary means to the end which is redemption and life in God’s eternal Kingdom?
There was a reason Christ came to us and died and rose and ascended for us. It was so that the work begun in Genesis 1 and 2 would be completed, in spite of Genesis 3 and the subsequent way of fallen life ever since. It seems that God has chosen to redeem the world, not give up on it, as though He acknowledges that Satan has won this battle, but tells him to wait until the next one. God is redeeming the world, and through the most unlikely of accomplices–the once rebellious people who, having responded to Christ by repentance and faith, have been reclaimed and are being remade by the intervention of Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again. The good news, then, is best summarized in 2 Cor.5, where we are told that God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to Himself and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. If that’s a compromised gospel, I’m in trouble.