The Gospel is not mission. The Gospel is not doing good works. The Gospel is not “meeting people where they’re at.” The Gospel is not worship. The Gospel is not fellowship. The Gospel is not friendship. The Gospel is not any number of things of which we’re accustomed to speak.
Why am I writing this? The Gospel would seem to be the most easily definable idea in Christianity. And yet, in our current ecclesiastical context, it is just about the most slippery word we have. Do we mean the Gospel, like the Gospel of John or Matthew? Do we mean the redemption of sinners? Do we mean the Gospel that “breaks the curse” of poverty? (The latter is very often what it means on TV.) Even in Lutheran circles, where the euangellion (most often translated as “Gospel”) is supposed to rule, ideas such as vocation and mission are far too often included. This is a dangerous category mistake. It is perhaps the most dangerous.
It is dangerous because once concepts foreign to the heart of the euangellion are included in it, sinners can be consoled no longer. The overriding concern of the Lutheran confessors, that burdened sinners be consoled, is so easily lost that it requires constant vigilance to make sure that it does not happen.
What is the Gospel, then? It is this, and this alone: Jesus Christ lived, died, rose again, ascended, and is coming back to redeem sinners from the sin that corrupts them. Once anything else is included in the “proclamation of the Gospel,” sinners will remain in their damnation, except, as always, by the intervention of God’s grace in Christ.
Of course, even Lutherans can speak of the Gospel in “the broad sense” as the narrative of Jesus’ life (which, when proclaimed, becomes the Gospel in the “narrow sense”). This does not negate my point, but strengthens it. It only makes clear that we must be very clear what we mean when we say “Gospel,” lest the comfort of that very Gospel be vitiated.
A last point. Other things, such as vocation or mission, should not be understood as the Gospel as such, but as, perhaps, implications of the Gospel. Thus, the Gospel is preserved to the salvation of sinners.