What Does It Mean to Proclaim the Gospel? (Part 2)
Defining the gospel is all about where you start. If you start with Paul’s letters and ways of thinking, and try to fit Jesus’s words and ways of thinking into Paul’s, your understanding of the gospel will have a distinctively “Paulish” flavor to it. On the other hand, if you start with Jesus’s ways of thinking, and try to fit Paul’s ways of thinking into Jesus’s, your understanding of the gospel may have an entirely different flavor to it. An important question, then, is: How can we proclaim the gospel in a way that reflects all of Scripture—not just our favorite parts?
“For many people, ‘the gospel’ has shrunk right down to a statement about Jesus’ death and its meaning, and a prayer with which people accept it. That matters, the way the rotor blades of a helicopter matter. You won’t get off the ground without them. But rotor blades alone don’t make a helicopter. And a microcosmic theory of atonement and faith don’t, by themselves, make up ‘the gospel.’”
Many of us have mistaken the “Plan of Salvation” for “the gospel.” The gospel includes the plan of salvation, but the gospel is bigger than the plan of salvation. In other words, the gospel ≠ the plan of salvation.
Implication: We cannot claim to be gospel-proclaiming people if we consistently only proclaim the plan of salvation while leaving out much of what Scripture means by the gospel.
Implication: “Your system is perfectly designed to yield the result you are getting.” The condensed version of the gospel (“the plan of salvation”) that we often share with people is so focused on a “making a decision” that it may unintentionally help people “feel saved” without calling them to be subjects of God’s kingdom—disciples of Jesus. This may be part of the reason we see so many “unconverted Christians” in our culture.
Some Clarifying Thoughts (related to the “Group Reflection Questions” from last week)
As an early follower of Jesus, what would you have understood that Jesus meant by “the good news”?…
1. The gospel begins with Jesus’ proclamation about the arriving Kingdom. Jesus’s first followers would have understood the gospel to be less about personal salvation and more about the salvation of the people of God as a whole (Mark 1:1; Matt. 4:17, 23; 9:35; 24:14; see also Isa. 9:1-7).
2. The gospel has a broader definition of “salvation” than personal forgiveness and rescue from Hell. Personal forgiveness, justification, ransom, etc., is a personal and individual aspect of God’s greater salvation (cf. Exod. 14:13; 1 Sam. 19:5; Hab. 3:13-15; Phil. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:5; 2:2; see also Luke 4:17-19).
3. The gospel is about God’s plan for the recreation of the world. The role of God’s people is to be citizens of the new creation within the old creation (“outposts in time”) and heralds of his Kingdom (“gospelers”). (Acts 28:30-31; Rom. 8:19-25 Matt. 5:3, 5, 10; 13-16; Phil. 2:14-16; 3:20)
4. “Believing the gospel” always entails becoming a disciple of Jesus and subject of the Kingdom—never merely personal salvation. One of the reasons we see so many “unconverted Christians” in our culture is because personal salvation has so often been offered apart from the gospel. So people think they can receive personal salvation without truly becoming a disciple of Jesus. (Matt. 10:38-39; Matt. 16:24-26) Mark 1:15: “‘The time has come!’ he said; ‘God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn and believe this good news!’” Repentance isn’t mainly a matter of morality; It’s a matter of allegiance (to God’s Kingdom).
An example of an expression of the gospel (trying to avoid “churchy/theological” language):
God is the rightful and sovereign king of the world. But his sovereignty has always been disputed by human beings—including you and me. We have all rebelled against his sovereignty because we each thought we would make a better king than him. We each thought we knew best about what was best for ourselves and for the world. So God gave us over to what we wanted. He let us be our own kings for a time. But the result of humanity’s attempt at self-rule has been a disaster. Hunger, famine, poverty, corruption, war, sadness, lack of fulfillment, a sense of meaninglessness in life, broken relationships—with God and with each other, discord, disease, death….
But God loves his creation and was not willing to let it destroy itself. So he launched a rescue plan. He entered the world in human flesh as Jesus. Jesus is the rightful King over all creation, and in his lifetime he launched the Kingdom of God anew on earth—a kingdom of love and justice and blessing and peace and beauty. He died for his people, and in his death he absorbed his people’s sin and guilt and shame and rebellion so that they could be reconciled to the One they rebelled against and become part of his new Kingdom—anyone who commits their life to following Jesus as a subject of his kingdom. His kingdom will one day flood the whole world as God rules over all the earth in love, justice and peace.
In the meantime, his kingdom people live as “outposts in time.” We live the life of the new creation right here in the middle of the old creation. We proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom of love and justice is both here and is arriving. We invite people to lay down their rebellion against God and be reconciled to him by choosing to follow Jesus as their true and only king. And we wait for the return of the King to finish what he began and make a heaven of this world.
An example of a brief expression of the gospel:
We’ve all tried to be the king of our own life. We all thought we knew better than God. And our lives and our world have fallen apart because of it. But the good news is that Jesus, the one true King, came to save us from ourselves. He took the penalties and consequences of our rebellion on himself and died in our place so that our relationship with God could be restored, and we could become part of his kingdom project—a kingdom of love and truth that will spread throughout the whole world. This is what happens when we choose to believe that Jesus is the one true king of our world and of our lives, and then live out that belief. Would you commit your life to following Jesus?
 Wright, “Forward” in McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, 13.
 Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 75.