I found this little passage in Brian McLaren’s book rather humorous:
Like a lot of Protestants, for many years I ‘knew’ that the gospel was the message of ‘justification by grace through faith’, distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, and especially his magnum opus, the epistle to the Romans. If Catholics were called ‘Roman Catholics’ because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called ‘Romans Protestants’ because Paul’s epistle to the Romans served as our theological headquarters. As its avid students, we ‘knew’ without question what it was about. ~ Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity
All that changed, however, during a conversation Brian McLaren had with a theologian whose provocative statements and questions started him on a journey that turned his life inside out:
Most evangelicals haven’t got the foggiest notion of what the gospel really is.
Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?
Some of these thoughts have appeared in McLaren’s earlier book ‘A New Kind of Christian’. Before I read that book, along with other books by him and N. T. Wright, I thought I ‘knew’ what the gospel was about too – something about believing Jesus died for your sins and accepting him as your personal Saviour being the way provided by God to save us from Hell so that we could go to Heaven after death.
Then I began to realize how limited my vision of the gospel was. I realized that the gospel I thought I knew before was a gospel that Jesus himself never preached. The only gospel that Jesus preached, was the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Its key message? The Kingdom of God is at hand… Jesus’ gospel is a gospel based not on a set of propositions or statements of belief, but rather about God’s vision for the world. It’s a gospel that is not concerned only with life after death or human souls, but about life in the present and the whole creation. It’s not about escaping earth to go to a disembodied heaven, but about heaven impinging upon the Earth. All of a sudden, Jesus’ teachings and words made so much more sense. The entire narrative of the Bible, from the Old Testament right up to Revelations, all started to fit together.
This new vision of the gospel has turned my life inside out… and I am indebted to Brian McLaren for igniting the spark that set me on this journey about 5 years ago.
Again, we have to be careful about reducing the gospel into neat little formulas, spiritual laws etc, as our predecessors did in the Modern era (and as some still do today), but here’s a nice little video by James Choung that gives a more holistic view of the Christian message… in 3 minutes!