Saturday 31 July 2010

Tim Keller on Proverbs

Tim Keller, ‘Proverbs: A Mini-Guide to Life’.

This is a short piece by Tim Keller in which he avers that Proverbs 3:3-12 contains ‘all the themes of the rest of the book, and therefore a kind of mini-guide to faithful living’. From these verses, he notes ‘five things that comprise a wise, godly life’:

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

2. Submit your whole mind to the Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

Once More, D.A. Carson on The God Who is There

Having already referred to this Bible story overview twice already (here and here), I thought I should note that the audio files (and video preview files) of a 14-part seminar connected with the book have been made available here.

It is said that the series ‘simultaneously evangelizes non-Christians and edifies Christians by explaining the Bible’s storyline in a non-reductionistic way’. In addition: ‘It’s one thing to know the Bible’s storyline, but it’s another to know one’s role in God’s ongoing story of redemption. “The God Who Is There” engages people at the worldview-level.’

Nijay Gupta and Martin Salter on Colossians

Nijay Gupta, ‘New Commentaries on Colossians: Survey of Approaches, Analysis of Trends, and the State of Research’, Themelios 35.1 (2010), 7-14.

This is a very helpful short essay, not only highlighting six recent commentaries on Colossians, but looking briefly at how they handle the following interpretive cruxes in Colossians:

• Authorship
• The Colossian heresy or philosophy
• Paul and the sufferings of Christ (1:24)
Stoicheia tou kosmou (2:8, 20)
• The fullness (pleroma) of God (1:19; 2:9)
• Shadow and body/substance (2:17)
• Worship of angels (2:18)
• The household codes (3:18-4:1)

This same issue of Themelios also contains a longer essay on Colossians 2:11-12:

Martin Salter, ‘Does Baptism Replace Circumcision? An Examination of the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism in Colossians 2:11-12’, Themelios 35.1 (2010), 15-29.

His discussion takes in the situation at Colossae, Paul’s theology of circumcision and baptism, before providing a close exegesis of Colossians 2:11-12.

If you don’t want to know his answer to the question before reading the article, don’t scroll down…

No. (At least, not on the basis of Colossians 2:11-12 alone.)

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Mark Meynell on Christopher Ash on the Biblical Story

Christopher Ash, Remaking a Broken World: The Heart of the Bible Story (Bletchley: Authentic, 2010), 240pp., ISBN 9781850788737.

Head over to Quaerentia, where Mark Meynell has a helpful review of what looks like it could be yet another useful contribution to the ‘going-through-the-biblical-story’ genre.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Proverbs

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 153:

‘The book of Proverbs fits into the biblical story by giving practical instruction to the young (and all others listening in) in order to help them follow in the ways of the Lord and have a beneficial, fruitful life on earth.’

Saturday 17 July 2010

American Theological Inquiry 3, 2 (2010)

The latest issue of American Theological Inquiry is now online (here), with the following contents:

Patristical Reading

St. John Chrysostom
On the Priesthood, Book II, 1c-4


Paul Helm
Senses, Intellect and Spirit

Gerald O’Collins, S.J.
Philip Pullman on the Miracles of Jesus

L. Clifton Edwards
The Beauty of Frontier: A Revelation of the Human Destination in God

David H. Wenkel
Paul Barnett and the Logic of History: Some Problems With his Approach to the Historical Jesus

Ryan McIlhenny
‘God is in Your Head’: Neurotheology and Religious Belief

Glenn B. Siniscalchi
Knowing That God Exists: Retrieving the Teaching of Dei Filius

Bruce Ballard
Affective Constitution and the Problem of Suffering

Erik J. Wielenberg
Objective Morality and the Nature of Reality

Lyle Story
An Inclusive Olive-Tree (Romans 11:11-24)

Book Reviews

The Ecumenical Creeds of Christianity

Friday 16 July 2010

James H. Waltner on the Psalms

James H. Waltner, Psalms, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale: Herald, 2006), 838pp., ISBN 9780836193374.

This is the volume on the Psalms in a generally-overlooked (in my opinion) series of commentaries on the Bible.

