What is the Gospel?

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?


Anonymous said…
I go back to Paul's defining of the gospel in 1 Cor 15: Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ was raised, Christ appeared... But even this is the synopsis of a story, so 'telling the story of Jesus' is a good way to summarize the gospel. And then one lives a life appropriate to that story, which leads to ethics. There were different versions of the story of Jesus from the start, and each person sought to live in a way appropriate to the story in different ways. So there is variety in our understanding of the gospel.

Robert Cornwall said…
Chris -- thanks for the reminder of 1 Cor. 15 -- Scot did spend some time on it as well!!
Chuck Queen said…
At the heart of it is the kingdom of God that Jesus embodied and proclaimed, God's dream for a new world that broke into history incarnationally through Jesus. But in light of the Christ Event (his life, message, death, resurrection, and living presence) there is much more to be said. This is what my latest book is about, "A Living Faith: The Dynamics of an Inclusive Gospel." (www.afreshperspective-chuck.blogspot.com)
John said…
Tony Jones makes a similar point in his book on the Didache, that in the early church the 'gospel' was more about a "way of life," and not so much a system of beliefs, and that 'evangelism' was not so much about telling the story of Jesus as it was about living out the "way of life" with our every breath.
Steve Kindle said…
I like the direction these posts are taking. Ultimately, the Progressive Christian difference is that we progressives conceive of Christianity as the religion Jesus followed and taught his disciples to follow. It is about his Way, not about him. The translating of Gal, 2:16 summarizes this well. Up to and including the King James Version, it reads, "...so that we might be justified by the faith OF Jesus Christ..." Since then, it reads, "...so that we might be justified by faith IN Jesus Christ." (Emphasis mine) Pistis can be translated either way, so we have to depend on context. The direct analogy Paul uses is to compare Jesus' faith with Abraham's faith in the next chapter. It isn't faith in Abraham, but having Abraham's faith that is salvific. So it is that by having the kind of faith Jesus had and taught, we are justified. The change in this translation roughly parallels the change in Christianity from a way of life, to belief in propositions.

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