Tuesday, March 21, 2006
What is the Gospel?
In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus declared the gospel by saying:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

But in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul stated the gospel this way:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel [good news] I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve... this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

So which is it? Is the heart of the gospel "good news" for the poor, the captive, the sick, and the oppressed (as Jesus says) or is it the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (as Paul says)? No, I don't think these two versions are ultimately in conflict. I think they actually complement each other, like two sides of the same coin. But the question that concerns me right now is whether we let Jesus' words become the basis for understanding Paul's words or vice versa.

I think for a long time the evangelical church has taken Paul's words as normative, and perhaps relegated Jesus' words about the gospel to the category of "principles of Christian living" or something similar. But why focus so much on the end of Christ's ministry, i.e. what he did (in dying and rising again) and not so much on what he actually taught? Growing up I heard many times that the good news was that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but I don't think I ever heard that the good news was blessings for the poor, the broken and the oppressed. Why is that?

(Note of Clarification: Growing up I did hear that Christians were supposed to care for the poor and the suffering, I just never heard that in connection to what was essential to the gospel. Things like helping the poor were just "extras" that we did as part of being good Christians.)

And why, if both are important, is a denial or neglect of Paul's definition of the gospel much more likely to get you branded a heretic than denial or neglect of Jesus' definition. People who question whether Jesus really died for our sins or really rose from the dead get fired from their ministries and told they're going to hell, but I know plenty of successful pastors who can get away with saying that we don't really need to help the poor all that much, or who at least show little active concern for the poor and oppressed. I'm not denying either parts of the gospel myself, I'm just wondering why one kind of heresy is treated far more seriously than the other in most Christian circles.

And why does our evangelism usually only declare Paul's message and not include Jesus' message? I've heard plenty of evangelistic pitches that tell people they're going to hell unless they accept that Jesus died for their sins, but I dont' think I've ever seen a Christian try to convert someone to the Good News that Jesus came to set us free from a world of poverty and injustice.

Why is that?


posted by Mike Clawson at 12:21 AM | Permalink |


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