The publishers make available the Table of Contents and the 12-page Introduction, which includes helpful sections on encountering God in the Psalms, finding one’s way through the Psalms, theological themes in the Psalms (the Lord as refuge, the incomparable God, God the King, the human situation, the community of the people of God, the vitality of worship, the Psalms as Scripture, instruction and obedience), the Psalms and the New Testament, and suggestions for using the commentary.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Bible Apps for the iPhone

Bible Reading Fellowship have produced apps for their daily Bible reading notes, New Daylight, and their more in-depth study series, Guidelines. More information and the opportunity to sign up for a free two-week trial here.

Krish Kandiah refers to New Daylight in a review of some Bible apps for the iPad and iPhone here.

Again, D.A. Carson on The God Who is There

Having earlier noted (here) D.A. Carson’s forthcoming book on the biblical storyline, I thought it would be worth mentioning that the publishers make available an excerpt comprising the Preface and first chapter (here).

Below is his outline, which gives a flavour of how the whole thing will run – with an emphasis on who God is and what God does:

1. The God Who Made Everything
2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels
3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements
4. The God Who Legislates
5. The God Who Reigns
6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise
7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being
8. The God Who Grants New Birth
9. The God Who Loves
10. The God Who Dies – and Lives Again
11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just
12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People
13. The God Who Is Very Angry
14. The God Who Triumphs

Friday 9 July 2010

Exploring Biblical Themes (5): Covenant

[This is a lightly edited transcript of an LICC podcast segment, first uploaded to the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity on 7 July 2010.]

‘I will be your God, and you will be my people’ are words that resonate across the pages of Scripture (see, e.g., Exodus 6:6-8; Leviticus 26:12). They capture in a short-hand formula the essence of the covenant relationship between God and his people.

And when it comes to themes that span the whole Bible, there are none nearly so prominent as covenant. Apart from anything else, its importance is seen in the designation we give to the two parts of the Christian Bible – the Old and New testaments, or covenants.

The word itself occurs over 300 times in English translations of the Bible, as well as being bound up with other significant terms like ‘steadfast love’, and even the covenant name for God himself – Yahweh, the Lord God.

Beyond the use of words, the biblical story itself can be seen as a series of covenants that God makes and renews with his people, binding him and them together. We can see that God administers his kingdom through various covenants, and to trace the covenants is to trace his unfolding rule over, and relationship with, his people.

So significant is the concept that some Christian traditions have held that we must see God in covenant with creation itself, and Adam and Eve – since, even though the word ‘covenant’ itself is not used in the first chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God enters into a special relationship with men and women, giving them designated authority as those created in his image. Some have even suggested that we should understand the members of the godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as ‘covenanting’ together in saving men and women, working on the assumption that all of God’s actions must be understood from the perspective of covenant.

Even if we decide that’s a step beyond the evidence, there’s no getting away from the fact that covenant is a core theme in Scripture.

The language of ‘covenant’ may seem slightly strange to us today, but it would have communicated powerfully in its original context. In fact, it’s possible to see that many of the biblical covenants are structured in a similar way to treaties made between individuals or between nation-states in the ancient Near East – showing how God speaks and acts in ways his people would understand.

The first mention of the word ‘covenant’ in the Bible is in the account of Noah in Genesis 6:18, which anticipates the promise God makes later with all creatures that ‘never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood’ (Genesis 8:20-9:17). Here’s a covenant which reaffirms God’s original intention for humanity, but which involves not just a nation or people but the earth itself! It’s a lovely reminder that the biblical story is about the whole of God’s world, that God’s goal of redemption will embrace not just one nation, nor even just humanity, but the whole earth.

God’s plan to restore his world is then kicked off in the making of a covenant with Abraham, beginning in Genesis 12, when God promises him descendants and land, and promises to bless all nations through him. God himself guarantees to do this in Genesis 15, and requires the circumcision of males in Genesis 17 as a sign of the covenant. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that the covenant with Abraham is extended to Isaac and then to Jacob, and then to the whole nation in the Sinai covenant.

