As I try to debrief my time at the Rochester College sponsored continuing education event -- Streaming: Biblical Conversations for the Missional Frontier -- I want to focus on a question Scot McKnight posed to us in his lecture on the missional implications of James. As you may know Martin Luther called the Letter of James an "epistle of straw," because he didn't find Christ preached in the letter. Indeed, you'll only find a couple of oblique references to Jesus in the letter, but the question concerns whether the gospel is present in James. Scot's answer forces us to wrestle with our definition.
If we mean by gospel a plan of salvation (a 4 spiritual laws), then no there's no gospel -- but is that the gospel?
Scot's view is that the gospel is the telling the story of Jesus' life. Thus, as we see in Mark 1:1ff
The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, 2 happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Look, I am sending my messenger before you .He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness:“ Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight . ” (Mk. 1:1-3 CEB)
For Scot, the gospel is the message that Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel (Acts 10).
So, with regard to James, which doesn't directly quote Jesus or speak of him, how is this gospel? Scot finds parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount (for instance), and suggests that it is gospel in the sense that it calls on us to live each day in the light of the teachings of Jesus, which James offers though seemingly indirectly.
Thus, James wants us to know that the gospel has something to do with the way we live our lives -- our behavior. Is this "works righteousness" as Luther feared? Or is this the message of Jesus, that the way we live our lives embodies the kingdom of God?
Now, Scot might have issues with the way I've laid this out -- it's more my reflections on his presentation than direct quotes, but I think it's a conversation worth having. What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?