Thursday, July 23, 2009

Four Books, One Gospel

On this blog I enjoy asking the question, "What is the gospel?" I do so because I believe it is one of the most important questions one could ask or reflect on. Some answers focus on the kingdom while others focus on the atoning death of Christ; one group quotes the words of Jesus, "The Kingdom of God has drawn near!" the other quotes Paul, "Christ Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was risen on the third day." While I think these discussions are helpful there is a point that is often missed. In the Scriptures we are given four books in the Bible with the title, "The Gospel" stamped right on them. I was reminded of this fact in a lecture by D.A. Carson. Jesus going to John for Baptism, healing the sick, proclaiming the kingdom of God, going to the cross, rising from the dead, this is all under one title,"The Gospel". I found this quote by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld helpful:

We speak typically of gospels (plural). The superscriptions should remind us that the evangelists (i.e., the writers of the gospels) and those who preserved their writings and added the superscriptions would have been happier if we spoke of a "fourfold gospel". They would have insisted that they were each in their own way telling the one story, the one gospel. They recognized that the only gospel that counts is that "of" Jesus Christ, both in the sense that Jesus is the center of the good news, but also in that he is the ultimate proclaimer of the euangelion that God's kingdom is becoming reality. With that in mind, and over their protestations, we will follow common practice and refer to their writings as gospels. (quoted from Recovering Jesus)

The gospel can be summarized, sometimes very precisely, in many ways (always with a focus on the death and resurrection) but we must always remember that it took the evangelists more than a few sentences to tell the full-orbed gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is a quote from Acts 10:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and h does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

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