I suggested that the gospel is like a brilliant diamond with the work of Jesus at the very core (1 Cor. 15:1-8). While acceptance of this might come in the form of the modern day “salvation prayer”, as I said earlier, the gospel is much more than forgiveness. It certainly includes this but it’s more than we ever thought and all that we hoped would be true.
The good news is that a Kingdom has arrived! The three writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke call this the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), meaning this good news is about the rule and reign of Messiah that the Jews were waiting for. In short, this is the good news… God’s effective reigning, His power and authority, are present in the lives of His people and around them. While this Kingdom will be fully realized at a future point, with the coming of Jesus, we have enough to instruct us and motivate us that God’s rule and reign is ultimate reality.
What can get confusing is that Jesus sometimes uses “Gospel of the Kingdom”, and sometimes, “Kingdom of Heaven”. As far as my study goes, there is no appreciable difference between the two. Jesus is announcing, turn back to God’s face for life as God created it, a life full of shalom, happiness, and salvation, is readily available to you. And if you don’t know what God’s face looks like, take a long hard look into the loving face of Jesus.
Further, we shouldn’t see any difference between the gospel as described in Kingdom terms and the gospel described in the disciple John’s terms. If you want a better treatment you can read Chris Green’s Power to Save (which includes the chapter written by Simon Gathercole). John rarely word “Kingdom” to describe the gospel. In fact, he doesn’t even use the word “gospel”. Rather, he describes this good news of the Kingdom as requiring personal transformation – you must be born again and “eternal life”. Both of these terms describe this now and future life that Kingdom language speaks about.
What difference does this make? The gospel is not just about getting forgiveness. It certainly includes that but it’s more. My deepest concern has been that we give people the idea that they pray a prayer “to get saved” and then get really busy living the Christian life. Or that somehow we are rescued by God’s grace (salvation) but then growth (sanctification) is what you do. If salvation is by grace through faith it seems to me that sanctification is by grace through faith as well (it might includes our participation but all growth is caused by God).
The gospel has a Kingdom element to it. The invitation of Jesus in all of our lives is to trust that what He brings with Him is a life connected to the deepest longings of our heart. It is the way of real, deep personal transformation and it tells us that we actually are heading somewhere in life (more on both of these later). And the way to receive this life is to acknowledge that you could never do this or achieve it on your own. It was Jesus’ work on your behalf that secured this very life for you. And so while the prayer can be useful in terms of helping people articulate what’s in their heart, it turns out that the gospel is more compelling than simply pray the prayer to be forgiven. What if the gospel were so simple a child could understand it and prayer is the simplest way to demonstrate acceptance? Yet, what if the gospel is more nuanced that we thought?
2 thoughts on “The Gospel Pt. 3”
Hi Jon! These posts are rich and I’ve enjoyed reading them.
Here’s what I’ve been wondering/thinking about:
Dallas Willard describes the gospel in kingdom language – it’s the good news of a life of intimacy and interaction with the God of the universe that is available NOW. He rightly sees the reductionist nature of many of our gospel presentations as being solely about having one’s sins forgiven and going to heaven when we die. He invites us to embrace a more robust understanding of the gospel that is more than forgiveness. This seems to make the connection between the gospel and discipleship more natural.
What would you see as the difference between how Willard understands the gospel as opposed to the gospel coalition folks? It seems like the GC folks tend towards an more forensic understanding of the gospel and guys like Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright (who’s works I admittedly have not read much of), and Dallas Willard are pushing back against this arguing for a broader understanding of the gospel, similar to what you are proposing here (Ihave you read McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Gospel?” Good food for thought),
I find myself somewhere in between…if we don’t continually bring people back to the Cross and the Spirit, they could end up on the treadmill of moral formation and turn into smug moralists or exhausted dropouts who can’t make the Christian life work on their own. At the same time, we are to participate or cooperate with what the Spirit is doing to transform us, so I want to encourage people to “train themselves to be godly (1 Tim 4). I want people to understand that the gospel is about trusting the person of Jesus, not simply trusting what he did….it’s about learning from him, growing in him, actually following him.
Hopefully I’m making sense here…I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this in some of your future posts.
Hope you and your family are doing well.
Thanks for the great thoughts Brian! Yes. I think what has happened is that there has been a bit of push back in how we understand the gospel and share it. Here’s my take on it. I do agree with Keller, Carson, Willard, McKnight, and Wright that we need a more comprehensive gospel. It’s not that we were wrong with a “praying the prayer” but it leaves people with the idea that the way they get in is not the way they keep moving forward. So for many good news is simply “getting saved” and then it’s getting on the treadmill, as you put it. I too am concerned with moral formation.
There is no reason that Kingdom language to describe the gospel excludes forensic justification. How one enters the Kingdom is imputation by grace through faith. Imputation is clearly taught in 2 Cor. 5:21. There is something that Jesus does on the cross to assume my moral inability to keep the Law while at the same time imputing to me a right standing with God that is alien to me. Where the discussion starts is by what method God did this. So there are theories of atonement that abound (I happen to believe that one is correct). But simply because there are multiple theories of atonement does not mean automatically exclude forensic justification.
As I’m suggesting, I think the gospel is more multi-faceted and robust than we ever imagined. I’m in agreement with many of my reformed brothers and sisters that there was a legal declaration of righteousness based on the work of Messiah on the cross. It was in my place and it is credited to me with no demand for reciprocity. This seems to be consistent with the book of John that describes the gospel in terms of the new birth (and less language about the Kingdom)
And there is an element of the gospel (the announcement of good news) that the Kingdom of God has arrived. The rule and reign of God is presently available to those who place their trust in Christ’s work on their behalf. This Kingdom is not only for the here and now but it will be available in full when He returns. This is consistent with the book of Matthew, Mark and Luke that frame the gospel in terms of the Kingdom. In that sense I agree with Willard and others.
But any gospel that focuses on one at the exclusion of the other aspects is not as robust as it could be. One does not naturally exclude the other. This is why the gospel is something that is easily understood by a child but we will spend the rest of our lives working at understanding it’s complexity, profundity, and depth. In that sense we never get over the gospel and this keeps us from moral formation. The gospel continues to work in us as we are continually reminded that we didn’t save ourselves nor do we grow ourselves. I hope this causes more discussion and thought!