Understanding the ‘Core’ of the Gospel: a Quick personal statement

It is quite common to hear people talk about the ‘core’ of the gospel, and to my class I briefly summed up my theological position about it. This is not a definitive statement, but rather a proposal that provides a basic movement forward for theology. I believe if we can understand this, our attitudes towards the Bible and even other Christians will be radically altered… positively.

What is a ‘core’? Usually, the core is an essential element of the gospel. The central most important teaching. The most important thing in the Christian faith. If you compromise on other things is ok, but when you compromise on the core, people believe you have lost the Christian faith.

Practically, this is highlighted by the choosing of the the most important teaching in the Bible; or even the most important portion of the Bible (ie. NT/Pauline epistles, central verse). Basically, a canon within the canon.

Basic Premise (that I am using as my starting point)

  1. Everyone tends to (can) identify what is important for them in the Bible/Christian walk… we all identify the core.
  2. The core tends to differ from person to person, culture to culture.
  3. The attempt to find the right ‘core’ has led to endless debates about the essentials of the Christian faith, and contextual theology is just another attempt to rediscover/rethink /redefine the central essence of the Christian gospel.
  4. Every resulting core/essential is still culturally conditioned and limited in its applicability.

Lesslie Newbigin’s view

In his book, Gospel in a Pluralist Society, more specifically in his chapter, “Contextualisation: True or False?” he proposes that there no core (central teaching) of the Gospel. Rather the living Jesus is the core of the gospel.

My subsequent assertions follows

1. Description of the Bible: Bible is a book. It is neither divine nor has special powers. It is a witness to God’s work, and is a tool of God. The Bible has no life of its own; the only power the Bible has is the power through the Holy Spirit; it is elected by God to be the special primary witness. It has therefore a high place amongst us all, because God has chosen it to have the highest place in terms of books.

Furthermore, (reinterpreting Hebrews 4:12 as “Jesus is living and active” rather than the Bible because of the context of Hebrews 1:1), while the Bible is the word of God in a derivative sense; Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the true word of god; in the full sense of the word.

The Bible speaks about God, because God is the author/subject. The Bible itself is not its own subject.

2. Narrative description vs Propositional content: The bible is not a list of propositions, but a collections of stories/letters in a particular context. Even the 10 commandments were listed in a context, and while binding, were never the only controlling document over the people of Israel. The Bible therefore uses narrative, and perhaps Narrative best helps us understand God rather than (theological/philosophical) ideas about God.

3. Difference between Truth (God) and our words about God (theology). Our language is limited and does not capture reality; it represents reality in terminology. The representation may be ‘faithful’ authentic, but they remain coloured/conditioned representations. They can be adequate in representing truth, but certainly are not the ontological Truth themselves.

My conclusion

There is no core from the Bible that is accessible to all humans universally; there is no core doctrine that defines Christians/Christianity/who we are in Christ. We are defined as Christians through the very power that makes the Bible the word of God. We are chosen through the power of God; through Christ, in His Spirit, to be children of God. And while what I am saying here sounds like teaching… this belief is not what makes us children of God, but the very act/initiative of God to save us and choose to connect and dwell with us. When God becomes our Father, when Jesus becomes our brother, when the Holy Spirit becomes our Counsellor; then we are Christians.

Notice… this is different from a teaching of doctrinal core. It is the experience of a real connection between humans and God. It si not held in doctrine/the Bible… but surpasses teaching to actual communion. That communion is the core of the gospel.

Therefore… all our preferred doctrines, our pet concerns, if they are biblical are well-and-good, but remain conditioned. The ‘truth’ of the matter is that our genuine experience/relationship with God goes beyond the created sphere into a communion with the uncreated. The Bible points to that union… it itself is an example of that relationship… but it is not in-itself the key to eternal life. Only the living God determines/decides/is able to give eternal life.

The moment we identify the living God as the core… we are no longer in control of the core… in terms of a concept that we translate… but are in control of Him. And we are led in right relation to all aspects of that experience of God, which is judged not by right belief, but by right relation, not by making truth-statements, but rather by faithfulness.

