The word gospel in English comes from two words "good" and "spell" that have been abbreviated into one word. "Spell" is an ancient word from the Latin that is carried over into our English in words like "spelling" or "spellbinder" etc . . . It has to do basically with letters of the alphabet or the composition of those letters into words to form a story or to record the news. So good spell means "good news" and those two words abbreviated form gospel which means "good news."
I am amazed at the number of Christians who forget that the gospel is something you tell, not something you do. A quick test: Think of the gospel as you know it --- now tell it without asking anyone to "do" anything. Can you?
I am afraid that the good news for many evangelicals has been tainted. An evangelist is a reporter of the good news, not a producer of the good news. You can't add or subtract from the good news --- all you can do is proclaim it.
Just exactly what is the good news?
I propose that the good news, the gospel itself, is the ATONEMENT of Jesus Christ.
The word "atonement" is used many times in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament: in Romans 5:11 -- that is, in the King James Version. It is a theological word with a rather unusual etymology.
Most of the terms or words used to describe Scriptural doctrines in the English language are words which have been derived either from the Greek or from the Latin. But that is not true for the word "atonement." It was invented by English or Anglo-Saxon translators of the Bible to translate the Greek (katallege) and Hebrew (kaphar) words that have no English equivalent.
In English "atonement" is a noun formed by two small words: "at" and "one." The word "atonement" suggests, therefore, a making one out of that which had been divided, or a dwelling together of two people once at odds.
One of the basic ideas of the Hebrew and Greek words for "atonement" is that of covering. The atonement is that which covers or hides. "Atonement" represents a debt which is paid, and thus "covered." One might illustrate this idea by speaking of a debt at a bank. If a person is unable to make payment on the debt which he owes to the bank, and if a friend volunteers to pay this debt for him, then that debt is covered and the man is free from all obligation. Such is the idea of atonement.
The word "atonement" as a theological term treats the relationship which exists between God and man.
The word suggests, in the first place, that there is a unity or oneness between God and man -- an "at-one-ment" because of the person and work of Christ.
Secondly, however, the word implies that there once was something which divided God and man. That something was the sin of man in which he walked in rebellion against God.
Thirdly, atonement points to the way God found to unite Himself to sinful man, by means of a payment which removes the guilt of sin.
Finally, there is implied in the word "atonement" a consciousness within a person that the evil which formerly divided has now been removed.
The good news is simply the death of Christ on behalf of sinners.
In our modern day we can talk about religion, love for God, the love of God, and all other subjects without persecution, but once you start proclaiming the good news the demons of hell are unleashed.
My prayer is that evangelical Christians, including Southern Baptists, will not fall into the trap of emphasizing man made rituals or traditions, and will stay focused on our job of reporting the good news --- it is the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe.
In His Grace,