An Efficient Gospel?

What is the Gospel? It sounds like a simple enough question, right? But is it? In some Christian traditions "The Gospel" is simply the term given to the the means by which a person gets to heaven when they die. "The gospel was understood to be a series of propositions meant to 'save' someone. When these propositions were followed logically and sequentially, and subsequently accepted as truth in faith, the subject was assured of their eternal destiny—heaven after death." But is this really the Gospel or is it an overly simplified, and incomplete representation of what we are intended to proclaim as God's people? In this article, Tim Keel proposes that we continue to struggle with the gospel question, "with what is being asked and how it has been answered."

Keel says, "One of the features of the modern world was 'reductionism': the belief that complex things can always be reduced to simpler or more fundamental things. To reduce something is to take it out of context and to take it apart. Church leaders have become experts at reductionism. Ministries that are successful in one context are reduced to "models" that we try to duplicate in other contexts. Sometimes such reductionism is effective. But when we use reductionism indiscriminately, we end up in a world so simplified it is barely recognizable." The Gospel, however, is not so easily reduced… it simply becomes "too small".

Keel suggest that this generation is not the first to struggle with the Gospel question. Even the early Church described in the book of Acts struggled to understand all that Jesus was and the significance of his life and death and resurrection. Theological controversy abounded in the early Church. Thank God we have evolved and are now above such things!

Keel says, "As I listen to the 'gentiles' who are coming to faith in my own setting, I am discovering that the version of "the gospel" I was given as a college-age counselor was largely missing the earthly, communal, and social nature of what God has been about since the beginning of salvation history. First with Israel, then with the church, God has animated a people to enact his saving way of life as a prophetic witness against, and a hopeful alternative to, the destructive narratives of the surrounding world."

A faithful proclamation of the Gospel recognizes that all aspects of our lives are "spiritual". God is concerned with our whole selves and our whole lives. It is not just about our eternal destination, but about living as a follower of Christ here and now. Reformation theology was and is rightfully concerned with the means by which we are saved. It is God who is the one who has done the work of our salvation…nothing is attained by our own works or merit…through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This being said, the modern church has remained fixated on salvation and I wonder if in a way it has stymied our action in the world. If our salvation is well covered territory would it not make sense then for God's people to be at work, as the hands and feet of Christ in the world? Keel asks, "Has our articulation, and more importantly, our embodiment of the gospel invited people to become a part of an alternative reality, a community of salvation for this world and the world that is yet to come?" Could this embodiment of the Gospel provide a richer proclamation than the "efficient" Gospel of the modern Church?

"What does it mean to be human, especially as more and more of life is influenced by and even dependent on technology?" "How do we understand gender and sexuality and how both are expressed?" "How do we live in an ecologically responsible way?" "How might a just economy function sustainably?" According to Keel, these are the questions that our culture is wrestling with. A reductionist Gospel speaks nothing to these questions. A richer proclamation of the gospel, however, asks not only where we will end up when we die, but how we will live, "on earth as it is in heaven."

Keel, Tim , 2008. An Efficient Gospel? Leadership Journal. Winter 2008, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, 19

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