Gospel: Does Not Compute | Mark 1:1 Luke 1:1-4
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1 | ESV
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4 | ESV
“I think the main reason I was never much interested in the Gospels is because I didn’t know what to do with them. For Protestants, especially evangelicals, especially Reformed, doctrine-oriented ones, we love Paul. Give us Romans and thirteen years to preach through it phrase by phrase, and we’ll be in heaven! We love chewy, heady doctrine – wrestling with election, justification, sanctification. We know doctrine is important, and we know the Bible makes claims about theology and how we ought to live, so we love Paul. He’s a straight shooter; he nails it on the head; he lays out the truth in powerful and straightforward ways. He provides a clear map of the theological landscape and the moral path of our lives. But the Gospels? I thought this Christianity thing was nice and simple as I had read in Romans – we’re sinners; we’re forgiven and justified by faith in Jesus! Get the abstract concept. End of story. Believe that, and don’t engage in premarital sex. Right? That’s Christianity, we sometimes think. But in contrast, the Gospels just don’t seem easy to interpret and transfer to others.” From the mind of Jonathan Pennington in Reading the Gospels Wisely. No, the Gospels simply do not compute. They are metaphorical and messy. They mess with our heads and hearts, with our systems of thought and theology. Jesus isn’t tidy. So of course we do a bypass of the Gospels for the more ordered fare of Paul’s more systematized, computable theological treatises. It’s why I’ve memorized Paul’s letters rather than Jesus’ Gospels. And yet, I would venture, that the Gospels are the orienting (disorienting?) focus of the entire Story. The fact is the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – make up half the New Testament. We often say, “If God repeats himself, we better listen.” Well, God has repeated himself. At length. Four times. In a row. It’s a good thing that it’s literally Good News. If we will allow the Gospels to orient Paul and the rest of the Bible (and us!) rather than allowing Paul and the rest of the Bible to reorient the Gospels, we will increasingly realize that Gospel is not a systematic presentation and understanding of predestination or justification. It is “the oral proclamation about Jesus the Christ (meaning the anointed Davidic King) – who he was; what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection; the promise of his future return to establish God’s reign; and the concomitant call to repent and have faith. This is not a message of moralism or a call to greater religious obedience but rather is a proclamation of God’s grace and the invitation to hope. That is why it is rightly called, ‘good news.’” (Jonathan Pennington, again.) Yes, it is Good News that simply does not compute that must first upend and disorient us and our world and then reorient everything. It is Good News that is pulsing at the very center of all existence, that is ultimately the destination of all history. Which, as Gandalf would say, “is an encouraging thought.” It is where John begins…
What has your experience been with the Gospels? What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word “Gospel”?
Living Word, disrupt the ordered world of my own striving and achievement; help me to see that as the bad news that it is; then let your Good News flood through my soul and my world as a river leaving an indelible trail of life and grace and truth. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.