N.T. Wright states that the core of the gospel, especially for Paul, is the royal proclamation that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and by direct implication, he is Lord of the world. As such, he has climaxed Israel’s story, reconfiguring God’s people around himself.
McKnight’s article provides a dimension of contemporary relevance as he highlights the common distortions of the gospel and then moves to discuss a fuller, more biblical perspective of God’s good news. I wanted to highlight a few points that I found worth pondering.
First, the gospel is a story and not a formula. The royal proclamation that Jesus is truly Israel’s long-awaited Messiah is part of a gigantic story that begins with the creation account and moves forever forward to the new creation. And like any brilliant story, it engulfs our personal stories within it, carrying us along and shaping us as our stories unfold.
Second, retellings of the gospel must always take into account the fact that humans are created in God’s image but distorted by sin. Therefore we are capable of both majestic goodness and miserable meanness. Both realities must be held in two hands. The gospel is not simply about forgiveness from abstract sin or teaching us how to unleash our inherent potential. Rather, the gospel is about the restoration of human beings forward into the image of God.
That last sentence raises an important sub-issue. The gospel is not about restoring us back to a pre-Fall Edenic condition. Like any story, we cannot not go backward — only forward. So the restoration that is inherent in the gospel story is a restoration forward to a new creation and a new humanity in the image of God. We are moving forward into something startling fresh and unimagined, yet also startling familiar and recognizable; something simultaneously brand new and ancient.
Third, the glimpses we have of God’s future renewed creation help us see both what to anticipate in our future and how to live in our present. So the gospel has one foot planted in the present and one foot planted in the future — the future envisioning us for life in the present. And the glimpses into our future reveal that God’s new world will be populated by redeemed humanity as a worshipping fellowship. The Revelation especially, depicts humanity crowded together (intimate fellowship) around God’s throne in expressive and intimate worship. (Fortunately, we will also be healed of any claustrophobia we may currently experience.) This provides us with the general template for dealing with present-day issues with an inaugurated and anticipated eschatology. How does my life in Christ today build in my relationships, community and world toward this future vision of redeemed humanity living in harmony with God, one another and creation?
Finally, the fuller, biblical expression of the Gospel reorients the task of evangelism. Evangelism shifts from the old model of “how to get people in” to a progressive model of “helping people participate in God’s work.” McKnight likens the old way of evangelism to a birth certificate or marriage certificate — say this prayer in order to get in or to get the necessary assurance that you’re in. The new way of evangelism is more about helping people to live after they’ve been born or helping people to be married after the wedding. In other words, evangelism is helping people to fall in love with God, people and creation and then to participate in God’s renewing project on the earth.
I personally think, that in many expressions, evangelism will be more about working with people of different life-orientations on the common project of God’s renewing work in the earth and less of working on people as projects themselves, trying to convince them to adopt our perspective and join our churches. In other words, Jesus will be embodied and present as we befriend one another in a common mission rather than viewing other people as the mission. This will remove the “we-have-it-and-they-need-it” perspective that hinders much of evangelism today. This is primary reason why I love what Jim Henderson and friends are doing with Off The Map. They are putting real feet on evangelism.
I think McKnight’s article is a great reflection for Advent. What better way to celebrate Christ’s arrival into our damaged world as the renewing fullness and embodiment of God and to anticipate his return to consummate God’s new creation than to reflect on what this Good News truly means for us and our world.