"Gospel in culture and history." What is the gospel? is an important question for Christians to reflect on in a world as diverse as ours. Knowing our core beliefs around the good news of Jesus brings clarity and direction in what it means to call oneself a Christian.
In their book, What is the Mission of the Church?, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert offer some helpful categories for how the gospel is typically defined:
For some, the gospel is defined with a narrow approach, or a “zoom” lens view of the good news. The motivation is to determine “What is the message a person must believe in order to be saved?” The core of the gospel is defined as the “substitutionary death of Jesus in the place of sinners and the call to repent and believe.” Evangelism, then, is central to sharing the gospel - convincing people of their personal need for Jesus as lord and saviour.
Others adopt a wide approach for defining the gospel - a “wide-angle” lens if the good news. Here the motivation is driven by the question, “What is the whole good news of Christianity?”
The gospel is broad, defined by “all the great blessings that flow from [forgiveness], including God’s purpose to remake the world.” Social justice is often the primary Christian calling - participating with God’s work of renewal and restoration in all of society.
Which definition of the gospel do you prefer? Why?
DeYoung and Gilbert's project reflects a trend in evangelicalism seeking balance and clarity in defining the gospel - an attempt to define the gospel as including both of these definitions. Yet balance gets tricky. There remains an ordering of the two distinctions. For some, the narrow approach is the “gateway” to participation or experience of the broader implications of the gospel. For others, the wide definition is foundational, with the individual implications as a subset of beliefs.
But whatever the emphasis, the attempt is to describe the gospel as narrow and wide. Personal and corporate. Salvation and justice. On and on. And so it should be. With a history full of theological fracture we should welcome balance in our theological formulations. Unity amidst diversity, you could even say, is central to the gospel.
One problem: a balanced approach still accepts that the gospel can be categorized cleanly into tidy concepts. The uniting “and” of the polarizing concepts persists in perpetuating a separation or difference or ordering within the gospel. We may have both emphases, but we still slice up of the gospel pie as if there are different choices depending on your topping preference.
As a result, there is still confusion. We agree there’s balance, but then encounter great variety in defining such balance. People still look for the gospel. We want the right balance. Narrow? Wide? Individual? Corporate? Micro? Macro? What’s the core, or the right ordering of the gospel?
My answer: YES!!! Not both, but yes.
Instead of separate categories needing balance or order, I suggest we have only one category: gospel. And the gospel is the dynamic narrow-wide, individual-corporate, salvation-justice good news of Jesus revealed in history, in scripture, and in our very lives. There is no "and." There are no slices to choose. We don’t need a balanced gospel, but a full gospel - the full gospel pie.