The Eternal Gospel

by Sam
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Published on: October 31, 2011

Considering the ongoing conversation in the blogosphere about what is the gospel, i would like to add a few observations that i have come across when trying to address the question. In this post i would like to assert that the gospel is multi-faceted. I will be using scriptures which people don’t normally assume as basis for the gospel.

 

The word gospel comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) which literally means good news. This word is also the root word for the English word Evangel. So a person who preaches the gospel is an evangelist. To get people to believe the gospel is evangelize. Euangelion is also used in the LXX, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. It is the Hebrew word מבשׂר (Bawsar) that has been consistently translated as euagelion. I will use both the Hebrew and Greek words to get to a fuller understanding of the word gospel.

 

The word gospel can mean many different kinds of good news. In Jer 20:15, it is the good news of the birth of a child. Even though the ESV does not use the words “good news” or gospel, the Hebrew word is still bawsar and the Greek is euangelion. The good news could be the death of a national enemy or victory of a people as in 1 Sam 31:9,  2 Sam 1:20, 2 Sam 4:10, 2 Sam 18:19 and 2 Kings 7:9. In the Psalms it used to mean the announcing or preaching of God’s deliverance as in Psalms 40:9, 68:11, 96:2. In the prophets gospel is announcing of the news of God’s righteous reign has been established and that oppression has come to an end (Isa 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, 61:1, Na 1:15). This usage of the word gospel in the first testament forms the background for its usage in New Testament.  Of course the way the word is used in the Psalms and Prophets helps define the Jewish expectation of the gospel in the NT.

 

In the New Testament, according to Paul in Gal 1:6-7, there is only one gospel. All others are fakes. Paul here calls it the “gospel of Christ”. When was this gospel first preached or announced? According to Gal 3:8, it was first announced to Abraham in Gen 12:3. In the broadest sense, the goal of the gospel is that all nations or peoples will be able to bless themselves through Abraham’s seed, Christ (Gal 3:16).

 

Not only does the first book of the Bible have the gospel, so does the last book. In Revelation 14:6-7, we have the last mention of the gospel. Here the gospel is considered eternal. The gospel from this verse can be summarized as “fear God and give Him glory”.

 

The two themes of the gospel, “all nations or blessing themselves” and “fearing God and giving him glory” give us a boundary within which to work towards a fuller meaning of the gospel.

Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity

by Sam
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Published on: October 28, 2011

Here are scribble notes of N. T. Wright’s Inaugural lecture at University of St. Andrews. Strangely, second hand notes of Wrights lectures can be very informative, like listening in on the lecture. I like the way how Wright puts the scriptures together and makes sense of it as a whole. I also like the way he pits the Kingdom of God/Israel against the kingdoms of the world, without spiritualizing the Kingdom of God. This narrative theme is very much missing from contemporary preaching.

Paul, and Whether One Needs to Keep the Law Perfectly

by Sam
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Published on: October 26, 2011

I have read a few books by Stephen Westerholm. The first book i read of his was “Israel’s law and the Church’s faith“.  While i did not come to to lutheran understanding, i actually gained a better appreciation of the New Perspective on Paul from that book.

 

Here is an article about Westerholm’s new book. I just wanted to add my own thoughts to the issue. In Php 3:4-6 Paul makes it clear that he was perfect as far as the law goes. According to the law, Paul would have been declared righteous. Now if this were enough, there would be no need for him to follow Jesus. He could have just lived his life pretending that the Damascus road never happened. But instead Paul indicates in Php 3:7-9 casting off the law’s righteousness for Christ’s righteousness. Why did he do it? In Phillipians 3, his argument is that he did it because Jesus righteousness was so much better that he is now wants to suffer as Christ did.

 

So how does one get Paul’s view of the Law in Php 3:4-6 to agree with Romans 3:20-24. I think here the context helps. In Php 3:2-3, Paul is arguing against the Judaizers. So here Paul opponents were a form of Rabbinical Judaism that existed then and Paul was countering their argument. In that context it may have been enough to show that Paul himself was perfect according to the law, but now that Jesus is here, he does not need the Law anymore. In Romans, Paul writes using the genre of a Greek diatribe to  show why the Jew has nothing to boast regarding law. So here is probably where we can expect a fuller answer to whether a person can be saved by following the law or not. In which case the answer is no.

King Jesus Gospel — Introduction

by Sam
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Published on: October 24, 2011

In a previous post i mentioned that i would be blogging through the book “King Jesus Gospel” by Scot McKnight. So far i have read through the forward and what most would consider the introduction, except McKnight calls it “1971″.

