What does "gospel" mean? "Good news," many of you illustrious Sunday School graduates reply. Right; so what's the news? "Um, you know, it's about, uh, Jesus and stuff . . . where's the coffee?"
I'm just messing with you—I know that most of you readers know that the good news is who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what his work accomplished. But it's true that sometimes putting those things into words can be tough, in part because there are so many things that could accurately be said. Names and titles of Jesus that reveal his character abound, as do word-pictures to describe what he accomplished for us. And Jesus did so many things that the Gospel-writers were hard pressed to decide what to include!
As we try to define "gospel" biblically, there are two important things we ought to remember.
1. The gospel is not just one thing. It isn't a particular phrase, title of Jesus, or aspect of his work. It isn't a single verse (John 3:16, I'm talking about you, awesome though you are). It isn't a single metaphor for salvation. Any claim that the gospel is this and only this, and if you don't say this then you're not talking about the gospel, is wrong.
2. The gospel is not everything. The entire Bible is true; in fact, it includes an enormous amount of truth. But it's not all what the Bible calls the gospel. For example, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) is true, but it isn't the gospel. One might make a case that all biblical truth is somehow connected to the gospel, however distantly, but that doesn't make it the gospel. Likewise, the existence of different perspectives on a given theological principle does not necessarily mean that the gospel is under attack (though sometimes it does).
As I see it, what the New Testament says about the gospel can be grouped into four basic, related categories—these are the four aspects of the gospel. I'll start detailing these next time.
(By the way, these four aspects of the gospel as I describe them are not the same as Aimee Semple McPherson's "Foursquare Gospel," the central doctrinal plank of the Foursquare Church, although McPherson's scheme is a fine one—you can check it out here.)