Ruminating Romans: Proclaiming the Gospel

I am under obligation to barbarians as well as to Greeks, you see; both to the wise and to the foolish. That’s why I’m eager to announce the good news to you, too, in Rome. I’m not ashamed of the good news; it’s God’s power, bringing salvation to everyone who believes—to the Jew first, and also, equally, to the Greek. This is because God’s covenant justice is unveiled in it, from faithfulness to faithfulness. As it says in the Bible, “the just shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:14-17)

The message of the Apostle may be condensed to a single word—

Εὐαγγέλιον! Gospel! Good news!

From city to city, village to village, Paul brought good news—good news that thrills the heart; good news that liberates human beings from the powers of darkness and violence; good news that creates faith and hope in souls where once there was only despair, bitterness, and fear; good news that converts sinners to the path of charity and holiness; good news that raises the dead and makes a new creation.

For this gospel Paul was set apart and consecrated. The gospel is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

“I am not ashamed of the εὐαγγέλιον,” Paul declares. I immediately think upon his words in 1st Corinthians:

The word of the cross, you see, is madness to people who are being destroyed. But to us–those who are being saved–it is God’s power. … Jews look for signs, you see, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we announce the crucified Messiah, a scandal to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, the Messiah–God’s power and God’s wisdom. God’s folly is wiser than humans, you see, and God’s weakness is stronger than humans. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

Paul knows all too well how frequently the good news of Christ is scornfully dismissed as blasphemy or hokum. How can a crucified rabbi be the Messiah of Israel? How can a Jew from Judea be savior of the world? But Paul is neither ashamed nor discouraged by the apparent implausibility of his message. Paul knows that which those who reject the gospel do not know: the gospel is the power of God “unleashed in human history” (Joseph Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible: Romans, p. 256).

Paul has experienced this power at first hand. He has witnessed the transformation of lives and the formation of vital communities of faith that transcend race, nationality, and social status. He knows that each time he preaches the good news of Jesus Christ the Spirit of the coming kingdom is made manifest. And he knows that when the gospel is received in faith, lives are changed, people are reborn, churches are created, and the charismata distributed. When confronted by the decision of the Galatian believers to submit themselves to Torah, Paul’s strongest rejoinder was appeal to the gift of the Holy Spirit: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:2).

The gospel is more than a human word, more than a transfer of information. It is truly God’s Word, the Word which spoke the world into being, the Word proclaimed by the prophets, the Word enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth. And because it is his Word, it is his power. The gospel of Christ pulsates with the recreative energy of the Spirit. In 1st Thessalonians Paul rejoices in the faith of the Thessalonians and notes the special character of the message that generated their faith: “for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:4). The kerygma unleashes the power of God because it trumpets Jesus Christ, “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4).

The gospel is God’s effective power active in the world of men to bring about deliverance from His wrath in the final judgment and reinstatement in that glory of God which was lost through sin—that is, an eschatological salvation which reflects its splendour back into the present of those who are to share it. … The gospel is this by virtue of its content, its subject, Jesus Christ. It is He Himself who is its effectiveness. His work was God’s decisive act for men’s salvation, and in the gospel, in the message of which He is the content, He presents Himself to men as it were clothed in the efficacy of His saving work. (C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, I:89)

“The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God” (The 2nd Helvetic Confession). I do not often quote Protestant confessions, but here Orthodox and Catholics have much to learn from the Reformation. The preaching of Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ present in grace, love, and transformative energy. Frank Matera describes the evangelical proclamation as “an apocalyptic event.” It reveals the righteousness of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Apart from the proclamation of the gospel,” Matera explains, “this saving righteousness is hidden. For how else can one ‘see’ the saving righteousness of God in what the world perceives as a crucified criminal? How else can one see God’s covenant loyalty in the shameful death of a crucified man, apart from the gospel? Thus the preaching of the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. The preaching of the gospel discloses God’s eternal purpose for Gentile and Jew. The preaching of the gospel reveals how God has justified and reconciled humanity to himself. The preaching of the gospel assures the reconciled and justified of the salvation that awaits them and the entire cosmos at the resurrection of the dead” (Romans, p. 38).

The preaching of the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Εὐαγγέλιον! Every Sunday every preacher needs to ask himself, Am I preaching good news?

(Go to “Dikaiosyne Theou”)

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13 Responses to Ruminating Romans: Proclaiming the Gospel

  1. Rob says:

    Jesus said that the words he spoke were ‘Spirit and Life’ the creative power of the Spirit is actually carried on the proclamation of the gospel. When the word is received the creative act takes place and the recipient becomes a new creation.

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  2. john burnett says:

    Just responding to your last paragraph: Actually i’m afraid i think most preaching is pretty deadly, and often rather wrong (penal substitutionary atonement, with a heavy emphasis on guilt), and that we delude ourselves to think that ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God’. Much of the time, it drives people away, or puts them to sleep, or gives them bad ideas.

    You ask, ‘how else can one ‘see’ the saving righteousness of God in what the world perceives as a crucified criminal? How else can one see God’s covenant loyalty in the shameful death of a crucified man, apart from the gospel?’ Well, the question should be, rather, how do we see God’s covenant loyalty in a crucifixion at all? And, in any given sermon, does the preacher actually show that?

    As you do actually point out, the good news is not the cross but the resurrection— for without that, the cross would have been just another judicial murder brought about by corrupt priests and an occupying army. The light of the resurrection shines back on the cross and shows it to be the position that God took in the world— and so must they, who follow him. But preaching these days is often a bit problematic, not least because the cross is often separated from the resurrection, ‘salvation’ is defined in terms of guilt and ‘substitution’, and it’s something you get only when you die!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, do you find the preaching as bad as you describe in the Orthodox parishes that you attend?

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      • john burnett says:

        generally pretty bad, although we don’t do the penal substitution theory and don’t emphasize guilt so much. But orthodox preachers are usually pretty ignorant of scripture. They might know something about what the fathers said about the scripture, but that’s not the same thing.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As one of my seminary New Testament professors liked to say, “Read the Bible. It throws so much light on the commentaries.” 🙂

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  4. Edward says:

    Just a question Father Aidan. In the Cranfield quotation above, he states that “The gospel is God’s effective power active in the world of men to bring about deliverance from His wrath in the final judgment….” Sounds like he is saying that Christ’s work of salvation saves us from God. Aren’t we then back to the old God of justice/God of mercy dichotomy? Man has sinned and incurred God’s wrath. Hence, God must punish man. On the other hand, God loves man and wants to save him from His own wrath. So, he sends His only begotten Son to take on human flesh and to die on the cross, thereby somehow appeasing the wrath of God. This makes it seem as though God needs to be reconciled to us rather than we to God. It is also inchoherent, for it implies that God is at once both the problem and the solution; both man’s enemy and man’s friend. It hardly qualfies as “good news.”

    Ed

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Ed, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you to be patient. We have a long way to go in the epistle, and Paul does refer to the divine wrath several times in the epistle, e.g., “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9; cf. 1 Thess 1:10). And I haven’t read far enough ahead in Cranfield’s commentary to know how he handles the wrath and judgment passages in Romans. So just hang in there, guy. 🙂

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  5. Edward says:

    Sorry Father Aidan. I hadn’t realized that in your post entitled “God as Abba: A Mini-Reflection on God’s Love and Judgment”, you attempted to deal with the question I had above. While we’re at it, I think that contributors to eclectic orthodoxy might enjoy the following look at our redemption in Christ from a Catholic point of view:
    http://newapologetics.com/the-redemption-series-part-i-finding-our-way-out

    Ed

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  6. Edward says:

    Father Aidan,
    Sorry for jumping the gun. I will be patient as you ask.
    God bless,
    Ed

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