Disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by The Ooze Viral Bloggers.
David Rudel’s “The Gospel You’ve Never Heard” is a challenging assault on evangelical Christianity’s modern presentation of the Gospel. The book is subtitled “What a Protestant Bible written by Jews says about God’s work through Christ” — which is a fair way of describing Rudel’s primary thesis: our understanding of the Gospel revealed through Christ in Scripture is contextual and interpretive. The front cover contains yet another subtitle: “A book for those in the church and those offended by it.” Finally, the jacket cover illustration shows a young lady with her arms folded in front of her and the phrase “Who really goes to hell?” scrawled in Sharpie across her hand. Before you even crack the cover, you have a pretty good idea of where Rudel is going.
Rudel’s primary objection to mainstream evangelical Christianity’s presentation of the Gospel is that it simply isn’t biblical. Rudel forces his readers to go rushing back to their New Testaments in an effort to validate what they’ve always believed (or been told to believe) about the Gospel. He claims that we’re guilty of reading Jesus too often through Paul, which results in an emphasis on total depravity as the hallmark of the human condition. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Paul says and we adopt this as our primary identity. Rudel makes a good point here; I believe we should hear Jesus on his own terms as he announces God’s Kingdom reign.
But many of Rudel’s conclusions will challenge and even upset most readers who consider themselves to be Christians. He claims that early belief in Jesus as Messiah had nothing to do with either His death or His resurrection (p17). He also repeatedly claims that we should differentiate between Jesus’ public teachings in the Gospels and his private interactions with the disciples. Such a reading neglects the literary nature of the Gospels as communally formative documents about Christ. Are we to accept that the earliest Christians somehow discounted the narrative portions of the Synoptics that make us privy to Christ’s “extra curricular” sessions with the disciples? Are these texts not meant for our “overhearing” that we might grow as disciples, too?
Rudel seems to base a great many of his conclusions on a close reading of the Synoptic Gospels, specifically the Gospel of Mark. Rudel acknowledges this hermenuetic approach, but it is one of the shortcomings of his text. Rudel prefers to focus on the Gospel accounts in his search for the “real” Gospel — which is fine, except that he fails to give many other New Testament texts (John’s Gospel, Paul’s letters, etc.) a fair reading. In fact, very little is made of John’s Gospel, which is somewhat surprising given Rudel’s preference for Gospel over epistle. When he does turn his attention to John, his treatment of the text is poor, even lazy in places. (See his rushed discussion of John 3.16, pp.26-27.) It seems Rudel may be guilty of the same kind of interpretive construct he accuses evangelicals of propagating.
On the positive side, Rudel’s attention to detail is commendable. He also approaches this work with great respect for the authority of Scripture, something that will appeal to his audience even if they disagree with his ultimate conclusion.