What’s the most important aspect of the gospel?

As we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of a question that I was asked some years ago, by John, an interviewer while I was in the application process for ordination. Without intending to, I completely bamboozled him with my answer.

The question was outwardly straightforward: “What’s the most important aspect of the gospel?”. I’ve since discovered that this is a fairly standard question for ordination candidates to be asked, and there are a number of basic answers, depending upon your theological preferences – none of which I gave.

For example, I could have focussed on the events around Christmas (in theological language, the incarnation, when God became man in Jesus). Without this, the other extraordinary events of Jesus’ life could not have happened. 

Or I could have looked at the events of Good Friday: through Jesus’ one, perfect sacrifice of himself on the cross, for our sake, Jesus opened the way for each one of us to have a living and active relationship with God. Everything else is a bonus.

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, which may be the site where Jesus’ body was taken, and from which Jesus rose from the dead. (Photo © Philip Benshmuel; original here)

Alternatively, I could have chosen Easter, which celebrates the resurrection: the fact that Jesus rose bodily from the dead: the crowning triumph of Jesus life on earth, when he showed that he had defeated both sin and death.

Instead I said, without hesitation, “the fact that it’s true, that’s what’s most important about the gospel”.

“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” spluttered John, “the fact that it’s true, is that all you can say?”

My point was that the gospel is based on historical fact – most particularly as recorded  in the four reasonably-independent biographies known to us as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – rather than upon myth or legend, or some esoteric knowledge that only the chosen few have access to. I’d be tempted to answer the same way today.

However, if I’d answered the question the way John wanted me to answer, I’d choose Easter and the Resurrection. This is the defining event of Christianity: it’s the miracle that trumps all the others, where even death itself was defeated. All four gospels climax with it and provide evidence for it. The incarnation may have paved the way for it, and Jesus needed to go through the one perfect sacrifice on the cross for it to happen, but it’s the resurrection that is the greatest triumph of all.

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