I indicated yesterday that I’ve had a recurring conversation about the character of the gospel. When the topic arises of the larger, broader, more robust and holistic gospel of the kingdom found in the Gospels, this question typically follows: How do I talk about that? How do I communicate that to someone?
I suspect that this question comes from a familiarity with the far-easier-to-communicate personal transaction version of the gospel—a “gospel presentation.”
You are a sinner and stand in need of forgiveness from God. God sent Jesus into the world to die for sinners and make forgiveness possible. If you pray to God, asking for it, you can appropriate that forgiveness and be reconciled to God. You now have no need to fear judgment, but have only eternal life to anticipate in the future.
This is simple, easy to remember, and easy to communicate.
This may be why we’re unsettled when we find that in the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. This is a much larger reality that is only rightly understood within the biblically-shaped set of expectations in the first century Jewish culture.
How on earth do we communicate that? How can we “share” that gospel in a way that people can immediately understand? What’s the personal dimension of that sort of gospel?
There is much to say about this and I won’t necessarily prioritize any considerations over another. But the first notion that comes to mind is that if the gospel as it is encountered in the Gospels sounds foreign, this should provoke Christians to embark on a long-term pursuit of getting to know the Scriptures better. We ought to seek to understand the biblical narrative as it unfolds and sets the context within which Jesus’ proclamation makes good sense.
Gaining increasing familiarity with the narrative over time helps us understand God and his intentions for creation; the relation of humanity to God, to each other, and to God’s world; the fall and how that corrupted humanity and God’s good creation; and the aims of God to reclaim his world and restore humanity to himself, to one another, and to creation.
The church’s ongoing task is to probe the Scriptures over time and to enter the Scripturally-rendered world so that the biblical narrative shapes our imaginations. As this takes place over the long haul, Christians gain wisdom and discernment as how the gospel might encounter and transform various aspects of life.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all gospel “presentation.”
As Jesus encounters a range of people in the Gospels, he speaks a “word on target” that is appropriate for each situation. We are pursuing the sort of wisdom that can determine where confrontation is needed, or a word of tender comfort, or the offer of hope to a crushed soul, or the start of a long-term conversation for someone who needs greater understanding and who must then count the cost.
To faithfully communicate the gospel of the kingdom, Christians need to be patient and diligent students of Scripture, becoming conversant over time with the Christian story so that we have the discernment to speak a life-giving word that meets the moment.
This may challenge an evangelical urgency and the impulse for immediacy, but it just might be that these require greater scrutiny.