I promise not to blog (much) about the gospel in the immediate future, but it is a topic so central to what we do (and believe) that it deserved some attention. On top of its importance, I’m trying to give Embracing Grace a bit of a context.
The gospel is easy to distort and I see distortions in these ways:
Some preach what I call a Creation Day Only gospel: they focus on humans as made in the image of God, the Eikon of God, and they see nothing but potential, potential, potential. They see human goodness — and there is plenty to see — and they see human development — and there is plenty to see. And that is all they see. This distorts the gospel.
Others believe in what I call a Fall Day Only gospel: they focus on humans as sinners, as polluted morally, as messed up mentally, as disturbed in the soul, and as inconquerable in the body. In other words, they see nothing but problems, problems, problems. And that is all they see. This, too, distorts the gospel.
This is not an issue of balance; it is an issue of seeing and assuming both: humans are both good and bad. They are not all good with some bad, or all bad with some good. Ordinary humans are capable of being both majestically good and miserably mean. A gospel worth believing will affirm both.
Others preach a Good Friday Only gospel: they see everything happening at the Cross. The gospel is about forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. I affirm that Jesus died for us, but having my sins cancelled (or whichever term you want to use) is not enough: God wants to do more for us than simply erase our problems. Some see nothing but the Cross. I have no desire to minimize the Cross, but a Good Friday Only gospel is not enough because for the Bible it was not enough. Let us say that we have done something mean to our spouse: being forgiven is not what we want. What we want is total reconciliation, not simply the erasure of what we did. Forgiveness brings us back to level, and we want to ascend into the presence of God.
Others preach an Easter Day Only gospel: Jesus rose for our sins to liberate us from death and sin. This, too, is not enough. The gospel is more than liberation: it is liberation from a particular problem: Eikonic distortion. We want to be liberated, not for the sake of liberation, but for the sake of becoming what God made us to be: Eikons who, when pressed, give off God’s glory. An Easter Day Only gospel distorts the gospel because it liberates for the sake of freedom and not for sake of Eikonic restoration.
Finally, others preach a Pentecost Day Only gospel: Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to flood us with his presence. Now, for some this becomes the Ecstasy Gospel of exaggerated experiences, for others it becomes the Empowerment Gospel of Power. The Spirit is designed by God to empower us to become Eikonic in all we do. The Spirit enables us to transcend who we are now so we will become more of what we will be and what we can be.
Again, if the first two days get distorted by emphasizing one or the other, so do the major moments of redemption get distorted by emphasizing one or the other. If I say clearly that Paul emphasizes the Cross, it is most always an empty Cross that Paul emphasizes and to which he often enough attaches the Spirit of God.
The gospel needs each of these elements to be what the Bible wants it to be: we are Eikons, cracked Eikons, who need to be forgiven, liberated, and empowered to be Eikons who live with other Eikons in such a way that “God happens” wherever we are.