Category Archives: The Gospel
At the heart of the gospel message (in the Old and New Testaments) is the idea of God’s rule as king, in other words, his kingdom. When the first Christians proclaimed this gospel of the kingdom, they were not copying the “gospel” of the Roman kingdom; they were exposing it as a fraud. It was God, not any human king, who ruled over all. This is the central theme of the Christian gospel…
What is the single most important idea driving our mission to the world?…The answer has to do with monotheism (one God) or, more correctly, Christological monotheism- the lordship of the one true God through his Messiah…To put it in simple and practical terms, the goal of gospel preaching-and of gospel promoting- is to help our neighbors realize and submit to God’s kingship or lordship over their lives.
[However] the Christian gospel does not just announce the concept “God reigns”; it outlines exactly how that reign has been revealed to the world…the core content of the gospel is the work of God’s anointed king, Jesus. Through his birth, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection God’s kingdom has been manifest (and will be consummated upon his return). Telling the “gospel”, then, involves recounting the deeds of Messiah Jesus.
-John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips, 114-115.
The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon , and even for the covenant God, Yahweh put. In other words, Jesus is King and reigns over all.
But merely stating that Jesus is King is an insufficient representation of the gospel if we do not point out how he has shown his kingly power in giving himself up for our sins and being raised by God for our acquittal. The gospel is a royal announcement that God has become king in Jesus Christ and has expressed his saving sovereignty through the death and resurrection of the Son, which atones, justifies and reconciles. There is no gospel without the heralding of the king, and there is no gospel without atonement and resurrection.
-Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
At cliché as it sounds, looks like the gospel really is about Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This past week the Gospel Coalition posted a discussion with Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, and John Piper on whether Paul preached the gospel. Here’s the video:
I love Piper, Carson, and Keller dearly. Their insights (both in sermons, lectures, and books) have been a great influence on me. Much of what is said here is helpful and edifying. Yet, I am uneasy with Piper’s approach here. I think it’s too susceptible to the kind of criticism of N. T. Wright or Scot McKnight that this is an individualistic message. Both Wright (in What Saint Paul Really Said, and other works) and McKnight (in The King Jesus Gospel) claim that an approach like the one here presented by Piper
- downplays or ignores the Old Testament story of Israel (Piper is especially guilty of this), and
- functionally elevates the Pauline corpus into a canon within a canon, making Paul the cipher through which we interpret the Gospels.
I think these charges are worth considering (even if, at times, they are overstated). I would humbly add 1 more criticism to Piper’s approach
3. a lack of redemptive-historical emphasis.
That is to say, Piper focuses more on, in John Murray’s terms, the “gospel applied” (ordo salutis) than the “gospel accomplished” (historia salutis).
Here are some excellent discussions that basically land where I do.
As Carson pointed out, Paul does preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (ex: Acts 28:31). Likewise, as Piper correctly noted, the emphasis for Paul on kingdom gets centered on the reign of the king, king Jesus. The differences usually set forth are overblown (more blow). But there is a difference. Jesus doesn’t need to teach double-imputation (a doctrine I embrace) in order to “preach the gospel.” Jesus is the gospel. The Gospels are called the Gospels for a reason. Jonathan Pennington of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary makes this point wonderfully here:
As I understand the Bible the theme uniting Jesus and Paul is eschatology. Both proclaim (in their unique way, historical circumstances, and wording) that in Jesus YHWH is now at work to redeem Israel and hence the world. Jesus is the messianic embodiment of YHWH’s return to make good on his promises (albeit in surprising ways), and Paul is the messianic herald, explaining and proclaiming how Jesus fulfilled Israel’s story and how the Messiah’s victory is applied to those united to him by faith. Jesus taught the inauguration of the kingdom in his own prophetic message and messianic actions. Paul reflects back upon the accomplishment of king Jesus and applies that to the various issues of his (largely Gentile) church plants.
Let’s quickly return to my [added] third critique of Piper’s approach, his lack of a redemptive-historical emphasis (especially the kind championed by Richard Gaffin, G.K. Beale, Thomas Schreiner, and others). N. T. Wright states the redemptive-historical
It should be clear from all this that if Paul had simply trotted out, parrot-fashion, every line of Jesus’ teaching – if he had repeated the parables, if he had tried to do again what Jesus did in announcing and inaugurating the kingdom – he would not have been endorsing Jesus, as an appropriate and loyal follower should. He would have been denying him. Someone who copies exactly what a would-be Messiah does is himself trying to be a Messiah; which means denying the earlier claim. When we see the entire sequence within the context of Jewish eschatology, we are forced to realized that for Paul to be a loyal ‘servant of Jesus Christ’, as he describes himself, could never mean that Paul would repeat Jesus’ unique, one-off announcement of the kingdom to his fellow Jews. What we are looking for is not a parallelism between two abstract messages. It is the appropriate continuity between two people living, and conscious of living, at different points in the eschatological timetable. (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 180-181)
PS: Here’s the article Keller-recommended by Simon Gathercole on ”The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom” from the book God’s Power to Save.
