September 17, 2008
What is the Gospel?---There Are Really Two Conversations Going on Here, Not Just One
by Greg Gilbert
Let me offer a thought that might help us to see a little more clearly through this huge conversation about what the gospel is and whether some people are too narrow or too broad in their understanding of it.
It seems to me that the two major camps in this conversation—those who say the Gospel is the good news that God is reconciling sinners to himself through the substitutionary death of Jesus (call them “A”) and those who say the gospel is the good news that God is going to renew and remake the whole world through Christ (“B”)—are largely talking past one another. In other words, I don’t think the As and the Bs are answering the same question. Of course both of them say they’re answering the question “What is the gospel?” and thus the tension between the two different answers. But I think if we pay close attention, we’ll see that they are actually answering two very different and equally biblical questions.
Those two questions are these:
1. What is the gospel? In other words, what is the message a person must believe to be saved? And
2. What is the gospel? In other words, what is the whole good news of Christianity?
When an A-person hears the question “What is the gospel?” he understands it to mean “What is the message a person must believe to be saved?” and he answers it by talking about the death of Christ in the place of sinners, and the call to repent and believe.
When a B-person hears the question “What is the gospel?” he understands it to mean “What is the whole good news of Christianity?” and he answers by talking about God’s purpose to renew the world through Christ.
You can understand why there would be tension between the two. If you answer question (1) by talking about the new creation, people are understandably going to say that your answer is too broad and that you are pushing the cross out of its central place. When people in Scripture asked the question “What must I do to be saved?” the answer they received was to repent of sin and believe in Jesus—not something about the coming new creation.
Yet it’s also true that the Bible sometimes (even often) talks about “the gospel” in terms of the new creation. So to answer question (2) by only talking about Christ’s death in the place of sinners, and to say that everything else is by definition not-gospel (but merely implication), is indeed too narrow. That would be to say that promises such as the resurrection of the body, the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, the new heavens and new earth, and many others are somehow not part of what the Bible holds out as the “good news” of Christianity.
What we need to understand is that neither of these two questions is wrong, and neither is more biblical than the other. The Bible asks and answers both of them. Sometimes it says that “the gospel” is that message which a person must believe in order to be forgiven of sin—and that, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, is the message that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was raised on the third day. Other times the Bible uses the word “gospel” to refer to the whole complex of promises that God intends to keep through Christ, such as in Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4, and Acts 13.
Once we acknowledge all that, and once we realize that we aren’t all answering the same question when we say "The gospel is . . .", I think we’ll be able to avoid some of the tension in the conversation. Not only so, but it seems to me that we’ll then be able to understand more clearly why the Bible uses “gospel” in both a broad and a narrow sense, and how those two senses fit together.
And that in turn will help us understand why (and this is important) the New Testament puts pastoral and evangelistic priority on the narrow sense—and why it expects us to do the same.
But that's another post.....
Go to http://blog.9marks.org/2008/09/what-is-the-g-1.html for more!