Claiming the G word (3) gospel replacing Jesus

A third reason that makes me question the overuse of the G word as an adjective to describe much of what we do is that it promotes a rationalistic and narrow view of the Christian faith.

For example, in the newsletter I mentioned in the first post, despite all the gospel language, the name of Jesus was hardly mentioned.

It seems to me that something weird is going on when overuse of the G word begins to replace the one about whom the gospel is actually all about.

Without hardly noticing, our assent and fidelity to ‘the gospel’ can become the defining core of our faith and the main measure of our ‘evangelical orthodoxy’. Our ‘soundness’ is measured through the prism of assenting to particular propositions – often entailing ‘the gospel’ being assumed to mean a summary of ‘how to get right with God’.

And if the gospel is understood as little more than evangelistic activity, the shape of the Christian life that is valued tends to be highly ‘activistic’. It is what we are doing to spread and share the gospel that is the ultimate measure of our gospel faithfulness.

There is little space in this gospel for the transforming impact of life within the kingdom of God, of Spirit empowered living marked by his fruit, and for seeing all of the Christian life as a call to live a life shaped by the redemptive mission of God to redeem all creation.

Being a Christian does not equal just rationally believing some propositions: it means repentance and a living faith in God, being united to Christ in baptism through the Spirit, following Jesus as Lord, forgiving others, loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself.

That’s what the gospel leads to. In other words, the gospel is not an end in itself, but a doorway to a transformed life: head, hands and heart.

Yes of course it involves evangelism, mission and believing the apostolic good news. But that good news should lead to the formation of ‘people of good news’ – people who ARE good news in their lives and relationships.

This is the ultimate test of ‘gospel faithfulness’ – and it’s a much more searching and broader one than just claiming that all we do is ‘gospel work’ (evangelistic activity).

See this great Pauline ‘gospel text’ in Colossians 1

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Faith in Jesus Christ; love for God’s people; faith and love springing up from hope that itself is based on the gospel. A gospel that is about God’s grace. A gospel message that is shared and communicated (the evangelism of Epaphras) and issues in people marked by ‘love in the Spirit’.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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2 thoughts on “Claiming the G word (3) gospel replacing Jesus

  1. Yes I agree with all this. But in your piece Patrick you slip inadvertently into using the word ‘gospel’ yourself as shorthand for all that Jesus stands for. It seems to me that from a simple grammatical point of view we are obliged to use a single word in place of ten or fifteen other words even if the latter bring greater clarification to a topic. For instance, we have to use the word ‘God’ as Christians, despite the myriad ways this noun has been misunderstood or debased. We can’t keep modifying this word every time we use it.

  2. Hello Philip and welcome.
    Fair point.
    I was trying (probably in a long-winded way!) to get how some uses of ‘gospel’ tend to make evangelical orthodoxy sound like it revolves around abstract mental assent rather than a relationship of love and worship with a personal God.

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