Question 1: What is the gospel?
Thank you for participating in the first question, “What is the gospel?” I think it turned out about as good as I was hoping – there were many different views shared, some conversation, and hopefully it made you stop and think for a few minutes about the good news of the gospel.
Like my mother pointed out, the gospel is the good news. But that begs the question, “who’s good news?” What is good news for the upperclass Buckhead businessman, will not be the same good news for the underpaid, migrant worker. And neither of those versions of the good news will be the same as the good news for a young, 15 year old girl who has been abducted and forced into prostitution. The gospel, the good news, is contextual. When we believe that the gospel is not contextual, when we come to our definition of gospel and say, “THIS is the gospel…” we are often guilty of the very kind of reductionistic thinking that Rodger warns us of.
Gospel reductionism is something that missiologist (and Princeton Seminary Academic Dean) Darrell Guder writes about in his book, “The Continuing Conversion of the Church.” Guder writes:
“In the exploration of the missiological implications of reductionism, I have stressed that the reduction of the gospel to individual salvation…is the gravest and most influential expression of the human drive for control…A reduced gospel trivializes God as it makes God into a manageable deity.”
(Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, 131)
I was surprised…and not so surprised…by the fact that so many of the responses were so Christocentric. Reading through the responses, it seemed that the gospel was solely about Jesus, Jesus on the cross and atonement. In response to that, I liked what “fg” had to say when he wrote: “The good news, the gospel, predates him [Jesus].” This was something new for me to chew on – definitely not something I had heard before. But I like that. Of course there had to have been “good news”/gospel before Jesus. The exodus out of slavery for the Israelites was certainly good news. To say that the good news solely exists post-Christ and solely relates to Christ is another way in which we may have Christocentrized (that’s a word, right?) the gospel.
So what is the gospel? Well, it’s a good question. And that’s why I asked it. I am intimidated by the question itself, because in some ways, I believe that any answer we give to the question will simply be a form of gospel reductionism. When I say that the gospel is about Jesus Christ and our forgiveness of sins — I have reduced the gospel to being Christocentric and focused solely on a debt that had to be paid. When I say the gospel is liberation from oppression — I have reduced the gospel to something focused primarily on this world and primarily focused on those who are experiencing active oppression. That is not to say that the gospel is not about Jesus, nor that the gospel is not about liberation from oppression – because I believe it is about both things – and so much more. But to choose one over the other isn’t a valid option.
In many ways, I think Dave got it right: “God is for you.” No matter your race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, class…no matter what: God is for you. But it’s also important to remember that we don’t believe in just God the Creator, not simply Jesus, but in the Triune God. So any response to the question, “What is the gospel” must take into account God the Creator, God the Redeemer and the God the Spirit (the often neglected person of the Trinity). So it’s not heretical, nor is it just me trying to rock the boat when I say that the gospel is not just about Jesus. The gospel is about the work of the Triune God – and the Spirit of God is every bit as much as involved in the work of God in the world today as Jesus and God the Creator are at work.
In many ways, I’d say the gospel is undefinable. And, I have to admit that with any response I give, I too will be guilty of gospel reductionism. However, I did ask the question. So, what is the gospel? The gospel is the uncontrollable & uncontainable inbreaking of God’s hopes and dreams for this world, and beyond. Through the gospel, God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Spirit, bring peace, love and hope into the world, while also presenting an alternative way of life, challenging the powers & principalities that be in the world today.
Is it too academic? Probably. How would I take that definition and explain it to a 6-yr old? I’m not sure – but at least that gives me something to work with…