The gospel broke the world open, shattering a cosy cosmopolitanism in which religions competed side by side for influence, none daring to assume dominance unless backed by imperial sword wielders. Combining recent reflection here on Romans, God as Trinity and Communion politics, what the gospel is, how we understand the message of Jesus comprehensively, that is both comprehending the words of Jesus as well as grasping their whole significance - their implications, applications and ramifications - is key to life. The possibility that life has meaning, that suffering and death do not reign over life, that God's judgment results in mercy not wrath, that human society may be organised around fellowship or communion rather than divisions and inqualities, that good will triumph over evil is opened up by the good news that Jesus is the Christ, Lord and Saviour of the world.
Theological battles, whether fought in the pages of Romans against re-assertion of legalism and national exclusivism, or in ecumenical councils against the diminishment of Christ as God, or even in that rather small set of churches known as the Anglican Communion against ... well, what is the key issue from a gospel perspective? Against, I suggest, ideas that the gospel is multiple in content (as compared with expressions of the gospel), that diversity more than unity represents an intended outcome of the gospel, that 'communion' is distinguishable from 'church' (when both are properly understood in theological terms). At the heart of such great theological battles is the simple but difficult question, What is the gospel?
This past week in Christchurch has been dispiriting. There is an 'exhaustion of spirit' as Bishop Victoria has aptly summed up (see Taonga and links re Christchurch's peril). When hope drains away, when tiredness wells up, when patience is necessary but seems impossible, what is the gospel? How are Christians to proclaim the gospel here in word and in deed? Prior to September, 2010 any answer likely would have talked about the spirit of the city, the forces at work within it, culturally, spiritually, and economically. Now we have to reckon with the dispirit of the city, and the new forces at work within it, forces for despair and desperation. Further, these forces are at work within the whole population, Christian and non-Christian. Many Christians, I suggest, including myself, need to hear the gospel for the first time in our new situation before we attempt to share the gospel with others.
What is the good news of Jesus Christ when life is wrecked?