Discover more from A Journey in Liminal Space
When Jesus Proclaimed the Gospel
It was a little over 20 years ago, when I was writing a sermon for a Sunday morning gathering, that it hit me. I had been reading John Wimber, Dallas Willard and G. E. Ladd, trying to wrap my head around the Kingdom of God, and I noticed this passage in Mark 1.
“14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 The time has come,’ he said.‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
So, Mark is one of four books in the Bible called the “Gospels”. And the focus of each gospel is the story of Jesus.
And so, in this gospel, Mark records that Jesus began to proclaim “the gospel” of God. While many translations may say ‘good news’, remember, gospel means good news. They are interchangeable terms.
And what Mark records Jesus saying is, ‘The time has come,’ .‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
My understanding of the gospel at that point centred on the cross and the resurrection. Jesus died and rose from the dead to deal with my sin problem.
Do you see my new problem? Here is Jesus and the very start of his public ministry announcing the gospel. But, he had not been crucified. He had not risen from the dead. He was not predicting what would happen at a later time. He does not mention the cross. He does not mention the resurrection.
Yet he was, according to Mark, “proclaiming the gospel”.
So, if Jesus is proclaiming the gospel, what is his (and Mark’s) understanding of what the gospel was?
The time has come,’ he said.‘The kingdom of God has come near.
Taking that passage at face value, Jesus understood the gospel as being about the Kingdom of God.
That moment began me on a journey of trying to make sense of what this meant. There have been several helpful guides along the way, including N T Wright, Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard, and David Fitch, as I’ve wrestled with this.
If the gospel is bigger than forgiveness of sin (which is huge). If the gospel is bigger than the death and resurrection of Jesus (which is monumental), then what is it?
While I have a better grip on the what is the gospel question than I did 20 years ago, yesterday I picked up a relatively new book, “Why the Gospel?” by Matthew Bates.
I’m a couple of chapters in and thought I’d try doing a running commentary as I’m reading through the book. Writing about what I read had never been something I do often, but I suppose it is time to stretch myself a bit.
As a bit of a taster, below are a few notes from Scot McKnight, who wrote the forward to the book and, as I mentioned, has been key in shaping my thinking on the topic.
Beyond a Soterian Gospel
In the foreword to “Why the Gospel?” Scot McKnight makes a point he has made frequently when he uses the term ‘soterian” to describe a gospel which has reduced its focus to ‘salvation associated with personal forgiveness”. (Soteriology is the theology of salvation.)
He clarifies throughout this section that in no way is he saying salvation and forgiveness are unimportant. They are essential. They simply do not deserve the central place when it comes to the gospel. I’m sure for some, that feels unsettling. But please stick with me.
Rather than salvation, McKnight argues, as will Bates, that the most important is “about how God’s kingdom is arriving through Jesus’s kingship”.
There was a question going around online a few years ago asking, “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”
That question only makes sense if the gospel is reduced to personal salvation through forgiveness. And as Mcknight points out,
“There are four Gospels but one message.
The message is the gospel, which is why we call them ‘Gospels’.”
Who is this?
I’ll close with this paragraph from McKnight which poses an important question as we work through this book (and our lives):
“Over and over in the Gospels the reader is summoned to answer one simple question: Who is this man? The primary question is not, How can I get saved? Nor is it, How can I go to heaven when I die? No, over and over, the question is about the identity of Jesus.”
I’m excited about reading the book, and I hope this discussion proves helpful but also challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts as we work through this.