Recently, I have found myself and others engaged in debates over the components of the biblical Gospel. Some may question why such conversations still persist after 2,000 years of Christianity. After all, the core message of Christianity is the Gospel. However, Christians do not always agree on the necessary components of the Gospel. Numerous Christians articulate the Gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. However, more and more evangelicals are articulating the Gospel in terms of Scripture’s story over Jesus’ story. This emergent articulation of the Gospel comprises four areas: 1) creation, 2) fall, 3) redemption, and 4) restoration. Why are they articulating the Gospel as a set of stories comprising a grand meta-narrative? Why is Jesus’ sacrificial atoning death, His burial, and His glorious resurrection only part of what comprises the Good News?
A Shift from Christ Event to Meta-Narrative
In their attempts to discover the Missio Dei, proponents of this meta-narrative form of the Gospel have adopted a missional hermeneutic of the entire Bible rather than investigating the early church’s proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, these proponents conceive the Gospel message preached by the early church as a component of the Bible’s meta-narrative. Christopher Wright, one of the proponents, states,
The Bible presents itself to us fundamentally as a narrative, a historical narrative at one level, but a grand narrative at another. It begins with the God in creation, moves on to the conflict and problem generated by human rebellion against his purpose for creation, spends most of its narrative journey in the story of God’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history, and finishes beyond the horizon of its own history with the eschatological hope of a new creation.
Consequently, Wright and others holding the same position broaden the Gospel to an outline of the Bible: Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.
Is Christ Part or All of the Gospel?
Proponents who articulate the Gospel in meta-narrative form frequently utilize the Christ event as part of a group of stories that constitute the Gospel. Although Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration serve as frameworks to help unbelievers understand the Gospel better, must the personal evangelist articulate each component part of the meta-narrative in order for redemption to take place?
The sermons of the early church found in the book of Acts do not include all four themes. For example, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 does not mention the creation or the fall stories. However, the Bible reveals that redemption took place when it states, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).
The early church did not perceive that their good works and their preaching of the Good News would restore this world to a golden age in order to usher in the return of their King. Instead, they preached the Good News in order to bring people into His Kingdom so that Jesus could restore all things upon His return (e.g., Acts 1:6).
The Early Church’s Use of the Gospel
A brief look at the early church’s proclamation is vital to understanding how to articulate the Gospel. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Gospel derives from two sources. First, Paul stated, “I received it [the Gospel] through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12b). Second, he understood the same Gospel to appear in Scripture. He articulated the Gospel according to Scripture when he stated,
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Paul acknowledged that the Gospel emphasized the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, Paul, as well as the other apostles, understood the Gospel message to contain essential points that emphasize the historicity of Jesus Christ. What were these essential components of the early church’s Gospel proclamation?
What Should the Gospel Message Contain?
The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by evangelizing with a Gospel that included specific truths. Thus, the message consists of the fulfillment of Old Testament promises (cf. Acts 2:16; 3:18, 10:43; 13:32-33). Second, the Gospel places emphasis on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2:30; 3:20.). Third, the message concerning Christ offers forgiveness leading the hearers to repent and believe (cf. Acts 2:38).
Theological liberalism was birthed when scholars started focusing on the reliability of history over the supposed mythology of Jesus’ story. While those who utilize a meta-narrative Gospel over the concise Gospel should not be charged with theological liberalism, my fear is that they are adopting a similar method with a different application. In this construct, His story gets lost in history. Therefore, let meta-narrative proclaimers remind us proclaimers of the simple Gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” along with the history that these elements contain. But may they also be reminded of the old hymn that says, in telling the “old, old story,” we must focus on “Jesus and His love.”
Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 64.
Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost presents the previously mentioned elements as well as those that followed.