What is the Gospel? It’s an interesting question answered a variety of ways. My favorite answer, borrowed from historian John Dickson, is that the Gospel is the Gospel. That is, it’s the contents of the first four books of the New Testament (one Gospel found in four books) – that’s why they’re called “the Gospel.” Simple, right? Actually, yes. However, it can still be confusing. Here are a few things to consider (most borrowed from Fee, Dickson, Wright, and others – it all starts to blend together so it can be hard to cite).
Gospel Usage: Before we get to what the Gospel is, it’s helpful to know how Gospel was used and thus heard. Gospel is a media term. That is, it’s used to announce something good (e.g., the Good News), or something grand – big. Dickson uses the term, “New Flash.” We might use the term Breaking News. Gospel would have been heard as Breaking News, This Just In…etc. It was often used for state announcements, military victories, and things of that nature. In the Jewish context, Jesus draws on the Isaiahnic tradition (e.g., Isaiah 61 – The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor). In short, Jesus announces the Reign of God – the Kingdom of God has come – thus, the Good News – God has come to put things right – including us.
Theme – Kingdom: You can’t understand Jesus of Nazareth without the massive Kingdom theme found in the New Testament – it’s everywhere; the Beatitudes, Lord’s prayer, Gospel summaries (e.g., Mark 1:15 – The time has come. The Kingdom of God is at hand…). The kingdom of God (the Reign of God) is what Jesus ushered in. It’s even in his title – Jesus the Christ. Christ is the anointed one, the Messiah, the Son of God, the King. King of what? King of the Kingdom! Although, we discover, as those in the first century did, it’s a very different kingdom.
Framework – Eschatology: Eschatology, or Eschaton is the end times – the last days. So when Jesus says, “The time has come…,” this is a temporal term not geographical. That is, the moment (the time) the world had been waiting for – God to take action – to take control – to fulfill his promises – to bring His Kingdom – has come in the person of Jesus. This is called Inaugural Eschatology. As Christians, we’re to be busy working for the Kingdom in between the times (see chart below). We live with abounding hope through Jesus Christ – who overcame the world (the present age that is passing away), as well as death – the ultimate enemy. You can get a taste of Kingdom living in the Beatitudes and teachings from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel – see Chap 5-9.
Theology – Salvation in Christ: From the earliest creeds, Jesus’ mission was to put the world right, and that includes putting us right. Thus he has to address our sin – we’re full of it – rebellion towards our maker, struggling to determine our own right and wrong. This is why Paul passes on the creed that was passed on to him – that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor 15).
Gospel Content: As mentioned above, the Gospel is the contents of the four Gospels. However, it can be summarized a variety of ways. For example, Paul frames the Gospel between two poles – “Descended from David” and “Risen From the Dead.” This can also be stated as the promised messiah, ascended to the father. Or, the guy we’ve been waiting for, now reigns forever. In between these two poles is the life, teachings, deed, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the Gospel.
The point here, is that the whole gospel is a large narrative, complete with a massive back story and an unfolding story in our midst. We live, full of hope, in between the time of Jesus’ Kingdom Inauguration and its final consummation. Dickson notes that many of our problems in evangelical Christianity may be “speedy gospels.” That is, we may try to tell a story or two about Jesus, or perhaps cite some doctrine, thinking we’ve shared the Gospel. However, the Gospel always combines narrative and theology. It tells the story, plus the meaning and/or significance of it. It takes time.
If I was to tell you that Jesus healed lepers, that would be an interesting detail of the Gospel – but it’s not a Gospel presentation. If I was to add that Jesus was full of compassion and that he restored the leper back to his community, I’ve simply fleshed out the narrative a bit. If I go on show you how Jesus’ miracles were yet another sign that the time of God’s reign has come – that he, and His Church (called out ones), preach the good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and heal every disease and sickness, well now we’re getting to some Good News – the Gospel
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson