Theology Matters: What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in whom were fulfilled the hopes and dreams of the Old Testament. The word Gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion “Good News”, and the verb euangelizo, meaning “to bring or announce Good News”. In our Christian culture the word Gospel has developed significantly until the point of be associated with the person Jesus.

The Gospel is the story of Jesus: his birth, life, passion, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. The Gospel is certainly the “Good News” that Jesus offered to every person, it is “Good News” because it is a gift from God, the gift of His son to the world. Through Jesus, God provides a way of salvation for all men and women of all ages.

The early Christians had not written Gospels such as ours and their faith was based upon the preaching and teaching testimony of others who knew directly or indirectly the Lord Jesus in his earthly life. As in the case of the Twelve, whose testimony was based upon a personal knowledge of our Lord. Others had an indirectly, but equally vivid personal experience, of His risen life, such as the case in the Apostle Paul.

It was only after these special eye-witnesses had begun to disappear, and in order to avoid false teachings about Jesus that it seem necessary to set down their testimony in a written form, later called Gospel; which tell in consecutive form the story of Jesus which the apostolic teachers told only in a broken and fragmentary way. In writing their Gospels the authors concentrate their attention primarily in some major events of the life of Jesus. Especially His death and resurrection which demonstrate that the power of God was working in and through Him.

Each Gospel differs from the others but all of them have the common story of Jesus. Each one of the Gospels tells the story from his own characteristic point of view but they were editors rather than authors. Each version of the Gospel receives and organizes the material of testimony and presents it from their own perspective. Their purpose was not to write a biography in the modern sense of the word or to share accurate historical information. The purpose of the Gospel is to facilitate the encounter of the reader with the person of Jesus.

The Gospel is written to show who and what kind of person Jesus was, and to arouse in the readers a response of faith and love. The Gospel is the “Good News” because it puts the reader in front of the Savior and touches his/her life. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

The Gospel was written in spirit of faith to ignite the reader’s faith in the person of Jesus, in His words, actions and teachings; and ultimately to reveal the Presence of God through Jesus, as Messiah and Son of God. The Gospel offers abundant, new life in Jesus name to those who read it in the same spirit in which the writers wrote it.

The Apostle Paul, one of this privileged indirectly witness of Jesus, understood and summarizes the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

In our liturgy during Holy Communion we proclaim the message of the Gospel. When we celebrate the faith of the Church:

“.. The memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.”          Rite One, BCP 335

“We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.”    Rite Two, BCP 363

This is the essence of the Gospel: Death, burial, resurrection and appearances of the resurrected Christ. The message of the Gospel is a faith confession in two parts: (1) Christ died for our sins and (2) He was raised on the third day. The Gospel is certainly the “Good News” of God in Jesus all the time for all the people.

The Rev. Fabian Villalobos is rector of Christ Church, Dallas

Theology Matters: What do Anglicans Believe About the Bible?

Anglicans believe that the Bible is the word of God. We also believe that this word was written down by human beings.

As the word of God, the Bible has an active power in human lives. This means the Bible is the subject of verbs; the Bible does things. It is a text that works on people, moves people, changes people, and draws people to God. Hebrews 4:12 states, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.” Because they are true words, because they are God’s words, the words of Bible itself (and its message when preached) have the power to change human lives. So the Bible is not just a text to be examined or studied – it is a text that examines and studies us.

But unlike the Koran in Islam (where the words themselves are sacred), we do not believe the word of God to be identical with the words of the text. It is the message the text contains, or perhaps better the three persons of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to which it attests, that are sacred. The words themselves are just words, written down (and copied) by human beings. We say that these human authors were “inspired by the Holy Spirit,” not that God dictated the words. One of the wonderful implications of the inspiration being in the message rather than in the words is that the Bible can be translated – we can read it (and so it can work on us) in whatever language we natively speak.

This Bible, the word of God written down in the words of human beings, is then then read by us, who live in an entirely different place and time. This means when we read the Bible we’re dealing with (1) the word of God, (2) the original culture of the human authors, (3) the present culture of the human readers. Not only that, all three are deeply embedded and intertwined in one another.

At the heart of many of the controversial issues that have buffeted the Anglican Communion in recent years is an honest disagreement about what stuff in the Bible is part of the living word of God to us today and what belongs to the culture of the humans who did the writing down. This is hard to figure out; there’s no doubt about it. The word of God has a lot to say (that we don’t always like) about what the world is supposed to look like. God had a lot of critiques to make of the ancient world in which the Bible was written and certainly has a lot to say about our own world as well. Faithful Bible-reading people simply and honestly disagree about where in the Bible it the word of God doing the critiquing and where it is the ancient culture.

But even as we face up to this struggle of interpretation, we must also not lose sight of what’s most amazing: that across millennia the Bible still speaks in ways that we can understand and that can bring us into the loving arms of our Savior. As the Catechism in the prayer book says, “God still speaks to us through the Bible” – pretty impressive for an old book.

Now, though Anglicans believe all that about the Bible, there’s nothing peculiarly Anglican about those beliefs. This is good. The Bible is common ground in Christian world, so if we had particularly peculiar views as Anglicans, that would hardly be to our credit. However, there are some Anglican perspectives worth noting.

First, compared to many Protestant denominations, one of the things that’s catholic (small-c) about the Anglican understanding of the Bible is that is makes room for the Church. It’s easiest to see what this means historically. In terms of the New Testament, the canon of Holy Scripture (canon refers to those writings that “made it in”) was determined by the Church. At the exact same time, scripture was being used to determine the bounds of what was theologically in and out of the Church. It’s not a matter of which one came first–the Bible and the Church simply shaped one another. Today, though the issue of canon is settled (we’re not adding more books to the Bible), it is still the case the the Church shapes scripture and scripture shapes the Church. The tradition of the Church determines what sort of interpretations of the Bible are out of bounds; and the Bible determines what sort of innovations in belief and practice within the Church are out of bounds.

But though the Anglican tradition makes room for the Church’s role in shaping and interpreting that Bible, that doesn’t mean that people don’t need to engage scripture directly. Quite the contrary, if our Anglican heritage offers us one indelible belief about the Bible, it’s that we should read it, both individually and corporately. For English reformers and early Anglicans, it was critical that people to be able to read the Bible in English. They risked (and sometimes gave) their lives to give the English speaking people a Bible to read, not to collect dust on bookshelves. They did it so that word of God might touch us and change us, and that God might speak to us through it. Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican reformer who put together the Book of Common Prayer, organized the whole thing around a daily practice of Bible reading and prayer.

The shortest answer to “What do Anglicans believe about the Bible?” is simply “You should read it.”

The Rev’d Andrew Van Kirk is Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s, McKinney.

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