what does it mean to preach the gospel?

image courtesy of intheway.missionaltribe.org


“…we are requesting a great assistance from your family so as you can enable us to purchase Church’s music instrumental which will be used to preach the Gospel of the Lord.”  — these words from a nearby pastor requesting funds from my family.  (Read about said request here.)

[In this post the words "preach," "proclaim," and "announce" will be used interchangeably, as will the words "gospel" and "good news."  I personally believe the phrase "announce the good news"  is generally a better (and more understandable) wording.  From some other guy's thoughts, go here.]


What does it mean to preach the gospel of the Lord?  Because I think we may seriously misunderstand — or at least regularly minimize — the true significance of these words.  Consider this list of nearly every summary statement of Jesus’ ministry while on earth:

  • Matthew 4:23 — Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
  • Matthew 9:35 — Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
  • Mark 1:14-15 — After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
  • Luke 4:43 — But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
  • Luke 8:1 — After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
  • Luke 16:16 — “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

When we enter into the book of Acts, we see the body of Christ continuing to announce the good news, and this gospel message is spoken of in many terms and phrases:

  • the good news of the kingdom of God
  • the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ
  • the good news that Jesus is the Christ
  • the good news about Jesus
  • the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all
  • the good news about Jesus and the resurrection

Notice first that we don’t see the gospel merely explained as:

  • heaven’s accessibility (I think we have an unhealthy obsession with heaven)
  • Jesus dying for our sins
  • forgiveness of our sins
  • the presence of a personal savior

Now, I am not suggesting the above concepts are not included in the good news, rather I’m suggesting that offering any (or all) of these as a definition is entirely too small an interpretation.  Each has its place within the gospel, but all are completely swallowed up in the expanse of the gospel and it’s goodness.  For most of my life the gospel was defined and described to me as “the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  This is far too small a definition — not to mention that it is indeed not what Jesus himself proclaimed as the good news.

I’m afraid we’ve been announcing a good news that is not nearly as good as the news Jesus announced.

I’m afraid we’ve been announcing a good news that is not nearly as good as the news Jesus announced.  We’ve been marketing a small portion of the gospel as the whole package.  And I believe our inattention to the fullness of what Jesus considers to be the gospel has created a narrow-minded understanding of salvation and the Christian life.

I think much of our problem — mine, at least — is that we like to take ideas apart so that we can study them better and understand them more.  So if the good news is this large notion that encompasses much, we’ve isolated portions of it (which are in reality inseparable) in the name of scholarly learning.  I don’t think this is all bad — except that somewhere in the process we seemed to have tossed out a large chunk of what Jesus himself understood as the good news.  I’m not sure if we discarded it because we didn’t understand it, because it didn’t suit our interests, or because we merely lost the ability to understand the whole for looking at its parts.

But many of us seem to have disposed of the gospel’s relationship with kingdom.  I’d argue Jesus didn’t come simply to die for our sins, but rather to usher in a new kingdom.  And his death was necessary for our entry into this kingdom, just as our death is necessary for life in the kingdom.  Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates the kingdom’s power over death, as well as its overcoming and restorative nature.  It also serves as a demonstration of our new life in him — and in his kingdom.  Whatever our definition of “gospel,” we can’t afford to ignore, neglect, or even downplay the idea of God’s kingdom.

In light of the above, I intend for my next couple of posts to address the issue of what a correct (and full) understanding of the gospel must include.  [Next is the vastness of the gospel.]  Care to offer some suggestions?  [I need all the help I can get.]



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30 Comments

Filed under evangelism, gospel, kingdom

30 responses to “what does it mean to preach the gospel?

  1. Good morning, hello, hodi, howdy.

    Rather busy here, but this is a monstrous issue and I must say kudos for starting it so well.

    It’s monstrous because I think that asking any 10 Christians for a definition of the Gospel will get 10 radically different answers, and asking for a definition of preaching might get similarly varied results.

