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!
Well said Erroll. Other Universities are experiencing this as well. Christ centered. There is no power coming from God if it isn’t Christ Centered. The man made Gospel of our own thought plus add Jesus and stir has no power and the motor runs out of gas.
I once read that in the absence of heavenly fire from above someone will always try to strike a match. I pray the match-strikers stay away from the University awakenings. Warm regards.
Amen, Erroll! William Tyndale begins his Prologue to the Epistle to the Romans with these words:
“Forasmuch as this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the new Testament and most pure evangelion, that is to say glad tidings, and that we call gospel, and also is a light and a way unto the whole scripture; I think it meet that every christian man not only know it, by rote and without the book, but also exercise himself therein evermore continually, as with the daily bread of the soul. No man verily can read it too oft, or study it too well; for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is; and the more groundly it is searched, the preciouser things are found in it, so great treasure of spiritual things lieth hid therein.”
Quite something that he considers it “meet” that we know it by rote memory, and exercise ourselves in it continually… and actually “eat it”! I don’t know that I’ve got that far yet, but if we moderns would “return” to this, what a difference it would make to the Gospel we have for the world around us!
Looking forward to this series, dear brother.
Here’s a link to Tyndale’s Prologue:
What a confirmation from the great Tyndale! That insight is very, very rich, Allan. Yes, ‘chewing and eating’ the Word. I feel myself just a beginner. Thanks for stopping by with this wonderful comment.
I appreciate these musings on the gospel, Erroll. One of my teachers in bible school once said, “Never stray far from the anointed basics!” I was reminded of that while reading this post! Thanks for keeping them in focus. All blessings!
Many thanks, David. PS, some of my comments on your recent blogs may be landing in your spam, for whatever reason. Regards!
Erroll, thanks for letting me know, and you were right! I’ve restored two that I found in Spam to the posts now, and hopefully any future ones will not be flagged as such as a result. I think the enemy just didn’t like them! 😉
Thanks also for the “mention” in the body of this post! I’m glad my recent postings have registered with your spirit and heart!
All blessings, my friend!
Thanks, David, for resolving the spam issue. Your recent posts have been exceptionally clarifying and powerful. May God continue to inspire you and use your writings world-wide. My sincere prayer, with love.
Thanks for that Errol. I’m looking forward to the person or things you identify as taking over the place of Christ at the centre.
Don’t have all the answers, Ed, but will give it thought and respond asap. Power outages here are bothersome! Love to you and Jenny in Oz.
In the mean time try and look at David Bolton’s last two blogs, under https://christcentredchristianity.com Note Eph. 4:11-16 and 5:27. Chat soon.
Wonderful Erroll. We are called to be Christ’s bond slaves, separated unto God, willingly because He has captured our hearts. Amen amen amen – a faulty gospel is no gospel at all and we in the west are rife with it! Keep speaking truth brother! And David Bolton too!
While God gives grace, may we all (Erroll, David, Donnalee, Cheryl, Allan and so many others God has raised up across the globe for such a time as this), be found faithful!
I’m encouraged Erroll. I wonder if it is coincidence, providence, or a move of the Spirit that we too have been moved to focus on the gospel. In my annual book list, I noted 2 studies (Gospel-Centered Life, and Community) we went through that were very helpful: https://moreenigma.com/2022/12/07/the-books-of-2022/.
Thanks for the info, Rusty. Maybe a gradually imploding world with desperate Generation Z’ers (and their families) is turning some to seek the ‘basics.’ Whatever the case, I pray as you do that more and more will rise up to reclaim and proclaim an often-lost gospel amid the noise of confusion and hedonism. “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer!” (Rom. 12;12) Bless you!