1.2.2 The Christian Gospel: God saves
Back to 1.2.1
At the start of the previous screen, I said that the central claim of Christian faith is that God is love and that God has freely chosen to reveal his love in the world.
But neither that statement nor the short explanation of it there really says what is necessary even for a minimally adequate summary of what Christianity affirms. This is for one main reason: Christian faith is not only about the revelation of God’s love to people but is also about God’s salvation of people.
Putting both of these things together, it makes sense that Christianity speaks of the ‘gospel’. This word is a translation of the Greek, evangelion, which is used in the New Testament and literally means ‘good news’.
Jesus of Nazareth came proclaiming the good news. He presented this as about the coming of the ‘reign of God’. According to St Mark’s Gospel, Jesus proclaimed at the start of his ministry, “The time has come. The reign of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1.15).
In most Bible translations, the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ is used, even though almost all the commentators and scholars say that the meaning in the New Testament is closer to ‘reign of God’ or ‘rule of God’. In other words, the phrase doesn’t refer primarily to a place, nor just to something in the future, such as ‘heaven’. Rather it refers to the restoration of God’s own rule – of justice and peace, of ‘life in all its fulness’. Jesus’ proclamation would have been heard as announcing that this rule of God would replace other forms of rule that, for many, brought injustice and violence – such as that of the Roman Empire.
According to St Luke’s Gospel, at the start of Jesus’ ministry he stood up in the synagogue in his home town and read from the book of Isaiah in the Jewish Scriptures, claiming that what it referred to was being fulfilled in what he was doing:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4:18-19)
This is immensely significant because it shows the kind of people for whom Jesus’ message was good news, those to whom it brought salvation – namely the poor, the captives, the oppressed, those suffering a disabling affliction.
Some people might react to the Christian claim that the gospel offers ‘salvation’ by saying: ‘I don’t really think I need saving’. In a basic way, this misses the point. The kind of people Jesus came for were the ones who were very conscious they needed assistance because they were suffering, usually at the hands of others, and couldn’t escape from it. They knew they needed to be freed, rescued or healed.
The Christian gospel is this. God does not abandon the world he has created, despite the extent to which it is pervasively disfigured by violence, lies, unfaithfulness, child abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and all the other destructive effects of human sinfulness. Rather God, who loves this world, comes to it in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to save it. Human sin means it needs salvation, even if some people don’t recognize the world’s brokenness and suffering, and so don’t see that. Then God gives the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ himself, in order for his disciples to live as he lived and continue the work of making God’s reign real.
In fact the New Testament includes, especially in the letter of St Paul to the Romans, powerful statements that all people are participants in the world’s sin and guilty of sin, and need to be saved because of this. (See especially Romans 1:18-3:26.) In this way the New Testament radicalizes the good news of salvation. It is for those who realize they desperately need it because they are suffering or they know they are sinners, and God comes to them in Jesus Christ because God loves them – but in fact everyone is in this position. Sin, which is refusal of God’s ways, refusal of justice and the common good, means that all need the salvation that is offered in the coming of Jesus Christ. All need the new start of the restored reign of God which Jesus announced.
On this page I’m trying to summarize the Christian gospel. No doubt there are many ways of doing this.
The last page and this one together can be summed by saying that Christianity is good news because God has revealed God’s love and because God saves.
What do you make of the summary of ‘the gospel’ I have given? From other knowledge you have of Christian faith, do you think anything fundamentally important is missing from it? Do you think it is accurate?
How would you improve it?
I am certain it is incomplete: much more could be said in describing the gospel, and more will be added in a moment.
But I hope that what is here will do at this point near the start of study of the module.
For the purpose here, we need also to look at where the Church fits in – because this will bring us to ‘social teaching’.
Jesus called his followers to the same kind of love of God and neighbour as he had practised, to lives together that were formed by and manifested his way. But how could this be possible given that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer among them? There were two, equally important factors.
The first was the supreme authority that the New Testament says was given to Christ which was even over death (Matthew 28.18). This meant there was no worldly power that followers of Christ needed ultimately to fear. They were freed from all the overbearing claims of lower authorities, even the Roman Emperor, to live under the reign of God which had come in Jesus Christ – even if this led to martyrdom.
Second, there was the Holy Spirit, as I have already said, who was given to them so that they would go on living in the way of Jesus. This is what Christians celebrate at the festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, and this is what formed the Church. The Spirit of Christ made possible lives that would manifest the personal qualities of Jesus, which St Paul called the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, to name a few (Galatians 5.22-23). In this way the Church community would go on making real the renewed reign of God.
Of course, this presents a very rose-tinted view of the Church. The actual history of the Christian Church does include much that can be said to manifest the moral qualities of Jesus Christ but also a great deal that is far removed from that. It is certainly hard to know what to make of this reality – and at this point I shall just leave the question hanging.
To conclude, this outline of the Christian gospel raises a parallel question as one posed on the previous page. What does the salvation that is offered through Jesus Christ to the suffering and sinful world mean for how people are supposed to live together in society? Thinking specifically, for example, about Jesus’ announcement (in Luke 4) that he was fulfilling the prophetic hope of bringing deliverance to the oppressed and sight to the blind, what does this mean in practice for people’s real lives? Again we come to what ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ addresses.
You are bound to see immediately some connections between the summary of the Christian gospel on this page and the principles of CST introduced on 1.1.6. These include ‘the preferential option for the poor’, ‘human dignity’, and the persevering commitment of ‘solidarity’.
The next page turns directly to Catholic Social Teaching.
End of 1.2.2
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