The Full Gospel of Jesus
I’ve always loved those napkin stories. The ones where a big idea is birthed out of a simple lunchtime chat, a few notes are jotted down on a napkin, and a business is born, a book begins, history is changed.
My own napkin story took place in Panera (it’s never a chain restaurant in the movies, but life can’t always be a movie). I was having lunch with my friend Mark, who is the Academic Dean of the Mission and Prayer School at his church. Mark grabbed a napkin and drew two concentric circles for me.
The inner circle, he said, represented the Gospel of Salvation. It has to do with the death of Jesus, which atones for the sin of man and makes forgiveness available to those who receive him by faith. This, he said, has been the traditional focus of most Protestant and Evangelical churches, and not without reason, for it’s at the very core of the Gospel of Jesus.
And yet, it is not the whole of the Gospel. This is where the outer circle comes in.
The outer circle represented what Mark called the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is, to borrow a famous tag line, the rest of the story. It is what follows after forgiveness, because Christianity is not merely a personal do-over, it is the introduction of a new, never-before-existing reality: the Kingdom of God. And while Jesus certainly preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the primary subject matter of his teaching was the Kingdom.
In a recently-released sermon, Tim Keller unpacks the meaning of the Greek word "Gospel" as it was used in the days of Jesus: "A gospel was news of an objective, history-changing event that changed everyone's situation and that everyone needed to respond to." Thus, the proclamation of a new Caesar's rise to power, sent out to all the world, might be called "The Gospel of Caesar." It was an announcement of a change that affected everyone. This might help us today appreciate the incredibly provocative nature of the opening of the book of Mark, which announces, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," and why so many Roman rulers felt threatened by this upstart band of Jesus-followers - there was a new king on the scene, claiming people's allegiance.
But this objective, history-changing event was more than a change in the governing authority. Jesus introduced a new spiritual reality. This change was as dramatic as if the very laws of physics had been altered (and sometimes, they were!). Jesus opened a door for us to be able to access a Kingdom beyond this world, the Kingdom of Heaven. The door is Salvation, the room the door opens to is the Kingdom. Because the spiritual "laws of physics" operate differently on the other side of the door, we have to learn how to live an entirely different way once we enter.
GOSPEL OF SALVATION, GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
The Gospel of Salvation addresses what we are saved from.
The Gospel of the Kingdom addresses what we are saved for.
The Gospel of Salvation is about the soul's healing.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about the soul's thriving.
The Gospel of Salvation is getting out of the red.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is getting into the black.
The Gospel of Salvation has to do with what is removed (sin).
The Gospel of the Kingdom has to do with what is received (indwelling of God and its effects).
The Gospel of Salvation is prefigured in Moses, rescuing the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is prefigured in Joshua, leading the Israelites into the promised land to take possession of their inheritance.
The most important question in the Gospel of Salvation is, "Who do you say Jesus is?"
The most important question in the Gospel of the Kingdom is, "Who does Jesus say you are?"
The Gospel of Salvation deals with our history.
The Gospel of the Kingdom deals with our destiny.
The Gospel of Salvation is concerned with obtaining something we don't possess.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is concerned with unpacking something we already possess.
The Gospel of Salvation focuses on sin.
The Gospel of the Kingdom focuses on righteousness.
The Gospel of Salvation is about getting more people into heaven.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about getting more of heaven into people.
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING
Ever since my "napkin moment" with Mark, the Kingdom has become a nearly singular focus of attention for me. It has shifted the way I think about my relationship with God, the way I pray, the way I make decisions, and the way I approach ministry. If you are at all plugged in with the broader currents of Christianity in the U.S. (even if it's just the latest worship music) you have likely noticed an up-tick in how frequently the word "Kingdom" shows up. It's not a fad, it's what Jesus proclaimed. It's a big deal.
To reiterate, the Gospel of Salvation and the Gospel of the Kingdom are not opposed to each other. They are dependent on each other to express the full Gospel of Jesus. In the words of Pope John Paul II:
By raising Jesus from the dead, God has conquered death, and in Jesus he has definitively inaugurated his kingdom... The disciples recognize that the kingdom is already present in the person of Jesus and is slowly being established within man and the world through a mysterious connection with him.
After the resurrection, the disciples preach the kingdom by proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen from the dead... Now, as then, there is a need to unite the proclamation of the kingdom of God (the content of Jesus' own "kerygma") and the proclamation of the Christ-event (the "kerygma" of the apostles). The two proclamations are complementary; each throws light on the other.
- Redemptoris Missio 16, emphasis added