I’ve recently been reading Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, a book that has me digging around in some familiar territory of where the Rule of Faith fits into the Christian narrative, how well it represents the biblical story, etc.
In dealing with “gospel,” McKnight starts with 1 Cor 15: “Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried, was raised on the third day according to the scriptures; then he appeared…”
Paul claims that this is the one gospel that everyone proclaims.
I very much like this as a summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But at the risk of embracing a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” I also want to suggest that every time someone claims, “This is what everyone has always said,” they are engaging in a polemical framing of their own claims that probably deserves at least a little bit of nuance, and perhaps considerable qualification.
This is not to deny that 1 Cor 15 is a great summary of the gospel, but it is to suggest that there is no single telling of the gospel that is always proclaimed every time.
We could attack this from a couple of different angles.
First, within Paul himself there is some variation. In Gal 3 Paul writes, “Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’”
The blessing of Abraham for the gentiles is the gospel. The nations being wrapped up in the faith of Abraham and promise of God is the gospel. Interestingly, there is almost no resurrection in Galatians.
Then, we might go to Acts. Acts does not offer us a theology of Jesus “dying for our sins” in its sermons. In fact, Acts contains a sermon in which the crucifixion isn’t mentioned at all (Acts 17). These sermons see the crucifixion bringing such guilt upon Israel as to demonstrate that Israel is as much in need of forgiveness as the nations.
Or, we might go to Jesus. And here’s where I wish McKnight had gone a different direction. To take Mark as an example, Jesus goes out proclaiming the gospel: “Repent, for the reign of God has drawn near!” The advent of the kingdom of God is itself the good news.
Not merely the death of Jesus (Mark 8-16) but the life as well (Mark 1-8) is good news. When Jesus casts out demons–this is enacting the gospel. When Jesus feeds the 5,000–this is enacting the gospel.
There are ways to connect this life of Jesus in the Gospels with the continuing life of the resurrected Jesus in Paul’s letters, but even at the basic level of “gospel,” we have a broad, rich picture in the NT.
So what do we have to say if we are to claim that we proclaim the good news? And should we be suspicious whenever someone tells us that this is what people have always confessed as Christians?