‘How’ Is the Gospel Good News to Those We Evangelize? Here Are 3 Compelling Reasons
“Not what is the good news,” as Jonathan Dodson says in his new book The Unbelievable Gospel, “but how is our news good for others?” (13)
This is an important nuance, because we can be so good at rehearsing the information of the gospel, but often fail to relate the results of the gospel to the real lives of real people and their real existential plights.
Dodson goes on to ask, “How does the gospel transform the self-righteous do-gooder, the skeptical urbanite, the distant spouse, the successful professional, and the strung-out addict?” (13)
More pointedly, “What does the death and resurrection of a first-century Jewish messiah have to do with twenty-first-century people?” (13)
Dodson outlines three compelling ways the gospel is good news for our world.
But first things first: how does Dodson define the gospel? Here’s how:
The gospel is the good and true story that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us. (110)
Embedded in this definition are the three compelling ways the gospel is good news for others. It’s good news historically, personally, and cosmically.
1) The Gospel is Good News Historically
Admittedly, I hadn’t thought of the historicity of the gospel as a benefit before. But Dodson makes a good case for how history makes the gospel good news.
As he explains, “Unlike other religions and philosophies, Christianity is rooted in particular events that occurred in history—namely, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” (112)
The Christian faith isn’t merely a spiritual idea or set of principles. No, it's rooted in something that happened, someone that happened who permanently altered history, opening the way for humanity and creation to be reconciled to God.
The gospel addresses a historic problem, the rebellion of humanity. It announces the arrival of a person and what he did within history to solve our problem. And it points toward the end of history and the solution provided by God himself to rescue and re-create us and the world.
Dodson argues this aspect of the gospel’s benefit is primary, foundational. Because if Jesus didn’t actually, historically live, die and rise again, “then all of our attempts at personal change and social, cultural, and cosmic renewal are driven by human will, and they terminate on human glory.” (114)
2) The Gospel is Good News Personally
Of course, this historic act had sweeping personal consequences. The gospel is good news because it “changes who we are. The gospel is a humbling, transforming message of grace.” (114)
Dodson explores the personal dimension of the gospel by taking us back to the beginning of the story, where our human dignity is affirmed yet traded for man-made, godlike wisdom, which had devastating effects on our own nature and the rest of creation.
Now, as Dodson explains, “We all need change, but we just can’t seem to change ourselves,” (115) an incredibly humbling realization. Yet while its humbling, it’s also freeing:
It’s freeing because the gospel is not about us changing us, but about God changing us. The gospel is the announcement that God will do what we cannot do for ourselves. (115)
Dodson draws our attention to Titus 3:4-6, in which Paul declares God saved us “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…”
“[T]he only way we can permanently change is when the Spirit of God makes us new. Nothing else will last.” (116)
3) The Gospel is Good News Cosmically
“The three-dimensional gospel not only changes what we believe (doctrinal) and how we live (personal), but also where we live (missional).” (117)
The gospel is good news because it has cosmic consequences.
- Spiritual–sharing a whole gospel (Is. 61:3)
- Social – redeeming social ills (Is. 61:4-7)
- Cultural – making great culture (Is. 61:8)
Dodson argues what New Testament professor Scot McKnight argues in The King Jesus Gospel, who says many evangelicals preach a so-called “soterian gospel” that exclusively focuses on personal salvation. Dodson argues, “This kind of evangelism tends to restrict the implications of what God has done in Christ to the first and second dimensions of the gospel.” (121)
Instead, Dodson contends Jesus came preaching a gospel of renewal for every aspect of creation:
A message of spiritual renewal: exchanging ashes of mourning for a headdress of rejoicing. A message of cultural renewal: the repair of city walls and possession of cultural treasures. And a message of social renewal: the undoing of injustice and sight for the blind. (120)
In the end we need to realize what Dodson came to realize about the gospel:
If we approach the gospel as just historical, “we become doctrinaire Bible thumpers.” (121)
If we approach the gospel as merely personal, “we become closeted pietists, who have no good reason for what we believe.” (122)
And if we approach the gospel as simply cosmic, “we turn Jesus into an activist.” (122)
The gospel is better than these aspects alone; it is three-dimensional. It radically altered history, it changes us, it transforms creation.
That’s how the gospel is good news to those we evangelize.
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