What is the Gospel?: Part 6, The Power Unto Salvation

Last post in this series. Before ending I wanted to add a final comment and clarification. 

As I said at the start of this series, the gospel is vast. So please don't read this series reductively. The gospel doesn't reduce to an epistemological crisis, nor is stating that the gospel is an epistemological crisis in anyway a comprehensive statement about the gospel. The goal of this series was simply to highlight that the gospel is News, News about reality that undermines our perceptions and causes us to rethink all of existence.

Such an understanding of the gospel can do a lot of good work for us. But there is also a temptation here that I want to name in order to avoid it.

Specifically, when we say the gospel is an epistemological crisis we might be tempted by Gnosticism, reducing the gospel to knowledge. Now, to be clear, Gnosticism isn't 100% off the mark. There's a reason why Gnosticism blended with Christianity. There are points of contact.

For example, Paul describes the gospel as a mystery. Consider Ephesians 3:1-12, where I've underlined the gnosticy, epistemological parts:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
There's also a ton of material in Paul about how spiritual growth is growth in knowledge and wisdom, being able to perceive the new reality revealed by the gospel. Consider 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, where I've again underlined the gnosticy, epistemological parts:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Two observations. 

First, these texts help make the case that the gospel is an epistemological crisis. The News is the unveiling of a previously hidden mystery. Spiritual people discern the truth of this revelation. And this discernment gives them knowledge, wisdom, insight and understanding. Those who fail to grasp the truth of the News, by contrast, are blind, foolish, and unspiritual. Much of this, I hope you can see, is a way of describing "the gospel is an epistemological crisis."

Second, you can see why Gnostics would be attracted to Christianity. All this talk of "secret mysteries" hidden from "unspiritual" people but discerned by the "spiritual" giving them "wisdom," is catnip for Gnostics.

So, two things to say about this. 

First, the mystery of Christ was once hidden. It is no longer. There is no deep secret to be learned. This goes to the point made throughout the New Testament that the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were public events. As Paul says in Acts to King Agrippa, "these things were not done in a corner." Yes, that Jesus was Israel's Messiah was hidden from the eyes of the people and powers. That is why he was crucified. But now, after the resurrection, that mystery is now News. 

And yet, that News involves the cross, making the gospel a scandal. If the News remains “hidden” to some going forward that is not caused by a secret mystery hidden away then about the epistemological crisis created by the cross.

Which means that Christianity isn't a Gnostic, mystery cult. What was once hidden has been made manifest. It’s a scandal, to be sure, but these things were not done in a corner. The mystery is now News, democratically and universally available to everyone with ears to hear. 

The second thing I want to say brings me to the point I want to make to end this series.

As this series argues, the gospel is an epistemological crisis. Thus, believing the news does make you discerning and wise. You know the truth. You have the mind of Christ. 

But the gospel isn't just about wisdom and knowledge. The News is about the demonstration of God's power in raising Jesus from the dead. A power now made available to those who believe through the gift of the Spirit. 

The News concerns a Power that saves, rescues, redeems, and emancipates the world. This Power is operative, active and available in the world. So in this series when I said the News helps us "navigate" I don't want us to imagine us navigating a static, dead moonscape where reality is inert and lifeless, nothing but rocks littered around that we have to avoid tripping over. Reality isn't dead. Reality is alive. The gospel helps us navigate our way deeper into this Power and Life. Yes, Jesus is the Truth and the Way--good epistemological words--but he's also the Resurrection and the Life. The News points us toward the saving power of God. 

That the saving power of God goes through a cross, well, my friends, that remains an epistemological crisis. And many will stumble over the foolishness of God. But go through that crisis and life awaits us on the other side.

As Paul says in Romans 1, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes."

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply