I propose that at the center of New Testament Theology, descriptively, lies the gospel about Jesus.
This means that though the gospel message is expressed differently among the NT authors or even is not mentioned by name in some books, it is the controlling narrative or central notion of all of the books in the New Testament. Here’s how it looks:
- The four gospels are the gospel of the early church in biographical format.
- Acts is a summary of how the apostles spread the gospel of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, Acts contains several sermons that follow the same outline as the four gospels (despite how weird John is).
- The epistles and the apocalypse are all, in some way, a call to show fidelity to the message of Jesus and his apostles.
This has several advantages:
- It connects the documents of the New Testament not only my their internal themes, but by the purpose of the collection itself.
- Instead of making a theme like Christology, Theology Proper, God’s glory, wisdom, or even discipleship itself central, it makes the message preached by the early church central (regardless of the individual expressions of foci of various authors).
- It can be demonstrated with ease that the gospel functions conceptually in most books of the New Testament as: revelatory, salvific, the common confession of the church, and a a structure and source for ethics. Thus it holds together several other emphases of the New Testament.
- Even books that do not utilize the word “gospel” refer to the word of life, the word preached, the word of Christ, the word of God, or the word of truth, as the source for the group identity or of the individual Christian experience.
- Rhetorical and conceptual moves made by Paul and other authors can be seen as moves meant to express, clarify, apply, or defend the gospel (or the apostleship of Paul…which means defending the gospel). Thus, we do not have to assume a fundamental contradiction between James’ view of the Christian life as a life of wisdom and Paul’s view of the Christian life as being “in Christ.” Both are true ways of expressing the truth of the gospel. Both might even be true beyond metaphor and rhetoric, but ontologically, but this isn’t the place for that discussion.
- If we take the gospel story as it is expressed in the gospels as primary then we do not have to look for idiosyncratic themes in some of Paul’s letters (justification by faith alone) as though they are central to all of New Testament thinking.
I am writing, when time allows, a longer essay on this topic, but these are my thoughts.