Reflecting on "The Gospel Precisely" by Matthew Bates (Chapter 1)
What is the Gospel?
All pastors, theologians, and believers that seek to take the Word of God and the Christian life seriously know that this is a most vital question, and one that needs answering. The answer, however, cannot just be found in pages long documents, filled with theological jargon that needs a dictionary to understand. It can’t be an answer just for the theologian, or for the 40-year Christian who has devoted significant time and energy to growing in their knowledge of the Word. The answer must be one that spans across cultural divides, knowledge barriers, age gaps, and whatever cavity that may stand in the way of one person relaying a message to another. Because that is, in fact, what the Gospel is. It is a message that is meant to be relayed, to be heralded to the World. God calls us to this task. So, we better get the message right.
This is exactly what Matthew Bates is looking to bring to the table with “The Gospel Precisely.” Bates argues that the Gospel is “Surprisingly Good News about Jesus Christ the King”, and that we must be clear in what we believe the Gospel to be. Why is that? Because, according to Bates, “The more precise we are in our grasp of the Gospel, the more readily we can avoid false Gospels, embrace the true one, and share it effectively.”
Bates argues throughout this short volume that many in the historical and present-day church are in fact getting the Gospel wrong. It is not that they are wholly wrong, however, but that most are falling short of expressing the full Gospel as it is laid out in Scriptures. Instead, they are proclaiming as the Gospel truths that are aspects or consequences of the Gospel, but not the “good news” itself, as it is referred to in Scripture.
Through this series of articles and podcasts, I wish to dive into and reflect on the content found in “The Gospel Precisely”, in hopes of unpacking it for those wishing to consider whether or not they are preaching a precise and accurate “Gospel” with their words and lives. I would suggest picking up a copy for yourself so that you can engage it for yourself as well.
Bates, following a short introduction, wastes no time diving into what he will argue is a thorough, precise, and biblical definition of the “Gospel”:
“Jesus is the saving King. He preexisted with God the Father. In accordance with God’s promises, Jesus became human in the line of David, died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected on the third day, was seen, was installed as king at God’s right hand, sent the Spirit, and will return and rule.”
What you will notice quickly is that Bates’ definition of the “Gospel” is centered on a different theme than you may have been taught. The Gospel message as presented today most often focuses intently on our sin and Jesus’ payment of it unto our salvation. But according to Bates, “Jesus died for my sins is not the basic Gospel message”. Instead, the basic gospel message of the Bible should be seen as “Jesus is the Christ”.
But what does Christ mean? We often tag “Christ” onto the back half of Jesus like it is his last name. But this word carried much more significance than that. What is fleshed out so well in chapter one is a biblical understanding of what it means that Jesus is the Christ, a “long-awaited anointed king” that fulfills “God’s promises to David regarding an eternal throne for one of his offspring.” What is unique about this King, according to Bates and Mark 1:1, is that this King is also the Son of God.
Next, Bates moves to the necessary consequence of a universal King; a universal kingdom! Bates argues that “The Kingdom of God was a time when God would rule overtly through agent that he would appoint—above all, through His Messiah.” The goal, then, of the church is to “Further this gospel announcement by declaring its fulfillment: Jesus is the Christ….(who) has now been installed at God’s right hand where he rules as the eternal king.” This Gospel announcement was preached before Jesus even went to the cross (Luke 4:43), and therefore we must recognize that the Gospel message is certainly not simply “Jesus died for my sins.”
Why does this really matter? What problems do a short-sighted and incomplete Gospel make for us? Bates argues, quite convincingly, that a Gospel without Jesus as King can cause the local body, both individually and corporately, to fail to treat Jesus as the royal figure that He is according to Scripture. We will get more into that in further chapters, however. Bates also calls us to recognize that “Jesus as King” actually helps to strengthen the truths of our forgiveness in Christ. He is not just the propitiation for our sins but is also the reigning King who sits at the right hand of the Father, advocating for us. As Bates puts it, “Jesus’ forgiving power cannot be separated from his royal authority as head of a new creation.”
Another aspect of the “Gospel precisely” that is oftentimes glossed over or left out of the church’s description of the gospel is the resurrection, and its consequences. 1 Corinthians 15’s presentation of the Gospel places a heavy emphasis on the resurrection of Christ, and its implications; namely that “it anticipates the resurrection of all those united to Him through His death.” This is also seen in Romans 1:2-4 and 2 Timothy 2:8. From the resurrection comes the truths of Christ’s ascension, enthronement, sending of the Holy Spirit, and eventual Kingdom-consummation. This, according to Bates, is the Gospel Precisely, “the true story about how Jesus became the victorious, saving King.”
As we wrap up this session, and look forward to reflecting on future chapters, I want to consider the implications of a Gospel that does not highlight “Jesus as King”. It seems that when a Gospel is accepted that centers wholly on Jesus as a sacrifice that renders our sin non-existent to God, all the while spurning the royal aspects of the “good news”, we paint a picture of the Christian life that is wholly transactional and revolves around the moment of conversion. This may be why we have seen such a rise in what is often referred to as “easy-believism”, wherein people “accept the Gospel” in order to have their sins forgiven and avoid Hell, yet never feel compelled to really change their lives, or as Bates would put it, change their allegiance. A full formed Gospel that proclaims Jesus as King with all authority over our lives rejects “easy-believism”, but does not lose the forgiveness of sins, which we have seen and will continue to see is a vital aspect of the Gospel but is not the Gospel in totality. All in all, if we want those who come to Christ to be faithful and motivated by the truths presented by God’s good news, we must preach the royal nature of the Gospel in both its initiation and consummation. Jesus is the saving King to which we pledge our allegiance. He is a perfectly good King who sends a helper in the Holy Spirit, and perfectly powerful King who has defeated and will defeat sin and death as He consummates His Kingdom. And we are called to both receive the blessings of this Kingdom and participate in it as the King empowers His citizens.
All quotes taken from The Gospel Precisely: Surprisingly Good News about Jesus Christ the King, by Matthew Bates, via eBook (Kindle).