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Gospel and the Kingdom: The Biblical Background for Holistic Mission (Issue 21)

By Alistair Donaldson. 

What comes to mind when we hear the word gospel? Good news, perhaps. But what kind of good news? And, what Bible verses enter our thoughts? Romans 3:23. Romans 6:23. The old favourite, John 3:16. And we mustn’t forget Revelation 3:20! These “gospel-sharing” verses are used often with good intentions to lead people to Christ and to further God’s redemptive mission in the world.  They inform hearers that all have sinned and that the wages of this sin is death – not such good news so far. Then we hear that God loves the world so much that he sent Jesus, his Son, so we could live forever – eternal life just for believing, the good news we’ve been waiting for. And then, for good measure we use the fourth verse (out of context) that tells of Jesus knocking on the door of our heart, inviting us to open this door so he can enter and have fellowship with us. This is the story we tell. This is our gospel.

I certainly don’t want to diminish the truth contain in these verses and that God can speak through them in powerful ways to bring hearers to experience salvation. However, the four verses represent only 0.00013% of the approximately 31 173 verses in the Bible. This begs some questions. What are we leaving out? What are we not telling people? How might the often silent 99.99987% of the Bible help give depth of meaning to these four ‘favourites’ and to our understanding of God’s missional project?

Gospel and the Kingdom.

The word gospel is crucial. We all know it literally means ‘good news,’ but we often forget to pause and consider what this word meant when it was first spoken. It was a term rich in meaning, borrowed from the Graeco-Roman cultural context. There the word ‘gospel’ was used to announce the birthday or accession or victory of an emperor. A ninth century inscription speaks of Augustus’ birthday as “the beginning of good news” and as a saviour who would bring peace and order. ‘Good news’ is also found in a Hebrew context. Isaiah 52:7 parallels the announcement of good news with the declaration, “Our God reigns.”[1] This means that in both Graeco-Roman and Hebrew settings a strong connection was made between the gospel and the idea of kingdom.

Interestingly, Mark’s gospel opens with the words “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah” (1:1). Just a few verses later we read of Jesus saying “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). It seems the gospel is much more than simply forgiveness of sin, wonderful as this truth is. The gospel announcement is first and foremost about the kingdom of God breaking into the world in the person of Jesus.  But what does this look like and what does this mean for the church’s missional task? We’ll come back to that.

Renewal of All Things

In Galatians 3:8 Paul uses the word ‘gospel’ in an interesting manner. He writes that the gospel had been preached in advance to Abraham and then quotes from Genesis chapter 12 saying, “All nations will be blessed through you.” To consider this covenantal promise in its context shows that the gospel, as told to Abraham, is the beginning of the outworking of God’s salvation for the whole world. It’s the reversal of the effect of sin which has vandalised the flourishing paradise portrayed in Eden.[2] In Eden we see God’s creational intent portrayed: humanity is in close relationship with God, with each other, and is given a God-given rule on earth along with a mandate to multiply and fill the earth, to work it and care for God’s ‘very good’ world (Gen 1:28; 2:15); this is the kingdom of God – God’s people are in God’s place living under God’s rule. His mission for humanity, represented in the narrative by Adam and Eve, is to take this Edenic kingdom life into all the world.

When we consider the gospel in light of the culture of the New Testament world and in light of the whole of Scripture it not difficult to see that the gospel, and therefore God’s mission, is the restoration of the world from the effects of sin. It is to fully recreate life in the way God intended in the beginning.

This large vision of the scope of God’s mission is supported in the New Testament in the words of Jesus, Peter and Paul. Jesus speaks of the “renewal of all things” (Matt 19:28), Peter in his Pentecost sermon speak of a time when God would “restore all things” (Acts 3:21), and Paul speaks of creation itself being “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21) – words of hope for the whole of God’s earth. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1) and it seems he has gone to great lengths to ensure its redemption. The cross of Christ was, for Paul, not simply a means to provide forgiveness for people. This is an incredible truth, yet it’s more than this – it was that through Jesus Christ that God would “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross” (Col 1:20). The scope of God’s salvation is at the very least as broad as the effects of sin.

From Garden to Holy City

The beginning of the Bible portrays God with his people in the place he created them to live and flourish in. The end of the Bible sees this manner of life restored as God is once again with his people and the effects of sin undone.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. … I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3–5a)

With this broad sweep of God’s Word shaping our understanding of the kingdom gospel we see the church’s mission as “our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”[3]

How could this magnificent story enrich our gospel-sharing moments? Perhaps we could tell some really good news. That God really does love the kosmos (John 3:16). That God’s mission is that the world be whole again in all its creational splendour. That the ‘good news’ is that the restorative kingdom of God has come near. Perhaps then we could offer an invitation to be a participant in God’s renewed world by believing what truly is ‘good news.’

Where does this leave us?

Mission isn’t just saving souls for heaven but inviting people to participate in God’s reign now. It’s an invitation – even a command – to submit to the world’s true ruler and live life according to his plans, not because he likes bossing people around but because his way is the best way to be human. This means inviting people to be reconciled to God, but it’s so much more. It means that social justice, caring for the poor, creating hospitals etc. aren’t just to prepare people for evangelism – these things are mission because they are about restoring shalom to God’s world. It means learning to live in harmony with creation is mission. It means talking about the good news and demonstrating it is mission. In other words, our mission isn’t about getting people ready for the future but about bringing God’s future into the present. If there is any disorder, any suffering or brokenness, any distance from God and one another - any lack of shalom – that is where God’s people are called!

 

Alistair is a lecturer at Laidlaw College, Christchurch where he teaches a wide range of subjects including Biblical Theology. Alistair has a Master of Theology (MTh) degree in the field of eschatology and is the author of The Last Days of Dispensationalism, published in 2010. Prior to joining Laidlaw he had six years working with Youth With A Mission in Hong Kong, Hawaii and in New Zealand where he established and directed a School of Biblical Studies

This was originally published in Intermission (September-October 2014).

 

[1] Through use of Hebrew poetic parallelism this verse presents as synonymous the announcing of peace (Hebrew, shalom; i.e., a flourishing creation in harmony with God), of good news (gospel), of salvation, and the kingdom language of “Our God reigns.”

[2] Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 10. Plantinga express the effect of sin as the “vandalism of Shalom.” He defines shalom in this way: “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfilment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight … . Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

[3]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 22f.