Posted by: Joel | December 27, 2008

The Gospel

So I have been looking and praying for a first sermon text. One that has weighed heavily on me is Romans 1.16-17. The challenging thing for me is that this short, powerful text contains two themes that I am unsure about due to debates going on in the scholarly world: what Paul (and others) mean by ‘the gospel’ and what  he means by ‘the righteousness of God’. If this ends up being my sermon text, then this affords me a great opportunity to wrestle with this and search the Scriptures in a very pointed and in-depth way. And it doesn’t seem to help my faithfulness a whole lot when basic concepts such as these are hanging in possible directions. 

First: gospel. The church tradition I was raised in sees the gospel as (a Lutheran understanding of)  justification by faith: “We are sinners but Jesus took the punishment for our sin so that we can be righteous before God, and he will make all things new as well”. An author I have become very interested in (and tend naturally to trust ), N. T. Wright, sees the gospel as “Jesus is Lord and God has raised him from the dead” in Christus Victor fashion. He likes to quote that ‘we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith.” I am currently reading a book by George Eldon Ladd that takes another angle: The gospel of the kingdom. 

In a cursory flip through the New Testament it seemed that at different times the word refers to all three. At first this was frustrating and confusing, but then I realized that it doesn’t have to be. Maybe the ‘gospel’ encapsulates all three of these concepts. But I am still seeking to determine whether there is one entry point that is foundational, or rather that serves to encompass all others in its branches. Is this the gospel of the kingdom? This one seems the most likely entry point and foundation to me because, as far as I can see, Jesus’ whole ministry was framed in terms of the kingdom of God, the spread of the church in Acts is framed in terms of the kingdom of God (especially the mention of it in the first and last chapters which seem to form an inclusio for the whole book), Revelation seems to be primarily about the cosmic battle between good and evil which will end with the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdom of our God and his Christ, and all of the New Testament epistles seem to rely on the kingship/lordship of Christ either implicitly or explicitly in their teachings and as the foundation for their faith and hope.

If I am to preach that we are not to be ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation, then I need to be able to tell people what it is that they are not to be ashamed of and what it is that holds so much power for salvation. And it would really help me as well!

If anybody has any helpful thoughts on this I would appreciate them!

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Responses

  1. […] Is this the gospel of the kingdom ? This one seems the most likely entry point and foundation to me because, as far as I can see, Jesus’ whole ministry was framed in terms of the kingdom of God, the spread of the church in Acts is framed …[Continue Reading] […]

  2. Joel, I am excited to hear that you will be preaching. As this is your first, you will find it a dramatically rewarding yet humbling experience. I will be praying for you.

    I like that you are wrestling with this. I have a few thoughts on this.

    First, I too grew up with the gospel being justification by faith. While I think this is certainly part of it, I don’t think it should be the fundamental part of it. My concern here is that it radically individualizes the gospel. We conceive of salvation and redemption as our (singular) salvation. While we, as individual children of God, certainly are given the gift of that salvation personally, I think this has become overemphasized in our modern evangelical circles. This leads to, in my opinion (and to some degree, experience), a reversal of what redemption is. It becomes us turning to God and putting our faith in him, instead of God condescending and giving us faith.

    I personally sympathize with Ladd’s view most. I know you have read Ridderbos, and you find the same thing there. The gospel is focused on the redemptive reign of God over his people through his kingdom. Incidentally, I think Wright’s view would fit inside of this then—Jesus is Lord, ruler of his kingdom, and God raised him from the dead, a sign and seal of his victorious rule over his creation.

    This, I think, is a much more holistic and full-orbed view of the gospel. In presenting the gospel in this way it necessitates a view towards the whole of redemptive history, God acting in history to gather his people, under his rule, and to bestow his blessing on them as they exist in covenant with him. When we individualize the gospel, we lose that emphasis. I certainly think it is important to understand ourselves as individual children of God, but always in the broader context of his family. That should be central.

    Anyway, maybe that’s something to chew on. When do you preach?

  3. Thanks for that comment, Jake. I am inclined to ‘amen’ everything you said. The thing that I find interesting is that in three places in the New Testament (that I know of) it explicitly says: If you believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead then you will be saved. Obviously God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ, proclamation and embodiment of the kingdom of God, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and enthronement, are all works of the grace of God taking the fate of covenant-breaking Israel (and thus the fate of the world) on himself and through his faithful fulfillment of Israel’s vocation to bring salvation to all nations.

    I have been coming to see the ‘individual salvation by grace through faith’ understanding of ‘the gospel’ as limited in scope. I am becoming more excited about the kingdom/lordship foundation of the gospel, from which the benefits (justification by faith, adoption, sanctification) flow.

    But the only thing that still remains is making sure that New Testament exegesis would sustain and encourage this reading. That is ultimately the test, I suppose.

  4. The quote I posted on my blog draws attention to all of this to some degree. It’s a limited quote, but I encourage you to re-read that section in Ridderbos (pgs. 235ff., roughly). It’s a very helpful exposition of understanding salvation in the context of the kingdom and Christ’s role in all of that. I think he makes it very clear that the NT sustains that sort of understanding. Let me know what you think.


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