Sinai doesn’t do away with the Abrahamic covenant, but maintains the relationship between the Lord and Israel, with his people marked out as representing him to the nations. In Exodus 19, God tells them that the whole earth is his, but reminds them they have been singled out to be a kingdom of priests and holy nation, for the blessing of all, in fulfilment of the promise to Abraham (Exodus 19:4-6). As part of that deal, God gives them the law to guide their relationship with him and with each other as they live in the land, in order to show themselves as the special nation God intended them to be – a reminder that with privilege comes responsibility. And, as Deuteronomy tells us, this covenant is renewed in a different context, where a new generation commits themselves to the Mosaic covenant before taking possession of the land.

Then, later on (in 2 Samuel 7:18-29), within the family of Israel, God singles out the king from whom Messiah would come, promising an everlasting line from David. The word ‘covenant’ is not used in 2 Samuel 7, but it is commonly held that the language used in that chapter and elsewhere (such as Psalm 89) shows that a covenant relationship has been formed. The promises made to Abraham become more focused, as the means through which God will bring blessing to the nations is through David’s royal line.

Alas, however, through the whole biblical story, we are confronted with the failure of the people and the failure of the monarchy. The fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and David would have to be met by a true Son of Abraham and Son of David.

And so it is that God promises through the prophets a new covenant, one that he alone will establish. Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the most well-known passage which speaks of a new covenant, but other passages in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah use covenant language as the people anticipate what God will do beyond exile – looking forward to a new covenant which will remove sin, transform the heart, and restore relationship with God; which will transcend national boundaries and extend to the ends of the earth, to all nations, and ultimately (as promised in Isaiah 65-66) to creation itself.

And then comes Jesus – the goal of the covenantal promises, the one in whom the promises made to Abraham and David find their fulfilment, the one in whom the obligations of the Sinai covenant are fulfilled. If the anticipated end of the covenant is the establishment of the kingdom of God, it is clear from the gospels that this gets bound up with the cross as the means by which God will inaugurate the new covenant – where covenant has to do not just with redemption from Egypt or return from exile, but with release from sin. So, if Jeremiah looked forward to a time when God would remember the sins of the people no more, that new covenant is ratified by the death of Jesus, the one through whom salvation will come to all nations.

It’s no surprise, then, in the rest of the New Testament, that the new covenant people is made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, as Paul makes clear – notably in Romans, Galatians, and the central chapters of 2 Corinthians. The covenantal promises are fulfilled in spiritual descendants of Abraham who enjoy relationship with God through faith. The law of God is no longer written on tablets of stone, but written by the Spirit on human hearts. No wonder, then, that the letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 at length (in 8:8-12 and 10:16-17), delighting in the fact that in Jesus God has made a new covenant with his people.

Moreover, we look forward to the final ratification of the covenant in the new heavens and the new earth, as Revelation 21:3 echoes the ancient covenant formula: ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”.’

Of course, as you can imagine or might well know, there’s a lot of discussion as to whether the Bible describes one covenant extending throughout salvation history, which is renewed at various points, or whether we should see distinctions between the covenants. Indeed, some appear unconditional and some conditional, some unilateral and some bilateral, some permanent and some temporary. Some thinkers distinguish between ‘promise’ covenants (like the ones made with Abraham and David) and ‘law’ covenants (like the one made with Israel at Sinai); some distinguish between covenants for new relationships and covenant renewals for renewed relationships.

But this ongoing discussion only shows just how significant the theme of covenant is, providing lenses for understanding who God is and who his people are.

It has important things to say about God himself, about his love and faithfulness, his promises and initiative. And it says something about the value that God places on us, about our nature and destiny, that we are created to enjoy relationship with him. It reminds us that salvation is the restoration of fellowship with God. It tells us that the church can see itself as God’s covenant-partner, created not just to be in relationship with God but with each other too.

And it has implications for lifestyle and mission, because God still calls his covenant people to live in alignment with his will and character, and to display that to men and women in the whole of our lives, as we walk according to his design for human existence, as we live according to the pattern of the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God.

Further Reading
The following books and chapters of books – written at the different levels indicated – provide opportunities to explore a biblical theology of covenant in more detail.

David L. Baker, Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, 3rd edn. (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), 237-64.
An academic textbook exploring the relationship between the two testaments with, as you might expect, a treatment of ‘covenant’ as one of the themes which provides a framework for understanding the unity of the two testaments.

Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi, Storylines: Tracing the Threads that Run Through the Bible (Eastbourne: Survivor, 2008), 65-81.
This is one of the best books for those who are new to the study of biblical themes; the pages cited deal with the covenant.

James E. Davison and Sara Covin Juengst, Journey Through the Word: Exploring Biblical Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 10-19.
A brief treatment.

William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: A Theology of Old Testament Covenants (Exeter: Paternoster, 1984).
An older treatment of the topic, but still significant for the way it connects the different covenants back to God’s purpose for humanity from creation onwards.

Jamie A. Grant & Alistair I. Wilson (eds.), The God of Covenant: Biblical, Theological and Contemporary Perspectives (Leicester: Apollos, 2005).
A collection of papers by scholars on different aspects of the covenant.

Scott J. Hafemann, ‘The Covenant Relationship’, in Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 20-65.
A long essay, presenting a strong argument for the view that ‘Scripture testifies to one, constant relationship between God and his people throughout redemptive history that is formalized and embodies in its successive covenants’ (30).

Scott W. Hahn, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
A significant academic work from an evangelical-turned-Roman-Catholic theologian, arguing that the various covenants described in Scripture form a father-son bond (hence the ‘kinship’ of the title) between God and his people.

Carl B. Hoch, Jr., All Things New: The Significance of Newness in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 75-135.
A chapter-length treatment from a New Testament perspective.

Michael Scott Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
Writing from a Reformed tradition which has made much of the biblical covenants, Horton seeks to identify the essential ingredients of ‘covenant theology’.

W. Eugene March, Great Themes of the Bible Volume 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 12-22.
A brief overview at an accessible level.

Thomas Edward McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985).
Makes a distinction between ‘promise’ covenants (like the one made with Abraham) which are eternally valid, and ‘administrative’ covenants (like the one made at Sinai) which are not.

O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980).
A classic work, emphasising the unity of the different covenants in Scripture as coming to their fulfilment in Jesus.

Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 159-74, 233-36.
A mid-level treatment from an Old Testament perspective.

H.H. Drake Williams III, Making Sense of the Bible: A Study of 10 Key Themes Traced Through the Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 27-47.
Like March (above), Croft and Pilavachi (above), and Davison and Juengst (also above), a brief overview at an accessible level.

Paul R. Williamson, Sealed With an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, New Studies in Biblical Theology 23 (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007).
A stimulating treatment of the individual covenants and the covenant theme in Scripture. Williamson’s most distinctive point is to argue that Genesis 15 and 17 are two separate distinct but related covenants with Abraham which take up different aspects of the promises in Genesis 12:1-3 – descendants and land (taken up in Genesis 15) and international blessing (taken up in Genesis 17), the promise of national blessing to Abraham and the promise of international blessing through Abraham. Williamson also contributed the entry on ‘covenant’ in T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (eds.), New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Leicester: IVP, 2000), 419-29, which is well worth reading.

Previous Exploring Biblical Themes

Exploring Biblical Themes (1): Introduction
Exploring Biblical Themes (2): Creation
Exploring Biblical Themes (3): Humanity
Exploring Biblical Themes (4): Sin

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Craig C. Broyles on the Psalms

Craig C. Broyles, Psalms, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 560pp., ISBN 9781565632202.

In addition to publishing an academic thesis on the conflict of faith and experience in the Psalms, Craig Broyles has written this commentary which I’ve used with profit when preparing sermons on the Psalms.

The publishers kindly make available the Table of Contents (even the headings sometimes indicate a particular line an interpreter is taking to the Psalm as a whole), the Introduction (40 very helpful pages, covering What is a Psalm?, the approach of the commentary, genres and life settings, key traditions of the Psalms, David and the Psalms, the Psalms and spirituality), and the commentary section on Psalms 1-5.

