What is the Gospel?
Patrick Ramsey at Meet the Puritans rhetorically asks this question, and cites Paul Levy’s satirical 2011 article on the subject,
Our church is a gospel church that is gospel crazy for gospel living. We believe that gospel discipleship makes gospel people who create gospel change and gospel dynamics. We believe in gospel administration for gospel organising. Gospel youth work is essential for gospel kids. A gospel welcome for gospel needers!
Ramsey argues that the gospel isn’t simply the announcement of news (Levy’s position, as well as Michael Horton’s and Tim Keller’s mentioned in the article), but does include “advice”. Ramsey relies on Anthony Burgess (a Westminster Divine and hero of mine) to make the case for a narrow and broad definition of the gospel, and I think is generally correct. But I wanted to take a stab at defining the gospel, and avoid the “narrow v. broad” paradigm for an organically expanding definition that encompasses both the news of what Christ has done and the need for response.
The gospel is:
The good news is that Jesus Christ is king,
And that his kingdom has been inaugurated by his death and resurrection.
By his death, Jesus saves his people from their sin, and by his resurrection restores them to life.
His kingdom is the eternal kingdom of heaven, and only those redeemed from their sins may enter.
Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God, who brings and rules God’s kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand, so sinners must repent and trust in Jesus:
Trusting that Christ’s work is necessary and sufficient to save them,
And that his salvation was motivated solely by the gracious love of God, not by anything done by them.
The promise of God is forgiveness and salvation to all who trust in Christ.
Following Jesus requires redeemed sinners to turn from their wicked ways,
and follow Christ in a new obedience,
an obedience to all that he has taught in his word.
This obviously does not hit on all the core Christian doctrines (i.e. Trinity, the Holy Spirit, justification, baptism, etc…), but summarizes the good news to be preached, prioritizing the indicative (who Jesus is and what he has done), which leads to the imperative (what the work of Christ necessarily demands on our part), while acknowledging that the fullness of what Christ demands of the redeemed is found in scripture.
In teaching and preaching, especially with teenagers, the first two lines are the ones I usually use as my definition of the gospel. It’s easy to remember, accurate, and the rest of the definition flows from it. To ask the question, “What does it mean that Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated by his death and resurrection?” leads to the subjects of sin and atonement, incarnation, repentance, and so on. I think my definition also avoids bifurcating the “narrow” and “broad” gospel definitions used by Ramsey and some of the Puritans, while not confusing what Christ has done and what the church does as the gospel, which was Levy’s point.