As part of a larger paper summarizing my thoughts on the Gospel, I’ve decided to outline just where things are going by way of providing this set of introductory propositions.
P1: Our (or perhaps “my”) generation is being lost, or is largely dormant to Christianity.
P2: This has not completely to do with Depravity in general, or even the Postmodern Ethos, though they are contributors.
P3: American Evangelicals are salvation centered.
C1: Our generation is being lost, either because of or despite a salvation centered culture that dominates American Evangelicalism.
P4: The most attractive element of our faith, indeed the centerpiece, the person and story of Jesus is being lost under the weight of salvation centeredness.
P5: Current trends in evangelism are better at precipitating decisions than making lifelong disciples of Jesus. (Studies show that despite 90% of the American Church’s children praying the sinner’s prayer at some point, following a “gospel” presentation, less than 30% have anything to do with Christianity by the time they’re in their mid 20s)
P6: Rather than doing evangelism, we should be “gospeling” like Peter and Paul. (see sermons in Acts, and Paul in Romans, especially Ch. 5 and I Cor. 15)
C2: We need to get back to telling the story of the four gospels. Gospeling will make lifelong disciples, as it did in the New Testament.
It shouldn’t be alright for Jesus to have taken on flesh and gone up to the cross to die, be buried, and rise again. Does your Gospel require the larger story of Jesus, where he lives by love and justice, proclaiming the arrival of God’s rule? I want to believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John spent more time on his life than anything else, for good reason. The entirety of the four gospels works better in the larger “God becoming King” story presented by N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight and others. More on this soon, but in summary, when we talk about the Gospel, we should be talking about an incredibly rich and true story, that is extensively more complex than a tract for personal salvation whereby Jesus resolves the conflict between sinners and a holy God–though this is a wonderful part of the story.
Second Set of Propositions:
P1: “What is the Gospel?” is a question that the Church needs to be dedicated to answering.
P2: The Church should answer the question like Jesus, Paul, and Peter answered the question in the New Testament. And also like the Early Church answered the question.
P3: In evaluating the letters of Paul and the preaching of Peter, the early church formed an understanding of the word “gospel.”
C1: The Early Church called the four books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the “Gospel according to…” because they considered what these four men had written to be the Gospel that Jesus, Paul, and Peter spoke of.
C2: To answer the question, “What is the Gospel?”, we must turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, of course.
P4: The four Gospel books contain the story and person of Jesus.
C3: The Gospel is the story and person of Jesus.
C4: The Gospel is fundamentally not salvation oriented, or soteriology; rather, it is fundamentally Christology.
P5: The Church should be Gospel-Centered
P6: The Church should be Christ-Centered
P7: Gospel-Centered and Christ-Centered have little distinction, because as C3 states: “The Gospel is the story and person of Jesus.”
C5: The Church needs to tell the story of Jesus as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have done.
P8: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote mostly about the life of Jesus.
P9: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would not waste so much time on His life if it wasn’t an essential part of the story they meant to tell.
P10: The Early Church labeled the whole text of each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) to be the Gospel. Not just the final ending chapters concerning the death, burial, and resurrection.
C6: Part of the Gospel is the life of Jesus
Part of my complaint is that we often seem to use the word “Gospel” to mean 1.) a personal tract of salvation that is now available to individuals. I have a hard time finding this is as a major theme in the gospels themselves (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Other times, we seem to think 2.) the Gospel is imputation. Christ becoming our sin, while we become his righteousness. That is completely non-existent in the four Gospels. Other times we mean that 3.) the Gospel is justification by faith through grace. Also very hard to find anywhere in what the earliest Christians considered and labeled “Gospel”, except for a tiny bit on the end of a parable from Luke, chapter 18 (I have a lot to say about how Luther has changed our understanding of the gospel). The point in all of this conflated rambling, is that I am concerned that we may be getting the Gospel wrong, and that we might be failing in our presentation of it for this reason. I want to recapture what has always been the most appealing, and essential part of our faith, the person and story of Jesus. Let him stand on his own, let him be the new King calling all people to be His disciples. The Gospel, in this way, doesn’t need us to think of clever ways to either coerce children into praying a prayer, or scaring people out of hell. The Gospel is a much richer, fuller, and beautiful story about new creation, than many perceive. What is all of this stuff about the life of Christ doing taking up so much space before we get to the cross?
Thesis: The Gospel is the climax of the story of God, fundamentally about Jesus Christ (Christology) and the restoration of the Kingdom of God, i.e New Creation (Climax of the Biblical Narrative). A Gospel centered on the salvation of souls is a reductionist account of the authentic Gospel. In fact, it has been so reduced, that it is unclear if what remains can truly be called “The Gospel.”
Full essay coming soon…