"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."
There is no idea more central to the NT than the importance of the gospel. It is the "good news" of Jesus. It is the message of Jesus and the message of the Church.
I sure wish it was that easy! Wouldn't it be great if everyone knew and understood what the gospel is, what it means, and how to proclaim it? I am saddened that even within my peer group (pastors) there is great confusion and disagreement about what the gospel is all about.
Why is this the case? It requires accurate and good exegesis (interpretation) of the bible to understand the gospel. In the West today, particularly in America, there is very little tolerance for learning how to interpret the bible and even less for engaging in sustained theological thought. I say this to our shame. Instead of reflection we love expediency and "usefulness."
Somehow we have missed the reality that there is nothing more useful than deep reflection and knowledge of scripture! The bible is like every complex book and object of study. Some parts of it are hard to understand unless you understand its central themes and ideas. Yet, the themes and ideas can only be grasped as someone struggles to understand all of scripture, including the difficult parts.
Today, I wish to move toward a definition of the most important concept in all of scripture: the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is it? How does it explain the entirety of scripture?
To help with this definition, I will look at Trevin Wax's Counterfeit Gospels as a guide. While I do not write and think exactly like Wax, I am glad he has done to leg work on moving toward a definition.
Wax describes the gospel as a three legged stool. He uses this analogy because with a three legged stool, if you remove one leg the stool falls! Each element of the gospel is important for the entire structure to stand.
So, what is the gospel? According to Wax it has three components.
"First, there is the gospel story, the overarching grand narrative found in the Scriptures." (16) This grand narrative is what I call the foundation for a biblical and Christian worldview. It states that God created the universe out of nothing, and all of creation was declared good. It further argues that through willful disobedience, sin entered the good creation causing all of creation to be less than its created good. Into this fallen state, God enters to redeem the fallen world in the person of Jesus, the second member of the Trinity who is fully God and fully man. Jesus' death and resurrection end the reign of sin and death, and from that moment until He returns to set all things aright, God's Kingdom is growing. As Wax states, "The gospel story is the scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and resurrection of Jesus." (16)
The second leg of the gospel is the gospel announcement. This message is the classic definition of substitutionary atonement. In other words, "God- in the person of Jesus Christ- lived a perfect life in our place, bore the penalty for our sin through His death on the cross, was raised from the dead to launch God's new creation, and is now exalted as Lord of the world." (16) In response to this message, and individual should walk in repentance and faith.
The third leg of the gospel is that of gospel community. The message of redemption, what Wax calls the gospel announcement is not a "one-time" commitment of Jesus nor is it a commitment lived in isolation from others. Instead, through the Church, we live as a community that embodies the message of the gospel. We live a message of repentance and faith. We live in community centered around the redemptive work of Jesus. We live a life reflecting the reality of the gospel story.
While this is the definition of the gospel, Wax argues for the importance of the gospel by illustrating how six false gospel definitions, what he calls counterfeits, each deny one of the legs of the stool. These counterfeits might even be orthodox in two of the three legs, but by denying one central truth they cause the stool to fall.