What is 'Gospel'?
You’ve probably heard the term ‘gospel’ in conversation or advertising. ‘Gospel’ is a popular genre of music – especially in the African American community. You may also have heard the term ‘gospel preacher’ and in your mind you associate it with a guy in a suit who is particularly excited about ‘Jeez-us!’ Maybe if you’ve lived in or seen a film set in the deep south of USA, you’ve heard someone swear, ‘And that’s the gospel truth!’ Perhaps you’re learning the principles of a particular field and they use the word to sum up the teaching: The Gospel of Market Economics.
You’ve heard the term. You are aware it has some vague association with Christianity. But could you explain it if put on the spot? Or, would attempting to define it make you sweat like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee?
First, the technical bits. ‘Gospel’ comes from the two old English words ‘god’ + ‘spel’ (good + story or news). Literally it means Good News. This is consistent with the ancient Greek language that the Christian Scriptures were written in. The Greek word euangelion is rightly translated as ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ in our English Bibles.
‘Dandy!’ You may be muttering – if you’ve gotten this far. But before you go back to pretending to work, let me point out that this is of more than trivial importance. If you are a Christian, it is ‘the Gospel’ you should be telling your fellow knuckleheads about. If you are not a Christian, wouldn’t it be clever of you to at least understand – albeit in a nutshell - what over one billion people claim to believe about life, death, love and ultimate purpose? What is it that some on this planet claim to believe so firmly that they are willing to be beheaded by ISIS or subjected to death by chemical torture for it under the secular North Korean regime?
The Gospel of Jesus is unique. Other religions - and most secular lifestyles - are based on Good Advice, not Good News. Buddha will advise you follow is Eight Fold Path so that you can escape suffering. Mohammad will point you to the Five Pillars of Islam so that you can obtain paradise. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses each have a list of things for you to do in order to be fully reconciled to their respective organisations – organisations that supposedly possess the keys of resurrection.
The popular religion of Hedonism will tell you that true life is involved in how many cocktails you down, how many exciting friends you have and how many attractive people you can sleep with. The religion of Education says that unless you get a post-grad degree of some kind you are still a nobody. The religion of the Arts says that unless you can be full time, sell your poetry books, perform on West End or Broadway or get great album deals – you are simply not good enough.
Onto this planet of performance comes Jesus. Contra these secular and religious ideologies, he introduces Good News. He declares that we have all hopelessly missed the mark. We have not been the people God created us to be – we have all been corrupted. We are all ‘sinners’ and this is a far worse pronouncement than we can even begin to get our heads around. Jesus then lives out the most exemplary life ever – the type of life we should all be living but don’t. He then dies in our place – taking the consequences that our life choices demand. He is raised again to life by God and offers divine acceptance to all who want it based on what he has done for them.
Good Advice tells you that in order to get this type of acceptance, you must do what is right. The Good News says that God will accept you because of what Jesus has done – and in that embrace, you will be changed and find the strength to do right.
Good Advice –secular and religious – says ‘Do!’
The Good News of Jesus says ‘Done!’
The table is set and the Father has an open door policy. You are welcome to his warm and spacious house. Everything bad will be washed and forgiven. Come and eat food without money and drink without cost.
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