a gospel saying

At our IBI graduation service last Saturday,

Sean Mullan, the speaker, talking about the gospel in Romans 1:8-17, rephrased JFK with …

“Ask not what you can do for God, but ask first what God has done for you”

The gospel begins with God, not us. The gospel is God’s initiative, his gift, his accomplishment.

The gospel is the ‘way in’ to the Christian life. It is the ‘way on’ in the Christian life. And it is the ‘way through’ the Christian life.

And, funny enough, I was down to preach at MCC the next morning on exactly the same text.

Coming at the text a different way, I tried to unpack the content of the Good News in 1:1-4 and how this ‘Gospel of God’ is trinitarian:

The gospel is what God himself has done in the faithfulness, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. To tell the gospel of God is to tell the story of Jesus. And yet the story of Jesus is entirely inexplicable apart from the story of God. God, Son, and Spirit all figure prominently in Rom 1:1-4. ‘God’ is everywhere in Romans – it is profoundly theocentric (the word theos occurring 153 times)

In other words the Gospel is all about a Person. It is what God has DONE, in his Son Jesus, in the power of the Spirit.

And our response is threefold:

1. Believe: faith is everywhere in these verses. It is connected to the ‘power of God for salvation’

2. Live. Believers live out the gospel by living the story of their lives within the bigger story of God’s redeeming good news

3. Share. ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel’ – like Paul, those who have received the good news are eagerly to pass it on.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The King Jesus Gospel (3): my ‘gospel journey’

In The King Jesus Gospel, it seems to me that Scot is really appealing for an individual and church culture to be shaped by a biblical theology. The gospel is God’s good news. The ‘mission of God’ works itself out in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel is the makes sense of and fulfils the whole biblical narrative. It is not to be reduced to an atomised sort of systematic theology that focuses in on one (admittedly crucial) point in that story and boils it down to being about one thing – personal salvation.

So Scot’s argument is for people to ‘move on’ from simple (perhaps simplistic) understandings of the gospel to a more holistic biblical framework – especially to see how the story of Jesus can only be rightly interpreted through the lens of the OT and the story of Israel. And as this is done, the text ‘comes alive’ in lots of ways as layers of meaning are uncovered.

Now at one level this is simply good exegesis done within a framework of biblical theology and it comes with time – time to read, learn, be taught, and grow in appreciation of the layered symbolism and numerous inter-related biblical themes swirling around the NT – which is after all an extended theological reflection of the OT in light of the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

But for this approach to flourish at a personal and church level, there needs to be an intentionality about teaching and unpacking and learning the story of the Bible. I think this is the thrust of what he means by building a ‘gospel culture’.

A personal note here of how this has worked out in my experience: I’ve been a Christian over 30 years. I give thanks for a beginning and nurturing within a warm hearted evangelical community – a community and a theological way of being that I remain actively (and not uncritically) committed to. I haven’t emerged from a narrow fundamentalist upbringing and felt the need to reject my past.

But the more I have gone on as a Christian the more and more the Bible has ‘come alive’ to me as I’ve appreciated more and more how each part fits within the overall narrative of ‘the mission of God’. It’s an approach to the gospel, Gospels, Jesus and the whole biblical story that I’ve found both exciting and liberating.

Exciting because it has helped me better understand the whole biblical narrative and how the gospel is glorious good news right down at the personal level and right up to the cosmic level. It has helped me better put together creation, fall, Israel, Messiah, cross, resurrection, kingdom, church, Spirit and new creation and has, I hope, helped a lot of my preaching and teaching.

And so multi-layered is this narrative that the NT writers seem to fall over themselves in offering different images and themes to explain its significance.

Liberating because it has helped me see afresh how Jesus is the good news. I taught a class on Christology last term and it has hit me afresh how relentlessly and joyfully Jesus-centered the NT is (while never detaching this from his relationship with the Father and the Spirit).

Despite my positive evangelical upbringing, the gospel was still pretty much a deductive argument made about our sinfulness and God’s holiness. You have broken God’s holy law = you are a sinner = Jesus died your death = decision for Jesus = forgiveness of sins = new life of loving God and loving others (especially through evangelism).

But somewhere the Jesus-centered narrative of the Bible (Israel, kingdom, second Adam etc) gets diminished (not denied), as does the Jesus-centered purpose of the gospel (to conform his disciples into his likeness through the Spirit), as does the King Jesus-centered eschatological ‘end of the story’.

Do you agree that too much of evangelicalism unintentionally sidelines Jesus?

What has been your ‘gospel journey’?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The King Jesus Gospel (2) Building a gospel culture

In the final chapter of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight proposes some ways the church can develop what he calls a ‘gospel culture’.

i. Become people of the story: letting the story of Jesus become our story. That Christians live and shape their lives (their individual story) around the mission and identity of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and risen Lord.

ii. This means engaging and reading and soaking in the Gospels, and gradually seeing more and more how the story of Jesus is built upon and fulfils the story of Israel. He also suggests adopting a church calendar in that it is structured around the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus.

iii. Seeing the rest of the NT as a continuing story of Jesus in and through his body, the church. And being an active part of that story within Jesus’ church.

iv. Engaging with the ongoing story of Jesus through his church in history – knowing and valuing the Creeds, the great Reformation confessions, or more modern ones like Lausanne Covenant and Manila Manifesto – dunno why 2010 Cape Town Commitment not mentioned, esp since Scot loves it.

v. Engaging with, resisting and countering other false stories that claim too much. Contemporary stories like individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism, scientific naturalism and so on.

vi. Embracing the story personally: to be shaped by the gospel story is to believe, repent, and be baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. It is to be converted and empowered by the Spirit. This gospel culture summons people to a life of prayer and a love for and embrace of Christ’s church. A gospel culture will be marked by the kinds of things Jesus does – other directed service and love.

What do you make of his suggestions?

Seems to me that a pretty key question is how different or distinct in actual praxis is this ‘gospel culture’ from a ‘soterian culture’?

If your Christian faith has been re-shaped by the sort of gospel culture that McKnight describes, what has this looked like in practice? What difference has it made?

(I hope to reflect on my own ‘gospel journey’ on Monday.)

Edit – forgot this bit

And just to show that I’m not an uncritical acolyte 😉 – one thing I think a greater emphasis could have been given to is eschatology. Our place in the story is to look forward to its culmination. Christianity is eschatology. The church essentially is an ‘eschatological community’. How many churches think of themselves like that?! Why not? Because of a failure of seeing themselves within the bigger story – this time the ultimate story of God’s eschatological purposes. Therefore this future looking hope needs to be built into the fabric of any ‘gospel culture’.

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (5)

This is the text of a fifth 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.


Guinness do great ads. My favourite is the anticipation one – the guy doing the mad dance to great music while desperately waiting for the pint to settle.

More recently they had the major BELIEVE campaign. Maybe you remember some of them. One had Tom Crean the great Irish Antarctic explorer stuck in a dark cave and getting inspired to make it home by imagining the snow at the entrance being like the swirling head of a pint of the black stuff.  And it is true he became a publican when he got home to Kerry.

The Guinness guys are smart. They know their advertising. And they were selling Guinness as something worth believing in.

But however brilliant their ads, when you think about it, it’s a pretty silly idea to believe in a drink or in a company brand.

But what does it mean to believe?

Lots of people say they believe in God. But the challenge Jesus puts before us is much more than just believing facts about him.

No, Jesus calls us to a much deeper belief than this. He calls each one of us to believe in something worth believing in. Far better than any drink, even if it is ‘good for you’.

Christianity isn’t just believing in facts, it calls us to believe in a person. To worship him and follow Jesus the risen Lord who has given his life for us and who alone is worth believing in.

Don’t believe in anything else, however good it tastes.

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (4)

This is the text of a fourth 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.


A couple of weeks ago a woman was jailed for driving, while drunk, 23 miles the wrong way down the busy M5 motorway in England. Now I’m not having a go at women drivers! All the statistics say men are much more likely to cause accidents.

No the point is that hundreds of drivers must have been screaming at her to turn around, you’re going the wrong way!

