In talking about the Bible as (not) an owners manual for life, we discussed the connection between expectations of the Bible / assumptions about what the Bible is, what we look for / hope for from the Bible, and what we actually find when we turn to it.
A similar problem besets our articulations of the gospel message itself. What is the “good news” that the Bible proclaims or reflects?
Each year I teach a course on Romans through Revelation. That’s a lot of documents.
Is there one gospel message that holds it all together?
I remember listening in on ordination exams in a conservative Reformed context. There, the gospel was often thought of in terms of “justification by faith.” I remember one guy would always ask candidates, “Can you name two passages from the Old Testament which preach the gospel of justification by faith?” Not so coincidentally, every candidate named the only two passages in the OT where the language of “righteousness” and “belief” are found together.
This is merely illustrative: there are ways we can think about the gospel that limit us severely, such that we might even find ourselves saying, as some of the pastors Scot McKnight talks about in King Jesus Gospel, that Jesus didn’t preach the gospel. That’s when we know we’ve backed ourselves into a corner.
But is that the best we can do? Or is there a larger all-encompassing word of “good news” that can pick up a larger swath of both NT and OT?
Here, I think that the quest for the center of Paul’s thought is helpful and instructive. While some might argue that Paul’s gospel is something like justification by faith or union with Christ in his death and resurrection, I’d say that both are looking at the wrong end of the stick.
These are ways of talking about our participation in the gospel, the potential impact of the good news on us, rather than the good news itself.
We get closer to the good news itself when we talk about what God has done in Christ himself, than we get when we talk about how that Christ event comes to benefit us. In other words, the accomplishment of salvation is the gospel, and the application of salvation is the ramification of the good news–or what makes it good news to me.
So how about something like this: the crucified Christ is the resurrected Lord over all things.
What does crucifixion mean? Depends on who you ask (Luke? Paul? Hebrews? 1 John? Revelation?). But it is a representative and (usually) reparative act. It is not simply a person who died, but the Messiah, the king, the representative ruler over God’s people.
What does resurrection mean? Depends on who you ask (Luke? Paul? 1 Peter? Hebrews? Revelation?). But at the heart of it is the reality that Jesus is the enthroned master over all things and therefore the one who is to be both celebrated and obeyed by all the nations of the earth.
What do you think? Too vague? Too specific? Not clearly enough “good news”? How do you articulate the gospel in such a way that it can be borne witness to by such a diverse collection of texts? Or is that even a possibility? Is “the” gospel too much to ask our Bible for?