Monday, September 8, 2014
Look again – at what the Good News consists of
Dr Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament Theology at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Illinois, US
IT IS near enough 2,000 years since Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and in that period there have been many adjustments and different emphases on what the heart of the gospel actually is. As the original definition has lost definition as time goes on, there have been corrections, and then the correction becomes ‘the gospel’ for that time. Each new definition can be rooted in reaction.
One of the best known corrections is the stand taken by the reformer Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and scholar, who in 1517 confronted the common practice of indulgences against sin being granted on the basis of a donation to the building fund for the new St Peter’s in Rome. Luther argued that the church had lost sight of the central truth of the Scriptures. Declaring a sinner righteous could not be the result of any work of man — charitable acts, religious observance, or payment – but only by God’s act, a gift of His grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Is this therefore the gospel?
Much more recently the Four Spiritual Laws by Campus Crusade/Agape Europe have been quoted by evangelicals across the world. Many of us can quote them without thinking too hard:
1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
2. Humanity is sinful and separated from God.
3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for sin.
4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
What about this? Many of us would be fairly confident that this summarises the gospel.
However, is it what Jesus announced? Is it what subsequent apostolic writers held to be the good news? Our understanding of the gospel is frequently driven by our perception of heaven and hell and our own destiny – meaning that concern for our own sanctification and saving from hell has overshadowed Jesus, and what He announced.
The evangellion or Good News comes from two words, ‘eu‘ meaning good and ‘angellion‘ meaning message. Before being adopted by Christians, it was a word used for an announcement made on the enthronement of a new king – or Caesar.
What is the Christian Good News all about? We would probably say it was about heaven, hell and sin. The gospel is not actually defined except in 1 Corinthians 15, the passage that begins with Paul saying: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received…” However, this explanation goes on to talk, not about heaven or hell, but about Jesus. It is all about Jesus.
US New Testament scholar (with a PhD from Nottingham University) Dr Scot McKnight carried out a study of gospel proclamation sermons found in Acts and 1 Corinthians and came up with some interesting statistics on the number of mentions of:
Hell – never
Heaven – never
Sin – twice
Life scored four times. However, the death, the resurrection and the lordship of Jesus scored nine, 15 and 10 times respectively. This looks like a different kind of Good News!
(to be continued)