Bible/Theology

The Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel

June 23, 2014

applesAt 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?

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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14 Comments

  • Reply subversivite June 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Well said! Great analogy. I’ll have the whole apple please :-). I think that as Christians we can restrict our thinking to ‘If I believe, my soul is saved and I will go to heaven when I die’. Tom Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, really opened my eyes to the wider hope in the Bible: all of creation redeemed and us living out eternity in community on a renewed earth, at peace with God, each other, creation and ourselves. That hope is far more motivating in mission than an ethereal and slightly boring vision of disembodied souls spending eternity in heaven.

  • Reply contemplativeactivist June 24, 2014 at 8:20 am

    I find thai Kerygma is one of those forever conversations that circulates like a plane in fog, unable to make a suitable landing. So I guess like a diamond it is somewhat dependent upon the angle one gazes from and the character of the light reflected. Always a substantive reality – there is the permanence of the diamond itself – yet seen in many different ways.

    So for me as I meditate upon the Kerygma it is a meditation that carries me to consider the substance and the content of the Good news, Jesus Christ. I might then reflect upon Christ’s capacity to arouse faith within each and every individual regardless of circumstance. Perhaps I might then consider how this Jesus is in fact the sum total and specific response to every enquiry concerning faith. Before exploring the practice of Christian living out of odedience to Christ’s command to ‘Follow Me’. It is then I might pause to worship the blessed sacrament, redolent with the meaning and the presence of Christ, which in turn reminds me of my place within the ecclesial family – I’m not alone but one small member of a global family expressed locally in my neighbourhood. This provokes me to take seriously my responsibility to witness to this missonal message of salvation and hope for all, through engaging in the missional mandate. Time to move from meditation to engagement, and what greater work than to communicate the Gospel for all, to all.

    Now that provides me with a very fruitful journey, with a constructive and creative outcome.

    Thanks, Ruth, for provoking so stimulating a meditation and potent reminder of the foundational basis for following Christ: Mission.

  • Reply Richard Hall June 24, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Hi Ruth Thank you – this was so good and thought provoking I have shared it with the preaching team at Emmanuel Northwood. Richard

    • Reply ruthvalerio June 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

      great! I hope it’s helpful for them. All the best.

  • Reply mattcurrey June 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Reblogged this on matt's musings and commented:
    Great blog from Ruth Valerio

  • Reply Júlio Reis June 24, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    From an Evangelical perspective, I would revert (hopefully not subvert) your metaphor: ‘Personal salvation’ is the apple’s flesh, the Kingdom of God is the core.

    Many people arrive at the gospel with a ‘what’s in it for me’ perspective, much like a bird pecking at the apple—they want to be fed, their deepest needs fulfilled, their life set in order. And so it is, the gospel-apple is that too, it does have flesh. Good news: my sins forgiven, my identity remade in Christ’s likeness, myself healed, my relationships restored, my life given a meaning… all part of an ancient plan that was so precious to God that he would hold nothing back to give that to me. I cannot explain my gratitude. So, I eat the apple, and I am very, very glad.

    But the apple is not just flesh; in fact, the flesh exists for the core with its seeds. The life the apple gives is not just nourishment for the bird feeding on it, but actually to produce new apple trees—life multiplied! So, after some bites at the flesh, I find the seeds, and what do I do? Maybe I toss them aside, because ‘there’s nothing in it for me’; or maybe God will grant me the wisdom to see that it was all about the seeds after all, and I will sow them and it will be my turn to nourish the trees.

    That has been my personal journey.

    • Reply ruthvalerio June 25, 2014 at 8:12 am

      nice thoughs, Julio, thank you. I like the idea of the Kingdom being the core.

  • Reply simoncross June 25, 2014 at 6:55 am

    The gospel is Jesus – IMO.

  • Reply Joanna Dobson June 25, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Thanks very much for this, Ruth. I am using it as the basis for a communion service I am leading this evening.

    • Reply ruthvalerio June 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

      ah that’s nice to know, thank you

  • Reply thatstorygirl July 4, 2014 at 8:55 am

    This – he brings about peace and reconciliation; a restoration of our relationships, with God centrally, but then also with other people, within ourselves, and peace for the whole wider creation.
    Brilliant – and very reassuring that wise leaders in our Kingdom community are sharing what the Gospel truly is – I hear too often the lie that it is “tough love”, harsh reality and leaving the past behind. Reconciliation and Restoration at the heart, head and feet of the Kingdom.
    Thanks for Sharing.

    • Reply ruthvalerio July 4, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Thanks, glad this has resonated with you

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