Good News, Not Good Advice
The central thesis of N. T. Wright’s book, Simply Good News, is that the Gospel is good news, not good advice. Our understanding of good news depends on the context it is given: its back story. Wright claims that our misunderstanding of the Gospel stems primarily from hearing it within the wrong context. We hear the Gospel within the narrative of how we get into Heaven and avoid Hell. In this story, the Gospel becomes the key to whether or not we go to Heaven. After hearing the good news of what Jesus did on the cross for our sins, we should accept him into our heart so we will be able to go to heaven. Since the alternative is going to Hell, anyone in their right mind should take this good advise of accepting the Gospel (whether or not they are truly grateful). While this sounds familiar and proper within Evangelical Christian circles, Wright points out the inconvenient truth that this back story is not found in the Bible. This is not how Jesus and Paul understood the Gospel. Protestants have always prided themselves on their insistence that Scripture trumps tradition. Yet, ironically, many Evangelicals cling to their traditional understanding of the Gospel rather than looking once again to the Scriptures to see what it teaches about the Gospel.
Being a popular work, Simply Good News, does not get into the more complicated question of why this misunderstanding has come about. Christians United! would argue that the Enlightenment Compromise and the consequent privatization of the Christian faith has been driving the misunderstanding of the Gospel. Christians have compromised their faith by serving two masters. Serving our public secular master required that we remove Christianity from the public realm and redefine it as a private personal faith. Thus, the Gospel was no longer understood as public news that demanded the attention of the whole nation but as a private message of personal advise. (We have no idea if Wright would be sympathetic with this view. Being an academic, I don’t imagine he would readily give us his opinion without a two thousand page book to back up his argument). Understood in this light, the misconstrual of the Gospel is not an isolated misreading of the Scriptures but part of a larger participation in idolatry. Its correction is thus not a matter of fine-tuning our theology but a necessary step in a larger act of repentance.