How do we understand and subsequently explain the gospel in its robust nature and claim? That last part of the question about the ‘robust nature’ of the gospel already hints at the fact that simple pithy statements, no matter how memorable or true they are, will not give the full scope of what the gospel is. I raise this question in part because I have lived long enough and served long enough as a minister pursuing the mission of God to know that despite all Christians having the same Bible, there are a variety of understandings and explanations as to what the gospel is.
I also raise the question after reading from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Think about how you understand and would explain the gospel for a minute or two and then read this small excerpt from Halter and Smay:
Yes, people are closed to our version of the gospel, but maybe they’d be open to God’s gospel. God’s gospel was and is his way of explaining the whole story. The gospel tells us why we fight with each other, why we have war, pain, suffering and death. The gospel of Jesus shows the heart of God for humanity and the depths of his love and acceptance and vision for every human being. It gives us hope in the face of injustice, hunger, and poverty, and for recovery from every vice or social ill. It advocates for community, acceptance, fairness, forgiveness, and love of all people regardless of past mistakes, sexual orientation, or political bias. The Gospel of God’s kingdom helps explain where meaning comes from and how we are to live an integrated experience in light of God’s love for his created humanity (p. 88).
Now give some thought to what Halter and Smay have just said and let’s ask ourselves how that challenges us to understand and explain the gospel.
What I know is that where the scriptures speak of the “gospel/good-news” (i.e., Mk. 1.15; Lk 4.18; Rom 1.16; 1 Cor 15.1-5; Eph 3.7; 1 Pet 1.12), its understanding an explanation of gospel cannot be understood apart from the story from Genesis 1.1 to Revelation 22.21…a story that explains who we were created to be, what happened to us, how we are being redemptively restored back to our created intent by God and thus giving us a vision of who we once again are called to be (which is alternative to the many broken ways of life that often masquerade as good and pleasing). Furthermore, I believe it is something of this understanding and explanation of the gospel that Paul, Peter, and Jude had in mind when they gave instructions to “preach the word” (1 Tim 4.2, TNIV), “make your defense” (1 Pet 3.15, NRSV), and “contend for the faith” (Jude 3, NRSV).
 To be clear, I am not advocating a gospel that approves of the diverse ways humanity has chosen to live – from the pious to the overtly evil – and neither do I believe this is what the authors are advocating. I am advocating a gospel that says people are not required to become like the Christian community (in all of its belief, values, and expected behaviors) to be loved and accepted among Christians so that they can begin to hear the gospel and be transformed by God. At the risk of putting words in the author’s mouth, I believe they would agree with me. I believe firmly that in our culture we will win people first to our community and only then – only after they have found love and acceptance in our community – can we hope to win them to Jesus Christ.