Just some more reflections on the gospel here.

Since the letter of Paul to the Romans is a critical source for Reformation theology I suppose I would be remiss not to include it in the discussion. So, what does Paul have to say explicitly in Romans? Well, we don’t have to look far. Paul introduces the gospel in the very first paragraph:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

And not a word about atonement theology – penal substitution, Christus Victor or anything. Now of course I am aware that Paul has a lot to say about justification by faith and atonement later on in this letter – so again, don’t hear me dismissing atonement as unimportant – but I think it is important to recognise that Paul could speak of the gospel without mentioning them, even here. So I reiterate the point that while atonement theology is connected to the gospel in important ways it is not, in and of itself, the gospel. And this has obvious implications for how we share the good news, at least I hope they’re obvious.

Oh, and just in case this is missed, observe how the Spirit is mentioned right up front, and how a call to a transformed lifestyle, as a consequence of faith, is included as implications of this gospel.

9 thoughts on “The Gospel in Romans 1

  1. Notice here in Romans Paul is repeating, right of the bat, the gospel to people who already believed.
    So maybe this should have implioations for us, announcing the gospel in it’s purest form so we can be reminded and remember it all.

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  2. Notice here in Romans Paul is repeating, right of the bat, the gospel to people who already believed.
    So maybe this should have implioations for us, announcing the gospel in it’s purest form so we can be reminded and remember it all.

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  3. A fantastic book along these lines is “Contextualization in the New Tetstament” by Dean Flemming. He pulls apart several of the books (the gospels, Colossians, and Revelation) as examples of books for specific contexts, rather than as the books for western north america we’ve taken them as. Fascinating text!

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  4. Have you been reading NT Wright, Matt? 🙂
    This is what he says the gospel is, and also includes the bit about Jesus being a descendant of David- would make an impression on the Romans as being a more ancient line than Romulus & Remus, and sets the Jewish/monotheistic message over against paganism.
    Interesting that Goldsworthy says that the gospel is what one must believe in order to be saved… Does that mean that Jesus didn’t save you if you don’t believe it? Does that mean that our belief is in a belief?
    I’m frustrated with that line of thought. “The gospel” is News.

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  5. Dana, no, I haven’t been reading N T Wright recently but, yes, you’ve correctly observed my thinking runs pretty parallel to his in many ways.
    Interesting comment about Romulus and Remus; don’t recall reading that before but bears thinking about.
    On the relationship between salvation and belief, that’s way to big a topic to adequately address in a comment like this but here are a few things I think are important.
    Firstly, I take seriously verses which suggest that belief is important. For instance Romans 10:9 which says, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
    But there is a question lurking here as to what does “belief” mean? For if we read the Bible holistically and take James seriously as well I think we must reject any suggestion Paul means some sort of abstract belief that lacks transformative potential. So I take “belief” here to mean something more along the lines of a “red pill” experience that reframes your world and your entire perspective on life. If involves a reorientation of consciousness, life, everything.
    And there is a question lurking here as to what it means to “be saved”. Again if we read the Bible holistically I think we must reject the notion salavation is simply about what happens to our souls after we die. I take it that salvation should be understood socially, not just individualistically, so this is first and foremost about the Kingdom of God. I also take it that salvation has an already and not yet dimension, so we must wait in expectation for it to come in fulness, we may experiences it in part right here, right now. So a related question becomes, can we become disciples without ever having heard the gospel? Into our considerations we must take what Jesus said to the criminal who died next to him on the cross, what was said about Abraham, Moses and Elijah, despite their never heaving heard the full gospel, and many other things. And on a practical level, it is one thing to wonder about those following different religions who have never heard the gospel, it is another to wonder about those following different religions who have heard and still reject it. So, in short, I don’t like reducing things down to a simple exclusivism vs inclusivism debate as there is much more to it than that.
    Ultimately I see the gospel as a message with transformative potential but it only has that potential because it points away from itself towards God. Its potential is derivative in other words.

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