What is the Gospel?
Some analytic thoughts
Workshop for Priests
Catholic Adult Education Centre,
21 March 2012
What is the New Evangelisation?
- Blessed John Paul II, Homily at the Sanctuary of the Holy Cross, Mogila, Poland (9 June 1979):
- “Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man’s salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization that was to continue without break until today…
- “The new wooden Cross was raised not far from here at the very time we were celebrating the Millennium.
- “With it we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world.”
- The New Evangelisation is a re-proclamation of the Gospel to people and lands which have already received the Good News, but have forgotten it
- It is the same Gospel that was first proclaimed
- But it is proclaimed in
- This new millenium
- These new times
- These new conditions of life
- And it calls for new methods of proclamation
- The quotation from John Paul II shows that we use various synonyms:
- “Proclaim the Good News”
- The common way of referring to this today is the “evangelising mission of the Church”
- As noted by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, this is a “unified and complex articulated reality” (Dialogue and Mission, 1984)
What is the “Evangelising Mission”?
- The Attitude of the Church toward Followers of Other Religions : Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission (Secretariat for Non-Christians, May 10, 1984), §13
- “Mission is thus presented in the consciousness of the Church as a single but complex and articulated reality.
- “Its principal elements can be mentioned…
1) Presence and Witness
“Mission is already constituted by the simple presence and living witness of the Christian life (cf. EN 21), although it must be recognized that “we bear this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Co 4:7). Thus the difference between the way the Christian appears existentially and that which he declares himself to be is never fully overcome.
2) Social development and Human liberation
“There is also the concrete commitment to the service of mankind and all forms of activity for social development and for the struggle against poverty and the structures which produce it.
3) Liturgical life, Prayer and Contemplation
“Also, there is liturgical life and that of prayer and contemplation, eloquent testimonies to a living and liberating relationship with the active and true God who calls us to his kingdom and to his glory (cf. Acts 2:42).
4) Interreligious Dialogue
“There is, as well, the dialogue in which Christians meet the followers of other religious traditions in order to walk together toward truth and to work together in projects of common concern,
5) Proclamation and Catechesis
“Finally, there is announcement and catechesis in which the good news of the Gospel is proclaimed and its consequences for life and culture are analyzed.
“The totality of Christian mission embraces all these elements.”
What is “the Good News”?
- What is it that we are witnessing to by our presence in the world?
- What is it that we are committed to in our work for social development and human liberation?
- What is it that we engage with in our liturgical life, prayer and contemplation?
- What is it that we “dialogue” with people of other faiths (and no faith) about?
- And finally, what is the content of our “proclamation and catechesis”?
The Gospel / the Good News
- The answer is “the Gospel” or “the Good News”
- (Gk. “evangelion” in the NT = “good news” in English, or “god spell” in Old English, hence “gospel”)
- Simply expressed in Bishop Anthony Fisher’s Pastoral Letter “Faith in our Future”:
- “So we know what we are for: to know, love and worship God, and to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
What is the Gospel?
- But what is “the Gospel”?
- If we are to proclaim “the Gospel”, we must first have a clear idea of what “the Gospel” is.
“The Gospel in a Nutshell”
- When Protestants train their evangelists, they give them a simple formula:
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
- Or to put it another way, it is “the good news that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone.” (cf. http://bible.org/article/what-gospel)
- BUT: Can Catholics own such a definition of “the Gospel in a nutshell”?
- If the Gospel is a “single reality” – a unitary reality – …
- Can we formulate a clear and succinct understanding of what the Gospel is as a tool to focus the New Evangelisation?
“The Gospel” in the Catechism
- The Catechism uses the term “the Gospel” about 100 times
- But in general it assumes knowledge of what “the Gospel” is.
- Twice we get a simple statement “The Gospel is…”
- 1846 “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners (cf. Luke 15)”
- 2763 “All the Scriptures – the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – are fulfilled in Christ (cf. Luke 24:44). The Gospel is this “Good News” [ie. the “Good News” is that all the Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ].”
- But beyond that, nothing more specific.
“The content of the Gospel”
- Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi 15:
- “The Church is the depositary (= A person to whom something is lodged in trust) of the Good News to be proclaimed:
- “The promises of the New Alliance in Jesus Christ,
- “the teaching of the Lord and the apostles,
- “the Word of life,
- “the sources of grace and of God’s loving kindness,
- “the path of salvation
- – all these things have been entrusted to her.”
- “[This] is the content of the Gospel, and therefore of evangelisation, that she preserves as a precious living heritage, not in order to keep it hidden but to communicate it.”
- Thus the evangelising mission of the Church is a “single but complex articulated reality” because the Gospel itself (which is communicated through evangelisation) is also, by nature, a “single but complex articulated reality”
“Single but Complex ”
- The conclusion from this teaching is that, for Catholics, “the Gospel” cannot easily be put “in a nutshell”
- To “reduce” the Gospel to a stock formula in fact robs the Good News of its rich complexity.
“The content of the Gospel”
- And yet the very complexity of the Gospel in Catholic teaching and tradition can be a hindrance to its proclamation
- The Gospel is not simply a “single but complex” reality, but an “articulated reality”
- “Articulated” has a double meaning:
1) Having two or more sections connected by a flexible joint.
2) (of an idea or feeling) Expressed; put into words.
