What is the Gospel?: Part 3, The Gospel is an Epistemological Crisis

So, the gospel is the news that Jesus is Lord, that the crucified Nazarene has been raised from the dead and now sits at God's right hand.

Which raises the question: What is the import of this news?

There are many answers to that question. The gospel is vast. But I'd like to suggest that the gospel is, fundamentally, an epistemological crisis.

Now, I confess, I hesitate to use the word "epistemological" here. Reaching for a big, philosophical word like that makes the gospel seem arcane and hard to understand. So for broad, accessible communication better words and descriptions should be found. But I'll need to describe what I mean first by "epistemological crisis" before alternative labels are proffered.

So, what do I mean when I say that the gospel is an epistemological crisis?

The answer comes from the work of those who have described Paul as an apocalyptic thinker. Apocalypse, you'll recall, means "unveiling" or "revelation." Paul receives the gospel as "an apocalypse of Jesus Christ." This apocalypse is how Paul gets the news that Jesus is Lord. 

And the news becomes an epistemological crisis for Paul. Everything Paul thought he knew about the world comes crashing down when he encounters the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. The revelation that Israel's Messiah was crucified and raised from the dead causes Paul to rethink everything he thought he knew about God, Israel, sin, death, the Law, and the promises made to Abraham. We see the outcome of this rethinking in books like Galatians and Romans. So if you want to see the impact of the gospel, look at the letters to the Galatians and the Romans. Those letters are the fallout of the epistemological crisis.

To be sure, the gospel has practical, moral, social, political, economic, psychological, theological, biblical, missional, and philosophical consequences. But these consequences flow out of the news that Jesus--crucified, buried and raised from the dead--is Lord. It is this news, this unveiling of reality, that causes us to rethink everything in life. 

To take one example from Paul, the news that Jesus is Lord caused Paul to radically rethink the relationship between Jew and Gentile. And not just Jews and Gentiles, as Paul says:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.
Paul's prior mental structures for navigating and understanding the world have been dissolved by the gospel. This is what I mean when I say the gospel is an epistemological crisis. The gospel places a massive question mark next to every understanding that you might have about yourself and the world. Everything you thought you knew about anything, upon hearing the News, undergoes, to use Paul's words, "a crucifixion." An old model of the world passes away, and a new world emerges. The gospel is akin to a Copernican revolution. What we once knew to be the center of the cosmos is revealed to be an error, and a new center--the crucified Messiah--along with a new cosmology comes into view. 

To which we'll turn in the next post.

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