A couple of days ago I wrote a post on how not to preach the Gospel. I think I covered some decent ground, especially in my excursus on what the Gospel is and is not, but if there’s one thing I like to be, it’s thorough. That said, I want to readdress in some detail what the Gospel is. It’s my opinion that having a firm understanding of what the Gospel actually is will prevent the confusion that so pervades our modern world, which seems to think that saving the whales meets the definition of the Gospel or something.
Why define the Gospel?
Here’s the thing about definitions: they are vital. Words have meanings. And these meanings are not tinker-toys, where you can build-it-yourself and make them whatever you prefer them to be. There’s an order, a structure, in place that should not be torn down or twisted to your own ends.
Once we give up our definitions, we give up language and communication. No more can coherent ideas be expressed unequivocally – everything is up for “interpretation”, where you can funnel every word through your own little filter so whatever comes out tastes good to you. This is the way of postmodernism. It is not the way of the Christian.
That said, in the context of Christendom, the term “Gospel” has a very specific meaning. Knowing this meaning is important because what we think is appropriate to do with the Gospel (speak it, act it out, eat it, roll it in the dirt, whatever) is entirely dependent on the definition we have in mind. If we have our definition screwed up or disappear, we can be convinced to do anything with it because we have lost sight of what it actually is.
Maybe it’s not yet tracking and following why I’m pushing so hard that we properly understand the actual definition of the Gospel, so…
Here’s an example:
What’s the definition of a baby? Well, everyone knows that a baby is a little, precious gift of God, a living soul, a human being, right? So how would you react if someone said to you, “hey, let’s go down to the golf course and hit some babies”?
You would probably be incredulous (unless I am quite mistaken on my readership demographic), am I right? You would think that the person saying such a thing was at best out of his mind loony, and at worst a psychopath!
Well, why? Simply because you know well and good what a baby is, and it is not something to be struck with a club! The fact that you have a firm fix on the true definition of “baby” (in contrast, one would hope, to the person making the overture) means that you completely understand that what is being suggested is inappropriate.
Now instead imagine that you had no real definition of what was meant by the term “baby”. You vaguely get that it is small… yes, and it tends to be round… yes, and it can be quite pale… and bald, that too… but that’s about as close to a definition as you can actually get. Well, in this scenario, when someone comes up to you with the aforementioned request, what would you say?
Of course! After all, the vague, obscure understanding you have of what a baby is comports quite well with the idea of taking them out to the golf course and letting fly. I mean, golf balls are also small, round, pale, and bald – it sounds like “babies” are just a special kind of golf ball!
Do you see the difference here? If you have an ambiguous understanding of what a baby is, you could conceivably be talked into doing quite a number of things with one, most of which would be inappropriate – even deadly! But if you have a firm grasp on the concept of “baby”, then you will be well prepared to evaluate suggestions for what to do with that baby, and that includes knowing straight off when one is beyond the pale stupid.
So we see from this concept the following:
Vague idea of concept/definition = lack of ability to discern appropriate use
Firm idea of concept/definition = ability to discern correctness and error regarding appropriate use
In the same way, then, a lack of firm and clear understanding of what the Gospel is means that we will be susceptible to any kooky suggestion about it. “Live the Gospel”? Sure, why not? “Be the Gospel”? I can dig. “Do the Gospel”? Alrighty then.
And, on the other hand, the presence of a firm and clear understanding of what the Gospel is means that when someone makes a dumb suggestion (i.e. “preach the Gospel without words”), we will be quite capable of perceiving the idea as antithetical to the very definition of the Gospel and dismiss it as absurdity.
That all said, in the next few days I intend to crank out some material to help you gain an understanding of what is meant, Biblically, by the term “Gospel”, and to help that sink in so you can carry it with you as you go.
(I preemptively apologize if anyone found my example to be offensive – it was not intended to offend, but to instruct. Please take it in the didactic spirit in which it was given. And if you’re still upset, blame E-Trade. I mean, I had to use that picture somewhere.)