The Biblical Gospel Is Imperialistic
Posted on January 17, 2018
It’s fascinating to consider how the ancient Greeks used the word euaggelion (gospel). It was closely associated with the imperial cult. The emperor issued good news, his gospel. He himself embodied the good news. He was deemed in some sense divine. He healed. He performed other miracles. He was the world’s savior. He as a god protected the state. Great signs accompanied his birth and life. His words became sacred writings. He granted great power to humans under his care. No wonder his life and actions and words are celebrated as gospel. The emperor himself was good news.
Now if all this sounds familiar, you’ll begin to understand why the NT writers used euaggelion to relate the message surrounding Jesus Christ. He’s the earth’s true emperor, challenging the claims of the Roman emperor. The biblical writers are specifically contrasting Jesus Christ’s empire with the Roman Empire. He’s overturning Caesar’s authority. He’s the real Caesar of the universe. Jesus is the good news. He’s the way of salvation. He’s the world’s rightful ruler. He will overturn all evil and bring redemption.
The kingly gospel
This is why the NT couches the gospel as a kingdom message (Mt. 4:23; 24:14; Ac. 28:23–31). “The gospel,” writes John Frame, “is the good news of redemption specifically through Christ the King. It is the message ‘your God reigns’ (Is. 52:7) . . . .” This is why Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 16:15 to preach the gospel to the entire creation. The gospel is redeeming the entire creation, not just individuals.
The gospel, then, isn’t just a factual enumeration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. More importantly, it’s a declaration of what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ to take his world back from Satan and sin. It isn’t merely a message of how to go to heaven when you die and live a private life well pleasing to God. Personal salvation is one vital aspect of that divine work, but not the whole thing. It’s a message of the Kingship of Jesus in the earth that takes back a sin-scared world for its healing by its rightful owner.
The Gospel in Part and Full
It’s imperative to understand that battling for religious liberty, and protecting the family, and championing biblical sexuality (for example) are not the results of faithful gospel ministry. They aren’t tasks in addition to the gospel. They are a part, an indispensable part, of the gospel ministry.
Every time we litigate to protect street preachers, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we influence legislators to vote for marriage, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we lead churches to speak biblical truth outside the walls of the church, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we expose human trafficking, we’re preaching the gospel. Every time we work to limit abortion, both by persuading a woman not to get one and influencing the government to limit and eventually abolish it, we’re preaching the gospel.
The good news isn’t just that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. It’s also that he’s the only way to get rid of sin in the world. Every act that works to restore God’s pristine creation is a gospel act.
We can therefore pray with Isaiah (64:1–4)
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
The Center for Cultural Leadership and similar ministries have their share of Christian critics — not secularists and statists and Muslims, but sincere Christians and churches. Perhaps their attitude is, “Your work isn’t really what Christians are called to do. We’re called to preach the gospel, plant churches, send missionaries, and launch Christian schools. That’s the gospel ministry. At best, CCL and similar works are distracted from the important work. They’re wasting valuable time and money. At worst, they’re turning people away from the true gospel — which is how to trust Jesus and live a holy life and go to heaven when you die. We Christians should be gospel-centered, but CCL is just playing in a sandbox.”
These criticisms are mistaken. It’s true that we should all be gospel-centered, but we need to know what the gospel in its fullness actually is. We need more, not fewer, gospel-centered ministries speaking the truth in public life. We need more gospel-centered ministries that are the Lord’s representatives declaring the message that Jesus’ death is reconciling all things to himself. We need more gospel-centered ministries showing how Jesus is redeeming the arts and education and technology and law and vocation. We need more gospel-centered ministries redeeming politics by conforming it to God’s moral law. We need more gospel-centered ministries litigating to protect employees and preachers and families and Christian schools and colleges from the depredations of our apostate state. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will oppose those artificial reproductive technologies that deface humans created in God’s image. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will labor to limit and eventually eliminate abortion. We need more gospel-centered ministries that will restore biblical marriage between one man and one woman in our age of sexual chaos.
These emphases aren’t implications of the gospel. They are a critical part of it.
The false, bifurcated narrative
Christians feel intimidated today by a false narrative: the gospel is a private matter. And so we start using a different language, thinking a different way, operating under different presuppositions in public life. We have a private way of thinking and acting, and a public way of thinking and acting. In private — in our devotions and at home and church — we’re very free and open about our faith: “Jesus is my Savior and Lord. He died for us all on the Cross and rose again for our salvation. We Christians love and serve him. We relish his Word. The Bible governs our lives. We want to glorify God in all we do.” But when we come to public life — politics or the government schools or national economics or the movies or TV or the law — we change our tune. Then we say, “We dare not impose our views on anybody else. We need to be cautious. This isn’t our territory. This is hostile territory. Jesus isn’t Lord here, at least not yet. I’d better just keep my Christianity to myself.”
The gospel of the Bible won’t allow this bifurcation. It demands our allegiance and our devotion and passion in public no less than in private. Every culture is religious. It might not be Christian, but it’s certainly religious (secularism is a religion, for example). The only question is whether our public life will be Christian or another, false religion. Our task is, by the Spirit’s power, to replace the current false religion of the public square with the true public religion of Christianity.
I invite you to rip down the wall between private and public in your Christian practice. Jesus is Lord of your private life, and he should be Lord of all public life as well. This is the biblical gospel.