At the beginning of 2023 I sensed our house church needed fresh clarity on just what the ‘Gospel’ is we need to be proclaiming and living. Coincidentally my son sent me an article by one of my favourite NT scholars, Prof. Scott McKnight of Northern Seminary, on ‘Gospeling the Gospel in Acts.’ ** Quote, ‘The task of evangelism (‘gospeling’) is no less demanding and difficult today than it was in the time of Peter and Stephen and Paul. It is also in need of creative adaptations to audiences. Perhaps what we need more of is the boldness (Acts 2:29; 4:13, 29, 31; 28:31) that came upon them through a fresh blowing of the Spirit. Perhaps the absence of resurrection theology in much of gospeling today is to blame for the lack of boldness. We need to recover more of the early resurrection gospel and we need less of the theodicy-like focus Anselm and the Reformers gave to atonement theories…’
‘There was a time that one thing all orthodox Christians generally agreed on was the gospel. But issues have arisen in the last generation that has shifted so many factors that the gospel itself is in need of careful clarification and even re-examination… as Protestants we want to go back to the Bible and see how the earliest Christian gospelers understood the gospel.’ *** Hence my interest in Rom. 1.
A little background to Rom. 1. The author was born a Jew in Tarsus in the Roman Province of Cilicia (modern S. Turkey, where the tragic earthquake took place recently). A zealot for the Law, he traveled to Jerusalem to study under the great Rabbi, Gamaliel. As a student, he zealously persecuted Christians near and far, and was present at the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7). Then followed his revolutionary conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Next he spent 3 years in ‘Arabia’ (Gal. 1:17) ‘digesting’ the very essence of the Gospel revealed to him. Now a radical believer, he set out on several missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece. He wrote Romans toward the end of his third missionary journey from a convert’s home (Gaius) in Corinth, Greece. Paul was planning to ultimately get to Rome (Italy) and Spain, in order to disciple the many new believers converted at Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2) and through his personal ministry of the Word in many places. To him Rome was ‘key,’ constituting the heart of the Roman Empire, with a population of one million in a very small area, of which 40-50,000 were Jews and the rest Gentiles. While some of these new believers gathered in local synagogues, they operated mainly in ‘house churches’ (cf. F.F. Bruce) such as that of his good friends, Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-5). Paul eventually got to Rome after appealing to Caesar following his arrest in Judea. He arrived there in 60 AD, welcomed by an entourage of believers along the Via Appia. He used his two-year house-arrest to evangelize hundreds of guests, Jew and Gentile, who came to his abode. Sadly, he was eventually beheaded by Caesar Nero on the road to the seaport of Ostia.
Now to our text, introducing the very essence of the Gospel.
In v. 1a the apostle introduces himself as ‘a servant of Christ Jesus.’ ‘Servant’ = ‘doulos’ = ‘a bondslave.’ As such, he is totally at his loving Master’s disposal. You may recall Exod. 21:1ff, the process whereby a Hebrew male slave would serve his master for six years. “But in the seventh year, he will go free without any payment. If he came in single, he will leave single. If he came in married, then his wife will leave with him. If his master gave him a wife and she bore him sons and daughters, the wife and children will belong to the master. He will leave single. However, if the slave clearly states ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children, and I don’t want to go free,’ then his master will bring him before God. He will bring him to the door or doorpost. There his master will pierce his ear with a pointed tool, and he will serve him as his slave for life.” These days, many believers, redeemed by the costly blood of Christ, claim his blessings but at the same time choose to live their life on their own terms. Recently I heard a ‘believer’ saying at the dinner table about life in general, ‘I want to know what’s in it for me!’
In v. 1, Paul describes his calling ‘to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…’ I.e. to be Christ’s special emissary, specifically set apart for the ‘gospel of God.’ Believers today, having in the last century been brainwashed by well-meaning evangelists, especially in the West, to understand the Gospel in very anthropocentric terms rather than theocentric terms, have to stop and ask themselves, ‘Exactly what is the Gospel??’ Simply Jn. 3:16, without reading v. 18ff? Paul in his Galatian Letter wrote that the Gospel was ‘sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father’ (1:1). Gal. 1:1 continues to speak of ‘God, who set me apart from birth (note!) and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him to the Gentiles…’ – i.o.w. God had from eternity ordained him, with all the gifts of his rich heritage (Jewish/Graeco-Roman), with a view to one thing viz. heralding the Gospel of God revealed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit! ‘Euangellion’ = ‘God’s joyful proclamation of the victory and exaltation of His Son + the consequent amnesty which men and women may enjoy through faith in Him’ (F.F. Bruce). Back in the OT the immediate context was Israel’s impending release from the Babylonian exile as referred to by the prophet Isaiah in 40:9, 52:7, 60:6, 61:1-4, etc: ‘”How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God rules!'” (52:7/ CEB) We don’t serve some wishy-washy God, a glorified Father Christmas figure who smiles benignly at sin and says ‘Well, boys will be boys!’ Our God is none other than the Almighty One, the Holy One, the Merciful One. In the NT the ‘Good News’ indicates the message whereby ‘believers’/’obey-ers’ are radically redeemed from the spiritual bondage of sin, the flesh and the devil, and this ‘redemption’ is procured by the crucified and risen Christ! He is Saviour and majestic Lord! By now you will have heard of the spiritual awakening at Asbury University (Kentucky/USA), with staff and students worshiping, reconciling and praying non-stop. The worship is described as permeated with a great sense of love (vertical and horizontal), peace, transcendence, and an unusual hunger for God himself! ****
N. American David Bolton blogs under ‘Christ-Centred Christianity.’ His latest post is headed, ‘Spiritual Eccentricity.’ I.e. Christ needs to be absolutely central to all our thinking and experience, individually and as faith communities. He suggests the metaphor of a wheel rim around an absolutely central axis. Thus Christ-centredness ‘comes into existence or someone takes on greater significance, centrality, and pre-eminence, than God’s ordained centre, Jesus Christ. If the latter, it brings nothing but disunity, diminishment, distortion and defilement!’ He refers to this as a kind of ‘Spiritual Law.’ Spot on!
** Scot McKnight is professor of NT at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lisle, IL. Interestingly he is an ordained Anglican with ‘Anabaptist leanings.’ He holds a PhD from Nottingham University where he studied under the renowned Prof. James Dunn.
*** The Apostle Paul preaches an essentially ‘resurrection Gospel,’ as we can see repeatedly in Romans: 1:4 & 9; 4:24-25; 6:4-5 & 9-11; 7:4-6; 8:9-11; 10:8-11. Cf. his lengthy exposition in 1 Cor. 15!
**** Many around the world are critical about this ‘move of the Spirit.’ Time will tell. Personally I am positive about it because of its emphasis on repentance and reconciliation. The worship continues non-stop as I write. I am familiar with the 1970 move of God at Asbury Seminary, which impacted the nation as student-evangelists spread out across the USA. That was a genuine move of God based on the Gospel of God, I trust the University move will be the same. It started without dramatics, just a teaching series from Rom. 12 on the outworking of the Gospel in the lives of believers.
JOIN ME FOR PART 2 OF THIS MINI-SERIES SOMETIME SOON!