Over at the Mars Hill Unauthorized Theology Pub (a Yahoo group I enjoy participating in), I started a discussion on the topic, "What is the Gospel?" In right cowardly fashion, I declined to submit my own opinion on the matter and waited for some others to do so first. Some did, and their thoughts were excellent. Finally I plucked up the courage and submitted what follows. For this week, anyway, this is how I would formulate an answer to "What is the gospel?"
One sentence super-nutshell version: "The Gospel is the story of God's loving work to save the world through Jesus Christ."
To expand on that a bit--bottom line: it's all about Jesus. Since Jesus is the complete intersection of God and the world God loves, it's also all about God and all about the world. But it's about Jesus, and I think a full telling of that story makes reference to the following elements:
- His preexistence as the Word of God, creating and loving the world and every living thing, in joyful, communal dance with the loving Father/Mother and the indwelling Spirit.
- His anticipation in the lives and stories of the Jewish people, grappling as we all do with the tension between the love God calls us to and our sinful temptations.
- His birth, becoming fully incarnate in the world he loves, as a helpless baby born into a poor family in a poorly-regarded corner of the Jewish world.
- His life and ministry: calling followers, proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom and eternal life, and demonstrating it through teaching, healing, generosity, radical welcome, and speaking prophetically about justice.
- His passion and death on the cross: by entering into the deepest depths of human existence--the deepest depths of cruelty and suffering--somehow opening the way to eternal life and the salvation of the world he loves.
- His resurrection: in becoming the firstborn from the dead, demonstrating that God's love is more powerful than death, and that to the kind of life to which he invites us, death is no enemy.
- His ascension and commissioning of the church, giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, calling us to our mission as the sign and foretaste of the now-and-future Kingdom, and returning to his Father.
- His life today as the risen Lord and Son of God, lovingly present to us through prayer and worship, eternally in communion with Father and Spirit, and inviting us to join in that communion.
- His coming again at the end of the age, when the loving God will wipe away every tear and the Kingdom will be fully established on earth as it is in heaven.
That, I think, is how I'd present the gospel. This week. :-)