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What if the “Good News” of the Gospel is “Wrong News”? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 22 October 2015

As one surveys the spiritual horizon of the Western Church (specifically the American church scene), it is obvious that, “Houston, we have a problem!” It doesn’t take any prophetic anointing or revelation to discern that serious problems are afoot. Whether the problem is identified as simply one of perspective or one of an actual false reality is sometimes difficult to rightly discern (because it seldom is as simple as an either/or situation; it is often a convoluted both/and compound problem). Let's take a few moments to review the problem.

First, what is the Gospel?

Our English word translated ‘gospel’ is the Greek word euangelion, and means ‘good news’. In classical Greek literature the word did not have a ‘religious’ meaning, rather, it designated the reward given for good tidings. It originally was an announcement of governmental victory, and only much later came to be applied to other messages as well. A ‘gospel’ message has two components; 1) an announcement of a time and space event that has already taken place and, 2) a message of how that event has changed everything forever.

An example would be if a monarch had been involved in an extended war with a want-to-be usurper and had finally conquered his nemesis. For the monarch, at least, and for all his supporters no doubt, that would certainly be recognized as extremely good news – and consequently would certainly be heralded near and far as a reason for celebration. Additionally, it would also act as a declaration, and as a promise of sorts, that now that the King had conquerored his foe everything was different, i.e., the long drawn out war has ended, the cleanup process has begun, and at some point in the future everything would be rebuilt and society and its participants would all benefit accordingly. That was the original meaning of ‘gospel’.

Over time, Christian writers pulled from this heritage and added the extra dimension to “gospel” as the “good news” concerning Jesus. That is well and good. The problem is that over time, the orginal apostolic understanding of what the good news about Jesus actually entailed was modified, sometimes to the point that it is barely recognizable as what Jesus or the early church leaders proclaimed. Allow me to elaborate.

In much of the Western church, the good news is no longer the story of Adam-Eve extended through the covenant people of Israel culminating in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words the story of how Israel’s story and vocation have been fulfilled and completed in, and through, Jesus’ vocation resulting in the whole world being salvaged, blessed and eventually saved, and how that knowing that story (the ‘good news’ has changed everything, forever). Nothing is, or ever will be, the same. God, through Jesus, has taken His rightful position as Messiah over Israel, and Lord over all creation.

Now that is good news, is it not?

And that is precisely the gospel, the good news, the early Christians announced and proclaimed to all of the known world in their generation. Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, and as a result of the Messiah’s victory the whole world is different now. Acting as the newly crowned Messiah and Lord of all, Jesus, in and through, His chosen representatives would carry on the process Jesus Himself has started, namely, changing everything, righting all wrongs, instilling righteousness and the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. Good news indeed!

But over time, the good news gradually morphed from a holistic presentation of the story of what had occurred and how this story has changed everything forever, and how we should expect to live, now and in the future, in the light of what occurred has been reduced to little more that just some good advice. “Let me tell you how you should live your life,” we are told. “I can tell you how, and for what, you should pray. These are the techniques that you can utilize to help you become a better person, a better citizen, a better husband, or wife, or Christian. And most of important of all, I need to tell you how to get on the right path for what will happen after you die. If you heed this advice, repeat this prayer, the ‘good news’ is that you will be saved, you will get a ‘get out of jail’ stamp guaranteed to keep you from going to hell so that you can go to heaven and be with Jesus forever! Let me tell you ‘how’ you need to do it…”

Do you see the problem? None of the aforementioned qualifies as news, it’s all advice. Advice given with the intent to influence someone to do something in order to achieve a desired result. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying advice is bad, it’s not, and at one time or another we all could use a healthy dose of good advice. The problem here is that advice is advice not news. Instruction is not the same thing as news. What is news? It is the joyous announcement that something significant has transpired and as a result everything is changed forever.

The good news of Jesus as the fulfillment of the story of Israel’s vocation as He went about announcing that YWHW was fulfilling His prophesied in breaking as the promised deliverer to rescue Israel from their extended exile by His taking up the position as King of Israel and Lord of all. The controversial part is that while Jesus went about reminding and announcing the promised return of YWHW to Israel, He applied those promises to what He Himself was doing. This was (is) what Jesus and His early followers were all about.

