What is the Gospel – how I try to explain it now

Reading ‘The King Jesus Gospel‘ by Scot McKnight had moments of that bizarre experience of someone thinking your thoughts after you, then having the analytic insight to go deeper and find answers that are intuitively right but you hadn’t reached.

Though I posted a quote on the subject of ‘what is the gospel‘ just a few months ago, it was years ago (the start of 2008 to be precise) that I started an email conversation with a leader at our church on the exact question of ‘what is the gospel’ – asking (among other things) if Jesus preached the gospel. I think we concluded at the end that Luke wanted us to see the continuity between what Jesus did in the early chapters and what happened in Acts, right up to the last verse of the last chapter. But the relationship between what Jesus taught and what we find (for example) in the epistles and in Acts remained nebulous.

McKnight has thoroughly gone through each aspect of the ‘gospeling’ (yes, it is a verb, especially for Luke) of Paul, the four gospels, Jesus and Peter to make, as he puts it, a ‘four-legged chair’. He starts in 1 Corinthians 15, probably the earliest recorded gospel statement (as when 1 Corinthians was written Paul was only halfway through the missionary journeys that the second half of Acts describes and each of the gospels were written probably at least a decade later). McKnight draws out four themes that he then goes highlights in the rest of the gospeling of the New Testament. I summarised them like this for the housegroups at church:

The gospel message that the apostles preach is the story of Jesus – that’s why the early church called the first four books of the New Testament “the Gospel”. It’s the story of his life, death and resurrection, and it’s all wrapped up in the story of Israel, the Old Testament. We can’t understand the gospel without trying to understand what God had been doing since the start of human history through to the Kingdom of Israel and on towards the time that Jesus was born.

When that gospel is preached it requires a response, faith and repentance, aligning ourselves with what God is doing. Responding to the gospel means sharing in its benefits and effects – the saving and redeeming that God is doing in this world.

Now this sort of ‘narrative’ reading of the gospel works well for me, especially with some of the things that I have been reading and writing over the past year. If the gospel is Jesus as the pinnacle of God ‘s saving mission through Israel and now the Church, our response is not just to ‘accept Jesus into my heart’ (as if the gospel is all about me and that all God’s efforts from eternity have been about me!) but to start to put ourselves into the story.

We might choose to extend the story metaphor in two directions – we might be all journalistic, our response could be to report the story to others. I don’t think that goes far enough. As I’ve written before, as actors, we become part of the story, acting it out as a dramatic improvisation – and acting has to come with both words and ‘actions’. This in turn leads to the understanding that gospeling goes beyond seeking conversions, it is about making disciples and fills every part of a Christian’s life.

Trying to get this kind of idea across to church on Sunday I experimented with a different, more interactive, style of teaching. It seemed to go down well, with some very positive feedback from a wide cross-section of the church (including some who I wouldn’t have expected it from!) I’ll probably blog about the experience, but one thing to note now is that I at least have an idea where people missed the point of what I said! Anyway, the sermon audio and presentation on Prezi are available from the Canley website and you can also download the notes I wrote for the church housegroups – ‘Jesus is the good news!

This also adds to the post earlier in the week on discipling and mission.