Is the story of Israel integral to the gospel?
This is an important question, particularly as it relates to the biblical gospel and to evangelism. Fortunately, biblical theology gives us a very clear answer to the question. In short, YES!
Israel’s story is essential to the biblical gospel. Nevertheless, this answer is perhaps less than self-evident to many people if judged by the place (or absence) of Israel’s story in most tracts and gospel presentations.
For example, the C2C Story is a popular evangelism tool used by many cross-cultural workers. While the approach makes use of a storying method, there are serious problems with the story, especially concerning the role of Israel in the biblical storyline. C2C makes no mention of the nation of Israel and implies that the 10 commandments and the OT sacrifices were given to humanity in general rather than Israel in particular. The story has room for the fall of evil angels, but omits the exodus.
More could be said about other omissions in C2C (no mention of Abraham, the covenants, or David; only a passing reference to the resurrection, etc.), but this post is focusing only on Israel’s story. And C2C is but one example among many in which Israel is either neglected or ignored.
This brings us back to the main question – is Israel’s story important to the gospel? There are no less than fours reasons why the answer must be in the affirmative.
1. The story of Israel is important in the Bible.
First, the story of Israel is central to the biblical message. Proportionately speaking, Israel’s story makes up the bulk of the Christian canon. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, we must affirm that God inspired the biblical authors to pen a vast amount of material concerning the story of Israel.
If God saw this story as important, we must also hold it as important. Ignoring Israel’s story is like cutting out the main part of a book’s plot. We dare not do so with God’s book.
2. Jesus’s story is incomprehensible without Israel’s story.
Second, and related to the first point, the story of Jesus cannot be rightly understood apart from the story of Israel. Jesus’s story is Israel’s story. Failure to rightly appreciate the role of Israel’s story within the biblical narrative results in a deficient view of Jesus and his significance.
3. The story of Israel makes the gospel real.
By real, I mean that Israel’s story puts the gospel story in real life. The gospel message is not an abstract set of propositions, but a story, the story of the world’s true King, Israel’s Messiah, who sets the world right again. The story of Israel is the story of God’s people and his mission of restoration in and through his people. Israel’s story demonstrates God’s work in the real world, in history, with real people.
4. Israel’s story shows the corporate nature of the gospel.
Finally, Israel’s story helps us to avoid the individualistic bent of many gospel presentations. Much gospelizing involves telling people God is angry with them and that they are going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Believing results in assurance that they will go to heaven when they die. The result of this is often viewing salvation as a ticket to heaven with nothing further needed.
Indeed, if the gospel is just “me and my personal relationship with Jesus”, there is little, if any, need for the church. The story of Israel helps correct this misunderstanding by showing God’s actions to rescue and restore his people. Just as the rescue from Egypt was the rescue of a nation, so redemption in Christ is the restoration of King Jesus’s people.
More could be said, but these brief points clearly show that Israel’s story is ignored to the detriment of biblical gospelizing. In future posts, we will look at some specific examples of Israel’s story in the NT gospel.