I know many might offer a rebuttal saying their church hasn’t changed or forgotten the good news. “My church preaches the good news that Jesus vicariously bore our sins, bearing the penalty for our sins so we can all go to heaven. Wouldn’t you define that as good news? Everyone is born in sin, and everyone has chosen to live the lifestyle of a usurper of God’s rightful place in life, and thereby deserves the wrath of God and eternal separation from God, but God has intervened and changed our eternal trajectory – doesn’t that qualify to be called ‘good news’?” Yes, actually that would qualify as good news. The problem is, though that message would certainly qualify as good news, that version of the good news isn’t exactly the good news Jesus and the His twelve ‘good old Jewish boys’ were talking about.  

Let me say it another way. Many Christian leaders have forgotten the original version of the good news and have exchanged it for specializing in giving good advice. But not all are guilty of this one type of spiritual amnesia. There are also those who do still present the gospel (the ‘good news’) as a telling of a story, the problem lies in that the story they tell is different than the one the New Testament authors told.

Yes, I fully agree that the good news of the gospel includes the good news about Jesus, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and glorification. And yes, definitely this good news opens wide an ultimate destiny of life after life after death, which is an encouragement to us help us to live lives of joy and hope in the here and now and with an expectancy for tomorrow. But my contention is that the ever-so-popular ‘spy-in-the-sky, heaven-and-hell scenario, regardless of its accessibility and popularity, is a serious reduction and distortion of the good news announced in the pages of the Bible.

Over the years the churches in the West have incrementally and increasingly gotten the story all wrong. As I minister to church leaders, ministries, churches and individuals on the best ways to study the Bible, one of the key dynamics that I share is this: everything has to be studied in its proper context. A text without a context is a pretext. Which being interpreted means the Bible can never mean what it never meant. Or, again, the Bible can not mean today what it didn’t mean to the original hearers/readers.

Our dilemma? Most have forgotten the context of the good news story we have been commissioned to announce. That context is the background story that leads up to, and includes, the good news about Jesus we are sharing. As a result of the Western Church’s spiritual amnesia, the ‘good news’ that is being announced often means something significantly, if not entirely, divergent of what the ‘good news’ actually was/is. This spiritual dissonance radically changes and distorts how we understand our relationship to God, our future destiny (in space-time and eternally), our mandate as the Church (as the eternally, equally-yoked companion, corporate Bride of Christ) and as Jesus’ disciples. Thus we now have a caricature of Christianity, a non-disciple model that is antithetical to the real thing, where most professing Christians could tear out the Old Testament out of their Bibles and it wouldn’t change what they believe hardly at all. So the gospel is reduced from being the story of Israel and it’s Messiah to simply being advice on sin management.   

 The apostolic Christian message as told by Jesus and the Apostles is an announcement about good news, not about good advice. And as we have seen, that difference is important enough that we must revisit this so that we can return to our original apostolic vocation and commission – spread the good news.

If the context of the gospel is reduced to ‘we’re all going to hell if we don’t make some changes (turn or burn)’, then the message comes across - not as news (an announcement of something that has occurred) - but instead as a walking advice column (guidance on what we have to do).

Here is how the non-disciple, sin management, “good advice” model of the gospel is often presented:

“The Bible says there is a heaven and a hell, and you are going to one or the other; so if I were you, I would choose Jesus – or you will be sorry if you don’t.”

The problem with presenting the gospel (good news?) in this manner is that the author and originator of the gospel, Jesus Himself, seldom spoke much about heaven, at least not in the same way that so many do today. When Jesus spoke about heaven’s kingdom, He wasn’t referring to a ‘place’ called heaven somewhere far off in the distance where some lucky folk might or might not go to after they die. No, when Jesus spoke of heaven it was almost always in the ‘context’ of something that would become a reality “on earth as in heaven” (Matt. 6: 10). Jesus, and even the other New Testament writers, hardly ever referred to earth’s inhabitants working with a goal to somehow escape earth and go to heaven. Instead, Jesus’s version of the ‘good news’ was that Israel’s God was becoming King in and through Jesus which would result in heaven’s reality coming to earth in such a way that everything would be changed forever. The sad part? There are tens (hundreds?) of millions of people in the Western church who have never once heard this ‘good news’.

May I suggest, that we all return to being  ‘people of the Bible’, and revisit and refocus on what the story is all about, what the good news actually is, and how that ‘good news’ changes everything, forever – including who we are, what we are all about and what our eternal destiny is.