I still have an exciting announcement which I want to make (well, it’s exciting to me…), but it will have to wait until after I am done with this current series on the gospel and evangelism.
In two previous posts (here and here), I introduced the idea that to properly proceed in our mission to others, we need a proper understanding of the gospel and evangelism. In this post, I will discuss briefly the content of the biblical gospel. But first, let me give some background.
About two years ago, I published an article called The Gospel is More than ‘Faith Alone in Christ Alone’ in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. In the article, I challenged two of the more popular definitions of the gospel. First, that the “gospel” is equated with nothing more than “believe in Jesus for everlasting life.” There are some who think that this is the entirety of the gospel message, and those who ask others to believe more than this are adding to the gospel. I argued that the gospel is way more than such a pared down message.
A second view I argued against was that the gospel could be limited to a set number of theological propositions. Depending on who you read, most Christians have between five and ten propositions which they say constitute the entire gospelm, all of which must be believed for a person to receive eternal life. This view is based primarily on a faulty understanding of 1 Corinthians 15. Generally, they include the following in their gospel definition:
-the deity of Jesus
-the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins
-the resurrection of Jesus
-the necessity of faith in Jesus to receive eternal life
Against these two views, I argued that the biblical gospel is pretty much everything related to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, including the prophecies about Him, and the ongoing empowerment for life with God that we receive as believers. I wrote:
This gospel contains everything related to the person and work of Jesus Christ, including all of the events leading up to His birth, and all the ramifications from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for unbelievers and believers (p. 50).
Understandably, I received a lot of criticism from various groups for questioning their traditional teachings and practices regarding the gospel. One primary criticism was that my idea was new, and nobody else was saying such things as I had written. This is a weak argument, but interestingly, since I wrote the article, is seems that nearly every book I read has ideas which parallel the content of my research. One book in particular really helped my thinking. It is Transforming Mission by David Bosch, and it is now one of the top three most influential books I have ever read. He shows over and over that the gospel is not only a set of facts or propositions to be believed, but is information about how these beliefs will change our lives and how we interact with others.
Gospel of Faith, Love, and Hope
Let me provide a few quotes from Bosch which show this, and then I will close this already-too-long post with a few summary ideas.
“The good news is that the reign of God, present in Jesus Christ, has brought us all together under judgment and has in the same act brought us all together under grace. And yet, this does not mean that the gospel is an invitation to mystical introspection or to the salvation of individual souls, climbing out of a lost world into the safety of the church. Rather, it is the proclamation of a new state of affairs that God has initiated in Christ” (Bosch, 148).
The gospel of the early church “was practiced not as a stratagem to lure outsiders to the church but simply as a natural expression of faith in Christ” (Bosch, 49).
Similarly, salvation is way more than just “entrance into heaven when you die.” Salvation involves all aspects of life and living. It is a full redemption. “Whatever salvation is…it includes the total transformation of human life, forgiveness of sin, healing from infirmities, and release from any kind of bondage. …It does not have only a ‘vertial’ dimension” (Bosch, 107).
What is the Gospel?
The most basic definition of the “gospel” (Gk. euangelion) is “good news.” But that is not really what the biblical gospel is. Based on my years of studying this issue, and especially on my reading over the past few years, I am more convinced than ever that the gospel is message for all people about all the temporal and eternal benefits available to us through Jesus Christ.
Certainly, the message of eternal life is central to the gospel. However, what we Christians often neglect is that there is more to the gospel – much more. The biblical good news also tells us about how God wants to rule and reign over all aspects of life, how there is nothing beyond the scope of redemption, how there is hope for the future, a source of joy and gladness to be had, true community to be experienced, and peace to be introduced. It is good news for the poor, the lonely, the hurting, the despised, the neglected, the abandoned, the abused, the slandered, the outcast – indeed, for all who are suffering mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
The gospel is more than “believe in Jesus for eternal life.” The gospel is even more than “Jesus died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, so that all who believe in Him might have everlasting life.” These are the “bulls eye” central tenants of the gospel, around which everything else has power and significance. Without the truths of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no gospel, but the gospel is way more than a message about justification and how to get eternal life. If we limit it only to that, we are proclaiming a partial gospel at best.
The full gospel is full-orbed in the claims it makes about our present life and eternal existence, and what Jesus wants to do with both.
Now, if this is true, what does that do to our “evangelism”? I will address this question in the next post.