What is the Good News

thcgddluiyThe Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than the story of our savior. While beliefs about salvation, prosperity, truth, forgiveness and love are integral to God’s plans, they are not the purpose of God’s mission through Christ. In his book “Announcing the Reign of God” Mortimer Arias contends that the “good news” is intended to accomplish the “Kingdom of God”. He writes, “The evangelistic message has been centered in personal salvation, individual conversion and incorporation into the church. The kingdom of God as a parameter or perspective or as content of the proclamation has been virtually absent.” [1]

The term ‘gospel’ is often used by ministers and churches as a qualifier for evangelistic aspirations such as: the gospel of salvation, the gospel of prosperity, the gospel of forgiveness, the gospel of truth, the gospel of love. There is nothing wrong in this. The problem arises when we pursue these aspiration as the Holy Grail to which all efforts strive. Evangelism founded on specific objectives has come to define God’s good news. Thus evangelism based on “…reductionist version of the kingdom…”[2] gives us a pseudo-understanding of the real gospel. Essentially we understand the good news from human-centered evangelisms that fulfill our needs rather than the gospel identifying the evangelistic mission of the church. Though the good news provides a guidebook too achieve determined goals, its true purpose is to reaffirm what God is striving for in the world.

Therefore the gospel is not the actions we take to share or further God’s work through Christ. It is an awareness of God’s purpose for us through Christ. In John 1 verse 29 John the Baptist says to his followers, “…“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”[3] Christ mission was to redeem humankind by removing the stain of sin. A humanity redeemed through Christ, would allow God to fulfill His kingdom. As Arias states, “And finally, while we hold together in perspective of the kingdom, we will be centered in the one who is the author and fulfiller of our faith, Jesus Christ, the incarnated presence of the kingdom and “the proclaimer of the kingdom.” Kingdom evangelization, then, cannot but be Christ-centered evangelization.” [4]

Thus the gospel of Jesus Christ is a reassurance to us that God intends to fulfill the Kingdom. This realm requires faith, hope, love, redemption, transformation and other elements in order to come to fruition. However these components are not the goal of the gospel. They are essential “building blocks” which are required and will be present when the gospel kingdom is achieved. While Jesus played a cohesive and essential role in furthering God’s purpose, the messiah’s story was not the gospel itself. Through Jesus the “sin of the world’ is removed, and then truth, hope, faith, love and salvation can occur allowing the fulfillment of the “Kingdom”. It is God’s faithful promise that is the gospel, a promised that is to be fulfilled through “Christ-centered evangelization”. This gospel kingdom is inclusive of these “building blocks” and their presence is acknowledged.

What is Evangelism?

The words Gospel and evangelism came to express the teachings of Christ in a roundabout way. Derived from the Old English word of goodspell, and the Greek euangélion they both shared similar meanings of “good news”. Following two different linguistic paths from German, Old English, Greek, Latin, than French, euangélion and goodspell became symbiotic in telling the good news of Jesus Christ.[5]

However they are not the same thing. If the gospel is the good news of God’s kingdom then evangelism is the sharing of the gospel. However a more concise definition entails understanding evangelism as three components or phases:

a) seeking God in our lives,

b) allowing God to change our lives.

c) witnessing to God’s transforming grace in our lives.

If we do not truly seek the first two then the third has no authority. Evangelism is storytelling with an important message learned through personal experience. If we do not have that experience or forget the message, it is no longer evangelism and we are simple repeating old fables from ancient mythology.

Pastors who serve the multiple roles of church administrators, spiritual teacher, counselor or occasional janitor can be lured into a “church-centered” rather than Christ or Kingdom centric evangelism. It is easy to lose the message when attempting to galvanize a congregation into a missional church. Evangelism is the means by which a church shares the gospel and each church attempts to performs evangelism according to its unique ability. The pastor’s job is to find what those unique abilities are and how to utilize them. Evangelism is not about telling the gospel but revealing it accurately, effectively and with sincerity that is genuine and authentic. Fundamentally it is about living the good news.

