In two recent posts, I offered 8 reasons why racism might defeat evangelicalism. Here, I specifically discuss the importance of having a complete understanding of the gospel, which includes both vertical and horizontal realities.

What is the Gospel—Really?

The most fundamental reason why certain evangelical churches are being defeated by racism, and don’t have a robust theology of racial reconciliation, is because they have an incomplete understanding of the gospel.

To many evangelicals, the gospel is justification by faith, forgiveness of sins, or to some other individual experience. To others, the gospel is equivalent to right-ward leaning or left-ward leaning political identities. Justification by faith (Rom. 3:21-4:25; Gal. 2:16) and forgiveness of sins (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 1:5-2:2) are central parts of the gospel. But the gospel includes much more than these elements.

Political identities are important, but they are not gospel-identities. The gospel doesn’t call one to be Democrat, Independent, Republican, etc. But the gospel calls us to be Christ-followers.

Examples of the Multi-Layered Gospel

In 1 Cor. 15:1-8, Paul says the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are the foundational elements of the gospel. In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom by calling sinners to repent and believe. In Gal. 3:8, Paul asserts God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand saying, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This means God announced to Abraham in his lifetime that all kinds of people would inherit the blessing God promised to him.

Paul interprets this promise to be fulfilled in the justification of Jews and Gentiles and in the distribution of the Spirit to them by personal faith in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:4; 3:2-14).

But wait a minute! In Eph. 2:11-3:8, Paul defines the gospel as the unification of all things and all people in Christ. In Gal. 1:4, the gospel is defined as deliverance from the present evil age. In Gal. 6:15, the gospel is defined as new creation.

Thus, to construct a complete understanding of the gospel or to answer the question what is the gospel, one must commit to engage every biblical text that uses gospel vocabulary and concepts. One must then show how these texts are fulfilled in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and by means of the salvation of Jews and Gentiles.

This kind of analysis is impossible for one or even a series of blog posts. Instead, in the next few posts, I’ll offer a biblical exposition of the gospel to provide a model by which Christians concerned about the whole gospel should define the gospel. This exposition will selectively highlight a few things I hope will help readers to see that the gospel is much bigger and better than many Christians often think. And this gospel says much about our vertical relationship with God, our horizontal relationship with each other, and about the restoration of the entire cosmos.

The gospel is an announcement about God’s cosmological restoration in Christ, and an invitation to sinners to participate by means of faith in Jesus Christ alone. God wants to redeem all things and all kinds of people through the cross and the resurrection, and he wants all things and all kinds of people to live in harmony with him and with each other.

God, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, will restore the cosmological harmony that Adam’s transgression lost in the garden (Gal. 1:4; Rev. 21-22). This is a harmony Christian churches should pursue now in the power of the Spirit in anticipation of the final restoration we taste now (Gal. 5:5; 6:15).

Concluding Thoughts

In anticipation of next week’s post, consider this question: does the gospel make cosmological or individual promises? The answer is yes—both cosmological and individual promises! God has in fact promised to universally reverse Adam’s curse. This is why the bible gives us promises of new creation (Isa. 65:17-25; Gal. 6:15; Rev. 21-22).

If the gospel promises to rectify the cosmological curse that Adam’s transgression introduced into creation, then part of that restoration will include social relationships. And if the gospel promises that Christians enter that restoration now in the power of the Spirit (Gal. 1:4; 3:13-14; 5:16-26; 6:15; Eph. 2:11-3:8) because of faith in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, then Christians should in fact seek to live out the reality of what God has done for us in Christ. They could do this by seeking to live in harmony with all people in the power of the Spirit, especially with those from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation in the context of Christian spaces (Rev. 5:9).

My efforts in the next few posts will attempt to help us to see the gospel’s cosmological and unifying power. Next week’s post will simply define the words that are often translated as “gospel” or “preach the gospel.”