The Heart of the Bible
Simplicity. It is the champion of clear communication. With a simple message, said simply, more people are apt to accept what is being said at face value and move on with their lives. Many churches have taken this approach when presenting the Gospel. For them the Gospel can be boiled down to a few simple points and then they can have an altar call. Then there are those on the other side of the fence. Those who feel it necessary to go into fantastic theology and complex concepts in order to properly communicate the Gospel. For them, every nuance must be captured or the presentation is “soured” and “unfaithful.”
For me both approaches are…extreme and both come from a terrible thought process on how to read the Scriptures. For the first group simplicity is king. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m all for simple…but I’m also about being faithful to what the Gospel is. By telling people, that Jesus came so that they could go to heaven is to present a shallow Gospel that devalues the cross. Is it simple…sure…is it faithful…hardly. Their teaching is full of “application” with little to know explanation as to why they were doing what they were doing. Then there is the other group…a group that will explain the word “follow” in Greek and then go on to explain the importance of propitiation (google that one if you’re curious). For this group the theological concepts are the needed teaching and people are told about concepts like the trinity and how it works but fail to explain how it translates to real everyday life. The Gospel has been relegated to an “otherworldly” reality where things happened somewhere else, but never within sight.
Gospel is a word that means “good news”. For many Christians it is dealing with the good news of our salvation and acquisition of eternal life through repentance and faith. But is it not more? Is God only interested in whether I am in heaven with Him later…or is He interested in my life right now? There was a point in my life where these questions began to pop into my head, a time where I began to question whether the Gospel I had been taught about was all there was. Into the Scriptures I dove…looking for my answer and in honesty I was baffled by what I found. As if salvation was not good enough…I found that the Scriptures articulated a Gospel far more full than I had thought previous. So much of the Christian story and our veneration of Christ is because of what was done on the cross and in the tomb…but we sometimes forget that Jesus did ,in fact, live 33 years here on earth, with 3 of them being recorded within the Gospels. Now…if the Gospel didn’t encompass more than the cross and the tomb… why do we call the 4 books at the beginning of the New Testament “Gospels” considering they cover 3 years of Jesus’ life and not just his final week? If the Gospel involves more than just the cross and the tomb, than what have we been missing?
Before this can be done though I think, it’s important to understand what I call the heart of the Bible.Too many pastors, theologians, and bible scholars work within the Scriptures without asking this question, and the end-result makes it obvious. Scripture is a collaborative effort between God and humanity. A partnership where God leads and the writer follows using words, sayings, and literary types that were common at the time of the writing.
This means that how the Scriptures are written (most notably how they are written in the original languages) can tells us a lot about the intent and the audience of the book. For example, it is telling that the New Testament is written in what is called Koine Greek. What makes this kind of Greek different from Classical Greek is that it is written in a very casual way, filled with euphemism, slang, and well-known sayings. This tells us that the apostles (and others) who wrote portions of the New Testament were interested in everyday people understanding what it meant. At the same time, however the authors deal with difficult material sometimes needing to reiterate their point more than once in order to completely communicate the thought (the author of Hebrews is notorious for doing this).
If we focused in on just the four Gospels, we find that the approaches of the authors are different from one another. Mark is written in a brief style focused on the activity of Jesus, not giving much commentary to it. Luke on the other hand is more complex in its language and takes its time in telling the story in detail. Matthew communicates with a simpler grammatical formula than Luke but he fills his account with Jewish references and Old Testament prophecy. Finally, John communicates with a simpler grammar but is far more interested in giving commentary to the events as they take place than any of the previous books. Each has its own style…its own focus…its own approach to telling the same story. This tells us that the Gospel is open and available to everyone…no matter their approach. Each author’s background, thought process, and prior knowledge shaped how they chose to write the story.
This is one of the wonders of the Bible. God chose to reveal Himself in a way that made sense to us while at the same time revealing to us who He is in allowing us to be a part of that process. God does not need us for this…He is perfectly capable of writing His own self-revelation in totality and then sending it to earth. But He didn’t…and that says something about who He is and how we should see Him. It says something about the spirit in which the Scriptures are written…and that needs to mean something to us. Peace and Blessings and as always thank you for reading.
With Christ’s Love
Justin (AKA The Nerdy Theologian)
Come back next week for “A Shallow Gospel.” An exploration of what the Gospel means with this understanding of, “The spirit of the Bible,” and how the added emphasis on what the Gospel means for us in the here and now (not just tomorrow) changes everything.