Unfortunately most churches want to tell the story of their church and not of God’s kingdom so evangelism becomes focused on the church rather than Christ. Theologian and author Martha Grace Reese writes, “God matters more than church. The purpose of evangelism is to help new men, women and children begin a life of relationship with God.” [vi] It is not the church which will transform the world but God in a relationship with us through Christ. The “Church supports that relationship”[vii]

Evangelism is an external effort to share the gospel with people outside the church. For this to be effective, genuine and authentic, evangelism must first occur within the church. Thus a working definition of evangelism must include its transformational impact in the congregation. The problem is that its impact is too often mechanical rather than spiritual. Pastors and laity do the motions of outreach and ministry but are not motivated by the gospel message. Therefore if gospel evangelism, the sharing of God’s kingdom, is not authentically felt in the church, it cannot be shared outside the church. As Martha Reese states, “We must do the only realistic thing. We need to look the facts in the face, to pray that God lets us continue to love and honor God, and to see the state of the churches with as much clarity as each one of us is able to bear.”[viii]

Therefore it is not sufficient for a church to seek God, it is imperative to allow God to transform the church as well. Which means gospel-centered evangelism begins with the individual Christian. According to Reese, “Doesn’t it make sense that if doing evangelism is about helping others connect with God’s love, then the more connected we are with God ourselves, the better we’ll be able to do our parts?” [ix]

This requires humbly and genuinely opening ourselves and our church community to God’s gospel with the desire to be changed for the fulfillment of that gospel. These are the first steps toward evangelism; seeking and allowing God to enter into our lives through Christ. Only then are we prepared to become real storytellers and begin witnessing to others. “Then we can ask God to guide us, step by step, to do whatever things we’re each supposed to be doing.”[x]

Why Do Evangelism?

For people who sought and allowed God through Jesus to transform their lives, the question of “Why do evangelism?” seems superfluous. It is because they have been filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus commissioned them to do so. They have been “born again” into a “new man” and can no more not evangelize than not eat or drink.

In, “Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith” the authors share what motivate Methodist followers to evangelize. “The central motive was not recruiting new members for the church. It was not a reluctant yet dutiful obedience to a command of God. It was, instead, a profound gratitude to God and a deep compassion for others. It was the Methodists’ experience of having received a message that had made all the difference in their own lives, and their resulting desire to share that message with others in the hope it would transform their lives as well.”[xi]

It was stated previously that the story of Jesus is not the gospel. The promise of God’s kingdom is. That promise still holds true today, that God will establish his kingdom through Christ. The spirit of Christ now lives in the world through the church and the members of its community. Therefore the church community is the primary instrument by which God will complete His promise. Certainly no political party, environmental group or secular charity organization will engage in Kingdom founding. Therefore it is the central mission of the church to declare God’s work in the world by living and sharing our faith. “The good news is shared through proclamation and testimony, and experienced in community through vital worship, caring fellowship, regular personal devotions, and acts of compassion and justice to others.”[xii]

There are many scriptures expressing this idea. It is in the Book of James that modern Christians may come to understand the need to engage in gospel centered evangelism. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[xiii] The word of God, the Bible, nurtures us, and the work of God, evangelism, keeps us strong and engaged in the world. If the church does not simultaneously evangelize internally and externally then it will not have the strength or will to fulfill the Gospel, God’s kingdom on earth.

[1] Arias, Motimer . Announcing the Reign of God (Location; Introduction xv). Wipf and Stock Publishers 1984 Fortress Press

[2] Arias, Motimer . Announcing the Reign of God (Location; Introduction xv). Wipf and Stock Publishers 1984 Fortress Press

[3] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha John 1:29 (Kindle Locations 62282-62283). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[4] Arias, Motimer . Announcing the Reign of God (Location; Introduction xvii). Wipf and Stock Publishers 1984 Fortress Press

[5] The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gospel.

Oxford University Press 2016 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gospel

 

[vi] Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 (pg 14) Chalice Press, St Louis MO.

[vii] Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 (pg 14) Chalice Press, St Louis MO.

[viii] Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 (pg 42) Chalice Press, St Louis MO

[ix] Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 (pg 60) Chalice Press, St Louis MO

[x] Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 (pg 42) Chalice Press, St Louis MO

[xi] Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Locations 47-49). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.

[xii] Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Locations 121-123). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.

[xiii]Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68636-68639). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

  • Wesley, John; Bureau, Better Bible. Wesley’s Explanatory Notes Bible Commentary. Kindle Edition.
  • Birch, Bruce C.; Brueggemann, Walter; Fretheim, Terence E.; Petersen, David L.. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: 2nd Edition. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Anderson, Ken. Where to Find It In The Bible (A to Z Series). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
  • Arias, Motimer . Announcing the Reign of God. Wipf and Stock Publishers 1984 Fortress Press
  • Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  • Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 Chalice Press, St Louis MO.
  • Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith. Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.
  • The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gospel.
  • Oxford University Press 2016 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gospel