The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pt. 2

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.

11 thoughts on “The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pt. 2

  1. Haddon Anderson (@HaddonAnderson)

    Good stuff. It seems that speaking a life-giving word that meets the moment resonates with people because it values them as a person. I struggle when gospel presentations view people more like projects (for the record, I used to utilize such tactics), with the same approach applied towards seemingly everyone. People often see right through that. They sense that they’re just another project that needs to be converted. This has a way (often subtly) of devaluing each person’s unique complexities, background, and perceptions of life and God. On the other hand, when our approach is discerned and a “word on target” is appropriated, then the inroads to the gospel and a fruitful relationship are opened. I think that it is up this alley that the depth of the gospel is really proclaimed.

    I also appreciate your words about probing Scripture over time. Healthy for me to read that.

    Looking forward to your further posts.

    1. timgombis

      That’s huge, Haddon, and is a big point in all of this. Speaking a word-on-target means that we engage conversations and treat people as people rather than projects. It may also mean that we get to know people and become fellow explorers of the gospel alongside them.

  2. Greg Johnston

    In case anyone thinks Wright, Watts and others who insist that Jesus’ “good news of the Kingdom” is derived from Isaiah 40-55 and especially 40 and 52, below are a couple excerpts from the Aramaic paraphrase (Targum Isaiah) that suggest that the phrase “Kingdom of God” in the gospels is shorthand for all the promises of Isaiah 40-55.

    Get up on a high mountain, you prophets that bring good news to Zion; lift up your voice with strength that bring good news to Jerusalem; lift it up, be not afraid, say to the cities of the house of Judah, “The kingdom of your God is revealed.” (literally in Hebrew: “Behold your God”)

    How beautiful upon the mountains of the land of Israel are the feet of hom that brings good news, that announces peace, that announces salvation, saying to the congregaton of Zion , “The kingdom of God is revealed.” (literally in Hebrew: “Your God reigns.”)

    1. Greg Johnston

      To complete my incomplete and incoherent sentence:

      Just in case anyone thinks Wright, Watts and others are stretching it when they insist that Jesus’ “good news of the Kingdom” is derived from Isaiah …

      1. Greg Johnston

        Yessir. That is partly my point. But I think there’s a bit more. For those who don’t know what the Targum is, it is the Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Text. First-century (Second Temple period) Israel spoke Aramaic as their first language. Their Bible, however, was in Hebrew. After the Hebrew text was read in their synagogues, the Aramaic paraphrase was read. So what they heard for those passages from Isaiah 40 and 52 quoted above was “the Kingdom of God is revealed” instead of “Here is your God” or “Your God reigns.” In other words, (1) the “Kingdom of God” was a familiar phrase in 1st-century Israel, which every synagogue goer knew, and (2) the phrase referred to the entire range of promises associated with the New Exodus program of Isaiah 40-55.

        Or at least these are the conclusions that seem probable to me.

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