Since Michael Bird is aiming to construct an ‘evangelical theology’ (just set Dec’s teeth on edge there, sorry about that) one of the first tasks he has is to answer the question ‘What is the gospel?’ A question that has come up on this blog rather a fair bit. And what Bird says here is solidly in line with N T Wright, Scot McKnight, John Dickson and many others …
The gospel has six themes within it. He unpacks each of these succinctly and persuasively:
1. The gospel is the message of the kingdom of God
2. The gospel includes the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and exaltation
3. The gospel announces the status of Jesus as the Son of David, Son of God, and Lord
4. The gospel proclaimed by the apostles is intimated in the Old Testament
5. The response that the gospel calls for is faith and repentance
6. Salvation is the chief benefit of the gospel
And so Bird’s summary definition:
The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah in fulfillment of Israel’s scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit
Couple of comments.
This is a very helpful summative discussion.
Bird doesn’t really get into the context of intra-evangelical debates and how this definition sits in considerable tension with popular traditional evangelical perceptions of ‘the gospel – where it is (to caricature a bit) ‘You are a sinner under God’s wrath and judgement. Jesus died for you. Believe in Jesus and your sins are forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die’. Or maybe ‘The bad news is that you are sinner. The good news is that Jesus died in your place; believe in him and you will be justified by faith’.
Bird’s scheme does not begin with sin / wrath or equate the gospel with justification by faith. Sin gets a mention in point 2 and point 5 where repentance is a changing one’s view of Jesus and expressing contrition for sin against God. He does say that the gospel is not simply an atonement theology, a system of salvation, it is news of events.
This is right but remains I think counter-intuitive for many evangelicals. I would have thought he’d discuss this gap between NT gospel and popular evangelicalism more in a book on evangelical theology. He does set this gospel up in contrast to the social gospel (and he includes McLaren in this along with Rauschenbusch).
I’d also want to push for more discussion on the evangelical tendency to individualism in contrast to the corporate nature of God’s saving work. The gospel brings the believer into a new community of the King by the Spirit.
And, perhaps unintentionally, the chapter shows how thoroughly N T Wright has blazed the trail on gospel. I can remember not so long ago his summary gospel of ‘Jesus is Lord’ had people scratching their heads thinking he’d made a category mistake. Bird quotes Wright’s summary at the beginning of the chapter before developing his own later. But compare Wright’s with Bird’s and you see that the former’s is so good that there isn’t a lot new to say …
‘The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world. When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus as the risen Lord.’
Comments, as ever, welcome