What do you mean ‘What is the Gospel?’? Isn’t it clear what it is? Are you somehow, by this very question, trying to redefine it? Are you asking us to go back to the drawing board? These are some of the reactions you get when you ask this. Asking such a question does, I have to admit, reveal an emergent bent. The question is not, ‘Isn’t it clear?’, because it is indeed clear. If you go out more (i.e. you talk or read outside your tradition), you find people who are “clear” on this, yet they don’t always agree on their answer. So probably a better question is: what does our understanding of the Gospel reveal about our theology?
The gospel is but the tip of our theological iceberg.
No wonder people don’t want to “touch” the gospel, especially when Ap. Paul makes such strong statements about holding tight to the right gospel and not swaying a bit from it (Galatians 1:8, 9). But precisely because of this I see very fit to assess the Gospel we believe in. The way we answer this important question will determine how we define missions, ecclesiology, Christian life etc.
Bound by our modernistic approach we try to find the answer by using the Bible as an encyclopedia. So we take a concordance and find all the texts where the word Gospel appears and see if that gives us a clue. Inevitably we land on 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 where Paul seems to explicitly state what the Gospel is: it is Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins (the appearance part seems to be the validation of His resurrection). At which point we proceed to fit this into our already pre-determined theological system and the task is done. I am wondering, though, how much weight do we give to “according to Scriptures” that Paul seems to emphasize? It seems to me that what Paul says here is that the Scriptures are the context that gives meaning to Christ’s death and resurrection. And by this I don’t mean cherry picking, but considering all the Scriptures. Isn’t it interesting that, as it has been pointed out, if you start in Genesis 3 you get a quite different Gospel than if you start all the way at the beginning in Genesis 1? The first two chapters of the Bible are really foundational for everything else. If we skip the beginning story we can totally misunderstand what the Scriptures are about, can’t we?
With that in mind I would like to make some propositions and get your input on that. God set out to create something and as it should be expected, it was good (that is the repetitive theme in Genesis 1 – maybe to tell us something!?!). The God of the Scriptures is not a God who creates something only to “find out” later that there is a better way to do it and so He scratches out everything and starts all over again. In other words either what He does is good or is not. From God’s perspective there is no “better” or “improving”. That’s our reality. If Genesis 3 is to be understood in this context (which it should – there is a reason the writer placed it there and not at the beginning of the story), than what has been called the “fall” or “sin” can only affect and not annihilate the “good” God created. The way we say this is …
the “good” that God created has redeeming value in it.
This is the only way the rest of the Bible story has any sense. What is the Bible but God’s redemption story? We all believe in redemption, but do we stop for a moment to think that it implies that something is redeemable, that there is still something good?
The Gospel, when stripped down of its theological charge to its initial Greek word, is simply good news. What is the good news but the fact that there is hope for creation and for humanity? If, as some Christian traditions have it, sin has affected what God has created to such a degree that there is nothing that can be done about, it cannot be redeemed, that God is “forced” to start all over again with “new havens and new earth” (wait a second, isn’t that what the Bible clearly states, some would say?), then all we have is bad news, at least for us, who are part of this creation. This view gives preeminence to sin over God. God created something good, but not good enough to withhold the “power” of sin. That makes God impotent or not powerful and creative enough. If that’s the case how can we trust God that if He starts all over again He will not fail again in the face of SIN? Sin will always be a possibility; it will always be dormant, latent. It is just part of the fabric of how God created things and let’s not forget, it is the best of all possibilities. The beauty of God’s creation, specifically the human race, is that while we know we can say no to God, we choose to say no to sin instead. This is somehow interconnected to Christ’s death and resurrection in ways we can’t really comprehend but have to embrace by faith. I would venture to say that God created us and everything else around us for that moment of choice where though we have the power to say NO to God, we choose to say YES!!! What life really is, but a series of choices and their subsequent consequences?
What is the Gospel? It is the good news that, because of Christ’s death and resurrection there is hope for our planet, for our world, for humanity, for life as we know it. Sin has been defeated, it has no lasting victory. And so we are called to join God in the redemption of His creation (which by the way, is happening right now, at a Blockbuster – neighborhood – near you).
We are called to identify, encourage, embrace and celebrate what is good and beautiful wherever we find it.
That is the kingdom of God at work around us and inside of us. The Gospel is not the “good news” (?) that if we accept Jesus Christ into our heart we will one day go to haven. That is the gospel of the abandonment, in which God has given up on His “good” creation in pursuit for something better. No wonder people resist such a gospel, no wonder they find it hard to believe in a God who is willing to destroy this world with so much good in it. If God is good why would He destroy that which is good? It is a valid question people ask to this portrayal of God. No, the Gospel doesn’t make us wait for the future, but brings the future in the present. And as we do that our present melts into the future of God’s final redemption.