Friday, March 8, 2013

Gospel: Good News, Bad News and a Saviour

What should go into a gospel definition? In other words what are the essential elements of the gospel? Fredrick Buechner's wonderful little book about preaching, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, made me realise that the best Gospel definition is this simple three-fold formula.

  • Bad News (our sin)
  • A saviour (Jesus)
  • Good News (God's grace) 
It captures the main contours of the gospel but also demands unpacking. Was the sin really ours? Who is Jesus, what did he do and is he real? What is God's grace and our connection to it? It's also a useful definition in helping us see that there are rival gospels, for example; a broken society is the bad news, some sort of educational program is the saviour and a well-adjusted society is the good news. 


Alex Smith said...

Sorry if you've told me before but have you read John Dickson's Promoting the Gospel?

On p14 he wrote:
... the gospel is not a theological idea or two. It is theology grounded in the actual events of Jesus' life. The gospel and the Gospels [Matt, Mark, Luke & John] are one. Let me offer a concise summary of what I mean by the 'gospel' throughout this book:

The gospel is the announcement that God has revealed and opened up his kingdom to sinners through the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity.

Alex Smith said...

He also spends an entire appendix expanding that definition :)

I like your three-fold formula & there's certainly examples in the NT of authors summarising, like Romans 1:1-4:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord:
- who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David
- who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead

or even shorter in 2Tim 2:8, Paul wrote:

Remember Jesus Christ:
- raised from the dead
- descended from David
This is my gospel

Interestingly they don't mention "our sin" or "God's grace" explicitly - although I think we could fairly say that implicitly the mention of death is a link to our sin, the mention of His resurrection is a link to His grace.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Alex,

I enjoyed Promoting the Gospel?. Glad to hear you did as well. :)

I think any good definition will demand unpacking. Sin? I thought death was the problem, is there a connection? Jesus? The Muslim Jesus? God on earth? Would I enjoy being raised from the dead? etc etc Several Biblical definitions focus on the story of Jesus (eg 2 tim 2 or the gospel of Mark) while others are more about expressing propositional truth (1 Cor 1:18-31). I like this definition has a way of evaluating gospel definitions.