What is the Gospel? This is perhaps the most important question we could ever ask, for the answer we give shapes all that we do and are as Christians (At least it should!).
The gospel focused on the individual
In my experience the most pervasive ‘gospel’ presented in New Zealand (and i suspect in the West in general) is characteristically individualistic. It is typical to focus on the individual or personal aspect of God’s redemptive mission. It is the news of God’s love for you enacted in Jesus’ death on the cross. Of your personal relationship with God. Of your eternal future in heaven rather than hell.
This ‘positioning’ of the individual at the center/forefront of the gospel neglects and pushes the cosmic and social dimensions of God’s redemptive mission to the periphery/background. Furthermore, the cosmic scope is distorted and shrunk. The ‘eschaton’, the summing up of God’s purposes for creation in the future is no longer seen as the establishment of God’s reign over all creation, the presence of his glory throughout, and moral, social, and physical transformation of humankind. Instead the eschaton, if it comes into view at all, becomes the moment of final individual judgment where ones eternity in ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ begins. More often than not this event is located at the point of death (‘where will you go when you die?’).
An individualizing of the gospel thus has the effect of distorting both ecclesiology (in belief and practice) and eschatology.
This coincides with a concentration on the cross and a neglect of the proleptic character of Jesus’ resurrection which, as a re-affirmation of the goodness of creation, grounds God’s promise of the redemptive transformation of creation, not its abandonment.
Perhaps the most destructive consequence is that where the ‘gospel’ is about God’s forgiveness for my sin and the resultant personal relationship between me and him, from the get go we can get the idea that it is about what God has done and can do for me. It is then all too easy to incorporate God into my life rather than his incorporating me into His mission to the world.
I have heard many testimonies where the believer expresses their joy at now having God on their side. Now, lets not get this wrong, God’s love for us extends to all aspects of our lives. But their is something fundamentally wrong about the orientation to life which is expressed in such a testimony.
The gospel in eschatological perspective
Perhaps in evangelism we should begin with the cosmic dimensions of God’s mission, which will then provide the proper context for the individual dimensions of God’s mission. Rather than announcing God’s forgiveness for the individual, we announce God’s forgiveness for the world. Rather then inviting one to accept Jesus as ‘personal Lord and Savior’ we need to invite people to embrace Jesus’ vision of God’s reign as Lord of the world. The individual aspects should not be lost in a violent swing of the pendulum, but the cosmic dimensions should provide the proper context for the individual dimensions.
The decision to follow Jesus is therefore an acceptance of God’s invitation to be part of his promised future and to become a part of its anticipation in the present through the power of His Holy Spirit.
A presentation of the gospel with a proper eschatological perspective (orientation towards God’s promised future) may prevent the assimilation of ‘God’ into ones life, as often occurs atleast in part because of an individually oriented gospel (if not only because it does not challenge consumer culture). One’s life is transformed by the call toward’s God’s promised future by the power of His Spirit among his people in the present. This ‘call towards promised future’ replaces whatever orientation to life was previously formative for one’s life.
Your thoughts please…