The Gospel is Never Good News to an Unprepared Heart

Sounds like a bit of an internal contradiction, doesn’t it? After all, Gospel is by definition Good News, that’s what the word means. So why the provocative title?

Well, the simplest answer is that I’ve been doing some pondering while reading a few books. It slows down my reading speed a lot, but I think I get more out of it this way. In the first place, it is because I’ve come to the conclusion that the Gospel is not primarilly about my salvation, as it is not primarilly about me at all. That sentence is enough to get me pilloried in some circles, but it seems to be quite clear when we realize that the Gospel is centrally about the Glory of Jesus Christ; the Kingdom of God (of which He is king). (see 2 Cor. 4:4)

This meets humans in one of two broad places, both of which see this possibility as very bad news indeed. The first group, the vintage Pharisee, sees this as bad as fundamentally it takes away from him the centrality of the Gospel. The Gospel (or indeed the entire universe) ceases to be about him, and becomes about some man/deity. He no longer can claim to be making god propitious to him, but instead needs to rely on another alien propitiation. He approaches the judgement seat of heaven and finds it already occupied (for the judgement seat is also a throne, and it does not have space for the pharisee). The pharisee cannot see the reign of God in Christ as good news, because in his heart of hearts, he wanted the job, and secretly believes it to have been stolen from him.

The second group, still in a problem situation, are the despairing sinners. These people actually recognize that they have done wrong in the world, and either seek to pretend that there is no justice in the world (so they can get away with it), or that if there is justice in the world, they cannot receive it. For these people, the reign of God fills them with dread, because this very fact means that the things they do, which they know to be wrong, cannot be thought of well by any just king of the universe.

In all people there is a smattering of both, but I believe that the Pharisee is far more common in the modern world than the despairing sinner. I believe that this misunderstood fact is behind both the plethora of bad “missional” theology, and the plethora of bad “dogmatic” theology.

In the end, there is a need to be brought back to the cross of Christ, where the reign of Christ can bring the usurper pharisee to humility, and the despairing sinner to hope. In both cases though, the cross of Christ must be applied to the situation. Without that, and without the preparation of the Holy Spirit to soften hearts, the Gospel as it actually is will be bad news to most.

Note: for the sake of explanation, a bad theology is any theology that differs from God as He is revealed in scripture and in so doing seeks to usurp the glory of Christ. I leave it to the reader to decide if I am guilty of such bad theology.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

4 thoughts on “The Gospel is Never Good News to an Unprepared Heart”

  1. Putting the word “Good” onto it defines something – else, why use Good at all? Seems to me that they tack “Good” on there to TELL you what to think about it, because (as Steve says) on first blush there’s nothing “good” about it, and on close examination – nothing to it, at all.

    (Describing IS definition – if you’re into geometrical proof.)

    Steve’s forgotten to add how “The Good News” has classically been received – with Indifference, Mockery, and Much Laughter. It’s Unbelievable News, and it has no basis. That’s why unbelievers aren’t swayed by it – to them it is “so much Fart gas”, as once quoth El Nebuloso.

    As a proof of my claim, please consider how the Greeks in Athens received Paul – with condescension, laughter, and incredulity. (Acts 17:16-34) The Greek Stoics and Epicureans recognized that “Christianity” had absolutely NOTHING NEW about it (thus, it’s not News) and furthermore, it’s not even that “good” as news goes.

    No – the God-Spell isn’t Good, I agree wholeheartedly, not for the people who believe it, and not for the rest of the world, either. But! If you tell yourself something enough times, JUST MAYBE it’ll become true, someday.

    Oh! And while my situation has been desperate at times – you won’t find me despairing, or a sinner. You are free to ASSERT that I am both, sir (and perhaps even WONT to do so!) but your theory cannot explain my motivation to dance, sing, and otherwise laugh at your expense.

    Regards!

  2. Are we pretending that no one has ever been convinced? Even in the section of Acts you quoted, there were those who didn’t laugh at Paul but asked him to come back and speak more. You can look at the part, all the people who yes mock and support your view of dancing and singing at the expense of others, or you can look at the whole and also see people of all walks (morons, geniuses, skeptics, and the out-right unwilling) who have come into the category of faithful believers. You unwittingly proved Steve’s point about modern Pharisees.

  3. “As a proof of my claim, please consider how the Greeks in Athens received Paul – with condescension, laughter, and incredulity. (Acts 17:16-34) The Greek Stoics and Epicureans recognized that “Christianity” had absolutely NOTHING NEW about it (thus, it’s not News) and furthermore, it’s not even that “good” as news goes.”

    It wasn’t that the Greeks saw “nothing new” in Christian thought, but the materialistic worldview of Epicureans would necessarily have problems with a resurrection (as it is supernatural), and the stoics would have problems with it because unlike stocisim that would claim us all to be alike sons of God, this Jesus is central to Christian faith.

    You’ll note that the many who had problems with Paul, only balked at the resurrection, and even then, some wanted to hear more.

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