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What’s so good about the Good News?

The purpose of the Church is to announce the Gospel to all peoples. But announcing the Gospel to those who don’t know it is not easy because its only available summary is the Bible, which is too long for a typical announcement.

Explaining the Gospel to newcomers

In Tell me the Gospel in 60 seconds I conclude that there is no executive summary of the Gospel because it is a divine message. Its translation to human language depends on the recipient and the situation.

On the other hand this statement is not satisfying. How can we announce something without being able to formulate it in a reasonably understandable text? I have been asking this question since I heard summaries to which I react with a feeling “If this is the Gospel, then I am not a Christian!” See for example Two opposite summaries of Christian faith.

I have lots of questions. Is there a difference between saying “You will be saved” and “You will go to Heaven”? From what will you be saved? Will you be saved if you believe it, or only if you believe it? And why a gospel would use the future tense at all if a gospel is an announcement of a victory that has happened?

One thing seems clear: the Gospel is neither an advice nor a commandment, but a news, an announcement. It doesn’t say “You must do this in order to go to heaven”, it says that Heaven is already now and here, that the door to Heaven is open, because something has been done for you” 2. The something that has been done for us is the life of Jesus Christ on Earth, which brought a new element into our way of understanding reality.

Jaan Lahe (a Lutheran pastor), has written a book of 383 pages about the Gospel (“Sõnum teisest maailmast”, “Message from another world”), which ends with a three pages summary “What is the basic message of Christianity?”, which contains 22 theses and specifies that it is valid only for those who are “familiar with his book as a whole”.

So we need to constantly invent new ways for spreading the Gospel (Psalm 98 invites us to “sing a new song”).

More about the Gospel

The Gospel has fundamental consequences at theological, political, economical, social and psychological level. It causes a fundamental change in our thinking and our way of understanding the world. It sheds a new light on the way we live together.

The Gospel is universal: it is not only for a particular nation or class of humans, it is for every nation and for every single human. Jesus told his disciples to explain the Gospel to every human, to every people, to every culture, not only to their own people.

The Gospel says that Jesus Christ has redeemed us forever from the idea that humans will have to pay for their debts or get punished for their sins after their death (see About atonement). It calls us to understand that mistakes are good.

The Gospel says that the Kingdom of God is not after our death but already now and here. It calls us to understand that Life is a gift. and

The Gospel encourages us to civil disobedience where needed. It calls us to refuse human laws and teachings that promote the opposite of what God wants.

Henry Nouwen writes “The gospel is a radical liberation from death, which enables us to love without fear.” (in Jesus Sinn meines Lebens, p.43)

Creeds

Christians developed creeds, short texts that can be learnt by heart. They are a testimony useful to identify as a member of the Church.

They are a kind of “entry exam”: if you understand them and agree to say them aloud in front of witnesses, then we assume that you understood the Bible as the Gospel, that you are ready to get “baptized”, in other words to become a “certified Christian”.

Creeds are some kind of summary of the Gospel, but they make sense only for somebody who has received basic teaching about the Gospel. They are not useful for introducing the Gospel to a newcomer.

What the Gospel is not

The Gospel does not give instructions about how to organize the visible world. Jesus has no problem with big contrast between rich and poor (Luke 17:5-10), neither with slavery, nor with the dictator-like Roman emperor (Mt 22:15-22) nor with the Roman occupation of the Jewish territory or that the Romans forced Jews to join their army (Mt 5:41).

The Gospel does not ask us to live in traditional families or to protect this way of living within our societies.

The Gospel does not ask us to protect unborn children from abortion, it asks us to not kill other humans. The question when an embryo starts to be a human remains controversial even among Christians.

The Gospel does not say “If you don’t want to burn in hell forever, repeat this prayer and believe that Jesus died on the cross for sins, rose from the dead and is coming back to destroy sinners and rescue the Christians.”1 See saviorism.

The Gospel does not say “Here is how to get to Heaven”, but “The Kingdom of God is already here, it has come to you via Jesus Christ” 2

The Church and the Gospel

Excerpt of a speech held by pope Francis in October 2015 in his conclusion to the synod on the family:

The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae – they are necessary – or from the importance of laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:47-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).

My summary of this paragraph:

  • Humans are more important than ideas

  • The spirit of the Gospel is more important than the letter

  • Explaining God’s love and forgiveness is more important than maintaining formulae

  • Christians must overcome the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

  • Realizing that the laws and commandments were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27) encourages us all the more to uphold them.

Footnotes

1

Keith Giles in Exposing The False Gospel Of Evangelicalism

2(1,2)

Tim Keller in The Gospel-Shaped Life