Monday, April 06, 2009

The Scope of the Gospel: A Response to McKnight and Wright

Greg Gilbert's been working through a hefty project on the gospel, with particular focus on how contemporary theologians are trying to redefine it and the Church's mission. Though this blog hasn't been a venue for those battles, Greg's post today gets to the heart of the issue so pointedly that I couldn't resist posting a link.

Here's the conclusion:
In the NT, the good news is always the proclamation of forgiveness of sin through the substitutionary death of Jesus, and the call to repent to believe in him. Sometimes that's all the NT mentions as the "good news"; sometimes it also seems to zoom out to include in the good news all the promises that flow to those who are so forgiven. What the NT never holds out as the gospel, however, is the bare declaration that the kingdom has come apart from the means of entering it (faith in Christ's substitutionary death). Speaking biblically, the gospel is either Cross or Cross-and-Kingdom. But it is never Kingdom alone.


Bruce said...

I had a comment ready to post there earlier today, but I kept getting an error message: "Both name and email address required" when I had both fields filled. You may want to put somebody on that.

Ben said...


Email sent. What was the comment?

Bruce said...

It starts out like this: "I agree 100%, Greg, yet would you indulge me for a moment and allow me to play the devil's advocate?"

How's that for a tease?

I'll try posting again in the morning.

Anonymous said...

"In the NT, the good news is always the proclamation of forgiveness of sin through the substitutionary death of Jesus, and the call to repent to believe in him."

Matthew 4:23 is, to my knowledge, the first mention of "gospel" in the NT. "Now Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom..."

Are we to suppose that he was proclaiming at that time the good news of his death, burial, and resurection--as the Apostle Paul would several years hence? In my view, it's hardly possible.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells his disciples what is to come in Jerusalem, i.e. the very events that themselves make up the content of the gospel message as we understand it today: Christ's death, burial, and resurection.

Luke 18:34--"But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken."

To my mind, this constitutes irrefutable proof that the "gospel" that was preached prior to this point could not have been the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurection.

If it were otherwise, surely the disciples would've said, "Yes, Lord, we understand; this gospel you've been preaching must come to pass. You must die, be buried, and rise again."

Yet not only do they not understand at all, but the scripture says that understanding "was hidden from them", as if their ignorance was due to divine providence.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that Luke 18:34 refutes the strict assertion quoted in your post.

For well into his ministry, Jesus proclaims his death, burial, and resurection to the disciples and not only do they not have a clue but the scripture more or less makes clear that they couldn't have had a clue no matter what.

Now certainly Paul preached the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurection and the disciples preached something akin to Paul's gospel after Jesus' resurection and ascension, but I doubt that that self-same gospel was preached before Christ's resurection.

Of course, Christ made clear that he would die, and rise again the third day, on many occasions prior to accomplishing it. But as we see in Luke 18:34 that didn't make so much as a dent in the disciples' understanding; how much more in anyone else's?

Yet Christ also certainly preached "good news, gospel" to the people long before Holy Week and surely they had some clue what the nature of this good news was. We frankly know from Luke 18:34 that the pre-Easter understanding of the "good news" concerning Jesus wasn't his death, burial, and resurection.

So what was it, then? The obvious supposition is that Jesus was proclaiming the good news that Messiah is here. After centuries of anticipation, the Annointed One is finally here, the "kingdom" is at hand, the king is here.

Now all this takes nothing at all from the gospel that Paul preached, e.g. in I Corinthians 15 and indeed throughout his letters and ministry: the gospel of Jesus' death, burial, and rising again on the third day. But it does at least contradict the point that is quoted in your post.

There is another gospel that was preached to Israel that more or less had to do with the kingdom exclusively. I don't see how we can get around Luke 18:34.

Or so it would seem to me. I hope the point I'm trying to make is clear. No doubt Jesus taught about his death, etc. He taught about and proclaimed many things. But the "good news" is a specific subset of all that he proclaimed. And it would seem that Luke 18:34 rules out the idea that the good news that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 4:23 is the Pauline gospel, the Pauline good news of Jesus' death, burial and resurection.

But perhaps you're already aware of the conundrum that Luke 18:34 presents to the idea of a strictly unitary gospel message from the time of Jesus' earthly ministry to the time of Paul's ministry to the gentiles; and perhaps you're also aware of some resolution of the conundrum.

In any case, I'd be interested in your response.