In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one. The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question. In this post, we will address the 5th question McLaren mentions in the book.
The Question: What is the Gospel?
Western Christianity’s Answer: Western Christianity’s answer, McLaren believes, would come mostly if not solely from the Book of Romans. The Gospel according to Western Christianity is justification by grace through faith. The Gospel according to Western Christianity is about how to escape earth and get to Heaven. The Gospel is about avoiding Hell. Ultimately, the Gospel is about me, me, me.
Brian McLaren’s Answer: Brian McLaren wants to say that the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God coming to earth. He emphasizes that what Jesus preached and talked about in the Gospels was the Kingdom of God being at hand. McLaren then goes through the Book of Romans, which has so often been used to propound the “Gospel is about me” mindset, and he shows how he sees the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in it. McLaren’s interpretation is as follows:
- Jews and Gentiles both have the same level of need. (Romans 1:18-3:20)
- A new way forward for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, is available: the way of faith. (3:21-4:25)
- Jews and Gentiles are united in a common story. Paul uses 4 illustrations to show this: Adam, baptism, slavery and remarriage. (5:1-7:6)
- Jews and Gentiles are united in a common struggle and a common victory, illustrated by Paul through the Story of Me and the Story of We. (7:7-8:39)
- Jewish and Gentile problems are addressed, showing that God is God over everything and everyone. (9:1-11:36)
- Jews and Gentiles are engaged in a common life and mission. (12:1-13:14)
- Jews and Gentiles are called to unity in the Kingdom of God. (14:1-16:27)
For McLaren, then, the Gospel goes from being about “how I get out of Hell” or even “how I get to Heaven” to about “how we can be united in the Kingdom of God”.
Chris’ Answer: I appreciate very much that Brian McLaren’s interpretation of the Gospel does not leave us on earth, simply biding our time until the Real Thing gets here. I think he is right to include the idea that we as Jesus-Followers need to be living as though the Kingdom of God were here, because if it was “at hand” and “near” 2000 years ago, how much closer is it now?
Having said that, I think I would want to say that the Gospel is both/and. I would essentially combine Western Christianity’s answer with McLaren’s to arrive at what I think the Gospel is. Yes, the Gospel is about living as Kingdom people. No, the Gospel is not just about me getting to Heaven, or just about me getting out of Hell. Jesus’ death and resurrection is not simply a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card. But, unless my relationship with Jesus is restored to what it should be, I can never live as a Kingdom person. This is, after all, what justification by grace through faith is really about.
The Gospel doesn’t end with justification by grace through faith. But it does begin there. So we can’t define the Gospel solely in terms of the Kingdom of God, but we can’t define it solely in terms of justification by faith. We need both, if the Good News is going to be as good as it should be.