What makes the “good news” good? I’ve been reading a really cool book called StormFront: The Good News of God. One of the things the authors argue is that our North American consumerist context has distorted our understanding of God’s gospel or good news. We tend to view the good news of God as a message directed to our needs, describing the gospel in terms of its impact on human life – forgiveness of sins, relationship with God, personal fulfillment, happiness, freedom, comfort, healing, peace, and heaven when we die. All of these things and more make the good news good.
But here’s the authors’ point, one I’m willing to accept: “The Bible doesn’t speak about the gospel primarily in terms of its impact upon human life” (p. 36). Read that again and let it sink in. The good news of God isn’t about me and my needs! Instead, it’s about God and what he’s doing – the kingdom or reign of God.
They continue by stating:
“Now this is a tricky distinction, and we need to be precise here. Certainly, the New Testament proclaims the gospel as something that has profound significance for human life. Yet it does not speak about the gospel primarily in those terms. If you survey the data in the New Testament, a very clear pattern emerges. The focus falls not so much on what we experience, but on what God has done and is doing in the world” (p. 36).
I think this distinction is a hefty one, because ultimately the good news of God that we live and proclaim should be “God is reigning and will reign over the cosmos eternally and you and I get to join in what he’s doing in the world.” Or to quote the authors of StormFront again, “The gospel sees our humanity not in terms of needs to be met, but in terms of capacities and gifts to be offered in God’s gracious service. We are created not to consume but to know God, not merely to meet our own needs but to participate in God’s life and mission” (p. 34).
This thinking seems much more in line with Jesus and Paul than our modern forms of Christianity. For example, Jesus’ entire ministry can be summarized in Mark 1:14-15:
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
Paul also provides a definition of the gospel in Romans 1:1-4:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In other words, the good news of God is “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold for ages AND he is the Lord of the cosmos!”
Wow! There’s nothing in either Jesus’ or Paul’s statements about my personal happiness, contentment and fulfillment. Again, God’s good news is about God and what he’s done and doing.
My interaction with the gospel is faithful and obedient allegiance to the king — Jesus Christ. Notice that in the Romans 1 passage, the gospel results in Paul’s calling to be a servant of Christ — his entire life set apart by and in service to the gospel. Likewise, my response to God’s good news then, is to follow Jesus as his student or apprentice. And according to him, that requires learning to die to my self-will:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:26-27, 33
This is such a different good news than what is usually communicated today – “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life…”
Now I know some of you reading this might be thinking, “But that is the gospel!” I admit, there is truth to the statement, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” However, such an individualized and egocentric version of the gospel is much different than what Jesus, Paul and the New Testament people of God embodied, demonstrated and proclaimed.
And the discrepancy between the good news in the New Testament and our modern Christian culture’s version is more than mere attempts at relevancy for a modern audience. Rather, it exposes how much our culture has actually infiltrated and distorted the Church’s life and message. And if the dismal statistics are correct, the North American church is beginning to reap the fruit of such sickened seed.