I started this series of reflections by noting that in the NT Gospels, the gospel proclamation involves “the gospel of the kingdom.” Jesus is announcing the arrival of God’s restored order of flourishing with his advent. And I claimed that this reality should shape how we conceive of the gospel.
Unfortunately, many good Christian people conceive of “the gospel” in terms of a “gospel presentation,” the brief summary of a transaction whereby individuals can be set right with God.
Over the last few posts, I wrote that Christians ought to think about the gospel from the starting points of Genesis 1-2 and Israel. We see God’s original intentions for creation in Genesis 1-2, and we come to understand the broad outlines of how God aims to set things right when we consider Israel.
In thinking about the gospel, then, we should imagine the set of language that describes God’s creation of a people who embody the gracious reign of the Creator God in Christ through practices of joyful self-sacrifice, service, justice, love, compassion, care for the poor and for creation itself, confession of sin, and forgiveness. And the gospel is speech about God’s creation of a people who embody God’s passionate pursuit of the whole of creation.
In the New Testament, “the gospel” is the news that God is currently doing this in Jesus.
Now, my discussion to this point assumes the existence of a gospel-shaped community. “The gospel” is not a bit of information that exists in the abstract.
“The gospel” is first and foremost the church’s speech about its own identity. The church has been caught up into the Creator God’s pursuit of his creation, to enjoy his love, to inhabit and embody his gracious reign, and to be agents of his restoration of all creation and every creature.
When it comes to speaking about the gospel to outsiders, however, “the gospel” shouldn’t be disconnected from the concrete reality of the church. It makes little sense to claim that God has created a people to embody his love for the whole of creation when you cannot point to a community that depicts this reality.
So, if you don’t inhabit a community like this, or if you can’t point to a community that embodies this reality, should you avoid talking about the gospel with outsiders?
But you may want to consider how you can become a catalyst in your church becoming more of a gospel-shaped community that inhabits the redemptive love of God in Christ. Perhaps your efforts can be focused more strategically toward the end of your community’s flourishing rather than announcing to others the news of God’s creating communities of flourishing without being able to point to one.
But there’s much more to say about this, and much that is hopeful. But I’ll leave it for next time.