Yesterday, we looked at three ways that Christians define the gospel:
Story for the Individual
Story of Jesus
Story of Creation to New Creation
My online collection of “gospel definitions” has led me back to the New Testament, where I’ve spent significant time studying the way the word “gospel” is used. I’ve also compared New Testament usage to the gospel definitions on my blog. In the end, I am convinced that the different approaches to “the gospel” are more complementary than contradictory, but that we could be helped by a conceptual framework for the gospel and its implications.
Putting it All Together
From an exegetical standpoint, the word “gospel” is used in the New Testament primarily when speaking of the announcement of Jesus Christ. So, at its core, the gospel is the specific announcement about what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to bring about our salvation. The announcement of Jesus is the gospel.
Yet this Jesus-centered message needs context. The “Story for the individual” group is right to insist that the back story (God’s character, our sin, etc.) is needed if the gospel announcement is to make sense. And the New Creation crowd is right to insist that we place our individual salvation within the bigger picture of God’s glory in the renewal of all things and the calling out of a people. This discussion brings us to the image that forms the heart of my book on the gospel.
The Three-Legged Stool
I propose that the gospel is …
In February 2008, I began a blog series called “Gospel Definitions”, in which I posted (without comment) any and every definition of “the gospel” that I came across in books or online. Eventually, that series became the largest group of gospel definitions on the web. (See a full list or pdf here.)
As I have posted various definitions of “the gospel” on my blog, I have noticed that people hear the question “what is the gospel?” in different ways.
Telling the Story for an Individual
Some hear this question and immediately think about how to present the gospel to an unbeliever. Their presentation systematizes the biblical teaching of our sin and Christ’s provision. They usually begin with God as a holy and righteous judge. Then we hear about man’s desperate plight apart from God and how our sinfulness deserves his wrath. But the good news is that Christ has come to live an obedient life and die in our place. We are then called to repent of our sins and trust in Christ. (Greg Gilbert takes this approach in his helpful book, What Is the Gospel?.)
Telling the Story of Jesus
Others hear “What is the gospel?” and think of how the New Testament authors would define the word, which leads to definitions that zero in on the announcement of Jesus. They focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The gospel, according to this second group, is telling people who Jesus is and what he has done. (Martin …
Counterfeit Gospels wasn’t the book I initially wanted to write, but it’s now the book I’m glad I wrote.
The Development of a Book Idea
As I wrapped up work on Holy Subversion, I remember thinking: Well, Trevin, this is it! Your first and last book. There’s no way you could come up with enough material to write another book. Writing is hard work. You pour so much of yourself into a book that when you finish, you doubt you could ever do it again.
Over time, that feeling went away. About a year after I completed Holy Subversion, I got to work on a second proposal. My idea was to lead readers through twelve chapters of theology in a way that underscores the breathtaking beauty of Truth – particularly the truth of the gospel and the grand narrative of Scripture. I titled the idea Beautiful Truth, a concept based on a post I had written called “Truth is Beautiful.”
Several publishers liked the concept, but the consensus was that my sample chapter was focused so much on getting the “truth” component right that I had failed to make it exceedingly “beautiful”. So, I went back to my notepad and began working on a sample chapter that would magnify the beauty of the atonement. I worked hard to make the sample chapter more devotional and less didactic. (Parts of that chapter eventually were included in Counterfeit Gospels.)
A New Direction
At the end of the day, the editors at Moody were …