In an intellectual contest of sorts last summer, the Christian Century challenged contributors to “boil Christian proclamation down to just a few words”–seven to be exact–in venturing an answer to the question, What is the essence of the essence of Christianity? The contest produced a number of thoughtful and novel responses along with multiple echoes throughout the blogosphere, including Michael Horton reissuing the challenge to his own readers at The White Horse Inn. (Horton’s own entry is a nine word effort rooted in Romans 4:25: “Crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.”)
The novelty and appeal of summarizing the gospel in as few words as possible seems to show no signs of fading. Paul Ellis opts for ten words (Loved/forgiven/saved/union/ accepted/holy/righteous/died/new/royal), Dare2Share for six in an acronym in their million-hit YouTube video (God. Our. Sins. Paying. Everyone. Life.). Meanwhile, D.A. Carson tackles the whole Bible in 221 words.
Leave it to the Apostle Paul to sober us all up by noting in Galatians 1:8 that the cost of an inadequate entry in this contest–the price of novelty, as it were–is eternal condemnation. As the venerable Thomas Oden observes:
At the end of this journey I reaffirm solemn commitments made at its beginning:
- To make no new contribution to theology
- to resist the temptation to quote modern writers less schooled in the whole counsel of God than the best ancient classic exegetes
- To seek quite simply to express the one mind of the believing church that has been ever attentive to the apostolic teaching to which consent has been given by Christian believers everywhere, always, and by all — this what I mean by the Vincentian method (Vincent of Lerins, comm., LCC [Library of Christian Classics] VII, pp. 37-39,65-74; for an accounting of this method see LG [The Living God (volume 1 of his systematic theology)], pp. 322-25,341-51)
I am dedicated to unoriginality. I am pledged to irrelevance if relevance means indebtedness to corrupt modernity. What is deemed relevant in theology is likely to be moldy in a few days. I take to heart Paul’s admonition: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we [from the earliest apostolic kerygma] had already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted [par o parelabete, other than what you received from the apostles], let him be eternally condemned [anathema esto]!
So at the start of this month’s focus on the Work of Mercy of proclaiming the gospel we eschew originality, novelty, and creativity and recall that for the Apostle Paul the gospel was a specific message with specific content–not the essence of Christianity but rather the announcement of it, which he lays out soberly and in precise detail in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
153 words in all, which means regrettably that there will be no free subscription to the Christian Century for Paul. But if you’re still in the mood for the gospel in ten words or less, here’s my own .zip file effort at remembering what Paul passed on as of first importance:
Gospel: Christ’s sin-atoning death, burial, and witnessed third-day resurrection, fulfilling scripture.
I can only hope that it strikes you as terribly uncreative.