IVP Academic Alert 19, 3 (Fall 2010)

It bills itself as 19, 2, but I think it must be 19, 3 as the previous one was 19, 2…

Anyway, the most recent Academic Alert from IVP (USA) is online (available here), highlighting new and forthcoming publications, including a volume by James R. Payton on some mistaken ideas about the Reformation, and two books on the integration of theology and psychology.

Monday 5 July 2010

John Wyatt on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

John Wyatt, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Cambridge Papers 19, 2 (June 2010).

The Jubilee Centre has made available the latest Cambridge Paper on euthanasia and assisted suicide by Professor John Wyatt.

Here is the summary:

‘The arguments in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are no longer focussed on unbearable suffering. Instead there is a rising demand for choice and control over the time and manner of our death, coupled with fears about the social and economic consequences of increasing numbers of elderly and dependent individuals. But there are strong medical, legal, social and theological reasons to oppose this new drive for suicide and euthanasia. The potent modern myth of the autonomous individual fails to match with the inescapable reality of human dependence and relationality. The increasing public support for the legalisation of medical killing provides an urgent challenge to the medical and legal professions and to the Christian community as a whole. Are Christians capable of living out a practical and countercultural demonstration of the preciousness of human life expressed in human interdependence, personal commitment and burden-sharing?’

John Wyatt – a long-standing member of the board of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity – is profiled in EG 26 (June 2010), a publication of LICC, available here.

Friday 2 July 2010

D.A. Carson on 1 Peter 2:9-10

D.A. Carson, ‘“A Holy Nation”: The Church’s High Calling’, in Thabiti Anyabwile et al., Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God (Lake Mary: Reformation Trust, 2010), 75-89.

As R.C. Sproul explains in the preface, the chapters in this book originated as lectures at the 2009 Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando, where the theme was the Holiness of God (vi).

The table of contents and Sproul’s own contribution – ‘“I am the Lord”: The Only God’ – are available as an excerpt here.

Carson’s chapter is available here.

It amounts to an exposition of 1 Peter 2:9–10, under the following three points:

1. Our Identity as Christians
Our identity as – a chosen people (referring to Isaiah 43:3-4, with Christians now constituting the locus of God’s chosen people), a royal priesthood (reaching back to Exodus 19:5-6), a holy nation (which also has its background in Exodus 19:5-6), a people belonging to God (again, grounded in Exodus 19:5-6), with all these overlapping, and in each case ‘an emphasis on God’s initiative, on supreme God-centeredness, and on the built-in implication of incalculable privilege over against every other form of self-identity’ (83).

2. Our Purpose as Christians
That we may ‘declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9), language drawn from Isaiah 43:20-21.

3. Our Foundation as Christians
‘Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…’ (1 Peter 2:10), this time drawing on Hosea 1-2.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Deovox on the Psalms

Deovox, a resource from Damaris, is an audio podcast/download produced by Managing Editor Richard Collins, ‘designed for anyone with a desire to draw closer to God through a study of the Bible’, which ‘aims to dig behind the text itself with commentary explaining the contemporary setting and meaning of what we read in a Bible passage’.

Richard has just started a series on the Psalms, which can be subscribed to (or downloaded) here. The same page carries links to study guides.

The series focuses particularly on the expression of emotion in the Psalms, as Richard writes:

‘The psalms are poems that were sung in worship, and many of them are prayers also. They span a thousand years of Israel’s history. The writers experience joy, anger, frustration, fear and wonder. They then channel these emotions into verse about the character of God. Instead of dwelling on their own condition, they express themselves with joyous statements about God’s faithfulness, his creative power, his guidance and provision. Psalms give voice to emotion, but they’re not about emotions. They’re about God. And they contain some of the most beautiful writing in the entire Bible.’

The psalms to be included in this series are:

• Psalm 23 – the most famous, and among the most beautiful pieces of writing in the Bible… a song of trust that extols the faithfulness of God.

• Psalm 51 – associated with David’s adultery with Bathsheba – a penitential psalm with the heartrending language of remorse and contrition.

• Psalm 8 – a psalm of descriptive praise, Psalm 8’s focus is on human beings and God’s surprising decision to elevate us to rule over creation.

