There’s more than one gospel.
Yesterday I listened to one of my most revered professors from seminary give a talk on the mission of the church in which he implored church leaders to shape congregations who live the gospel before a watching world. It’s pure Newbigin, and the kind of thing this professor has been saying for decades. It’s really hard to disagree with.
But I’ve come up against a problem since I sat at the professor’s feet 10 years ago. “The” gospel doesn’t exist. Even in the New Testament, “the” gospel means more than one thing:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the [gospel] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son . . .” (Romans 1)
The gospel is the good news that Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of God has come near!” (Mark 1).
The gospel is the good news proclaimed about Jesus: “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1).
Many today urgently proclaim gospel to men and women with the aim of compelling faith, some variation of “Jesus died for your sins and you have reconciliation with God. Believe the good news and be saved.”
Many today urgently proclaim gospel to the church to compel a change of course. Last week a speaker at a national conference told the audience that “The gospel is at stake” in the church’s stance on marriage equality. Countless opponents have asserted the same thing while urging the opposite outcome.
It seems to me that step 1 in shaping a community to “live the gospel” is getting clear which one we’re talking about.