Well in this parable of Jesus, that’s also what John the Baptist was saying to Jesus’ opponents. Repent literally means ‘turn around’. Go the other way.

John had come to preach about the coming Messiah and the need to be ready to welcome and follow him. But when Jesus came they didn’t want to listen. They refused to repent.

Why? Because they didn’t think they needed to. Who was this Jesus to tell them they needed to turn their lives around, give up everything and follow him?

You see, each one of us is faced with the same question as the Jewish leaders – how do we respond to Jesus? And our answer to that question all depends on who we think Jesus is.

We’re back to the first four words of the parable – ‘What do you think?’

If you think Jesus was just a teacher from Galilee who stirred people up and then got crucified for his trouble, then he’s just another man with no claim over your life.

But if he truly has been shown to be the Son of God, the risen Lord of all, then the only response is to repent, admit our need of him, turn our lives around, and follow him with all of our hearts wherever he leads.

Which Jesus do you believe in?

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (3)

This is the text of a third 90 second slot on Spirit Radio that are being broadcast each week-day this week at 11.30am. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.

Who is the kingdom of God for?

Let me ask you a question.

Who are the most despised and hated groups of people in Ireland today? The people who bankrupted the nation? The Bankers? The Property Developers? The politicians who failed to govern while greedily misusing their positions of power for personal profit? Drug dealers who exploit the weaknesses of the vulnerable? Paedophiles who use and abuse children?

Maybe as I mention these groups you can feel your blood boil or your stomach lurch. Maybe there are people you know personally who, if you are honest, you can’t stand the sight of – maybe even for good reason.

But here’s the sting in the tail of Jesus’ parable. He says that it’s exactly those sorts of people who are entering the kingdom of God. That shocked and angered his listeners and if we get this parable it should shock and anger us too.

It’s not that Jesus overlooks their wrong actions and says what they did doesn’t matter. He doesn’t. He calls tax collectors and prostitutes to a new life of following him.

But the point I want to leave with you is that entry to the kingdom of God does not depend on how good or successful we are or even how corrupt and greedy and exploitative we have been.

No, there is ONE entry point into the kingdom and it is the same for everyone, whoever they are and whatever they have done. What is it?

That new life begins with repentance and faith. And more of what those words mean tomorrow.

The King Jesus Gospel: a review (1)

Scot McKnight’s new book is The King Jesus Gospel: the original good news revisited

Scot kindly dedicates the book to the team at IBI and number of other places where he gave lectures that became the basis of the book.

If you are a (the) dedicated reader(s) of this blog you might remember that I did an 8 part series on Scot’s Lectures on ‘The Earliest Christian Gospel’. So a lot of the ground was covered there. But it’s interesting to see how he developed the final argument.

Basic premise: From the Reformation on, popular evangelicalism developed a ‘soterian’ gospel and an associated salvation culture, tending to reduce down the gospel to an individual existential plan of salvation, detached from the OT and the story of Israel. It also tends to disconnect salvation from discipleship. The gospel becomes abstract, propositional, logical and un-biblically ‘de-storified’

1 Corinthians 15, Scot argues, is the early and prime example of ‘gospel’ in the NT. And this gospel is best summarised by Jesus the Messiah bring completion to the story of Israel. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ; his life, death, resurrection, ascension and the consummation of the kingdom to come.

This is, Scot argues, the message the 4 gospels tell; it is the gospel of Paul; it is the gospel Peter preaches in Acts, and it is what Jesus himself preaches – he repeatedly puts himself at the centre of God’s purposes for Israel. And, Scot proposes, this is the gospel that you find in the Creeds – much more the story of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 than a four point plan of individual salvation.

In other words, to gospel is to tell the story of Jesus. The aim of evangelism is to lead people to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Discipleship follows, a life of loving obedience and service to the Lord.

The gospel is at heart therefore a christology that calls people to respond to Jesus. And that response is about salvation from sin and from God’s judgement, entered into by faith, repentance and baptism.