• Psalm 100 – a short hymn of praise to Almighty God. Joyful and exuberant.

• Psalm 83 – a psalm with imprecatory language. The psalmist calls on God to display his holiness by judging the wicked.

Light on the Gospel

This entry was first published as an article in EG 26 (June 2010), by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’
Isaiah 52:7

Many religions begin by telling men and women what they should do; Christianity begins with what God has done. The shorthand word for this is ‘gospel’, referring not to a set of good instructions or a piece of good advice, but to the good news of what God himself has achieved – for me, for us, for the world – in Christ.

Good News from God

In the Roman Empire of the first century, the word ‘gospel’ was associated with announcements of imperial decrees. Heralds would visit towns and cities spreading the ‘good news’ of military victories or an emperor’s accession to the throne. In such a context, the announcement of the good news of God’s reign, and the call to confess Christ (not Caesar) as Lord might well have sounded politically subversive.

For the early Christians, however, the use of the term was not just culturally convenient, but arrived theologically soaked in Old Testament promises of salvation. Isaiah, in particular, declares the ‘good tidings’ of God coming in power, exercising his reign, saving his people, and bringing peace (e.g. 40:9-10; 41:27; 52:7; 60:1). The promises here are bound up with the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and the renewal of the formerly devastated city, which finds itself at the centre of a new heavens and a new earth. It becomes apparent in these closing chapters of Isaiah that God’s kingly reign is universal in its scope, embracing the nations, bringing about a new order of peace and righteousness for all peoples. No wonder it’s described as ‘good news’!

And no wonder, then, that Paul writes of the ‘gospel of God’ (e.g. Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 8-9), reminding his readers that this good news originates in him, and is about his kingly action in saving the world.

Good News about Jesus

How does God bring about this promised salvation? Through the death and resurrection of his Son. If the gospel is the ‘gospel of God’ at one end of Romans (1:1), it is also the ‘gospel of Christ’ at the other end (15:19; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2).

Occasionally, Paul outlines the essence of the gospel more fully. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, for example, provides an early statement. Here Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he had ‘preached’ (literally, ‘gospeled’) to them as something he had himself ‘received’ and ‘passed on’. Describing it as ‘of first importance’, he sums it up in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, ‘according to the Scriptures’. In particular, Paul writes, ‘Christ died for our sins’, emphasising the significance of his sin-bearing death. And he ties Jesus’ death to his resurrection, as the rest of the chapter makes clear. It is as ‘Christ’ – God’s appointed king – that Jesus dies for our sins, is buried and raised to life. Jesus Christ crucified and risen again is the ‘good news’ that Paul preached, on which the Corinthians have taken their stand, and by which they are saved (15:1-2).

In Romans 1:1-6, likewise, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is focused on Christ and rooted in Scripture. It’s about what God has achieved through his Son – Jesus Christ our Lord – the fruition of promises made long ago through the prophets. Small wonder, then, that the gospel defines Paul and his ministry, that he is set aside for it, that he is so eager to preach it. Note what he says of the gospel in Romans 1:16-17: that it is the declaration of God’s saving power through the work of his Son, bringing men and women into a right relationship with himself, which comes about as it always has done – through faith, from first to last – and which is available equally to all who believe, breaking down barriers between ethnic groups in the process. How could he be ashamed of that?

In addition, Paul’s reference to Jesus being born as a royal descendant of David and raised from the dead in the power of God’s Spirit (1:3-4) perhaps draws attention to the significance of the entire story of Jesus, from birth to exaltation (see also 2 Timothy 2:8) – reminding us (by the way) that the gospel can’t float free as a ‘nice idea’ without being rooted in these unique events.

It’s no surprise, then, that the designation ‘gospel’ is used to describe the narratives about Jesus in the New Testament, nor that they share a common focus on what Jesus said and did – and especially on the significance of his final week – not to mention the conviction that what they record is the fulfilment of God’s promises of blessing which reach back to Abraham, that salvation history is brought to its climax in Jesus.

