The Gospel Precisely: Surprisingly Good News about Jesus Christ the King is a small book with large insights on the message that is central to Christianity. It provides needed corrections to some of the classic expressions used when presenting the good news. The book chips away at the “thick wall of traditional thought” (N. T. Wright) and shows the necessity of staying close to the biblical texts. These corrections share the same theme, namely, that we are not the center of the Christian story. For example, Matthew Bates argues….
The gospel does not begin with what Jesus did but with who Jesus is. So often the message of Christianity starts with the benefits. But this moves Jesus away from the center and places us in it. “Jesus died for my sins,” is not the gospel in toto. The basic message is that “Jesus is the Christ” (p 24). It begins with the coming of an anointed king over his kingdom. Focusing on the implications of the good news without first embracing Jesus as King shines a spotlight on us and what we gain. Instead, it is the person of the message that is front and center rather than the benefits.
Second, claiming personal forgiveness for my sins is short-sighted. A forgiveness that is disconnected from Jesus as King fails “to see that forgiveness flows not just through a person, but through a person in his official capacity as king … Jesus’ forgiving power cannot be separated from his royal authority as head of a new creation.” While there are personal benefits, says Bates, they come only as persons are part of a people for whom Christ died (pp 29-31).
Third, salvation is not for our sake; it is for God’s sake. It is to restore and reflect the glory of God in all creation. As image bearers of God we have a royal commission to represent God’s glory. But sin has so disrupted our ability to display God’s glory that we “fall short of the glory of God.” We need a human representative who perfectly reflects God’s glory to set things right. We need a new royal representative, one who fully displays God’s glory to stand in our place and show us the way. Only when we follow our king, can we fulfill our vocation as kingdom subjects.
Fourth, “the Bible never explicitly says the gospel’s purpose is to help a person get to heaven.” Instead, “the gospel’s final aim is not heaven but loyal obedience to Jesus the king in a new era—an era characterized by ‘everlasting life.'” In fact, “heaven and eternal life are different.” This phrase zōê aiōnios (‘eternal life’) is more precisely ‘era life’ or ‘life characterized by the era” (pp 63-64). It is life in the kingdom-of-God era under the reign of King Jesus.
Chapter 4 beings: “We usually think about the gospel simply as what saves us. We do not ordinarily think of it as God’s definite way of revealing who he is” (p 76). Bates goes on to show that “all the persons of the Trinity are involved in every saving action,” though the incarnation of Jesus makes a unique contribution (p 81). The good news story is God’s means of proclaiming his identity to all the world. When we know the gospel, we know God, and vice versa.
The final chapter sums what Bates calls “the gospel precisely.” It contains both objective and subjective elements. Objectively there are ten events which are public record and open for all to evaluate (cf., p 92). Note how these ten events center on Jesus the king who:
- preexisted as God the son,
- was sent by the Father,
- took on human flesh in fulfillment of God’s promises to David,
- died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
- was buried,
- was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
- appeared to many witnesses,
- is enthroned at the right hand of God as the ruling in Christ,
- has sent the Holy Spirit to his people to effect his rule, and
- will come again as final judge to rule.
The subjective element comes into play when my own personal story displays an authentic commitment to these ten events. Since the gospel story is designed to restore God’s glory in the world, then his image-bearers must portray that glory in their lives. This is what gives integrity to the Christian faith and causes non-believers to see its truth. Naturally, for the gospel to have credibility, my character and my deeds need to comport with these ten events. That is, my allegiance must clearly point to these ten truths.
This last chapter ends with some very wise and helpful comments on how to shed some of the cultural baggage that comes with sharing the Christian message, particularly as it relates to what is meant by faith, repentance, baptism, reward and punishment.
Each chapter contains discussion questions and a guide for reflecting further on “the gospel precisely.” This would make an outstanding group study or Sunday school class curriculum. Highly recommended!
Watch an introduction to The Gospel Precisely with Matthew Bates.
Also, don’t miss Scot McKnight’s post, “Living the Gospel in Acts” where he says, “Matt and I are keen on distinguishing gospel from benefits without minimizing benefits one bit.” Amen!