The One Gospel?

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?

14 thoughts on “The One Gospel?”

  1. I get nervous, also, about taking one statement of Paul about what is basic and universal in the church and setting it out, perhaps somewhat out of context, as definitive for belief and practice for the church in all places and times.

    It makes me think of Paul’s statement that “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak…” (1 Cor 14:33-34)–a statement that is obviously not the case, based on Paul’s own guidelines for women prophesying 1 Cor 11:4-15 (and other texts, as well as). And of course Paul also claims those guidelines in ch. 11 to be binding and universal (“If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God” [1 Cor 11:16]).

    Of course, the good thing about Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Cor 15 is that it is *narrative* rather than set of abstracted doctrines…. ;)

  2. It seems to me the wisdom of God to provide various statements of the gospel that come at it from different angles. Like atonement, a variety of images that illumine the love of God extended in and through Jesus in various contexts, so too the “good news” is multi-faceted. I suppose one can keep on trying to find a “meta” version of “gospel” just as we have for the atonement but I suspect this ends up mostly as a (unintentional in most cases)for priviligeing our preferred view. I’m not saying McKnight is doing this (I haven’t seen the book yet).


  3. Daniel do you equate ‘rule of faith’ with Gospel? Or are you saying that you think McKnight is doing so?

    Because I was just reading a book about Philo and the Church Fathers where it was explained that ‘Rule of Faith’ was a set of basic facts held in general about the incarnation and work of the Lord which prevented Christians from falling for Greek gnostic spin (i.e. Woah like we’re all God now right?) or Jewish scoffing (i.e. Dude your Messiah was killed right?).

    McKnight’s Corinthians quote seems more like a rule-of-faith mantra in that sense, rather than an actual Gospel.

  4. My sense from reading Tim Gombis’ posts is that McKnight is trying to focus on the Biblical story centered on Jesus rather than the salvation story centered on ME. Certainly, a great exercise, but I agree Daniel that the Gospel is rich with many facets.

  5. Paul claims that the kerygma of 1 Corinthians 15 “is the one gospel that everyone proclaims” or McKnight claims this? At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Paul makes this claim in 1 Corinthians 15. He seems to be merely reminding them that this is what he preached to them and that it was what he had received and passed on as of primary importance. That seems a bit different than the claim that this is the one gospel that everyone proclaims. Or maybe I am missing something.

    “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…”

  6. A long time ago, I took a shot at attempting to talk about the coherence and diversity of New Testament treatments of gospel in the little book _Speaking the Truth in Love_. ( I still think that looking at “gospel” as a sort of hermeneutical matrix is a helpful line of inquiry.

  7. Daniel, love the blog. But like BradK a bit confused by this post. Is it Paul you’re questioning or McKnight? And I don’t get the bit about wishing he had gone to Jesus for gospel as well 1 COr 15 – he has whole chapters on the ‘gospel in the gospels’ and ‘the gospel of Jesus’?

  8. Now, Daniel, I’ve got plenty on kingdom and gospel in this book … and it’s not just death … but maybe you are making a comment about Mark vs. Paul when you say this:

    “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.”

    On suspicion, on this one I think it is unwarranted. Paul is making a statement that this is the apostolic, “tradented” gospel, and Acts and the Gospels confirm that, as do the baptismal creeds and the Second Article of the Creed.

    Am I being suspicious of you?

    1. Everyone, sorry to be out of the loop for the past couple of days. Scot, I’m glad you jumped in here with your comment, which confirms how I was reading the book.

      First, I should probably apologize for bringing in Scot’s book and then not addressing it on its own terms. I was using a few of the observations and arguments there to jump off into a more general line of thinking about people claiming to be speaking for everyone who’s ever been a Christian.

      Second, I think that Scot is rightly reading 1 Cor 15:1-2, 11 as claiming that the message Paul summarizes is the gospel that all the people in the early church proclaim.

      Third, I think that Scot is right that Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others make the same sort of claim for their rule of faith or rule of truth.

      Fourth, the larger sweep of Scot’s book is right along the lines of what I was aiming for in this post–that the gospel is about more than simply my salvation. This will include, of course, the kingdom of God dynamics that Mark et al refer to as “gospel.”

      So what’s my post all about?

      It’s touching on the larger question of how we respond to such claims as Paul, and especially the Fathers make about their gospels.

      The rule of faith is not, actually, a summary or even a very accurate representation of Paul’s gospel in 1 Cor 15. The elimination of “according to the scriptures” dissociates the Rule of Faith from the OT in a rather destructive way; they Rule of Faith is Trinitarian rather than Christological, which changes the emphasis dramatically; and the rules of faith tend to not include the interpretive gloss, “for our sins.”

      In other words, the very things that make the 1 Cor 15 “gospel” something other than mere reports of history are eliminated in the Rules.

      So no, I don’t think the Rules are either good or necessary articulations of the gospel; and here is where, in particular, I want to push back against the claim that this is merely what everyone who’s always been a Christian has ever said.

      These are polemical comments, being made to uphold one person’s side of an argument against someone else’s. That doesn’t mean that they’re making stuff up entirely, but it might mean that we should take it with a grain of salt, realizing that there is more diversity in what constitutes the gospel, and more change over time and place (!), than such statements allow for.

  9. The “fire in the bush” nobody wants to touch with a 10 foot pole is this: Virtually every time the verb to “preach the gospel” is used in the NT it is in the MIDDLE voice. This addresses the I AM of Jesus as well as Paul’s gospel burden. I love that this book is challenging people’s false security in the simple “facts” of the gospel. In the NT, HOW the gospel is preached is just as important as WHAT is preached.

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