Mark, for instance, begins by saying that his account of the ‘gospel’ is about ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1:1), and describes Jesus preaching the ‘good news’ of the arrival of God’s reign (1:14-15) – all as the culmination of a story which reaches back into God’s dealings with his people. Jesus himself understands his ministry as fulfilling the herald of Isaiah, as he reads Isaiah 61:1-2 in the Nazareth synagogue and announces the arrival of the era of salvation and peace promised long ago (Luke 4:18-21). But as the gospel stories move on, it becomes clear that the liberation will come about through Jesus taking on the role of the servant who would suffer and die on behalf of others, as Jesus walks the inexorable path to death and resurrection.

Nor should it come as any surprise that these same emphases form the basis of the proclamation of the early church in Acts (2:22-39; 3:12-26; 10:34-43; 13:23-41), with the gospel as the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death in Jesus Christ.

Good News of Salvation

And it’s a big salvation! We have been reminded by a number of writers in recent years that the gospel must not be reduced to individual justification without also understanding the purpose of God to redeem a people and ultimately remake the world. Of course, the gospel is certainly not less than personal forgiveness, but it is much more, involving not only the rescue of men and women from judgment, but the renewal of God’s relationship with his people, and the restoration of creation itself.

Romans 16:25-27 provides a doxological summary of the gospel at the end of the letter, coming full circle back to where Paul started – with the gospel as God’s plan for the salvation of humankind in Christ. In between, it’s seen as embracing individuals, Jews and Gentiles together, and the whole cosmos, undoing the consequences of sin – guilt, bondage, and death – all of which reaches back to Old Testament promises to Abraham and David, not to mention God’s own blessing of creation.

Indeed, the comprehensive nature of the salvation God brings is evident when we look at the larger tapestry of the biblical story as a whole – moving from creation to new creation – the overarching plan of redemption of a fallen people and the recreation of a damaged world.

Good News for Life

Since belief in the gospel comes bound up with a particular view of reality – of God, Christ, creation, humanity, sin, redemption – we discover that it provides the perspective from which to view the whole of life. It is the gospel that funds the entirety of our existence as disciples of Christ. There is no place that the gospel does not touch with its implications because of the comprehensive nature of God’s saving work in Christ, his rule over every aspect of life.

There is an appropriate priority here, however. Those who might fall into the trap of thinking the gospel is about what we do, whether in social action or discipleship, need to be reminded that it is foremost the proclamation of what God has done in Christ – which then, however, carries certain entailments, as God works through those of us who believe. Church life, mission, ministries of mercy, as well as our discipleship all flow out of, and take their bearings from, what God has first accomplished – and will accomplish – in Christ for the sake of the world.

Although the notion of an ‘integral gospel’ or ‘holistic gospel’ has gratifyingly become increasingly common parlance, something more than that is at stake here – the working out of the implications of the gospel in all aspects of life – in the home and at work, in the hospital and at school, in the art gallery and the sports arena, in business and in politics, our lives reflecting the scope of his reign, our relationships displaying the arrival of the kingdom and anticipating its future consummation, living to the glory of the God of the gospel.

Further Reading

James V. Brownson et al., Stormfront: The Good News of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
A critique of how individualism and privatisation of religion have led to truncated versions of the gospel.

Ted A. Campbell, The Gospel in Christian Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
An academic work showing that the same ‘basic’ gospel laid out in 1 Corinthians 15 is found in different traditions throughout the history of Christian thought.

Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).
A concise treatment of the gospel in terms of the God to whom we are accountable, humanity as sinful, Christ as God’s solution, and humanity’s response in repentance and faith.

Chris Green (ed.), God’s Power to Save: One Gospel for a Complex World? (Leicester: Apollos, 2006).
A helpful collection of essays addressing, among other matters, the vexed issue of whether Paul and Jesus preached different gospels.

Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).
A bracing call for our lives and churches to be shaped by the gospel.

Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
An excellent eight-session course for groups, supported by a DVD and Study Guide, showing how the gospel is lived out in the whole of life – in our heart, in our communities, and in the world.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989).
A classic discussion of how the gospel relates to secular, humanist, pluralist culture.