The Gospels and the Gospel

Not being in the forefront of current Christian thought and discussion, I have only now got round to reading Dr NT Wright's response to the controversy that ran through British evangelicalism last year concerning the evangelical understanding of the nature of the atonement - a controversy fueled in part by Steve Chalke's book The Lost Message of Jesus and reported on in depth at my friend Adrian Warnock's site over the months.

In reading Dr Wright's response to the issue (a 13,000 word treatise which he modestly describes as being "only a tip-of-the-iceberg treatment written in haste") I was struck by several aspects of the article.

In particular, I was heartened by the way he demands that evangelicals must give more attention in their theological reflection on the nature of the atonement to the canonical gospel texts and not only to Paul's writings. The following is typical of his concern:

I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn't know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate 'Paul' ... and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus' stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected.

As a third generation unbeliever, I was converted to the faith of Christ through reading and preaching that centered on Matthew and John. It was only later in my Christian life that I was introduced in any meaningful way to the Pauline corpus (through the preaching of Terry Virgo), a development for which I remain continually thankful.

Partly because of my own journey to faith, no doubt, I have always had a high view of the gospels and have at times wondered whether the focus on Paul's letters in so much of the preaching of the churches I have been part of has lead to an imbalanced theology in some respects. Shocking sentence, I know.

Although I have my own views on the controversy outlined at the start of this post, I am not going to share them here (not yet, anyway). Nor am I suggesting (as some have done) that the gospels and Paul are in any way in tension with each other.

Instead, I would rather state that in the church of my dreams, the gospel narratives are treated with the same reverence and respect afforded to the apostolic letters and Acts and that their theology of Christ - his life, his teaching, his kingdom works, his humanity, his divinity, his place in the history of God's saving purpose, his death and his resurrection - is taught, received and put into practice with the same vigor and commitment that we afford to the apostolic letters of Paul.

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