    To many, “preaching” is something that MUST be done by someone who is “called to preach”. It must happen in the form of a sermon. To many, it carries an inherent authority and is quite nearly (if not more so) as authoritative as the Word of God itself, since the presumption is that the “preacher” is speaking for God (great confusion with OT prophets).

    As well, to many, the “Gospel” is the soundbite that says “you are going to hell if you don’t believe on Jesus Christ and/or live a certain way.”

    Most Christians, me included, don’t really have any idea of what it means to “preach the Gospel”. Maybe even especially me.

    • “…asking any 10 Christians for a definition of the Gospel will get 10 radically different answers…”

      very true. and the thing is, chances are they’re all correct on some level and just stressing different aspects. and what gets me is those 10 people are likely to be willing to argue over who’s correct.

  2. Wow, this is very interesting!
    I am afraid I can’t chip anything in – but I am looking forward to reading the replies and your next post on this.

  3. Jason Miller

    Kabisa!

    Well said.

    My first point, following your lead, would be that Jesus preached a lot of Good News before dying on the cross. So, it follows that his death, burial, and resurrection cannot encompass the Good News. If it did, what was he preaching while he was alive? In fact, an argument could be made that the very Good News Jesus preached is one reason he was obedient to that death.

    Moreover, one could say that his death was the ultimate way for Christ to serve/make possible the Kingdom, to become the 2nd Adam, making it possible for him to be the mistaken gardener of John 20.

    Last, I would say our impoverished view of gospel which limits it to death, burial and resurrection (with the emphasis on) for you and for me has to be linked in some way to our general view of redemption as a relationship between Jesus and us as opposed to a relationship between God the Father and ALL of his creation. All of it. He is jealous (in that good way) and he is taking it back.

    Anyway, that’s what I got. I also got pinkeye from my kid, so I’m gonna go scratch.

    Cheers.

    • all good points; particularly i enjoyed reading the third. the reworking/redeeming (?) of all creation is something i’ve been thinking about a lot lately. i’m not sure i know what to do with it and where to put it, but it’s been on my mind…

      and sorry about the pinkeye. which lovely child of miller blessed you with thy itching and inflamed eye?

  4. Tying “proclaiming the gospel” to the “kingdom” (as the Gospels do) forces us to re-evaluate much of what we have believed regarding preaching. Going back to Jesus’ practices is a wonderful corrective for us, especially those of us in the West. Thanks for using the experiences you are facing in Tanzania to help us realize that we have uncritically perpetuated a highly contextualized “gospel” that is no longer appropriate for the West, let alone much of anywhere else in the world.

    • someday i intend to write a blog post about which “part” of the good news i think we should be starting with in africa. and it’s NOT guilt, atonement, and/or justification.

  5. So.. I am going to over-simplify this even more.

    There is a God and we are not Him.

    The whole of scripture responds to that first proposition.

  6. randy morgan

    as usual, brett, i agree with (fundamentally) with what you’re saying. jesus came to bring the kingdom near and that (the nearness/accessibility of the kingdom) is the good news.

    one point of clarity…

    i agree with your sentiment (“we have an unhealthy obsession with heaven”) in the sense that, “i have my ticket punched…my future is secure” and we see a huge number (a majority?) of “christians” who never move on to become “disciples.” that being said, one of my favorite books of all time is “things unseen” by mark buchanan. it is a treatise on 2 corinthians 4:18. he describes what it might look like for a christ-follower to live focused “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” not on heaven necessarity, but certainly on eternity.

    i’m sorry you live in africa and don’t have access to all these cool books. and if you lived closer, i’d lend you mine.