Scot’s big concern is that we need to develop a more Jesus focused, narrative ’gospel culture’ as opposed to a ‘salvation culture’ that can be little more than ‘sin management’ (quoting Dallas Willard).

 Some Comments:

1. On a personal note, I think seeing the gospel as primarily christology is right – the NT is a form of extended christological reflection on the Jesus and the saving significance of his life, death, resurrection and that he is reigning as living Lord. Scot is closely connecting gospel and salvation, but he wants to prevent them merging. This will make some people uneasy (Trevin Wax for example, see link below) in that too sharp a distinction is being made. Perhaps Scot’s ‘push back’ is strong, but maybe it needs to be given the overwhelming fusion of NT gospel with ‘plan of salvation.’

And, again personally, I have found that ‘preaching Jesus’ feels evangelistically ‘right’. In my wee 90 second talks on Mt 21:28-32 this week on Spirit Radio I’ve tried to do this – it all comes back to our response to Jesus. Preaching last Sunday I went with Matthew 21:1-17 and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This is a great example of Jesus’ own ‘preaching’ of the good news about himself. In one block of text, he proclaims himself king; cleanses the Temple, the dwelling place of God; demonstrates the healing power of the kingdom come; and assumes praise for himself only due to YHWH alone. And the implications flow naturally from this – the astonishing claims of Jesus call for response. It is this sort of proclamation of Jesus as Lord, Messiah and Saviour that McKnight urges the church to recover.

2. There are already plenty of conversations out there on this book, not least at Ben Witherington’s blog where he interviewed Scot at length, here on Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology and here at Euangelion by Scot’s colleague at North Park University, Joel Willets. Daniel Kirk raises some questions about the continuity between a 1 Cor 15 gospel and the Creeds; Ben Witherington has some telling tweaks and critiques. Maybe others will weigh in with reviews, but I think it’s fair to say, so far, that neither is really contesting the case Scot is making about the biblical content of the gospel. There are strong echoes of what N T Wright, John Dickson, Darrell Bock and others have been unpacking in what Scot says. Trevin Wax has a good 2 part review where he unpacks his agreements and concerns.

I think evangelicals of all hues should be taking this book seriously. It begins with and works out from the great gospel texts of the NT. As part of the process of Semper Reformanda, we should continually be willing to reshape our beliefs and praxis in light of Scripture.

3. One thing I kept noticing was how Scot does keep integrating christology and pneumatology within the overall good news narrative. At first I thought he’d downplayed this, but on a re-reading he really doesn’t – it keeps cropping up. It’s the Spirit who repeatedly makes real the victory won at the cross and resurrection; there has to be a central place in any ‘gospelling’ for the presence and power of the Spirit.

4. I can see some responses dismiss this book as Scot raising up and then demolishing a straw man of the ‘soterian gospel’. ‘We don’t teach that’ people will say, ‘it’s a caricature’. Well I’ve been around long enough to know that it isn’t. A de-storified and, at times, individualistic ‘trust in Jesus and your sins will be forgiven’ gospel emphasis is endemic within popular evangelicalism. The emphasis is on what Jesus can do for you and the benefits of salvation. This sort of gospel presentation does not really need the OT at all. Its focus tends to be ‘transactional’ in terms of what happened at the cross.

Now don’t get me wrong – what happened at the cross is central to the message of the NT; it’s everywhere. I get students to write papers on this. And what happened there is all to do with atonement, the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and judgement. But the cross is not only about good news for the individual; it is cosmic in scope – the redemption of all creation (Col 1.20). So where the benefits of the cross are detached from the story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, the risen Lord, what is left is Willard’s de-storified ‘sin management’ equation.

5. This is why I find Scot’s ideas at the end of the book about building a ‘gospel culture’ helpful. He means by this that in ‘gospelling’ and in our lives, we need to become people of the story. I’ll turn to his ideas on this in the next post.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons (2)

This is the text of a second 90 second slot on Spirit Radio to be broadcast today at 11.30am or so. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces for Monday-Friday this week based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.

Religion versus repentance

Have you ever worked with these two types of people?

