The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing But the Gospel

November 4, 2018

At a gathering I was involved with recently, one of the topics most under discussion was that old chestnut, ‘what is the Gospel?’ To help us with our deliberations we looked at some papers by a prominent church leader, author and speaker (I won’t say who it was because I don’t think the papers were truly representative of his thinking, so to give his name doesn’t seem fair). I was then one of the people asked to give a response to the papers.

This chap’s view of the Gospel was easily described as (to use his own words), ‘you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because of the substitutionary work of Christ alone’.

So is this the Gospel? ‘No’, I said in my response, ‘it is not. It’s a key part of the Gospel. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that it is the core of the Gospel. But it isn’t the whole Gospel, and therefore – in and of itself – it is not the Gospel’. For someone who professes to hold a very high view of Scripture (elsewhere he uses the word infallible), it actually strikes me as a remarkably unbiblical view of the Gospel since it misses out so much of the Bible.

To me it is like an apple. The definition of the Gospel given above is the apple’s core, but there is so much more to an apple than the core alone, and if that is all you eat it will give you something, but ultimately will leave you undernourished. You might not realise it if you have only ever eaten the core, but you will be missing out on the delights of a whole apple!

So what juicy goodness are we missing out on if we focus only on the core, as important as that is (and I hope it hardly need be said that an apple without the core also isn’t a complete apple)?

Well, Leon Morris might want to say that Romans 3:21-26 is, ‘possibly the single most important paragraph every written’,[1] but I would like to suggest that a close rival would be Colossians 1:15-20, particularly in its assertion that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for all things (ie including but not just people).

To my mind, an understanding of the Gospel is deficient unless it is rooted in a strong understanding of the Kingdom of God. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching at a Theology School on the theme of peace. I looked at the angels’ announcement to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus that, ‘There is glory for God in highest heaven, and on earth there is peace among the people whom God has favoured’ (Luke 2:14, translation from The Word Biblical Commentary), and at Peter’s conversation with Cornelius about, ‘the good news (= gospel) of peace through Jesus Christ’ (Acts 10:36).

This message of peace was a fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes for the time when God would come and reign fully amongst his people, bringing in a new, earthy era of love, justice, righteousness and peace (eg. Isaiah 32:16-18; Psalm 85:10-13). As the Old Testament scholar Chris Wright has said, ‘God’s purpose was not to invent a production line for righteous individuals, but to create a new community of people who in their social life would embody those qualities of righteousness, peace, justice and love that reflect God’s own character and were God’s original purpose for humanity’.[2] An integral part of that social life is that it would be lived out within the wider community of creation that then responds appropriately (eg. Isaiah 55:12-13; Isaiah 11:6-9).

So Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament’s hopes and this is what the Gospel is all about.

The GOOD NEWS is that, in him, he brings about peace and reconciliation; a restoration of our relationships, with God centrally (2 Corinthians 5: 18-21; Philippians 4:7), but then also with other people (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 2:14-17), within ourselves (Romans 15:13; Thessalonians 3:16), and peace for the whole wider creation (Colossians 1:15-22; Romans 8:19-23).[3] Don’t we need that so desperately today? (The Introduction to Just Living: Faith and community in an age of consumerism, will give you much more on this.)

So when we think about the Gospel and about what it means to live it out and proclaim it – through the way we live, the things we do, and the words we speak – let’s not settle for something that will give us an emaciated faith: yes I want the core, but I want the whole apple too!


[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 173.

[2] Chris Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP: 2004), 51.

[3] Out of a desire not to make this post too long, I have not considered what we see actually in Jesus’ life that relates to all of this, but there is much that we could look at there, for example the interplay between healing and salvation. Salvation is never a purely ‘spiritual’ thing.

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  • Reply Mike Hill November 4, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    There is nothing more lovely than a sweet and juicy ripe apple. The apple of the Kingdom seems rather unripe so far! Perhaps that explains why some people are not enthusiastic about Christianity and the Kingdom!
    H0wever, I love your analogy, and I love the gentle manner in which you have gladly included the ” core” which is narrowly loved by some, and removed by others before eating.
    May the Lord continue to bless you with such insight and the passion to share it by word and deed.

  • Reply Ruth November 5, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Thank you so much Mike, I appreciate you commenting.

  • Reply Bruce Edwards April 22, 2019 at 1:35 am

    Amen. I heard Tom Sine several years ago recounting a Rabbi friend explaining to him that the essence of ‘shalom’ as a greeting is to say; “May you live in anticipation of the day when God makes all things whole again.” True peace = wholeness, in all aspects of life/relationships; social, spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, economic… A few years after that I discovered that the same Greek word and its derivatives, sozo, is translated in the gospels and other parts of the NT as save/d, heal/ed, &/or made whole. So much more than an individual sin/forgiveness transaction, salvation is God making all things whole again. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. So much richer, deeper and inspiring as Good News than ‘believe this list of propositional truths about Jesus so that you go to heaven instead of hell when you die.’

    • Reply Ruth April 22, 2019 at 8:57 am

      Very nice Bruce, thank you – and yes, so right about sozo being translated in different ways, which really annoys me and shows just how much translators bring in their own biaseses! All the best to you.

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