What is the Gospel?

In one of my online communities today, someone asked about “what is the Gospel? How do you go about sharing it if it comes up in conversation?” The community is generally more liberal-leaning, so there aren’t exactly a lot of “street corner evangelist” types in it, but several people have come up with some interesting responses. Here is mine:

The Gospel is this: that God’s kingdom has broken into the world, and the time of fulfillment is here. God is re-creating the world and instituting God’s reign which is characterized by peace, love, healing, and the restoration of God’s image in broken people. This entails not only the forgiveness of individual “sins”, but also the process of healing people from the oppressive networks in which they are embedded that encourage sin, from the broken places in our own hearts to the broken social, political, and economic systems that exist in the world that contribute to the overall picture of brokenness. This kingdom is embodied and inaugurated by Jesus, the Jewish Messiah who lived in the 1st century CE, who institutes the kingdom not by conquering his enemies, but in being conquered by them and trusting that God will vindicate him (the Resurrection). Therefore the power of Christ’s love is shown to be superior to hatred, bloodshed, and evil.

Not only that, but God is inviting all people, everywhere, to turn around and move from lives embroiled in sin, conflict, and warfare into lives that are healed, whole, self-giving. In some wonderful, mystical way, people now have been invited to “enter into” Christ’s death and resurrection, being “translated out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of his beloved son” (Col. 1:13), to be a part of God’s people who are the visible sign and agent of this kingdom that is coming into the world, with the Spirit enabling us to grow more in faith, love, and hope. One day the true king of the world, Jesus, will return to finally, totally put all things right, but right now the things we do that are faithful and loving are somehow (again, mystically and wonderfully) being used as “building blocks” of a sort that God is using in the re-creation of the world. ALL areas of life are marked for redemption, including sexuality, creativity, social organization, culture, religion, and so on.

Of course, because the church is subject to the true king, Jesus, and to the re-creation of the world on God’s terms, she must (or at least SHOULD) reject ways of living that are not faithful to the life of Jesus who taught love for enemies, turning the other cheek, and carrying one’s cross. This will inevitably bring Christians into conflict with those who are steeped in worldly modes of selfishness, power games, and violence. The church must live according to mutual submission, not lording power over one another and the world; fellowship that breaks down social and economic barriers between sisters and brothers, not holding national affiliations, race, class, or other factors as signs of superiority; and service to the world that demonstrates God’s love for all people, not fighting culture wars or practicing in other ways that seek to set Christians up as some kind of ruling class (aka Christendom).

The end goal is no less than that which was originally intended at creation, that all of the created world would be enabled to participate in the divine life (one of my favorite images is of being drawn into the perichoresis, the eternal dance enjoyed by the Trinity from before the beginning of time).

It takes a little longer to express this than to say “Jesus died for your sins so you can go to heaven”, which is a modern fundamentalist caricature of the Gospel at best, but this definitely does more justice to the whole Biblical picture.

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One Response

  1. I gave it a crack..

    The gospel is an unfoldng story of redemption in unlikely places, wrought perpetually through the unlikely means of love, forgiveness, generosity and selflessness. It is the story, begun and completed by God, performing itself throughout the natural world, of how love never fails. Christ represents and embodies this subversive – yet supreme – love of God.

    Each of us has the opportunity to retell the story with our own life journey, but as Jesus said, “narrow is the way that leads to salvation” – to choose love over self requires us to override our daily drives, which incorporate both positive (looking after our family over others) and negative (fear) forms of self-interest. Self-ness is the opposite of Love. This is why trust in the truth of love (“faith”), is required. It’s not always easy to believe that generosity and hospitality in a world so needy will leave enough for ourselves. Nor is it easy to believe that putting others first (even those that victimise or manipulate those we love), practising peace (“shalom”) towards those who are violent, forgiving those who are habitual trespassers or reconciling with those we have wronged will make the world a more tolerable place for anyone – and yet Christ tells us to do so. This faith we are called to exercice is only sustainable if we practise a spirituality of connectedness with the God of redemptive grace, unrestrained hope and enduring love.

    So we seek to know this God of love, to consider God’s plans and awe at God’s mastery over history and space. We nurture the tiny traces of God-likeness in ourselves and through this consider ourselves in relationship with God. We direct our longings for redemption towards our God and envisage a time and place wherein love reigns supreme (some call this the “Kingdom of Heaven”, and see pockets of it in the here and now, some call it “Heaven” and long to be taken there when they die. Some do both). Christ tells us to practise rituals and build communities that are designed to represent and embody his Kingdom, and we call these “sacraments”, and “Church” – through these Christ is embodied (incarnated – “made flesh”) in humankind’s ever present realities.

    As Christ-followers, we share time and posessions and meals with other believers, and spur one another on in the practises or “fruits” of our spirituality – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. We understand God’s intention that the truth of love be extended to and shared with all of the created order – to every person, plant, animal and rock in the cosmos (and in each of these we see evidence of the divine nature if we pay atention), so we “Christians” are peacemakers, healers, believers, welcomers, encouragers, peacemakers.. whatever it takes to honour the truth of Love. In everything, we are wide eyed, outwardly-focussed, dancing, singing, hoping, listening, enduring, believing, cherishing, celebrating, reveling lovers!

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