Finally, practically, we are able to ‘judge’ right from wrong on a partial and conditioned level, and we must. However, we judge in humility and with an attitude of listening/gentleness. More importantly, we do not judge ultimately, because we know it is God who judges ultimately.


3 Responses to “Understanding the ‘Core’ of the Gospel: a Quick personal statement”

  1. 1 Heretic February 27, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I think Newbigin’s thesis is somewhat flawed, and here is why.

    The Bible is His Story. It is not man’s story. It is the story of an almighty God. Everything exists for His glory. The “stories” are “HisStory” of trying to establish His government among men.

    The gospel message or good news that Jesus preached was that the Kingdom (of God) had come. The primary purpose Jesus came was to bring glory to the father.

    As men, we think we were the primary purpose, and that is beginning on a false premise. We were not the primary purpose, but a secondary purpose.

    The “core” is universal to all men everywhere and it is simply this: the Good News is that Jesus came that you might have life. To lead you from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. You can’t get there by road or map. It is your belief that Christ was the door.

    Side Note: What part of India are you from? I spent 6 months there, and would love to go back one day!

  2. 2 NAyK February 27, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Hey ‘heretic’ thanks for your comments.

    Newbigin’s thesis flawed? Hmm. I hope you’re not judging Newbigin on the basis of my comments on him (ie. I’m just taking a phrase out of his chapter). If you have read Newbigin, then I guess you’re aware that he’s basically arguing about what do you ‘translate’ to other cultures. Meaning; usually missionaries, going into a culture, bring a ‘message’ of the gospel. Newbigin argues that these ‘message of the gospel’ or even ‘core’ message of the gospel are all culturally conditioned.

    For instance, if I was to apply this argument to your own comment, I could argue that your identification of the “primary” purpose of Jesus coming on earth as bringing “glory to the father” comes out of prioritizing (taking) one text above other texts. For instance, you have inadvertently put Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 as secondary meanings of Jesus’ purpose of coming. The argument would be that your reasoning is not necessarily universal, but conditioned by your teachers, or your context. In another place, a Christian may look at Mark 10:45 and could possibly highlight Jesus’ purpose of coming to “serve”.

    Now we could go on and on about whether this is the same thing or not; but the point is that there has been no consistent ‘core’ teaching of the Bible (doctrines) that have been identified for all people for all time. We usually have linguistically-confined (culturally conditioned) versions of one doctrine or another… (usually along the a range of issues). And while there is a similarity, there is never an exact-sameness with one theology with another.

    Hence, returning to the subject at hand, Newbigin urges Missionaries to avoid thinking about a ‘core’ gospel that is then contextualisation, but rather believes that the ‘core’ is Jesus himself who is able to live and act among the people. Once we believe that it is Jesus himself who is able to impact and challenge a local Christian community, the missionary can be a dialogue partner, but is not needed as sole provider of theology.

    I therefore don’t think that Newbigin’s thesis is false… especially in view of his context for identification of ‘core’ teaching for communicating across cultures.

    ps. I currently live in Bangalore (South India). Though my deepest affinity is in the Foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India, in a small town called Mussoorie.

  3. 3 Heretic February 28, 2007 at 12:03 am


    I am not judging Newbigin. Just commenting on your article and the ideas expressed. However, I think we misquote “Judge not.”

    Maybe our points of view are not too far removed, and I reconsidered my comments before posting them, after re-reading your post again.

    I say that the primary purpose Jesus came was for the glory of the father, because God cannot place more importance or weight on something other than Himself. Is this not the very definition of idolatry? To elevate one’s worth above God Himself? Is that not the message that we portray, that God values men above His own self? Wouldn’t he then be guilty of idolatry?

    I would not disagree that we place more importance on by-laws then we do the law of God. Western missionaries have failed many times, because they presented a “western religion and Jesus.” Jesus transcends every culture and time. Why? Because He is not concerned with the glory of man. He is consumed by the glory of the father.

    I like some of your thoughts. Trying to communicat in the blog world sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

    PS – Never made it to Bangalore, but spent 2 weeks in Varanasi (Baranas) and then 2 weeks in Kathmandu. These 4 weeks were the highlights of my trip!

    Blessings my friend!

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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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