Scot McKnight points out how the gospel we tell as evangelicals, is not as big as the gospel we find in Scripture. We confine ourselves to individual souls. But this gospel in Jesus is so much larger. It embraces all creation, and the entire story of it.
In fact this gospel is so big, that it takes several stories Christian theologians have come up with, over the centuries, to begin to tell it. The gospel in evangelical circles over the years has been confined to just one story. And it is a grand, glorious story. But to begin to know the depth and riches of it, as given to us from Scripture, requires several tellings of it, from differing perspectives seeing different aspects of it.
First there is Irenaeus, the story of recapitulation. Christ does for the human race what Adam failed to do. He undoes what Adam did. And in the words of this early theologian: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself." Christ does this by his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We then are by faith part of a new race in Christ, living in this new life he has established for us.
The early theologians tell us the story of ransom. In their version, humankind is captive to Satan. God fools Satan by letting him put to death the Son of God. When Satan grasps the Son, he loses his hold on the human race. Then God mocks him, as the Son of God is raised from the dead. Today's version of this drops this scheme. Sin and systemic evil are dealt a death blow through Christ's death and resurrection. And humans are restored to their Eikonic status.
Anselm tells the story of satisfaction. God had been dishonored by Adam and Eve's sin. The Son of God by his death on the cross restores that honor to God. And along with that, humans are restored and God is honored in it all. Only the Son, finite as a human, but infinite as God, could restore the infinite honor to God along with restoring humans. He becoming like us so we could become like God.
The evangelical reformers tell us the story of penal substitution. God's wrath is factored in for them, against humanity's sin. Christ pays the penalty of God's just wrath by his death for us, as our substitue. Therefore God's wrath, in Christ is deflected from us humans. We must have faith to enter into this blessing, by which we are justified. Though the wrath aspect is controversial with some today, this story does point out that Jesus does something for us, in his death, that we cannot do for ourselves. And takes our judgment for us. Giving us his righteousness.
Abelard tells the story of the example. Christ's life and surrender to the will of God in the death of the cross is an example we're to follow. This is to be our way of life in Christ Jesus. We are to live cruciform, or Cross-formed lives.
The Story for us is a Person. In this Person, Jesus, we are embraced by God, and we embrace God. We have atonement, or at-one-ment in union with God and his will. The creeds of Christianity do not try to explain Christ's atonement, because no one theory of atonement can cover the depth and riches of the Story we find in Scripture. Pondering is good, but as Kevin Vanhoozer points out, partaking of this bread of life, who is the Lord, is better.
How would you define or describe the gospel? What story here matches your understanding best? What value do you see in each or any of the stories, especially those you are not familiar with?