One of the things I’ve appreciated about the Emerging Church conversations is the attempt to rediscover the biblical Gospel. For too long the Gospel has been held hostage by a modern, reductionist parody.
Recently, I started listening to some lectures given by NT Wright in 2006 while simultaneously making my way through his commentary on Romans. I’ll try to summarize some stuff that he’s brought up.
In Romans 1, Paul states that the Gospel is the royal proclamation that Jesus is Israel’s royal Messiah and therefore the true Lord of creation. This proclamation is a direct confrontation with Caesar’s “Gospel.” Caesar was proclaimed to be the “son of God” since his father was proclaimed to be divine, and the “savior” and “lord” of the world since he brought peace and justice through his political and military might. But where Caesar’s “Gospel” is achieved through oppression and power, Jesus’ Gospel is proven through the Spirit and the resurrection.
Paul then declares that through this royal proclamation of Jesus’ true lordship, God’s covenantal faithfulness, his transforming restorative justice that will make creation right, has been revealed. Jesus’ lordship is the climax of God’s plan to restore the cosmos, proving God’s faithfulness to creation and humanity.
So the Gospel is the good news that through Jesus, God is saving his creation. In this context, people are saved as part of this larger process. In fact, people are saved as they are swept up in God’s saving purposes for creation and thereby become God’s saving agents to creation.
This is where the importance of narrative functions. Romans reveals the climax of a story begun in Genesis, incorporating many biblical sub-themes. In the beginning, God creates a dynamic, beautiful and good creation and then creates a people through whom his nurture and order for creation are manifested. These people are given a portion of the larger world — the Garden — in which to express their responsible stewardship in anticipation of the inheritance of the whole world. Created in the image of God, they are to shine God’s person and presence into the world through their stewardship. However, instead of bringing care and order into the world, they bring distortion and chaos.
God then creates a new people, through whom he will save and restore broken creation. Similar to the first humans, the nation of Israel is given a portion of the larger world — the Land — in which to express their responsible stewardship in anticipation of the inheritance of the whole world. Blessed with the Law and other gifts to mediate God’s presence, they are to shine as a light in the darkness. However, instead, of bearing the solution to creation’s brokenness, they become part of the larger problem.
As you can tell so far, God chooses to engage his creation through human beings. This climaxes in Jesus. Jesus is the faithful human (the Second Adam) and the faithful Israelite (the Messiah, Israel’s royal representative) who ultimately on the cross bears the tension of the problem of sin and brokenness and God’s solution and restoration. God finally works through a human, a faithful representative of humankind and Israel, to accomplish what he purposed from the beginning.
God again creates a new people through Jesus, by giving them his Spirit, who in turn is restoring the image of God in their humanity and enabling them to fulfill the Torah as the true Israel. In this way, this new people becomes God’s restorative presence in a broken world, the light in the darkness. And since Christ climaxes both humankind’s story and Israel’s story, God’s new humanity and new Israel are no longer restricted to the Garden or the Land. Our realm of stewardship is the entire creation.
Paul makes this clear first in Romans 4:13, where he declares that Abraham — who is not just the father of ethnic Israel, but now through Christ’s faithfulness, the father of all God’s people — would inherit not just the land but the entire world. Paul then states more explicitly in Romans 8 that our inheritance as Spirit-indwelt people, and thus being co-heirs with Christ, is the entire creation.
The exciting aspect of this story is that we are at work with God in bringing about our own inheritance. Broken creation groans for God’s children to be revealed. God’s children, in the midst of groan creation, also groans waiting for the final redemption of our bodies. And the Spirit, in the midst of groaning people, also groans in intercession for us. And this whole process is driving forward as God works all things for the good — forming the likeness of Christ into those who called according to God’s restorative purposes.
Into this sub-theme of Spirit and Law, NT Wright makes a cool observation. Jesus and the Spirit in Acts 1 & 2 parallels Moses and the Law. As Moses ascended the mountain, hidden by the clouds, to dwell in God’s presence and then returns to give God’s people the Law, Jesus now ascends, hidden by a cloud, to dwell in God’s presence and then returns to give God’s people the means to fulfill the Law — the Spirit. In fact, the Feast of Pentecost is the celebration associated with the giving of the Law on Sinai to God’s people. Now on Pentecost, Christ gives his Spirit to God’s people so they can actually fulfill the Law. It is this same Spirit who forms the likeness of Christ in God’s people and intercedes for them as they become God’s restorative presence on earth.
So God’s salvation is not just given to human beings. Rather it is given through human beings to the entire creation. So we experience God’s salvation as we participate in the larger salvation of creation. That’s Good News!