First, lets do some lexical footwork. We'll start by looking at the Greek word used for the gospel, as found in your Bible. The word in the manuscripts when transcribed into Latin script is literally euaggelion but is often written (and pronounced) as euangelion. This breaks down into two words, thus:
eu — good, benign
angelion — message, from angelos, messenger.
According to Vine: "[it] originally [i.e. before N.T. usage] denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward dropped, and the word stood for the good news itself. "
It seems that caught up within the idea of the good news is the intrinsic concept of it being proclaimed, announced, preached, told-forth, etc. This of course goes back to the image of a messenger arriving with exciting news. So we see the word gospel used along with the following Greek words:
I want to underscore what should be obvious from above: the good news or message that Christians have should be proclaimed, heralded, spoken-forth, announced and otherwise made known!
Now some people have the taken above as a warrant to pitch up uninvited or unwanted and to subsequently start shouting out about God's judgement on the wicked, or the need to repent. The problem with that is a failure to properly contextualise the examples of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul reminds us: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!". Since Paul was specifically called to take the gospel to the Gentiles, I am not sure we can all apply that verse to ourselves. But I do think it stands a general encouragement to consider how seriously Paul saw the gospel and its telling forth.
Now the astute among you may be wondering what the heck this has to do with Fierce God at War. Without further ado, lets drill down into what exactly the message of Christianity actually is. Scholars such as Walter Brueggeman and N T Wright have argued that the essence of the gospel is God's Cosmic Victory and the idea that Jesus is King. My attempt to put that together is the following:
The gospel is the narrative proclamation of Jesus as King over all, a triumphant King who has defeated all the powers of darkness, including Sin, Satan and Death itself. The arrival of this King has put the World under judgement, and salvation is found by "changing teams" and aligning and pledging allegiance (repentance) to this King Jesus, who is God in person as a human being.
I had to stop there, but I was going to put in loads more stuff about the resurrection, the New Creation, and so on. I will look at all this soon through the lens of the unfolding drama/narrative of the gospel throughout the bible. In the meantime, I want to return to the original word, euangelion, and propose its meaning thus:
- The phrase literally means, at a grammatical level, "good news"
- The connotations extend the meaning to include the idea of a message being proclaimed, a victory being announced, a war being won, and even the proclamation of a new king being enthroned. In the that lase sense, it was a summons to allegiance, to pledge your life to the new King. Remember, so far we are just looking at the nuances of the word as used in its historical context, before it was even used by Christians.
- Looking at the phrase and concept in the narrative of scripture, we come across in Isaiah the Herald in the mountains — a messenger is running across the mountains, with an important message for Israel: “Your God reigns!”, he shouts. He has come to announce the best news in the world: God himself — Yahweh — is personally returning to Zion, to Israel, in order to sort out Israel and sort out the world, by becoming King of Israel, dealing with Israel's enemies, judging Israel, judging the pagan nations, and somehow through and in this dealing with Evil, Death and Sin itself. After this we see the Glory/Paradise/Shalom of God come to cover the whole earth, peace comes to all creation, heaven on earth, everyone is full of joy, wolves and lambs making babies, etc, etc.
- Looking at New Testament usage, we see the word in the most basic sense refers to the basic facts of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In other words, we could say it refers to the Christ Event itself, and in particular, his Passion.
- Beyond that, the word by extension refers to the proper interpretation of these facts: in other words, the gospel is the personal, social, national and cosmic consequences and implication of the Christ Event. This is where finally we see the notion of the Kingdom of God: the legacy of the Cross.
Finally, I leave you with this story, an good example of how to do evangelism ("preach the gospel") in this post-modern world.