    • good ideas, randy. i do think it’s clear in scripture that we’re to have our eyes on the kingdom in all its fullness and on our future glorification. i also should admit that i probably overreact against those who see salvation as a trip to heaven and the gospel merely as forgiveness of sins.

      i believe thinking on those things which are unseen encourages, inspires, and even empowers us to live as God desires, therefore experiencing in greater fullness (but not completion) the glory of God.

      one thing i wonder about is whether or not it becomes our responsibility to help bring about the kingdom on earth or not? i want that to be the case, and it seems it would make sense — that as the body of Christ, one of our tasks is to help bring about the redemption of all creation. but scripture seems to suggest we accept the kingdom, enter the kingdom, etc. i don’t think there are any words of spreading, growing, and/or strengthening the kingdom? anybody got thoughts on that?

  7. Does Christ preaching “the good news of the kingdom” tie in with John the Baptist’s exhortation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” ?

    And does this relate to Christ’s claim (Luke 17:21) that “The kingdom of God is within you” ? (I’m taking for granted that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of heaven; is this a fair assumption?)

    If we look at the things that Christ and his apostles frequently got into hot water for teaching (the Resurrection of the dead, the possibility of forgiveness, the immanence of God as Father, etc), are these examples of what is the good news?

    Does the LXX Greek word εὐαγγελιζόμενος (KJV “good tidings,” Masoretic “בָּשַׂר “) mean the same thing as εὐαγγέλιον (“good news” or “gospel”) in the NT? Does the use of this word in the OT help us understand the meaning of “good news” in the NT– that is, were Christ and the apostles borrowing a term from Jewish Scripture?

    • Would “kingship” be a more helpful translation of βασιλεία ? Does “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” mean a place which is not this place here- or does it mean all of us in this or any place, living under God’s authority? Does “the good news of the kingdom” mean that we are able to make God the authority in our lives?

      • See, you boys just quickly go climbing translational beanstalks into the land of giants and leave poor normal (well, sorta…) Christians like me in the cottage below. No wonder 99% of church attendees on any given Sunday are completely baffled as to why they are there :)

      • no idea on kingship and kingdom — or really on the difference it might make?

        i like the second option on the next question — the all of us in this or any place under God’s authority.

        i suppose i’d argue that’s part of it, but not the whole?

    • do you know the answers to all these greek questions, james? because i don’t. i was kind of hoping they were rhetorical. i mean, you are the probably the only one of us who uses greek every sunday. still, i’m going to respond to your thoughts, though some of my responses may be questions in themselves:

      – was the kingdom in existence all along? did JC create it or make it available to us or usher it in or open it or what?

      – my assumption, without looking at a greek bible, has always been that the “you” in luke 17 is plural. and i do think kingdom of heaven and of God seem relatively interchangeable.

      – good idea. never thought about that connection. and i don’t know.

      – no idea.

      • Yeah, the questions are somewhat rhetorical and I do have some possible answers. But I’m not convinced that they are the answers- which is why they were posed as questions not statements.

        I’m mostly cutting & pasting Greek from blueletterbible.com . My limited use of liturgical Koine in the States helps me read & pronounce Greek when I see it, but I don’t really understand it all that well.

        The difference between “kingdom” and “kingship” might be that the former translation can seem territorial whereas the latter is less so. “Reign of God” is another alternative. It’s my understanding that the Greek word translated as “kingdom” is not explicitly territorial- the “kingdom of God” is not necessarily a place; rather it is the state of being under God’s authority.

        So “the kingdom of God is within you” means in part that God is your king whether you like it or not.

        Given this interpretation, I think that the sovereignty of God (“kingdom of heaven”) has always been the truest reality. The good news of the kingdom is not that a new territory has been created somewhere else and we are allowed to enter it under certain conditions. The good news of the kingdom is that God is with us, and he’s got things under control.

        If the good news of the kingdom is (in part) that God is with us, then I can say that Emmanuel does indeed bring the kingdom to us, through the event of the Incarnation. Of course the Crucifixion and the Resurrection crucially restore us to life so that we can participate in the kingdom, but the kingdom comes through the Incarnation.

        Yes, the “you” in Luke 17:21 is plural. (don’t need Greek to tell that; KJV would use “thee” if it were singular) But it could mean “within each of y’all” or it could mean “within the assembly of y’all” (“among you”). The Greek ἐντός ὑμῶν seems to allow for either interpretation, and various translators are all over the map. I’m inclined towards the first interpretation.

  8. Sorry about that! I’ve been hanging out with Greeks and linguists far too long. At least your church (presumably) doesn’t start the service by singing “Εὐλογημένη ἡ βασιλεία” (“Blessed is the Kingdom”) in Koine Greek itself, as my parish back in Florida still does.

  9. Ike

    …as of first importance… I Corinthians 15:3
    There is no word or truth of greater importance than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are full of many messages. The least among them is more valuable than the combined wealth of the world and more important than the greatest thoughts ever formed in the mind of man. If then, the very dust of Scripture is more precious than gold, how can we calculate the worth or importance of the Gospel?
    Even within the Scripture itself, the Gospel message has no equal. The story of creation, though lined with splendor, bows before the message of the cross. The Law of Moses and the words of the prophets point away from themselves to this singular message of redemption. Even the Second Coming, though full of wonder, stands in the shadows of this one word. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the one great and essential message, the acropolis of the Christian faith, and the foundation of the believer’s hope. There is nothing more important, nothing more useful, and nothing more necessary for the promotion of the glory and kingdom of God!
    This being true, it should be our magnificent obsession to comprehend the Gospel. It is an impossible task, but worth every ounce of effort spent, for all the riches of God and every true joy for the believer are found there. It is worth shutting ourselves away from every lesser endeavor and inferior pleasure so that we might sound the depths of God’s grace revealed in this one message. A beautiful illustration of such a passion is found in Job 28:1-9:
    Surely there is a mine for silver and a place where they refine gold. Iron is taken from the dust, and copper is smelted from rock. Man puts an end to darkness, and to the farthest limit, he searches out the rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot; they hang and swing to and fro far from men. The earth, from it comes food, and underneath it is turned up as fire. Its rocks are the source of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. The path no bird of prey knows, nor has the falcon’s eye caught sight of it. The proud beasts have not trodden it, nor has the fierce lion passed over it. He puts his hand on the flint; he overturns the mountains at the base.
    Even in the ancient world of Job, there were men who were willing to push themselves to the farthest limit, to deprive themselves of surface life, to burrow through solid rock in gloom and deep shadow, to risk life and limb, and to leave no stone unturned in their search for the treasures of this earth. How much more should we who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, be willing to leave off the things of lesser glory to pursue the glories of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Why then, is a true passion for the Gospel so scarce among God’s people? First, it is because the Gospel most often preached today is a terribly reduced or truncated version of the original. The Gospel of God cannot be contained in a tract, or summed up in a few spiritual laws. It is good to understand that God has a plan, that we are sinners, and that Christ died and rose again that we might be saved by faith, but it is only the beginning. It is when we search the Scriptures, and discover the meaning of these things that we realize that we are on a journey that will last beyond our lifetime and into a thousand eternities. With each new truth discovered we are more and more captured by the Glory of the Gospel until it consumes our thoughts and governs our will. This exploration into the Gospel is necessary if we are ever to be passionate about it.
    A second reason for a lack of passion is that the Gospel is seen by many to be Christianity 101, or the baby step into the faith that is quickly mastered and left behind for deeper things. Nothing could be further from the truth! The Gospel is the “deep thing” of Christianity! Eschatology and the book of Revelation will be mastered at the second coming, but our pursuit of the knowledge of the Gospel will continue on throughout eternity. The greatest of Christians will never master the Gospel, but every true Christian will be mastered by it!

  10. thanks, ike. two things stood out to me most — one disheartening kind of and the other beautiful. i’ll let you guess which is which:

    “It is an impossible task” (speaking of understanding the gospel)

    “The greatest of Christians will never master the Gospel, but every true Christian will be mastered by it!”

  11. Ike

    “JB”….we will be chasing down the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ for an eternity of eternities.

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