Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lost Themes of Mission - Gospel...

"It is important to stress, as Paul would do himself were he not so muzzled by his interpreters, that when he referred to "the gospel" he was not talking about a scheme of soteriology."

OK this is intriguing. We've heard the 'gospel' rhetoric, we've preached the 'gospel' in the understanding that 'gospel' = good news and that good news is that Jesus lived, died and rose again accommodating whatever theory of atonement is in vogue or catches our whim. Paul's use of the word gospel however, could be and might represent ever so much more.

NT Wright explores the concept to some depth and asks that to get to grips with the concept of 'gospel' there is a need to not only understand where the word came from, but also to get an insight as to what such a term would mean to Paul and to his readers. NT would argue that the term infers an announcement of kingship, of a new reign. The euaggelion, gospel, was announced when a new emperor was declared - 'Augustus is dead...Tiberius is Lord... on your knees and pay your taxes' - this was gospel, the announcement of a new reign. Gospel would have been used by Paul and understood by his readers in this context.

NT reiterates this by underlining this double resonance of the word "gospel" for Paul.

"On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfilment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, "gospel" would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul's world the main "gospel" was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar." (NT Wright)
In other words the Gospel, announced in this context, identifies Jesus Christ as the true kyrios (Lord) of the world, and subverts the prevalent cult and supposed divinity of Caesar. Jesus is announced as the risen Lord of the world within the context of a new reign, a new way of living and of being through subjection and submission not to a new Caesar, but to Jesus as Lord. Therefore nothing to do with how to be saved:
"It is important to stress, as Paul would do himself were he not so muzzled by his interpreters, that when he referred to "the gospel" he was not talking about a scheme of soteriology." (NT Wright)

My understanding of 'gospel' has lacked this context and I am left wondering whether I have been guilty of muzzling Paul, guilty of missing something obvious that is central to mission, the announcement of an alternative way of living, the announcement of the 'reign of God' shaped by the values of the Kingdom as seen in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. As long as gospel is is 'muzzled' and kept partial 'gospel' remains, ironically a lost theme of mission.

------------

Lost Themes of Mission - Judgement...
Lost Themes of Mission - Worship...
Lost Themes of Mission - Holiness...
Lost Themes of Mission - Righteousness...
Lost Themes of Mission - Agape...
Lost Themes of Mission - Jubilee...
Lost Themes of Mission - Salvation...
Lost Themes of Mission - Shalom...
Lost Themes of Mission - Compassion...

10 comments:

Heather's place said...

Do you think it's because it's difficult to see the difference?

Either between BC and AD, or between those claiming to live under the Lordship of Christ and those who don't.

(Or is that just me being simplistic?)

Stephen said...

If you subscribe to a holistic view of "Salvation" then NT's stance - helpful though it be - is subsumed into this broader meaning. James Dunn comments on Paul's extensive "motif... as the power of God for salvation" (Dunn: 166) esp. in the Corinthian corpus. Paul may not have used the term for his soteriology but it is inseparable from his Christology in that his understanding of the person of Jesus is expressed in his understanding of the saving activity of God: "The gospel of Christ vindicates the faithfulness of God" (Dunn: 166). Dunn goes on to suggest that Paul's use of "euangeliion" talks "about the good news proclaimed by and about Jesus" (p168) which seems to line up with NT - and again, does not try and separate Christ's person and work. More provocative, perhaps, is his suggestion that Paul was the first to use the term, and Mark's use of it has Pauline influence (p233). That being so, then if gospel is a lost theme of mission then it has been lost for a long time and Paul has been muzzled from the get go.

Paul is inseperable from his Jewish heritage - his view of "gospel" looks back to God's earliest dealings with Israel and forwards to re-creation - the fulfilment of God's unltimate purposes for the whole of His creation. Similarly, you and I are inseparable from our missional contexts - and we need to preach a gospel that maintains the same continuity of salvation story...

...So doesn't that mean that a narrow view of salvation will inform a narrow view of gospel and vice versa? And don't all these "themes of mission" get lost all at once the minute we try and sell the Kingdom as "pie in the sky when you die".

We're probably all guilty of muzzling Paul - but more so of under-selling the Kingdom.

Either way, you have inspired me to dip back into Dunn (The Theology of Paul the Apostle, T&T Clark" 1998) - chapter 6 - Mark P will have one on his desk if you want to compare him vs. NT.

Thanks for prompting a helpful thought process - Will the MIP essay questions all be on lost themes this year? I think I might have enjoyed one of those...!

Blessings

Anonymous said...

This is all very heavy. I value the simplistic approach to sharing in blogs.

Gordon said...

Stephen

Dunn and NT disagree on this a little - there is a fascinating MP3 on NT unofficial site where Dunn and NT talk this thro. It is called 'NT Wright and Paul'

The issue I think for Dunn is that he doesn't see the political sense that Paul is writing into in the same way as NT.

NT is pretty much influenced by Richard Horsley who suggests that Paul is subverting a) the Ceasear Cult and b) the whole Roman empire ideology that offered justice, peace and freedom that suggested that cesear was son of god, divine and saviour - (sound familar?)

Dunn goes probably 75% of the way with NT but doesn't seem to go the whole way, largely I think because he doesn't see the significance in the same way.

In the conversation NT seems to make more sense to me.

Gordon said...

Heather,

I'm wondering whether the issue is that there is a difference for most where you rightly suggest that there should be.

Jesus spent a lot of his time announcing the kingdom, teaching about the kingdom, demonstrating the kingdom. The gospel that we hear about is probably removed from that as a the passion becomes - albeit an important - a bolt on extra. Gospel has become about the latter rather than the former.

It is great to be in a place where it is hard to see the difference - I would hazard a guess the the majority of the evangelical church would not.

Gordon said...

sorry anon! (I don't often reply to those who can't leave a name - but nevertheless...)

This blog has always been a space where at times I work through some tougher issues, that was always my intention when I started four years ago. I value people journeying with me that help and contribute to my mulling.

URBANarmy has always been about me and my thoughts and so perhaps at times I may indulge myself in this space by stretching my brain a little while I still can!

Gordon said...

Stephen

Forgot to mention - we are exploring what some of the modules will look like at level 3. Any guesses about my content? Also thought about "Lost voices of mission" coming to a blog near you when I find them!!

Cosmo said...

Is WBC now providing Level 3 for full degree?

Anonymous said...

A great discussion and one that is needed. "What is the gospel?" has increasingly become an important question in an age where it is defined as something good that happens to me. I don't think the NT sees the gospel in terms of its impact upon us.Rather the focus is on what God has done and is doing in the world. I think that for Paul the gospel was about God's faithfulness and God's new purposes for the world that are revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Wayne Ennis

Gordon said...

Marcus - (aka Cosmo),

We're not at that stage, but the possibilities are being tentatively explored. I often like to dream up what Mission would look at level three.