Last week I noted that the New Testament Gospels refer to “the gospel of the kingdom” and don’t contain the sort of gospel presentation with which many of us may be familiar. We may be used to hearing about the mechanics of a personal transaction that begins with the problem of sin and separation from God, includes the provision of God in Christ of atonement, and lets us know how we can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God.
Now, it’s one thing to acknowledge that “the gospel” in the Gospels has to do with a broader announcement of a larger reality—the arrival of God’s long-awaited restored order of creation’s flourishing with the advent of Jesus, God’s appointed ruler of that realm. But how do we talk about that? How do we move from talking about the gospel-as-tidy-presentation to speaking about the gospel according to the Gospels?
Beyond what I wrote last week, here’s a further consideration:
When it comes to the gospel, Christians should learn to think from and talk from Genesis 1-2 and Israel.
These two orienting points in the biblical narrative should loom increasingly large in our imaginations in order to understand the New Testament gospel.
I think that the problem for most of us is one of starting in the wrong place. We start with Genesis 3, forgetting that this isn’t where the Bible starts. And we jump directly to Jesus, consigning the rest of the Scriptures—including the story of Israel—to utter irrelevance.
If we mention Genesis 1-2 at all, we do so only briefly, noting that Adam and Eve were in a perfect environment when they disobeyed God. This is terribly unfortunate, since “perfection” is highly misleading here and sets things on a wrong trajectory.
And if we mention Israel at all, it’s only to indicate that they were a people who got the gospel wrong or didn’t believe it or tried to earn salvation by works. Israel is more or less dispensable or functions as a foil for talking about the gospel that arrives in the New Testament (and especially with Paul).
But if we think from Genesis 1-2, and let our biblically-sanctified imaginations settle there for a while, we’ll get a good grip on God’s original intentions for creation. God wanted his creation to flourish and to grow and develop so that creation’s thriving would keep abounding and super-abounding. And this could only happen if creation had someone to oversee that project.
This is where humanity comes in.
God put humanity on earth to oversee the spread of flourishing (shalom) throughout the entirety of creation, so that humanity and the creation itself shared in the wonder of being fully alive in God’s good world.
This involved humanity’s relationship to the creation itself and to one another—and our worship of the one true God was our fruitful and faithful conduct in these relationships. We were to know and enjoy the Creator God in the endless variety and the countless dimensions of these relationships.
But humanity blew it. Beyond the fact of humanity’s rebellion, it’s important to note the form of the original sin. Humanity refused to oversee creation (i.e., the serpent) on behalf of God.
After this, the relationship of human to human is badly broken and the relationship of humanity to the creation is perverted. Human conduct now does not look like knowing and enjoying God.
It looks like the absence of God.
There’s more to say about this and I’ll have to continue this in a subsequent post, but in thinking about “the gospel,” we must first understand God’s original intentions and how Scripture speaks of them. Only then do we move to how it all went wrong.
In the beginning, God wanted his rule over creation to be embodied and depicted by humans enjoying one another in community and overseeing creation’s flourishing on his behalf. We won’t get the gospel of the kingdom right if we don’t start there.