- To articulate the Gospel clearly, we must gain some focus on it as a “single” reality, so that, despite its “complexity”, it can be heard, comprehended and received
- The content of the Gospel has indeed been preserved by the Church over the two millenia since the apostles were entrusted with it and commissioned to evangelise “all nations”
- The question of focus and content of the Gospel is more about the nature of the Gospel itself
- Have we lost our “focus” on the Gospel?
- Have we failed to percieve its shape, its defined edges, the way in which it acts as “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Romans 1:16)?
What is “the Gospel”?
- The first recorded reference to the Christian “Gospel” is found in St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (or was it Galatians?)
- If it 1 Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter, the winner is 1 Thess 1:5
- “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
- Or (if it was Galatians):
- “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1: 6-9)
“The Gospel” in the 1st Century
- In both these passages, Paul does not need to explain what he means by “our Gospel” – he simply assumes that his readers will know what he is talking about.
- But imagine you were a 1st Century Greek-speaking postman who didn’t know anything about Jesus or the new religion of people who followed him
- Imagine that you were delivering Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (or his letter to the Galatians) & decided to take a peek inside it
- Would you have any idea what Paul is talking about when he speaks of “our Gospel” or “a Gospel different from the one we preached”?
- In fact, the answer is yes.
- Our postman wouldn’t know the content of Paul’s “Gospel”, but he would have a fairly good idea of what “a gospel” was.
- And what he knows of “gospels” would perhaps intrigue him to know further what the content of Paul’s particular Gospel was.
The politics of Christmas (Stephen Holmes)
- “There is an inscription found in the city of Prienne (just a few miles from Ephesus) that reads as follows:
- “The most divine [one] … we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things … for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending towards dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aspect; [He is] the common good fortune of all … the beginning of life and vitality … all the cities unanimously adopt [his birthday] as the new beginning of the year … the Providence which has regulated our whole existence… has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us [him], whom it filled with virtue for the welfare of men, and who, being sent to us and our descendants as a saviour, has put an end to war and has set all things in order and, having become manifest, [he] has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times … the birthday of [this divine one] has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel concerning him.”
- “The inscription can be dated with confidence to 9 BC; the name of the one celebrated (which I have elided in the quotation above) is Caesar Augustus.”
- Compare this inscription with Luke’s story of the first announcement of “the Gospel” of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:10-11):
- ???? ??? ?????????????? ????? ????? ???????? ???? ????? ????? ?? ???…
- “Behold, I proclaim a gospel of great joy (literally: I evangelise you) to you which is for all the people: For unto you is born this day in the city of [King] David a saviour, who is the Christ [the Anointed King], the Kyrios [Lord/Dominus].”
- Paul clearly understood himself to be the herald of a “gospel” about a new “King” who was “Lord” of all the world
- The proclamation was not only a “religious” proclamation, but also, by its nature, a political one, as it proclaimed a new Kingdom, and a new Order.
- It was a proclamation that invited those who heard it to enter into this Kingdom and to be a part of the new people, the Church
The Gospel according to N.T. Wright
- Anglican Bishop, Dr N. T. (Tom) Wright
- Wright’s twin foci have been on:
The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus (“The New Testament and the People of God”, “Jesus and the Victory of God”, “The Resurrection of the Son of God”)
The New Perspective on Paul (“What St Paul Really Said”, “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”, “Paul in New Perspective”)
Cf. online: http://ntwrightpage.com
The Gospel according to N.T. Wright
- Tom Wright, “What St Paul Really Said”, chapter 3 “Herald of the Kingdom”:
- “The problem, of course, is that Paul’s new vocation involved him not so much in the enjoyment and propagation of a new religious experience, as in the announcement of what he saw as a public fact:…
- “that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth…
- “had been raised from the dead by Israel’s God;
- “that he had thereby been vindicated as Israel’s Messiah;
- “that, surprising though it might seem, he was therefore the Lord of the whole world.”
- In and through him, God was “putting the world to rights”
- “The gospel – the Good News of what the creator God has done in Jesus – is first and foremost news about something which has happened. And the first and most appropriate response to that news is to believe it. God has raised Jesus from the dead, and has thereby declared in a single powerful action that Jesus really has launched the long-awaited Kingdom, and that his death really was the moment when, and the means by which, the evil of all the world was defeated at last.”
- Tom Wright “Simply Christian”, page 176-177
Catechesis and Proclamation
- With this perspective on the Gospel, we can draw an important conclusion for modes of communication in the New Evangelisation:
- The complex reality of the Gospel requires a great deal of teaching (= catechesis / didache)
- But the single reality of the Gospel is that it is a message foremost to be proclaimed (= kerygma)
- [The third mode of communication is dialogue – see Paul VI, “Ecclesiam Suam” 1964]
Paul VI, “Evangelii Nuntiandi”
- 21. “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine…
- “Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization…
- “All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers.”
- 22. “Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have“ (1 Pet 3:15-16) – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life… There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. …This proclamation – kerygma, preaching or catechesis – occupies such an important place in evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only one aspect of evangelization.”
A later addendum
Two passages, one from Pope Benedict XVI and one from Pope Francis, sum up (in a nutshell, if you like) the essence of this presentation.
The first is from Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est §1. It encapsulates that our mode of communication in the church must not be in the realm of ideas, but has to be about an encounter with Jesus Christ:
- “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.’
The second is from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium §164. It encapsulates the elements of kerygma that N.T. Wright identifies: a personal (2nd person) address that proclaims the fact of the paschal mystery and applies it to the person being addressed:
- “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over:
“Jesus Christ loves you;
he gave his life to save you;
and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
The only proper response to such a proclamation of good news is to believe it.