74: The Gospel Doesn’t Start at Christmas

In this episode John and Gregg return to their discussion of the Christmas story (from Episode #73) and the notion that “the gospel” does not begin with Christmas or Jesus’ birth but, essentially, with a promise that God made to Abraham and the reality that the gospel is also the culmination of God’s interaction with Israel, through the covenant.

John wonders both about where the gospel story begins and what Gregg’s summary of the gospel would be.  Gregg notes his excitement while preparing last week’s notes and how both last week’s and the current discussion draw so much from N. T. Wright’s perspective, a perspective which both makes sense of the Bible (though excellent exegesis) and makes sense as a story, by encompassing the whole narrative of the biblical text and the whole story of what God has been doing with and through Israel.  As such Gregg argues that Wright’s perspective is clear and credible, and so is effective in creating the right orientation between listeners and the gospel.

To Gregg’s mind, the typical evangelical messages concerning the gospel appear fragmented, over-emphasizing some portions of the text and the story and under-emphasizing (or omitting) others.  John notes that this is the result of having certain assumptions that are simply normative, and Gregg follows that this likely reduces the reader’s ability to be curious and engage with the text in new ways.

John recalls a N. T. Wright video where he contradicts the notion of the Bible as a phone book or the modernist notions that Christian readers often import into their approach to reading.  Gregg notes that the interaction between artistry and factuality in history writing is different now that it was for ancient authors: the rules of engagement (particularly regarding the use of embellishment for rhetorical or persuasive reasons) were much more flexible at that time.  As such, we must be careful not to assess these works according to modern criteria or to assume that ancient authors are dishonest or unskilled.

So from Gregg’s perspective the covenant and the story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible are what make sense of the gospel / the story of Jesus, not the reverse (although clearly the New Testament offers a new “interpretive lens” through which to view the Hebrew Bible).  Instead, one reason for ignoring this context for the life and death of Jesus is that, in Gregg’s perspective, that people typically want to see themselves as centre-stage: as important.  Yet this is a story in which non-Jews had no involvement.

Finally, in terms of the relationship between the promise to Abram (Abraham) and the covenant that God later made with Abraham and Sarah, Gregg notes that understanding the ancient Near Eastern context is crucial: the process for establishing this covenant, the eventual form of the later covenant at Sinai, even the sacrificial system come from an existing context.  Such things are thus not God’s divinely appointed methods of interacting but are examples of God working with where humanity in order to move us toward better ways of seeing and being.

Gregg highlights how the covenant with Abraham and Sarah (in Gen 15 and particularly 17:1-14) reiterates the promise that God initially made to Abraham (Abram, in Gen 12:1-4).  Further, in Gregg’s view there is actually no link between himself (as a gentile) and Abraham.  Rather, through Jesus’ life and death (which resulted from Jesus keeping the covenant on Israel’s behalf and bearing the covenant’s ultimate penalty for Israel) the way has now been graciously opened, through God fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham and fulfilling the covenant blessings.  As a result all human beings have the possibility to engage in right relationship with God (and thereby, to find themselves rightly oriented with themselves, their fellows, and the created order).

Likewise, through his role as God’s emissary Jesus has inaugurated God’s kingship (the kingdom of God / of heaven).  Literally, Jesus has staked God’s claim over all things and that all things will one day be shown for what they truly are: God’s own.  In this way the gospel is the inception of the kingship of God through Jesus, as lord, wherein all humanity is sought as God’s beloved children.  Stated otherwise, central to the gospel is God’s kingdom, wherein you and I are epicenters of God’s love and truth.

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