What is the Gospel?
For too long, the Gospel has been reduced to a series of propositional doctrinal statements one must intellectually assent to in order to experience personal forgiveness of sin and receive the promise of going to some sort of ethereal, non-material, spiritual “heaven” after death. While it is impossible to ignore the implications of the Gospel on a personal level and it’s attendant benefits, this treatise is an attempt to recover a more holistic understanding of the Gospel in light of its corporate elements that have implications not only for eternity but also for the present reality of Christian existence.
Gospel Defined: The Gospel is the story of God’s activity in salvation history to reconcile creation to God as revealed in Scripture. From creation to the call of Abraham, from exodus to exile, from Christ to church to consummation, God has been at work in the course of human history to bring about salvation. Salvation occurs when the Gospel is both encountered and embodied in the life of the believing community.
The following core concepts contribute to this definition of Gospel:
- Identity: Imago Dei. Imago Dei is our communal identity. Scripture affirms that God created humanity in the image of God. The telos of creation is the establishment of a community to image the eternal, relational reality of the Creator God. Prior to creation, there was relationship. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit exist in an eternal relationship with one another, the essence of which is love. In creation, God seeks to establish a covenant community to image God in the cosmos and share in this eternal, loving relationship. This relationship is demonstrated in the biblical narrative in the intimacy Adam and Eve and God shared in the Garden of Eden. However, God grants to humanity the freedom to choose whether or not to enter into covenant relationship with God. Creation is a free, loving act of God and as God’s image bearers, we are free to act in similarly loving ways. The human condition is characterized in part by freedom: freedom to love or not to love; freedom to choose God or “not God”. Human free will is a necessity in the loving community God wills.
- Exile: Sin. Exile is our communal failure story. Scripture affirms that humanity willfully fails to image God in the created order. This failure, known as sin, constitutes the disruption of community and a violation of God’s covenantal desire for creation. Rather than choosing relationship with God, humanity chooses “not God”. This failure to image God corrupts the integrity of creation and the consequence of this corruption is a radical reorientation of the created order. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden into a world of their own creation, a world of toil, pain, suffering, and death. After shunning covenant with God, the human experience is characterized by exile and estrangement from the intention of the Creator God.
- Exodus: Jesus. Exodus is our communal redemption story. Scripture affirms that God is a faithful covenant partner whose love endures forever. Out of this great love, God wills to redeem God’s covenant community. In Jesus Christ, God works to liberate God’s covenant people out of exile and estrangement. Scripture affirms that the fully divine Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh in the person of a first-century Jewish peasant named Jesus of Nazareth. As a fully divine person, Jesus is the embodiment of God’s covenant faithfulness to God’s people. This is love: not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). As a fully human person, Jesus is the exemplar of human faithfulness to covenant with God. In short, Jesus fully images God. Through His death on the cross, Jesus atones for the sins of humanity and restores the broken image of God in us. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5). In His bodily resurrection, Jesus demonstrates God’s victory over death and emancipates God’s covenant people from the bondage of exile. The sacrament of baptism is our participation in the redemptive work of God in Christ by claiming His story as our story. By identifying with Christ in baptism, new creation occurs. Sins are forgiven. Imago Dei is restored. And community is made possible once again. These are characteristics of the Kingdom reign of God, which Jesus inaugurates in this exodus act of redemption.
- Reconciliation: The Kingdom of God. Reconciliation is our communal ministry. Scripture affirms that God is actively reconciling all things back to God. As reconciled bearers of God’s image, we actively participate with God in God’s mission to reconcile creation. The Christian life bears witness to the goodness of God and the power of God to liberate from exile. As those who have experienced reconciliation, Christian engagement with the world is congruent with the mission of God. Christians seek to bring others into restored relationship with God. Christians also seek to embody the love and shalom of God in relationship with each other and the world. By doing so, the Christian community becomes the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in the present realm. Although the Kingdom awaits consummation in the yet-to-be-revealed eschaton, the confessing community also embodies the principles of the Kingdom in the present. Christ’s church exists to embody the Kingdom principle of new creation and to reconcile the world back to God through acts of justice, mercy, discipleship, worship, and service. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper identifies the confessing community with the death and resurrection of Christ and functions as a rehearsal of the Messianic banquet the reconciled community will enjoy in the eschatological new heavens and new earth. God is present in the confessing community through the indwelling of God’s Spirit until God’s reconciling activity is fully consummated in the coming Kingdom of God.