Tradition and Revelation
In the NT, Paul uses “gospel” as a proclamation about Jesus being Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah and the world’s one Lord. It was a message, much like the one from Roman culture (see post #1)
There is a peculiar tension when looking at the way Paul describes the anticipation of the gospel as we compare his letters.
For instance, Paul is certain that the gospel was anticipated from Israel’s Scriptures:
“By this gospel you are saved… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:2-5- Note: Paul’s use of “according to the Scriptures” is interesting… but we’ll discuss that another time)
In this crucial passage, Paul conveys a gospel that is tradition, something anticipated and “passed on.”
However, it is interesting to take note of another place where Paul speaks of how the gospel came to him:
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
This confession from Paul is striking. It is worth noting that the verses that follow show Paul’s dedication to Judaism and the “traditions” of his fathers and that what ultimately formed Paul was an experience from something outside of the tradition. Instead of the gospel being a “tradition,” here it is a “revelation” an unveiling of something once hidden.
NT scholar James Dunn finds this to be a striking observation, a tension in the theology of Paul.
Therefore, the gospel (at least theologically) is always new and old, at the same time. Lesslie Newbigin once said that there is no generic gospel to proclaim, that gospelling is shaped by tradition and context.
What might be good news in the Donetsk region of Ukraine could be different than what would be good news in Deerborn, MI. Sure, Jesus is at the center of what would be good news in those areas but how the gospelling takes place would be different.
If the Apostle Paul were able to witness Billy Graham’s ministry he would say that what Graham was up to was both good and different.
If Jesus has asked us to go to the nations (think “people groups,” not “nation states”) we can imagine that gospelling in different contexts will take creativity and wisdom, that the witness of the gospel has the opportunity to be born again in each new age.
So, let’s ask our gospel another set of questions:
“Are you shaped both by tradition and innovation? Am I allowing others who do not share my context to have the space to gospel in their own settings without my bias opinions?”