Sunday, March 06, 2022

Truncated Gospels

 “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Mark 1:15b

There are a few major pieces packed into that one half-verse, and so much of our preaching these days leaves out one bit or another. Second part first. I had a friend in my Jesus people days who bought an old mail truck for his roofing business and personal use, and painted "Repent or Perish" on both sides in large letters.  It was uh, recognisable about town. He regretted that a few years later, realising that while it was true as far as it went, it was an incomplete gospel, and thus misleading. He was leaving out the that ye may have eternal (or abundant) life part. 

On the other hand, I think the tendency now - perhaps among the young who have attended the best seminaries - is to repeatedly mention that Jesus came to bring Good News and focus on that. Also true as far as it goes, also misleading because it truncates the gospel.

A lot of analysis has gone into the term "Kingdom of God," and my suspiciousness increases the more certain a person sounds that they are explaining to you exactly what this means. Some seem to think it is a thing we apprehend and then enact, others that it is an attitude we are supposed to adopt, while a third might even tell you it is a thing we are supposed to build. Our first impression is usually that it means something like Heaven, or where/how God lives. The verse does say that it has "come near," after all. We think it must at least metaphorically be some sort of place. Other possibilities are that it is a Presence we enter into, or enters into us. All of this is fine, I suppose, none pushing out the others. It's just unwise to settle on one and say "That's it!" I believe it is one of those things placed in elusive territory for us intentionally, so that it can only be understood by both contemplation and action - and you will notice that we cannot contemplate and act very well at the same time, but have to toggle between them.  The toggling may be the point.


james said...

At Bible study the other day we noticed that Jesus didn't explain all of His parables. And some of those He didn't explain seem to cover several meanings.

engineerlite said...
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engineerlite said...

“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15b)

This is the verse (and other similar verses) that have radically changed my view of Christian life. Unlike you, I wasn’t smart enough to recognize its significance on my own. Rather, this is/was the springboard for much of the ministry of Dallas Willard, and I find his work compelling. This verse seems to answer the question, “what is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus brought, and that we should spread?”

The other verses directly similar are:

Mark 1:14-15: 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Matthew 3:1-2: 1 In those days John the Baptist† came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:17: 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Note that this is directly in front of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus will describe what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

Matthew 10:7: 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven† has come near.’

I understand your wariness regarding the “kingdom of God (heaven)” terminology. I always found it was difficult to interpret precisely, much less explain it. Seems even Jesus had this problem, as very few understood it even contemporaneously. However, since this IS the gospel Jesus preached, we must try.

It doesn’t help that kingdom carries a lot of baggage, especially in America. It also doesn’t help that so many have tried to explain it, that the term has become so multiply defined it is now almost meaningless without an author’s definition (not unlike Christian, disciple, etc.) I think the best one can do when someone uses the term is to find and use their definition of it for understanding their work.

Here’s how Willard forms a working definition, rather than one in theological terms. “A kingdom is area of life over which one has the deciding voice; it is where one’s will is done.” In this sense, every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’—or ‘queendom,’ or a ‘government’—a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will. Whatever we genuinely have the say over is in our kingdom. And our having the say over something is precisely what places it within our kingdom.”

Using that definition of kingdom, he defines the kingdom of the heavens (or of God) as the range of God’s effective will, hence anything that obeys God’s will is within his kingdom. It has always existed, but has been made accessible to everyone through Jesus Christ. The term kingdom of the heavens includes all the qualities that living under the rule of a sovereign, loving, creative Trinitarian God implies. The kingdom among us, which refers to the same thing, specially emphasizes God’s presence in and among those over whom he reigns. We have the opportunity to align our kingdom with God’s, where our lives become an exhibit or extension or part what he wants done.

engineerlite said...

Like you, Willard believes that the gospel that’s been preached for a long time is a truncated one. He says, “When we examine the broad spectrum of Christian proclamation and practice, we see that the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual’s sins. On the left it is removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a “gospel of sin management.” Transformation of life and character is not part of the redemptive message.”

There are three other ideas he finds in the Mark verse, as you’ll see in his paraphrase:

“Mark’s Gospel reports that “Jesus then came into Galilee announcing the good news from God. ‘All the preliminaries have been taken care of,’ he said, ‘and the rule of God is now accessible to everyone. Review your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable new opportunity’” (Mark 1:15).”

First, note that “time has come” and “has come near” becomes “is now accessible to everyone”. This actually carries two ideas: 1) living in the kingdom is possible now; and 2) living in the kingdom is possible for everyone. I don’t know whether this is based on language interpretation, or is just heavily influenced by the opening of the Sermon on the Mount.

Second, note that “repent” becomes “review your plans for living.” It is not so narrowly defined as for only the forgiveness of sins. The gospel is not an accounting transaction.

Finally, note that “believe” becomes “base your life on this remarkable new opportunity”. That is, belief is not simply an assent to an intellectual proposition, but a trust and commitment to a new way of living.

G. Poulin said...

"Good news" is a rather poor translation of the word for "gospel". It should be something more like "authoritative recital". The gospel is good news for some, and bad news for others.