Monday, October 19, 2009

What is the gospel?

This morning my friend Wes asked me, "What is the gospel?" My first answer was going to involve the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of all people. But then he clarified by quoting a Scripture that talked about the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God, and it jogged my memory. In recent weeks I have been reading a book about how to strategically help the poor and at the same time I have been studying the book of Mark. As I have read each of them, I have been struck by Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God, and how focused Jesus was on proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

In Mark, Jesus begins His preaching by saying, "The Kingdom of God is here - repent and believe the good news." It seems that Jesus equates the good news with God's Kingdom advancing on earth, not merely with salvation. The Good News that Jesus speaks of is that healing and justice are coming forth, that righteousness is being lived out between people and wrongs are being bent back right.

As Wes and I talked about this, we realized that salvation is often preached in churches as the end but perhaps it is better understood as a means to an end, and that End is the Kingdom of God. No one can enter the Kingdom of God apart from salvation in Christ, but once we are "in", then what? Does our story with God end with our knowing more and more fully how much we are loved and how fully we have been saved? Surely not. We are brought into the Kingdom of God because of His love for us, certainly, but there is a greater purpose. We are called to participate in Kingdom building, not merely by inviting people to salvation through Christ's forgiveness and life, but by living lives that reflect the heart of the King we serve. The church in the West has emphasized the need for each individual to enter the Kingdom, but that has come at the expense of proclaiming the broader mission and heart of God.

Perhaps we have so many Christians struggling to live out their faith because the object of end of their faith is too small. If the best that we can aim at is to be less sinful, to be more devoted in worship, to occasionally share the message of salvation, no wonder our reach seems so short. There is a work of magnificent scale occurring, a work of healing and justice, of freedom and transformation, and our salvation in Christ allows us to be free to participate in this Kingdom work for the glory of God.

How might we use this in sharing the good news? This is one stab at it: . In general, I like where he is going with this idea, though I think that this particular diagram too quickly glosses over our own brokenness and our own contribution to the brokenness of the world. But it does point us to a bigger mission, a great story, and invites us into the End we are created for, the Kingdom of God.

1 comment:

Robert Howe said...

Marshall, good reflections. This past weekend I was on a retreat with a group of grad students, and we discussed James Choung's "Big Story" diagram together. I also like it a lot, even as I see some shortcomings (you can't really see the brokenness within the stick figures). But it got me thinking about the same question, "What is the gospel?", and how ultimately we have to answer in terms of the totality of who Jesus is and the entirety of Jesus' story (including the story of Israel) - Jesus IS the gospel.

All our gospel summaries and diagrams are abstractions, not reality. But they can serve as faithful signs of reality, leading us into life with Jesus. It's striking how Jesus condescends to meet people even in our all-too-often oversimplified, theologically inadequate representations of his good news.

All that to say - I love what you're expressing here. We have to continually enter into a bigger story, the fullness of the story of Jesus, and call others - especially believers - to do the same.

Along those lines, have you looked at James Bryan Smith's Apprentice Series from IVP, starting with The Good and Beautiful God? I really like his focus on changing the narratives that shape our lives so as to enter into Jesus' story.