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So what's the gospel?

About a month ago I was listening to an old podcast from Nick and Josh . It was a conversation they had with Doug Pagitt, of Solomon's Porch and emergent fame. During the interview, Pagitt is rambling on about world views and missional living and then made a comment that clicked something for me.

When someone talks about "the gospel", what is that? What is it that we're talking about? What is the good news of the gospel?

Often, especially in American evangelicalism, the gospel is simply "Jesus died for people's sins." (And, I'll confess, I think he did, and I'm real happy 'cause I'm a pretty big screw up at life sometimes.) What Pagitt said in the podcast, while talking about the old testament sacrificial system, was that it's often presented such that "sin is this cost that is charged up against us and the whole gospel is the payment of that sin." Essentially, sin is the central point of the good news of the gospel, that sin is paid for and now people are free (what Dallas Willard talks about as the gospel of 'sin management'). Pagitt goes on to suggest that perhaps the gospel isn't merely about the forgiveness of sins, but rather of our lives being integrated into the life of God, that God is always active and inviting humanity into 'full life' (perhaps one would call it 'eternal life'). He suggests that sin is, then, the disintegrative force, that which separates us from God.

Let me try putting this concisely: Is the message of 'the gospel' that "people sin, and jesus died for those sins, so we need to believe and get saved" or that "the kingdom of god (god's rule and reign, in creation, in individuals, in societies) is available and we're invited to live into that." i don't have all my thoughts ironed out, and i just tried to condense something that still fuzzy to me into a short little sentence.

So, I'm just raising some questions about salvation and the gospel...
Is sin the point? Is sin the crux of the gospel? Is the point of christianity that some perfection of the person takes place (that sin is paid for)? Is it the promise of after-life for those who believe? What did Jesus' message that 'the kingdom of God has come near' mean, really? Is Jesus' sacrificial death the atonement for sin that makes our 'integration' with God possible? Is the one a means to an end, and the other the eventual outcome of that event? Jesus certainly offered people forgiveness for sins, but he neither seemed solely concerned for sins nor had he died for those sins at that time. (And while I'm railing a little bit, I'll also point out that not once did he pray with someone 'the sinners prayer' - I'm just making an observation, there.)

I'm going to spend some time camping out on this whole idea. In the meantime, I'd welcome any thoughts or direction (or correction) folks have to offer.

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