For the past few years, my reading and thinking has focused on the nature of the gospel. Almost five years ago, I led a seminar for our soon-to-be church plant team on the topic “What is the Gospel?” My thought then was this: if we are moving to a new city to start a new church, we had better know the gospel. If we were to going to invest time and energy in any area, I said, it ought to be a robust understanding of a robust gospel. Too often church plants rely upon marketing strategies or cutting-edge ministry technique. Maybe because we knew we simply were not that cool or talented, we decided instead to get good at knowing and applying the gospel to the needs of our neighbors and our world.
For that seminar, I regurgitated D.A. Carson’s lecture also titled “What is the Gospel?” he delivered at the 2007 Gospel Coalition Conference. I typed 12 pages (single-spaced!) of notes as I listened to Carson exegete 1 Corinthians 15, drawing out 8 characteristics of the gospel and 5 accompanying truths of the gospel. My mind was blown by the depth and profundity of the “basic” message of Christianity. Many, but not all, of my lingering questions had been answered. I had struggled with how a neatly-packaged “here’s how you get to heaven” message held broader application to bigger issues in the world. What did “my gospel,” the message that gave me eternal life, have to do with child-soldiering in Uganda or human trafficking in Cambodia? What did “my gospel” have to do with the people of the Old Testament or the grand narrative of Scripture? Carson’s lecture launched me into a study into the nature of the gospel that is still going today.
In case you haven’t noticed, a spate of new literature has emerged on the topic. Big-name Christians are pumping out books with their rendition of the good news. Matt Chandler wrote The Explicit Gospel. JD Greear wrote The Gospel. Greg Gilbert wrote What is the Gospel? Scot McKnight wrote (my favorite) The King Jesus Gospel. And most recently Tim Keller and a group of leaders from the Gospel Coalition wrote The Gospel as Center. Christianity Today magazine just launched a five-year venture called The Global Gospel Project. Lifeway just rolled out their own The Gospel Project. That’s a lot of gospel, isn’t it?
Not shockingly, not everyone agrees on everything. The discussion is one I believe we must enter into. But it’s not what I am going to do here. What all of these authors agree upon is the fact that the gospel is bigger than our attempts to abbreviate it and more far-reaching than our attempts to package it. What I plan to do in the next few blog posts is highlight a few characteristics of the gospel. Truth be told, I recently had the privilege of teaching at a collegiate summer leadership program and my posts here will summarize my messages there. These teachings will become a sermon series our church will use in the fall titled “The _____ of the Gospel.” So, if nothing else, these blogs will help me to further develop the material. Stay tuned for the first in this series!