N.T. Wright: What Is The Gospel?

A number of my recent posts have been exploring what we mean by “the gospel”. The following video is from an interview with N.T. Wright (from November last year) on that very topic: “What Is The Gospel?”

Specifically, he addresses the following questions:

  • Why do we need to ask the question “what is the gospel”?
  • What is the gospel according to the gospels?
  • If you only had a couple of minutes, how would you communicate the gospel with someone?
  • Do we need to talk about repentance when we present the gospel?
  • Why do you emphasize the importance of talking about Jesus’ life, as well as his death, when presenting the gospel?
  • Is the gospel of Paul different to the gospel of Jesus?
  • What would your advice be to a young evangelist?

Here’s a transcription of what I think is an insightful look at repentance as it relates to the gospel (from 5:05).

When Jesus says “Repent and believe in the good news” towards the beginning of his ministry in Mark chapter 1, there’s almost an exact parallel to that in the Jewish writer, Josephus. He talks about a time when he went to Galilee in the 60’s of the first century and he said to one of the brigand leaders, “Repent and believe in me!” What Josephus was saying was, “Give up your way of doing stuff…I’ve got a better idea…Come with me!” That’s what those words sounded like in Galilee in the first century! When Jesus told people to repent, he didn’t mean “Have some kind of sad religious experience.” He meant “You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to have to turn around because God is doing a new thing. If you’re going to part of that new thing, you’re going to have to give up the way you’ve been going.

What do you find helpful or puzzling in what Wright shares?



  1. sara says:

    Haven’t got headphones available to listen to Wright at this point, and the article looks like a really really useful thing to read, especially as it addresses how to communicate the gospel and what do the gospels say is the gospel (hungry to explore!). But
    I want to address the quote you included/highlighted. I realize I am lacking full context. But I’m thinking…yes, we have to “turn around because God is doing a new thing”, for sure, but…MAN, sometimes a broken heart and a contrite spirit is so beautiful (I know this is very “feelings-y”). Is Wright downplaying the “esstential-ness” of that? Because, I feel strongly about that. Why was David a man after God’s own heart? I may be remembering too much from Sunday School, but wasn’t his contrition when he screwed up central to that “favour” or was it just favour for favour’s sake because “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” and that’s what God does (MAYBE). I know I’m asking questions and not giving answers but I think CONTRITION is so important…as a starting point, repentance need not be a “sad” religious experience (just according to that part of the Wright quote). It can be joyous, Can be the “ashes” from which beauty rises, the death that begets life.
    Contrition: (from wikipedia) (from the Latin contritus ‘ground to pieces’, i.e. crushed by guilt) is sincere and complete remorse for sins one has committed. And there’s just something about that sincerity. The “widows mite” factor of the gift giving/surrendering to God of all that we are .
    And then I love this too “Psalm 51 (1-12):
    “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
    Also, there’s the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke, 18:9-13), and again in the story of the prodigal (Luke, 15:11-32): “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son”.

    Anyway, I feel close to God (again “feel” is maybe not what we’re looking for, but whatever, I feel…) when I know how small I am before him, and then I want him to set my feet upon a rock and turn from my prior ways and be made new over and over. But I’ll look at the whole article……

    (also, as a mom, sometimes I really love not just “turning from wicked ways” in my children, but also their acknowledgment of “that was the wrong way, that was hurtful, that was a sad thing that I did”. I don’t want their SHAME, I don’t believe we are called to a self-hating, loathing shame that says “I suck!! because “they who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame”!” but we are called to a true healthy conviction of guilt in actions (though sometimes we really can do wrong things only out of ignorance)…I like repentance in that it is a sort of “perspective-taking” of what I’ve done–are my actions loving? worthy of the calling I have received? worthy of the love lavished on me? Who I AM is not bad, but what I have done–the sin, the “not-best” way–has fallen so, SO SHORT of who YOU made me to be, because You make beautiful things and You made me, but what I have done…well, for that which I’ve done that was wrong, I’m so so sorry”).

    1. Stephen says:

      Great thoughts Sara…and I agree with your concern. There is often a sense of sadness when we realize we’ve been going the wrong way. I think that, as we continue with God, we’ll only find more and more in our lives that needs to be sorted out and there’s often sadness associated with that (often sadness in increasing measure). However, I think the point that Wright is making (which is more clear with more context) is that the gospel isn’t simply about the message vs. changing our ways. The former calls for the latter. Essentially, I think he’s saying that repentance is different than just a sad religious experience…it’s about life change.

  2. sara says:

    “he’s saying that repentance is different than just a sad religious experience…it’s about life change”. I agree. Sounds right. Repentance is “more” than just a sad religious experience (and if it’s sad, then that is not “sad” in a hopeless way…it a hopeful sort of sad). I’m seeing a common thread here…faith without works, repentance without change….(we need to put some verbage in/with the nouns—oh “faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine” -Rich Mullins…I think inspiration without transformation is a bit of a delusion. And we all fall. SO if someone gives me a cheque for 100,000 (limited analogy), then i’m gonna do something with the money. And there’s the rub…how now do I then live/think/be…and how much I need the empowering presence of God…His grace…and the questions just keep coming!

    1. Stephen says:

      I actually chose the phrase “different than” instead of “more than” in regards to “a sad religious experience” because I’m hesitant to make “sad” a necessary part of repentance. Must repentance always be sad? I don’t know…but I believe repentance does mean a change in direction. What do you think?

  3. sara says:

    hmmmm….yeah, I think repentance does have to be sad…I guess we have to agree on what “sad” means…but that’s sort of what I was saying about contrition…let me think about it.

  4. sara says:

    “i don’t think repentance always needs sadness because we might have been going the wrong way in ignorance rather than intentional rebellion” = agree. Sadness can aid repentance, and contrition is still a beautiful thing when it leads to joy after we dust off the dirt of being in the pig pen feeding husks (prodigal). Sadness may or may not be an emotion accompanying repentance. This is probably what I think is true for now, or at least it’s what I think I think.

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