Over the past two years I have sat across the table and taken phone calls with some of the leading Christian theologians, Pastors, and Scholars of this generation. And almost every interview I have conducted, I have asked what I think is perhaps the most important question of Christianity: "What is the Gospel?" The Gospel message, according to the New Testament, is the power of God for salvation. (Romans 1:16) It is the message that Christians have been commissioned to proclaim to the ends of the earth. It holds within itself the power to bring new life and restoration. And the rejection of it is said to have eternal consequences.
With the Gospel being so important, you'd think we'd have some sort of grasp on what exactly this message is. But after spending two years asking so many people who are supposed to be teaching the Church what the Gospel is, there seems to be a lack of general consensus as to what this message is actually all about. It's not that there is no agreement anywhere- of course there is. But there is also a lot of disagreement. Diversity. Fragmentation.
In this post I want to share with you how some of Christian leaders from all across the spectrum of our faith have answered my question when asked. The answers I have received are intriguing. Some of them are incredibly simple, others are incredibly complex. But all of them have their own unique nuance. I want you to read through these answers and then take a second to answer the question for yourself. What do you believe the Gospel is? And if you are willing, please share your answer in the comments section. I really want to begin this discussion because once again- the Gospel is the center point of the Christian faith and I think it's eternally important that we begin to work towards some sort of general consensus as to what the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is.
So without further ado- here are some of the answers I've gotten:
The Gospel is simple and yet really very deep…The Bible does not teach that going to heaven is our ultimate aim…but the new creation is our ultimate aim…and many Christian teachers have sold the Bible short in this regard.…When you have a solid, robust hope of the New Heavens and new earth with the resurrection body therein, that colors backwards all the different things it means to live as a Christian and to build Gods kingdom in the world. That old-time Gospel has squeezed right out the notion of God’s Kingdom existing in the world and has said that that’s all “social gospel”…and has no real saving message…- but that is no excuse to rid ourselves of what the Bible has been teaching all along.
I believe loving God and loving others is the essence of how God wants his people to live in this world…now and through eternity. But this isn’t the essence of the Gospel. The essence of the Gospel is to tell the story that Israel’s story has come to fulfillment in the story of Jesus who is messiah, Lord, and Savior, and the proper response to that Gospel is to repent, believe, and be baptized.
If by “Salvation” you mean eternal life in the Bosom of God. I don’t know whom God chooses to spend eternity with and who God chooses not to spend eternity with. I am not privy to that information. If by salvation you mean experiencing the fullness of life, then when I look around at people I know who do not follow Christ, I do know people who do not follow Christ but do seem to be experiencing the fullness of Life…I think they have a better chance of that if they’re following Christ and I think what Christ offers is unique…but I believe it is possible for people to experience the fullness of life outside of Christianity…the question of…is that Christ granting them the fullness of life but they just don’t know it, that’s possible, but it’s just a hypothesis.
I have a rule that I will not answer that question… because I think it is a sin against the Gospel to try to encapsulate it in a short proposition. If the Scripture couldn’t do it in one Gospel… even in our Canon there are 27 versions of trying to explain…the Gospel. I just say, if you want a nutshell version of the Gospel than sit down and read the New Testament. Oh and after that you should probably read the Old Testament too. And after that, I have some theology I think you should read…I think it does violence to the Gospel to try to sum it up in a concise statement.
The Gospel- the good news that the holy, just, and gracious creator of all things has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women in their rebellion and he has sent his son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against them on the cross and to show his power over sin in the resurrection so that everyone that turns from sin and trusts in him, repents and believes, will be reconciled to God forever. That would be the Gospel- I hope a biblical understanding of the Gospel. The two primary words we see are repent and believe, to turn and trust.
The Gospel for me is Jesus announcement of the shape of reality. And the effect that it has is that it realigns you inside of the universe- not in the false self but in the true self. It is a radical critique of the ordinary way of seeing everything- power, wealth, status etc. And if you don’t see it as a critique of the system- what John calls "the world"- as an alternative universe. Instead we reflect the worst of all cultures and reflect the non-gospel. Many who call themselves Christians support torture. How do we get from Jesus to torture? Most evangelicals and conservative Catholics have no problem with torture. When the Gospel is not revealing what Jesus calls the reign of God or the Kingdom of God, what you end up doing is placing all of your eggs in this Kingdom- the kingdom of Spain, Rome, or America. And you end up looking very much like America while having a little different label that says “I’m a Christian”.
Christianity is extremely exclusive… Someone needs to believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God in the flesh, born of a virgin, that he lived a perfect life, he died our death and that he was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father. That is the closed hand of Christianity. If someone doesn’t believe in Penal Substitutionary atonement, I don’t know what they believe in that ultimately saves them… What I would say is that I don’t believe you’re a Christian if you don’t believe Jesus died for your sins and took the penalty for your sins…Again, what’s important is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I used to answer that question [by saying], “Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.”…or “Penal substitutionary atonement… But that’s not what Jesus said. According to Jesus the Gospel is “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News.” The question then is, what does it mean? And that something that we have to grapple with.
What’s fundamental to being a Christian is, “Were you baptized?” "Do you believe in Jesus Christ...?"“Do you believe that Jesus is the Lord and is the name of one of three in which you were baptized?"
”…Christ is the truth and is the key to humanity…I think that the very heart of the Gospel can be said in three words: “God is love”. God in God’s own being is the holy trinity, which God comes to us in Jesus Christ… He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world… Our response to God is one of receiving the gifts of God, and we are justified by faith as those who are ungodly. And that is a sheer gift of God. And that is the content of our faith. That all follows from the claim that “God is love” and also follows that crucial to Christian faith is the love of the enemy. God is love…and those who are God’s also love their enemies…love of enemy defines the stance of Christianity.
Love God and Love People. That’s the message. That’s the message that we see Jesus pronouncing over and over. The message of love, that God loves us and we are to love other people. I think it’s also a kingdom message- almost every time Jesus opens his mouth he talks about the Kingdom of God, that’s the same word for empire, reign, rule, or God’s dream. Like what would it really look like if God reigned over Chicago or Philadelphia or the whole world? That’s what we’re trying to live into. That’s the dream. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God it’s not just something we hope for when we die but something were supposed to bring to the earth as it is in heaven. So that’s the heart of Jesus message. What does the kingdom look like? Blessed are the poor. Not just the rich or the middle class. It’s blessed are the peacemakers not the war makers. Blessed are the meek in a world that admires aggression. It’s a very different posture.
The Gospel is simple- "life is sh#@". The Christian question isn’t “Is there life after death?” but “Is it actually possible to live before you die?” Salvation is a transformation of the mode of living right here and right now… Eternal life is a transformation of the quality of your life today. Wherever you find truth, the way, life, that is where Jesus is. That’s where salvation is. Where salvation happens is where Christ is. Christianity is that which breaks open all tribal identities… It’s a radical notion that God is not approached as an object that we love but that God is found in the act of love itself.
So what do you think the Gospel is? Do you resonate with any of these answers? Do you disagree? Chime in on this incredibly important topic!
Grace and Peace-
Part 2 to Follow