September 6, 2012 by Jason Hood
I was looking up a topic in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. David F. Wright, Sinclair Ferguson, and J. I. Packer (IVP, 1988) Tuesday morning and happened to wonder what they did with the gospel. It turns out that the editors recruited a crack exegete for that entry.
In light of the current debates over the definition of the gospel, F. F. Bruce’s short five paragraph piece (278-9) is remarkably pertinent. He certainly emphasizes some “soterian” dimensions, to use the label Tom Wright applies to contemporary evangelicalism in his introduction to Scot McKnight’s recent book on the gospel.* With “[t]he preacher becomes the preached one,” Bruce appears to yield to much 20th century NT scholarship (think Bultmann, and further back in the historical Jesus movement to which Bultmann was reacting) that stressed a disjunction between Jesus’ proclamation and the later apostolic proclamation of him. I owe this observation to McKnight, who shows in his book that this distinction isn’t true: Jesus absolutely preached himself, just as the later church did. In fact, they learned their proclamation of him from him, and Jesus’ sermon in Luke 24 is not terribly different from the conversations Jesus had in public (“Just as Jonah was…”) and his disciples (the Son of Man must suffer, die…and be raised).
But Bruce’s concluding summation is almost identical to McKnight, as well as those in the Reformed redemptive historical tradition who emphasize the priority of historia salutis over ordo salutis. That is, they stress that the gospel is the Triune God’s work in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus as the capstone of the story of redemptive history, rather than the application of that work in salvation. (The latter is understood to be the result of the former, of course, and if you deny or downplay “ordo salutis,” you’re getting it all wrong.)
Here’s Bruce’s summary of the basic elements in the NT preaching of the gospel message:
1. the prophecies [and I'd clarify that it's story as a whole, not just individual prophecies] have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ;
2. he was born into the family of David;
3. he died according to the Scriptures, to deliver his people from this evil age [McKnight and Reformed redemptive-historical types emphasize "from their sins," rather than movement from age-to-age, although the two are obviously related];
4. he was buried and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures;
5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead;
6. he will come again to judge the world and consummate his saving work.
If I remember his book on Paul correctly, Bruce has a more “Pauline” flavor of gospel there…but this piece comes after that book, and may reflect further study.
[[* Update: was just reminded that Tom got the label "soterian" from Scot's book.]]