Friday, May 09, 2008

Jesus' Life and the Proclamation of the Gospel

What role does narrating the life of Jesus have in gospel proclamation? I ask this for two reasons: (1) I cannot help but notice that in Acts (esp. the Petrine speeches) that the life of Jesus figures prominently in apostolic proclamation of the gospel; (2) I've also been reading a bit of Ajith Fernando's Acts commentary in the NIVAC series where he makes the same point. In fact, in his own native Sri Lanka, Buddhists find sacrificial language repugnant (because they view killing animals wrong) and are more likely to convert from reading the Gospels than from reading Paul. That is interesting. I think we have to stop viewing the gospel as a series of linear propositions, i.e. (a) God is Holy, (b) Man is sinfulful, (c) Therefore . . . you get the drift! If we articulate the gospel as a narrative reaching back to creation, through to the history of Israel, encompassing the life of Jesus, the passion of Jesus, and the out-pouring of the Spirit, then we're going to be closer to the apostolic message than with reducing the gospel to the logic behind penal substitution. In fact, I wonder if a lot of evangelical preaching is actually quite Bultmannesque in being ahistorical and dislocating the work of Jesus Christ from the history of Jesus and the history of Israel.


J.Skjou said...

Are you back to infering that someone greater than Bultmann is among us? :)

“As far as New Testament theologians go, many went to Marburg to sit at the feet of Bultmann, and behold, one greater than Bultmann is here.”

John Davies said...

Mike, I quite agree. I notice that the NRSV for example, only translates euangelion once in the Gospels as "gospel" (preferring "good news"), whereas "gospel" is regularly employed in the epistles. Does this translation tradition perhaps reinforce a perception that the gospel is a theological proposition divorced from the Jesus story? While gospel is a multifaceted term, at its core, in NT usage, it concerns how the coming of God in Christ, with focus on his death and resurrection (often overlooked in "gospel messages"; 1 Cor 15), in the context of Israel's story, demands our submission to his Lordship. Every element of what Jesus did and said needs to be presented so we will know the identity and qualities and purpose of the one who demands our allegience. The early church obviously felt that "Gospel" was an eminently suitable term to describe the contents of the biographies of Jesus.

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

I'd like to echo what John Davies has written. Responding to the message of the Gospel is at the same time responding to the person who is the content of the Gospel (cf Mark 1:1).

When a person rejects the Gospel then what is rejected is not 'a series of linear propositions' but the rejection of the Lord of lords who came personally into human time and space according to God's plan since before the creation of the world.


billy v said...

Within Israel's story there is the sacrificial system. How do we then relate to Buddhists the institution of the sacrificial system and Christ's role regarding it?

matthew said...

Thanks for this post. I'm quite sympathetic with what you've said here: To me it's a disappointment when not only evangelism, but even week-to-week preaching becomes an apparently mindless repetition of an abstracted gospel-summary.

On the other hand, I guess it's not insignificant that in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul pushes the offence of the cross as far as it will go in a context in which it's a cultural embarrassment. In 1 Corinthians he refuses to even discuss the resurrection until he has applied his cross-focused corrective to all elements of Corinthian practice.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we should simply pursue cultural insensitivity, but to me it is a reminder that in sharing the narrative of God's interaction with the world, there is a centre that can't be skimmed over.

Edwin Tay said...

Hi Michael, I've enjoyed your blog tremendously. We've met and spoken twice at Rutherford House Dogmatics Conferences.

I hope you can enlighten me on what exactly is wrong with viewing the Gospel in a series of linear propositions?

Personally, I do not see that articulating the Gospel in narrative form and articulating it as a series of linear propositions are necessarily opposed.

Michael F. Bird said...

Mate, the problem is that nowhere in the NT is the gospel espoused as a series of linear propositions, or as a syllogism in need of resolution. Read Rom. 1.3-4, 2 Tim. 2.8, and 1 Cor. 15.3-8. We are dealing with the story of Jesus as the fulfilment of the story of Israel. (If you're interested more in this read my new Paul book which has a sterling quote from Martin Luther on the narrative nature the gospel). The problem is that the "four spiritual laws" approach is saying stuff that is true, but it is simply not how the gospel is formulated and proclaimed in the NT!

sujomo said...

Billy V,

I think the difficult challenge in presenting the Gospel to Buddhists is explaining to them the biblical concept of sin.

Once there is an understanding of sin then we can begin to explain how the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross once and for all fulfills the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. But, sadly, where there is little or no concept of sin then men and women have no time of day for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


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