What is “News” and What Makes it “Good”?
A proper understanding of the Gospel requires that we return to its original meaning of good news in its proper context. N. T. Wright thus argues that the Gospel is simply good news. News is not a self-help program or a cleverly made up tale to make us feel good. The Gospel is news of a historical event that is so significant and so wonderful that we must share it with others. But what makes news significant and why is it good? Wright tells a number of stories to demonstrate how news works. He then uses them to highlight how the Gospel functions as news.
Wright begins his book with an illustration. Imagine a man comes running into a cafe and approaches a complete stranger telling him that he has wonderful news. What could it be? Wright considers three possibilities. Maybe a father has news of a new treatment that will save his daughter from cancer. This is great news but why is he telling a stranger? Maybe a sports fan has news that the home town team has just beat their long time rival. This may be good news to sports fans but what if the stranger is from the rival town? Lastly, maybe the news is that a massive mineral reserve has just been discovered and this means new jobs for an economically depressed region.
Wright uses these illustrations to points out three ways “news” functions over time: past, present and future.
1. News only makes sense in the context of a shared past story. We see this in all the examples above. The news of the mineral reserve has its significance because of the past history of the region being economically depressed. The news of the home town team winning a game has its special meaning given the past history of games with the rival team. The news of the cancer treatment gets its particular significance given my past relationship to the dying girl. We need to understand the background story to appreciate the true significance of the news.
The positive aspect of news also depends on its context. The degree of “goodness” of the news depends on the degree of “badness” in the background story. The excitement of our team beating their rival pales in comparison to the news about a new treatment for our daughter’s cancer because the thought of our daughter’s death is so much worse than our team losing once again. Great news in the present implies a great dilemma in the past.
Another aspect of good news is the degree we share in the dilemma of the background story. The excitement of the news about the new treatment for cancer depends greatly on how closely we are related to the dying girl. If the girl is my daughter, my family or my friend, then the excitement is immeasurable. If the girl lives in my town or my country or half-way around the world, then the news is decreasingly exciting as my relationship with her decreases. Thus, we could easily imagine someone getting more excited about a win of the hometown team then the life of an unknown girl in a distant town. The degree we share in the background dilemma makes a big difference over how exciting we perceive the news.
2. Wright points out that truly good news, news like the Gospel, changes the way we live now. In the story above, where my little daughter is dying of cancer, the news of the miracle treatment will radically change the lives of my family and friends. My daughter will not die and we will see her grow up to live a full and happy life. In the story of the discovery of a mineral reserve, this news will transform the lives of the community as new hope replaces the despair of long term economic depression. One test of the “goodness” of news can be found in how much it changes our life.
3. A third point Wright makes about good news is that it ushers in a time of transition from the old reality to the new. In the story of the new cancer treatment, my daughter is not better immediately. Treatment must be arranged and administrated. It may take time but the hope is that my daughter will soon be better. Similarly, in the tale of the new mineral discovery, the town is not immediately prosperous. Legal matters must be settled. Land must be surveyed. Businesses must be started. The future may look bright, but prosperity has not arrived just yet. The goods news marks the beginning of a new era, but we have not yet seen its promise. Much time and hard work may be in store before everything is put to right.