PPS: I’ve taken my swing at defining the gospel in light of the whole drama of Scripture here and especially here. My approach there still leans in direction of an individual application. This is fine, but I recognize I could have done more to incorporate the Old Testament and the Gospels. I hope to do that in a future post.
Here’s is one of N. T. Wright’s most exciting claims in his work How God Became King:
The equivalent sayings and Mark and Luke simply highlight the coming of the kingdom itself, with Mark adding “in power”:
“Some people standing here won’t experience death before they see God’s kingdom come in power.” (Mark 9:1)
“There some standing here who won’t experience death until they see God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:27)
These parallel versus, in the intention of all three evangelists, are best read as indicating a kingdom fulfillment that day, the authors of the gospels in question, believe had already come to pass in the death and resurrection of Jesus…The best hypothesis is that all four gospel writers believed that with his crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth had indeed been enthroned, however paradoxically, as Israel’s Messiah and that, with that event, Israel’s God had established his kingdom on earth as in heaven.
They believed this, of course, because of Jesus’s resurrection…
Here’s a great summary of the redemptive story of Scripture put together by The Gospel Project.
Anything like this that encourages Christians to grasp the entire Bible as one, complex, but nevertheless united, story is much needed. Pass it on!
For some of my own recommendations on books that tie together both Testaments, see here.
N. T. Wright, in his latest work How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, on the deity of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the cross:
It is possible to state the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity in such a way as to let it float loose from both kingdom and cross, but this is what the New Testament never does. The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the other sheep in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s the launch of the kingdom – God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven – is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.
How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah.
Another great quote from Wright:
… the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord. … The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being ‘left behind’), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.
~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
(HT: Creedal Christian)
Russell Moore on the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption:
The kingship of Israel, with its Davidic line, is…presented in terms of a Spirit-anointed king charged with subduing and defeating the enemies of the people of God (1 Sam. 8:19-20). Indeed, the removal of the Israelite kingship from Saul takes place precisely because Saul refuses to destroy utterly the enemies of Yahweh (1 Samuel 15), resulting in the loss of Saul’s monarchy and the anointing of the Spirit of God, both transferred instead to the house of David (1 Sam. 16:1-3, 12-14). Indeed, as soon as David receives the anointing of oil by the prophet Samuel, he is anointed with the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13), and immediately David as the “anointed one” leads the nation in the defeat of the Philistine attackers (1 Sam. 17:20-58), an activity that Saul recognizes as inherently kingly (1 Sam. 18:6-9). The definition of Jesus’ messianic identity as the “anointed one,” the bearer of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19), is therefore set within this context of the anointed warrior-king.
This means that, contra dispensationalist traditionalism, there is no dichotomy between the “offer of the Kingdom” and the “forgiveness of sins,” as though the forgiveness of sins can be anything other than a Kingdom act. Instead, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, messianic salvation is defined in terms of Jesus’ promised Davidic kingship (1:32-33); the forgiveness of sins (1:50, 72, 77); the defeat of all enemies (1:51, 71); the crushing of political pretenders-to-the-throne (1:52); the provision of material blessings (1:53); the covenant restoration of national promises to Israel (1:54-55); the redemption of the Gentile nations (1:79; 2:32); and the monarchial anointing of the Spirit (4:18). In Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, salvation is a Kingdom activity whereby the Second Adam, the Son of David, displays His anointing by God and His faithful obedience to His mandate as King by protecting the created order, crushing the head of the ultimate enemy of the Kingdom, the Serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9). The dispensing of the Spirit on those united to Him in faith is possible only because of union with the messianic King who is declared to be the Son of God (Gal. 4:4-7). It is this Christocentric focus of salvation that ties the salvation of human beings to the motif of the Kingdom of God and to the broader aspects of cosmic salvation. The defeat of Satan by the man Christ Jesus is pictured by the apostle John as the establishment of the Kingdom (Rev. 12:10; also John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1-8). Thus, salvation is portrayed in the New Testament as more than simply the salvation of so many individual souls. Redemption is the transfer from the satanic kingdom to the eschatological Kingdom that God the Father has prepared for His Messiah (Col. 1:13), a transfer that is by definition a violent act of subduing “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, NIV) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-7).”
- Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
It has often been thought the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement is incompatible with the traditional Protestant model of penal substitutionary atonement. The former teaches that in the atonement Christ defeats death and Satan, leaving Jesus the Messiah as the triumphant champion of his people. The latter teaches that on the cross Jesus took the penalty (‘penal’) of God’s wrath on behalf of his people (‘substitution’). There’s been a long history of theologians playing these two approaches off against one another, especially over the last century. In my view, this is unfortunate because both are clearly presented in Scripture and work together in tandem. Here Russell Moore shows why:
The historic Protestant understanding of the cross as essentially propitiatory and substitutionary ironically serves as the only way to make sense of the cosmic implications of both redemption and the fall since, in both, the destiny of the created order is tied to the mandate given to the human vicegerents responsible for creation. Indeed, it is the only way to make sense of the “Christus Victor” model itself. Thus, the defeat of the powers of darkness in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus means that the ancient serpent is indeed defeated, but this defeat comes through reversing human slavery to sin and death (John 8:31-47; 12:31-33; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 2:14-15) by hearing the punishment due to a humanity justly accused by the satanic powers (Col. 2:14-15; Rev. 12:10-12), and thereby restoring humanity as king of the cosmos in the person of the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Heb. 2:5-18).
-Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
Sinclair Ferguson ties this all together quite well:
A comprehensively biblical exposition of the work of Christ recognizes that the atonement, which terminates on God (in propitiation) and on man (in forgiveness), also terminates on Satan (in the destruction of his sway over believers). And it does this last precisely because it does the first two.
-Sinclair Ferguson, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, 185.
For more on the atonement, see,
“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior. ”
In his Survey of the New Testament, Robert Gundry, traces out various fulfillment themes in the New Testament. As the old saying goes, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.”
Here is a summary of the main themes of both direct and indirect typological fulfillment in Matthew and the rest of the New Testament; Jesus fulfilled the activities of the Lord himself as described and predicted in the Old Testament (Matthew 1:21; 3:3-4 par[i], 11:5 par, 13:41; 24:31 par, 27:9-10). Jesus was the foretold messianic king (Matthew 1:23; 2:6, 23; 3:17 par.; 4:15-16; 21:5; 22:44 par; 26:64 par), the Isaianic Servant of the Lord (Matthew 3:17 par.; 11:5 par.; 12:18-21; 1 Peter 2:22-25), and the Danielic Son of Man (Matthew 24:30 par.; 26:64 par.; 28:18). He brought to a climax the line of the prophets (Matthew 12:39-40 par.; 13:13-15 par., 35; 17:5 par.; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18), the succession of righteous sufferer since the Old Testament times (Matthew 21:42 par.; 27:34-35 par., 39 par., 43 par., 46 par., 48 par.), and the Davidic dynasty (Matthew 12:42 par.). He reversed the work of Adam, who pluged the human race into sin (Matthew 4:1-11 par.; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49; Hebrews 2:5-9; compare Luke 3:38). He fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Since he was the ideal Israelite, his own personal history recapitulated the national history of Israel (Matthew 2:15, 18; 4:4, 7, 10 par.).
Christopher Wright Answers:
- It is historical and also ecclesial; that is it includes facts of history about Christ and the reality of a new humanity in Christ.
- It is faith and obedience.
- It is a message that must be heard and a life that must be seen.
- It is personal and cosmic.
- It is above all “the Gospel of God” – the grace of God, the promise of God, the faithfulness of God, the salvation of God, the son of God, the people of God, and the glory of God.
Under the heading “The gospel is truth to be defended” Christopher Wright explains the threatening nature of the gospel to those who reject it.
Good news can also be bad news for those who’s vested interests are threatened by it. There is, therefore, a battle to be fought to make sure that the truth of the gospel is preserved, clarified and defended against denials, distortions and betrayals.
- The fact of the gospel of Christ is for all people, and not just the privilege of one ethnic community, threatens those who stake their claim on belonging to the “right people”.
- The fact that the gospel is utterly the gift of God’s grace offends those who take pride in their own achievements.
- The fact that the gospel locates the glorious salvation of the living God in the person of one who’s lived in up security and died in excruciating shame is a laughingstock to those who want their salvation to come from a more reputable religious emporium.
- The fact that the gospel summons people to repentance and they radically changed personal and social ethic riles those who want the benefits of the gospel but resist its demands.
So there is a polemical dimension to the gospel. The gospel confronts things that contradict it or people who deny or reject it. It exists in explicit contrast and conflict with other worldviews and ultimate commitments that people have. So to be a servant of the gospel necessarily involves costly struggle and spiritual battle (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
For more see: