Thinking more about the definition of the Gospel

by Nathan Campbell

I’ve been thinking a bit more about why I think we should present the gospel as focused on Jesus being Lord, rather than as focused on Jesus saving us. These aren’t necessarily new or unique thoughts. Just my thoughts. My thesis is that your definition of the gospel fundamentally shapes your approach to the Christian life, not just to your presentation of the gospel in conversation.

One of the correlated outcomes of the Reformation was a rise in individualism. Which is fine, in many ways. But this rise seems to have come with an associated decline in thinking about community – one outcome of this is that we see individuals, or possibly family units, as the most basic unit of society. This flows on to how society functions, it also flows on to how we, as Christians, think about church and the Christian life. It creates, amongst other things, an individualised and consumer approach to church and devotional life, where it’s all about personal growth, and personal experience, and personal devotion. I don’t think individualism is where it’s at, for the Christian, based on the Biblical account of Christianity and the rise and shape of the New Testament church.

I suspect (and coincidentally I read a few reviews of Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, today which reinforced this), that this individualised Christianity is an outcome of one’s three word summary of the Gospel. If the gospel is “God saves you” then the consequence is that you, as an individual, become God’s person, and the Christian life is all about you living as God’s person, and being presented as God’s person at Judgment. If, on the other hand, the gospel is “Jesus is Lord” – then the response is more about people responding to him as Lord, becoming one of his people (ie part of the church (this, I suspect, pushes me closer than I’m comfortable with to being “New Perspective”)). The necessary outcome of owning Jesus as Lord, I think, is wanting other people to know Jesus as Lord too. Unless you’re a hateful type. Which means being part of the community and being outwards focused, rather than being focused on fulfilling your individual devotional duty.

Perhaps I’m caricaturing these positions (which is the accusation in the Michael Horton’s review of Scott McKnight’s book), but I think I’m capturing the vibe of what makes the Jesus is Lord definition of the gospel slightly different to the Jesus saves sinners definition (while acknowledging that almost all Christians hold both of these statements to be true – this is a reductionistic approach, so necessarily simplistic).


The Book
The review by Michael Horton
The response by Michael Bird
The response by Scot McKnight