Last week at her blog, Rachel Held Evans proposed the question "What is the Gospel?" She received some interesting responses, demonstrating that this really isn't a straightforward question. She asked a few of us to write down how we would answer that question so she could share our responses at her site as well. As soon as she addressed that question to me, I immediately started singing to myself that old CEF 5-Day Club standard "G-O-S-P-E-L Spells Gospel." The lyrics in the song define the gospel as, "Jesus died for sinful men, but he arose and lives again. One day he's coming for those who've trusted in him, coming to take us to heaven." That answer to "what is the gospel?" is so ingrained in me that it is difficult to not just give it as my default answer: "What is the good news? That Jesus died on the cross for my sins."
When I was 3 that answer was sufficient for me and so I said a prayer to invite Jesus into my heart. The good news as it were was all about me -- making sure I got to go to heaven when I died. I didn't stop to ask what Jesus meant about preaching the gospel of the kingdom, or what it meant when he said he had come to preach the gospel to the poor, or even what it meant to be a disciple and follow the disciplines Jesus demands of his own. I didn't wonder why I was only taught the gospel about Jesus, and not the gospel of Jesus. I knew my response to "what is the gospel?" and so I didn't even think to ask those questions for a long time.
Honestly, what really pushed me to start to see the gospel as being about more than just me was how the etymology of the word captured my attention. Wikipedia gives a brief history of the term as follows:
Good News is the English translation of the Koine Greek ?????????? (euangelion) (eu "good" + angelion "message"). The Greek term was Latinized as evangelium, and translated into Latin as bona annuntiatio. In Old English, it was translated as g?dspel (g?d "good" + spel "news"). The Old English term was retained as gospel in Middle English Bible translations and hence remains in use also in Modern English.
I loved the dual meaning the term g?dspel -- or good spell -- evokes in modern English. As a major sci-fi/fantasy/mythology geek, I conjured up images of deep magic working to heal a broken world. The darkness that has crept into our world being fought by the good spells of the power of light.
But this play on words was more than just an interesting literary image for me; it pushed me to start thinking through what it really meant for all things to be reconciled to God. Like a good spell intended to transform the world and push back the darkness, the good news of Christ reaches further than I had ever imagined. The scriptures speak of God so loving the whole world that he sent his son Jesus. We also read of Jesus proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom where the oppressed are set free, the blind given sight, and the brokenhearted healed. The gospel of Jesus challenges believers to pray that God's Kingdom will be manifest on earth as in heaven, that every person has their daily bread, and that all debts are forgiven. In these inclusive passages I began to see that the gospel as preached in scripture was far bigger than a formula that ensured I went to heaven when I died. Jesus was serious about bringing actual good news to all, and boldly proclaimed that in him this reconciliation of all things had begun. Broken relationships could be healed -- shattered relationships within families, amongst nations, amidst creation, and between us and God could be finally be made right. This isn't just good news for someday in heaven, for, as Jesus proclaimed, in him the prophesies of the poor finding hope, the oppressed being set free, and the blind finding sight are already fulfilled. Those who suffer from oppression and poverty have tangible hope here and now. The good spell has been cast, the deep magic is as work, and the light is pushing back the darkness as Christ reconciles all things to himself.
The gospel, the good news, is about so much more than an economic transaction where I get a ticket to heaven in exchange for intellectually assenting to an idea about Jesus. The gospel is good news for the world. It is about God loving the world enough to send his son and establish his Kingdom. It is the gospel of Jesus, the new way of being that he preached. This good news isn't just something we believe in or talk about, but something we are called to celebrate and embrace. If it is truly good news we will joyfully accept the challenge to follow in the disciplines of Christ -- being his hands and feet working to heal all shattered relationships through his reconciling power. We live out the good news to the world.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.