 

The forward was by N. T. Wright and Dallas Willard. It is not a surprising choice for these men to be doing foreword. Both of them think outside of the box. By this i mean that they do not do theology by assuming that reformation got everything right. Both of them express the need to rethink what is the true gospel.

 

McKnight’s “1971″ is his story of what caused him start questioning what most people call the gospel. He has been cynical of most evangelistic strategies. Most of them are designed to get people to make a decision but not make disciples. The rest of the book is about making the distinction of decision versus disciple. He has some numbers which show that those who make decisions and stick with it are the same in number as those who get baptized as Catholics and attend mass every Sunday for the rest of their lives.

 

I like the distinction he is making between decision and disciple and i agree that most evangelism is mostly focused on getting people to make a decision rather than making a disciple. A by-product of this decision-evangelism is our propensity towards testimonies. You know when someone gives their testimony it is focused on their point of decision. I have always found this way of Christians introducing themselves to each other as odd. Shouldn’t our spiritual state now be more important than something that happened in the past? I would rather talk about how i am a disciple now than something that happened in the past.

 

I know some of you say that testimonies is Biblical, after all Paul did it. Well, what Paul did was defend himself against the accusations of undermining Jewish Law and he used how he was called to prove that accusations against him were not true. Or some of you may say that testifying or witnessing is biblical. Well yes, but in the Bible when you testify or witness, you do it about Christ, not about how you made a decision for Christ or not about how you came about saying the sinner’s prayer.

 

What is more important? That i made a decision for Christ or that i am a disciple of Christ?

 

 

Radical – Chapter 5

by Sam
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Published on: October 23, 2011

In our small group at church we are going through the book Radical by David Platt. This week we are in chapter 5.

 

Why Not?

Sudan is country that has been ravaged by civil war for more than twenty years. In that time they have had famine on and off. Most of us would consider it a wasteland with not much to offer. After all what can anyone living in Sudan offer the world? But Bullen, Platt’s friend in Sudan, has a somewhat blissful outlook. He wants to make disciples of all nations. How? That wasn’t just Platt’s question to him, but i asked that too when reading it. Bullen’s reply was “why not?”

 

Wouldn’t it be good if all Christians were as optimistic as Bullen? After all isn’t Matt 28:19-20 given to all of us? Has God asked us something impossible? I am going to say He did ask of us to do something we cannot do of ourselves. When we think of the great commission, we seem to leave out Matt 28:18. We don’t do things in a vacuum. The only reason we can fulfill the great commission is because “all authority has been given” to Jesus, which is why Matt 28:19 begins with “therefore”. While there is more theologically to Jesus being given all authority, i want to focus on the aspect that though the commission is hard, it is still possible. He also ends it with promise that he will be with us till the end of the age.

 

Twelve, minus one

Leaving the great commission at the conceptual level does no good. Platt does have some useful suggestions. One of those is from the life of Jesus on earth. While Jesus preached all over Israel, his ministry was focused on twelve men. He shared the last 3 years of his time on earth with twelve men, teaching with the intention that they would in turn teach others. Most people today would wonder if that would be an effective strategy. After all if we wanted to reach a nation today, wouldn’t stadiums, broadcasting, getting popular people to speak out for the cause or even blimps be more effective?

 

Jesus strategy was to disciple twelve men. He shared his life with them. Not just Sundays or mid-week groups, but his whole day with them. I know most of us might find it difficult to put that much time into discipling others, but imagine if we gave up watching TV, sports or politics or other pastimes we might enjoy. Wouldn’t there be more time to disciple others? Too radical?

The Gospel revisited.

by Sam
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Published on: October 21, 2011

The Question

There are not many childhood memories that i can recall, but there is one where i was excited to go to Sunday school. Obviously this was before my teen years. The previous week our teacher told us that she was going to teach us how to share the gospel. From a very young age I have been hearing about the gospel and how it was the core of our faith, so to finally not just learn it but share too was exciting.

 

On that day i remember, on this rare occasion, i was sitting attentively waiting to soak it all in. She asked us to turn to the book of Romans in the Bible. We might have been pre-teens but we knew the books of the Bible, we didn’t need help getting there. We were at Romans 3:23. She explained the verse and that we were all sinners. Then she had us turn to Romans 6:23. In my little brain, i had assumed that her explanation was what was between Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23. Then she explained about the wages of sin and God’s free gift. From Romans 6:23 she made us go to Romans 5:8. At this point i was wondering, why are we going backwards in the book? My puny little brain found it hard to comprehend, but i had this wonderful child like faith. From there we went to Romans 10:9 and then backwards to Romans 5:1. This makes sense? Many of you may know that what she was teaching us is more popularly known as the Romans road. There are other ways we have for sharing the “gospel”, like the bridge illustration or the good news and bad news or the  four spiritual laws etc.

 

Now that i am older and have devoured many books on justification, i know that those verses have been lifted out of context.  The question still remains, what is the gospel? How come the gospel is not laid out in one neat passage somewhere in the Bible? Is this not the core of Christianity?

 

Early Church

Early Church history helps. After all, those who were the first Christians must have understood better what the gospel was.  Wouldn’t they have felt the need to leave us a clue to what is the gospel? Well if you asked a first century Christian what the gospel is, they would say, the gospel according to Matthew, or Mark or Luke or John. In fact, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were the first books to be canonized in the mid-2nd century (read this book for more on the history).

 

Fourth century Church historian, Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History says that, whenever Paul says “my gospel” he is referring to Luke’s gospel. According to the book of Acts, Luke traveled extensively with Paul and therefore was familiar with what Paul had preached. So sometime after Paul’s letters were written, people felt a need to pen down the original gospel preached by Paul

 

Present Day

One of my favorite authors who helped answer the question of the gospel is C. H. Dodd. After a careful study of Acts, here is how he summarized how the gospel was preached.

  1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
  2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. By virtue of the resurrection Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.
  4. The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.
  5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
  6. An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.

 

In recent times, people like N. T. Wright and Scott McKnight have tried answering the question, what is the gospel. Recently McKnight released a book called, The King Jesus Gospel. In the coming weeks i will be blogging through this book, so stay tuned for more.

Christian distinctiveness.

by Sam
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Published on: October 20, 2011

I came across this article and thought the author made several good points. Below are some quotes from it. They were originally quotes from a 2nd Century letter, supposedly written from Justin Martyr or a disciple of St. Paul to Diognetus, who was a tutor to the Roman emperor. It was written to educate the Roman leadership about Christianity.

 

“For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life”

 

“But while they live both in Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship”

In early church times, Greeks and barbarians were enemies of each other. Even Paul in Romans 1:14 transcended these nationalistic boundaries.

 

“They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign”

 

Thus, they marry and have children but do not commit infanticide or adultery (5:6-7); they obey established laws, but transcend them by love (5:10); they love their persecutors (5:11); and on the the list goes on. Read the rest of the article for more.

Is sending a check enough?

by Sam
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Published on: October 19, 2011

In our small group at church we are going through the book Radical by David Platt. This week we are in chapter 4. He impresses on us that we all are called to fulfill the great commission and this should not exclude going to hostile areas. There were some appalling stories from Platt’s own experience of how some Christians who are happy only to send a check but are unwilling to leave their comfortable homes. They would rather leave the difficult work to those who have been called, thinking they have not been called.

 

While this kind of thinking is wrong on many ways, i want to focus on a proper understanding of how God’s Holy Spirit works. Most Christians know that the Spirit gifts us differently, Eph 4:11. This can be taken to an extreme where people operate in silos, apart from people with other gifts. But Eph 4:12-16 tell us that we all work together towards a common goal of maturity, love and growth. Our hearts need to be united in purpose.

 

How does this apply to Matt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8? We all need to realize that the great commission is a common goal and should be a common desire. We should never think that we can be excluded from being called to hostile or harsh areas of the world. We are called to work as a single growing body.

 

Here is a case where just sending the check was not enough. The people had to go and check on the work of an orphanage, in earthquake ravaged Haiti. If they had not done it, they would have never realized that their money was going towards child trafficking. It is heartbreaking that such evil exists, but it is because these people understood their role in the great commission as more than sending a check that this evil came to an end. Imagine the growth of the body of Christ that could occur if all us in our hearts are committed to it.

Reading glasses.

by Sam
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Published on: October 11, 2011

I recently found myself struggling to read. Straining to read the Bible in Church caused me to be frustrated, where it distracted me from listening to the sermon. I wondered why the immature response! I had my eyes checked and surely enough i needed glasses but lenses with very little power. The doctor does say that people in my position usually wait for a few more years before they actually start wearing glasses. But still this was good news. I could get back to reading without the strain.

This led me to realize that my spiritual state was such that if i were to give up reading, life would not be worth living anymore! Yes some amount of hyperbole, but that is how i felt. I could justify the obsession of reading because most of it was books on Christian theology. This brought to mind the verses, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.” Eccl 12:12-13.

According to Solomon the end goal of all this reading of mine should be an obedient life. Anything less than that would be deception! “But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” James 1:22

I had an opportunity this spring to put all that good reading into practice. This blog site might be another avenue to expand on all the reading i have done. But i have realized that there has to be a purposeful effort to live out what i have learned and not simply wait for opportunities.

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