and Geoff Holsclaw. You should check out the first five reviews here, here, here, here, and here. But do not just stop with the reviews, read this book.
Words matter. As any poet or song writer will tell you, it is worth the labor to come up with the right word. A particular word or phrase can go a long way to creating an imagination for action in the world. At the heart of Christian faith is an important word, gospel. It is interesting the Bible authors used gospel, which means news. The very choice of the term gospel gives us insight into the nature and character of the faith that gave birth to the New Testament. The authors landed on this word not by accident because there were other words at their disposal. They could have adopted other words to denote such ideas as illustration or knowledge or mystery, but the New Testament authors needed a word to pinpoint something more.
The question is what makes the gospel of God newsworthy? A group of men and women, confronted with the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus was invited to understand how Jesus’ activity was good news. They began to say “Jesus is Lord” and live a particular way because of what they had witnessed. Later, Martin Luther, struggling with guilt, read Romans and understood how the good news of God was newsworthy in his context. This practice continues in our context today.
The beauty of the gospel of God is that it continues to be newsworthy, but to keep it in the mode of good news we have to understand the fullness of the gospel of God. Geoff Holsclaw and David Finch’s sixth signpost describes a robust gospel that is good news for all.
They begin their chapter describing a conversation at Starbucks. One friend shared about some difficulties in her life. Everything in her life seems to be a disaster. The question is how is the gospel of God is newsworthy in this situation? Like a story of a cat stuck in a tree, making its way through tragic breaking news, the plan of salvation does not seem newsworthy in this conversation. The problem is this has been the main way we have described the gospel. We need a more robust gospel that allows us to proclaim and perform the gospel as good news in all situations.
The way forward demands a gospel that holds both the kingdom and the cross together because the gospel is good news for all people.
The authors draw on the great work of Scot McKnight and NT Wright to describe how the good news is related to God’s saving work throughout the whole of scripture. The gospel is not simply the plan of salvation, but it is the story of salvation. Now this might seem like a slight difference, but it helps bring the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into God’s full story of salvation. Instead of the Old Testament and the story of Israel getting little to no treatment in the plan of salvation, the story of salvation helps bring the whole canon into view.
The authors invite us to take a second look at Romans to bring the Gospel story into view. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, they do an excellent job of following Paul’s argument, but it is also wise to deal with Romans because Luther’s reading of Romans gave rise to the salvation by faith gospel. Romans is instead a process by which Paul reveals how the kingdom and cross fit together.
Through Paul’s movement in Romans 1-5 we learn God is faithful to the promises to Israel through the faithfulness of Jesus. This faithfulness speaks new life into a people who lacked faith. In this activity of Jesus, “God’s righteousness is unveiled through Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and for the benefit of all who believe on the other.” Something new is afoot; God has become king in Jesus. Even though humanity was sinful, starting with Adam (Romans 5), God’s new kingdom has become through the faithfulness of Jesus. And this is not only for the Jews, but it is through anyone who is a descendant of Abraham (Romans 4), those who have faith.
This is more than a plan of salvation, it is more than a message, new knowledge or truth. The good news of God is that “Where ever God’s reign is extended, the world is reordered and restored. In Christ, the promised blessings through Israel are not making their way to all nations and in this way God is making all things right.”
So what? Does this make any difference? It makes a huge difference because a larger understanding opens us up to a new imagination. The proclamation and performance of the gospel looks much different. It is not simply driven by the question, “Have you been saved?” Evangelism takes on a new life. The authors describe four “on-ramps” into the Kingdom.
The first on-ramp notices God is reconciling you in all your relationships. Christians are described in 1 Corinthians as ambassadors of reconciliation. This means “gospeling” works to encourage, develop, and proclaim the power of reconciled relationships. They say, “We must proclaim into people’s lives, when the occasion arises and the Spirit prompts, that God is at work reconciling all relationships, including our relationships, in Jesus Christ (Kindle location 2948).”
Second, we are people who point to God’s work making all things new. This kind of proclamation happens as we pay attention, listen, and point to the places where by the Spirit we see God working. God is not simply involved in the saving of your soul, but God is at work in all parts of our lives. God is taking us somewhere. Our lives are not simply meaningless moments until we die. God is up to something in our midst and this on-ramp calls people to faith and obedience to what God is doing.
The third on ramp acknowledges that ours is a culture of sin and death. All over the place we are confronted with people who find themselves powerless, trapped, and overwhelmed. The gospel tells a different story. God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life. We are called to participate in the faith of Jesus and put to death desires of the first Adam.
The fourth on ramp draws us into God’s mission. The story of salvation tells of “God’s great mission to bring the whole world to God’s own righteousness, justice, new creation, and reconciliation (location 2973).” Because God has become King in Jesus, we know God is already at work, so the gospel calls us to join God. We are called to invite people to discover God’s mission with us. We fight injustice, poverty, sin, and evil not because it is a fine thing to do, but because God is working to redeem the whole world.
Prodigal Christianity is a thick description of God’s story of salvation. It connects the cross and the kingdom together, so people are able to imagine a new way to proclaim and perform the good news of God.