One’s first reaction when asked to do something is always to find a reason to say no. ‘Oh, can you find someone else to do that? I don’t have the time’, but when the deadline comes, they’ve made sure it has been done.

The other’s first reaction is always to say, ‘Sure, no problem, I’ll do that’ but when the deadline comes the task isn’t done.

In the story the Pharisees are the second son; they spoke the right words and did the right religious things like praying and tithing, but when push came to shove their actions spoke louder than their words.

They rejected John the Baptist’s call for repentance and faith. They considered themselves good enough already. ‘We know what it takes to keep the law, to be a true Israelite’ they thought. We’re already there.

That’s religion. When we think that we are good enough based on what we do.

Jesus’ simple story posed a challenge to the Pharisees and to each one of us today. Which sort of person are you? Someone who thinks you are already a fairly decent person – who maybe goes to church now and again and doesn’t do anything too bad –  therefore I don’t need to think much about what Jesus is saying?

Or one who, like a tax collector or prostitute, knows their need of God’s love and forgiveness, and joyfully grabs hold of Jesus’ offer of new life through repentance and faith?

90 seconds on the parable of the two sons

This is the text of a 90 second slot on Spirit Radio to be broadcast today at 11.30am or so. Spirit won the first national licence in Ireland for a Christian radio station and began broadcasting earlier this year.

The remit was to draw out five easily accessible mini-conversational pieces for Monday-Friday this week based on Matthew 21:28-32 The Parable of the Two Sons.

Had fun doing them! Feedback welcome.

What do you think?

What do you think? Have you been asked that recently? I guess you probably have. If you are a student in school or college, your teacher will inevitably be asking you what you think – either in class or in an exam. We’re asked what we think in online surveys, by marketing questionnaires on our doorsteps, by our partners and by politicians – but only whenever they want to get elected!

So it’s interesting that, as Jesus begins to tell them a parable, he asks his listeners what they think of him and his message.

Now as you read Matthew’s gospel, his audience wasn’t sympathetic. By and large they were suspicious and opposed to his message that he was the long-awaited Messiah of God. They didn’t think he fitted the bill. He was welcoming into the kingdom of God what they considered to be all the wrong types of people – tax collectors for the occupying Roman Empire and prostitutes for example.

Now if you are like me, I tend to avoid conflict and difficult conversations with people who are likely to disagree with me. But Jesus doesn’t do this. Rather than dismissing or ignoring his opponents, he engages them in discussion and debate. He tells them stories (parables) like this one about the two sons. He challenges their attitudes and provokes them to listen to what God is saying to them.

So if Jesus were to ask you today, What do you think of him, what would your answer be? As he says, have you ears to hear and eyes to see?

Sundays in Mark (73) Courage at Jesus’ burial

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark is in concise descriptive mode, but as usual there is a lot going on behind the scenes. It’s deeply poignant that there is no (male) close relative or disciple of Jesus around to ask for the body so it can be buried quickly before the Sabbath and according to Jewish custom.

Jesus is alone in death, abandoned to his fate.

Joseph of Arimathea, I think, tends to get overlooked. In contrast to the disciples he acts with real courage. Permission to allow a body of a convicted enemy of Rome to be buried had to be granted by Pilate. Joseph is a senior member of the Sanhedrin which had passed its own judgement on Jesus. He must have been drawn to Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom of God.

If it was one thing to take the risk to follow Jesus when he was alive, it is an extraordinary decision for Joseph to identify himself publicly on the side of a dead man. But an urgent decision had to be made, and it was Joseph who stood up to be counted.

Influential and likely well off, it is Joseph, and presumably his servants,  who tend to Jesus’ body and take it to a nearby stone-cut tomb. It is only in death that Jesus is among the wealthy.

Sometimes in life, there comes a moment when you either stand for what is right and what you believe in or you bottle it and don’t.

Maybe sometimes we act like Joseph and grab that moment in faith. Maybe more often we act like the other disciples and disappear or keep our heads down. Joseph certainly was the exception. But the good news is that with Jesus, there is always restoration and forgiveness for a new day and a new opportunity to stand with him.

The Burial of Jesus

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.