Why do We have Gospels?
For some the “Gospels” are a puzzle or problem. The first “Gospel” sermon was Pentecost. The Gospel is “You’re a sinner but God loves you. Receive Jesus as Lord & Savior. Pray.” Everything is focused on a moment of decision: The “born-again” experience. The Gospels seem like preamble or back-story. Acts has conversion moments, but also long teaching.
Pagans and Jews were brought into new life, not by a minimal formula, but by encountering Jesus in stories told by teachers – God shining in our hearts in the face of Jesus.
Our Gospels reflect a process, the experience of the first generations of believers. During Jesus’ ministry, and especially after his crucifixion they told about Jesus. To remember and understand for themselves and explain to others – teaching, celebration. They discovered people transformed by the vision of God and his Kingdom in these stories.
The NT embodies this process: Jesus whole ministry happens, death (end), resurrection (reverse)! Telling the story (Acts), transformation and community (Letters). Telling the story again (Gospels). The Gospels are the voice of the whole community who had lives transformed by these accounts and told them a thousand times. What’s not here: authors, authorities & documentation. No biographical curiosity: appearance, childhood.
Four Gospels have two basic patterns Mark (with Matthew & Luke) and John. All recount situations in Jesus’ ministry but focus on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Books of Encounter with Jesus, God’s Kingdom, and God
The Gospels all have elements of history, biography, colorful narration, & useful wisdom, but exact narration isn’t what they’re about. (Mt & Lk change events and wording in Mark.)
The Gospels were written for all of us outside the experience of Jesus’ first disciples. They help us at a distance to experience something of the fascination and delight Jesus brought to followers, but also the disorientation and challenge. The devastation of his crucifixion and explosion of his resurrection. His teaching is seen in the light of it all. They guide us to a complex, transforming encounter with Jesus for ourselves: Learners.
God shines through Jesus’ face in four Gospels – diverse, unranked. We each have to read, learn, see Jesus for ourselves together – both individual and community. Jesus is the event of God, experienced anew, interpreted, powerful, transforming in every culture. God uses these narratives in an unending disciple-making process. We participate with others.