By Jorge Castorena
Spiritual vitality: The holier half of Asbury’s motto and catchphrase. I think we can all agree that this aspect of Asbury is greatly upheld by the institution and its community. Asbury provides us with so many opportunities to seek God and to grow spiritually; I’d venture to say that this characteristic was probably one of your main reasons for choosing to come to Asbury (besides media comm., of course).
I already know that when I leave Asbury, I will remember the growth that has happened within me thus far and that will continue in the coming years. A big part of that growth came through a question that convicted me so much that it redefined several aspects of my faith:
What is the gospel?
Seems simple enough. But then you think about it.
Is it Jesus? The “good news?” Is it salvation?
I credit my crisis to the fact that we have to take these horrific things at Asbury called “foundational courses.” Perhaps you’ve heard of them, kind of like you’ve also heard something about the “Liberal Arts.” And at some point, we all have this existential meltdown in which we ask ourselves, “Why do I even have to take this class?”
This semester, I’m in Understanding the New Testament, of which the “why take it?” question would never, ever in a million years be asked (right?). But just in the rare case that one might wonder why one has to be in this particular class at 9:25 on a Tuesday morning, a good reason–and all joking aside, one of several good reasons–is a little book called “The King Jesus Gospel” by Scott McKnight.
The ultimate subject of this book is the question I posed: what is the gospel?
It was through answering this question that McKnight leads us to a startling realization: the gospel is not synonymous with “salvation.”
“By this gospel you are saved…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve…Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father…When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:2-6, 24, 28).
If one is saved by the gospel, then salvation is a result of it; therefore, the message of salvation cannot be, at the same time, the gospel itself. Paul defines the gospel for us in 1 Corinthians: Jesus died for all sins; Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection were prophesied in Scripture; Jesus is King and all things have been placed under him; and ultimately, God will be “all in all.”
We know that salvation is in the death of Christ and the atonement for sins, but the gospel goes beyond that. Besides the fulfillment of Scripture and the birth, life and death of Christ, the gospel is about what happens after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
One of Jesus’ main messages was that of the Kingdom of God (Jesus mentions it more than 100 times in the Gospels). The Kingdom is the hope in the gospel–that humanity will once again be restored through Christ to its original design and communion with God, as it was in Eden. And essentially, that is the goal of the gospel–to prepare the world for the ultimate purpose that is the establishment of God’s eternal Kingdom on Earth. Such a future is, in effect, the good news.
And so, that begs yet another question: are we in this for salvation alone or for the whole of the gospel?
McKnight identifies this as a war between a “salvation culture” and a “gospel culture.”
We live in a society so dominated by the words “I” and “me.” It’s our worldview. We’re inclined to be selfish and to consider things in relation to ourselves and how we are affected by them.
And, it seems to me that this is also how we tend to conduct ourselves in terms of faith.
Compare how many messages you’ve heard on how we’ve been saved from sin and hell through the death of Christ against how many messages you’ve heard about the Kingdom of God.
Of course, it’s the message of salvation born out of the gospel that turns the hearts of people at an altar call, but what about what happened after the cross? What of the power of the resurrection, without which our faith wouldn’t exist? What about God being “all in all?”
Our faith should be about God and His glory; it should be a faith that runs toward the Kingdom of God through Christ. Instead, we tend to make it just about personal salvation. It’s always about how we were saved from sin; how we were saved from hell; how we now have eternal life.
And while all of that is true and crucial to Christianity, why must we focus only on what our faith provides for us?
I have been going through a constant reevaluation of the motivations behind my faith. I am by no means far along in my understanding of myself and even of that faith, but one thing I have come to grasp is this: if my faith and interaction with God are solely based on personal salvation, then I have missed the much bigger hope and picture of the gospel, which exists ultimately for the glory of God alone.
Thus, I refuse a salvation culture and claim a gospel culture. What about you?