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What is the gospel?

During Theological Happy Hour this Friday, February 9th, [at Dog Haus Biergarten in Old Town Pasadena] we’ll be discussing “What is the Gospel?"

Everyone is encouraged to meditate on this question before coming.

Below are some answers from two important Christian thinkers, Irenaeus of Lyon and Athansius, Bishop of Alexandria. I (Jon) have included a few bible verses and sometimes a brief explanation of meditation (the commentary from another document). Further below are some link to some prominent Christian influencers in our time.

Irenæus of Lyon


1. Salvation as incarnation • recapitulation • restoration of the imago dei


“Nevertheless, when he was enfleshed and became a human being, he summed up in himself the long history of the human race and so furnished us with salvation in a short and summary way, to the end that what we had lost in Adam (namely, to be after the image and the likeness of God) we might recover in Christ Jesus.”

- Ireanæus



“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:18


This quote from Irenaeus provides the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of salvation. Christ saved us through “recapitulation,” by becoming human and living an obedient that life that summed up human history. Christ’s life of obedience recovers what was lost through Adam’s disobedience and restores humanity to the image of God. Thus to be saved is be restored to the image of God.




“So, then, since the Lord redeemed us by his own blood, and gave his soul for our souls, and his flesh for our bodies, and poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God and man—bringing God down to men by [the working of] the Spirit, and again raising man to God by his incarnation—and by his coming firmly and truly giving us incorruption, by our communion with God, all the teachings of the heretics are destroyed.”

- Ireanæus


Irenaeus demonstrates how the Father, Son, and Spirit work together to bring about salvation. The Son raises humanity by becoming human and he purchases us with his blood on the cross. The Spirit of the Father brings God down to us and unites us with the divine—which ultimately results in divinization and glorification. Thus our entire being is made incorruptible and immortal through union with God.





“Redeeming us by his blood in accordance with his reasonable nature, he gave himself a ransom for those who had been led into captivity. Since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and when we belonged by nature to God Almighty had unnaturally alienated us, God's Word, mighty in all things, [reclaimed us], making us his own disciples. Not failing in his quality of justice, he acted justly against the apostasy itself, not redeeming his own from it by force, although it at the beginning had merely tyrannized over us, greedily seizing the things that were not its own, but by persuasion, as it is fitting for God to receive what he wishes by gentleness and not by force. So neither was the standard of what is just infringed nor did the ancient creation of God perish.”




Irenaeus describes the work of Christ on the cross as a ransom that rescued us from the “apostasy” and united us to God. This way of speaking about the cross is commonly known as the Christus Victor theory of atonement. Interestingly, Irenaeus does not name Satan, but is content to call him (or it) the “apostasy.” Also noteworthy is how Irenaeus interprets the cross as understood as a demonstration of God’s gentleness.





1. Recreation • Forgiveness • Reconciliation• Filling


“For being Word of the Father, and above all, he alone of natural fitness was both able to re-create everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.”


“For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, although he was not far from us before. For no part of creation is left void of him: he has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with his own Father.”


- Athanasius


“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Ephesians 1:22-23


First, Athanasius condenses three beautiful metaphors of salvation into a single sentence:

o   Recreation: Christ re-creates—redeeming all things

o   Forgiveness: Christ suffers on behalf of the entire world

o   Reconciliation: Christ is our ambassador who reconciles us to the Father


Secondly, he reminds us that as we meditate on the wondrous results of the incarnation, we must not forget that Christ has at all times filled all things everywhere while at the same time remaining with the Father.


Christ fills all things.



2. Deification • Theosis • Divinization


“For he was made man [lit: humanized] that we might be made God [lit. divinized]; and he manifested himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.




“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

 1 John 3:2

Theosis is the central metaphor of salvation in the Eastern Church.



Different Views of the Gospel from Contemporary Thinkers

Below are links to four different views of the gospel.


1.     John Piper- Reformed Baptist (short article)



2.     Tim Keller- Reformed Presbyterian (video, 5 minutes)



3.     N.T. Wright- Scholar and retired Anglican Bishop (video, 13 minutes)



4.     Scot McKnight- Scholar and Anglican Deacon (video, 7 minutes)