What is the gospel? DeYoung and Gilbert describe two perspectives, both correct, the difference of which they compare to viewing through a wide-angle lens versus a zoom lens. In the former, “the gospel of the kingdom,” all the blessings of the kingdom of God are in view. In the latter, “the gospel of the cross,” the focus is narrowed to the cross and its immediate vicinity. Concerning these perspectives, three points are made:
First, there is only one gospel, not two. . . . There is only one gospel—one message of good news—but the New Testament writers seem to have no problem zooming in and out on that one message, sometimes looking at the whole thing and calling it “gospel,” and other times zooming in particularly on forgiveness through Christ and calling that “gospel,” too.
Second, the gospel of the kingdom necessarily includes the gospel of the cross. You cannot proclaim the “full gospel” if you leave out the message of the cross, even if you talk for an hour about all the other blessings God has in store for the redeemed. To do that would be like picking up an armful of leaves and insisting that you’re holding a tree. Unless those leaves are connected to the trunk, you don’t have a tree; you just have an armful of dead leaves. In the same way, unless the blessings of the gospel of the kingdom are connected to the cross, you don’t have a gospel at all. Take a look again at those passages from Matthew and Mark where Jesus preaches the arrival of the kingdom. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Jesus never preaches simply, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He always preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” or, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand; therefore repent and believe the gospel.” That is a crucial thing to keep in mind; indeed it is the difference between preaching the gospel and preaching something that is not the gospel at all. To proclaim the inauguration of the kingdom and all the other blessings of God without telling people how they may become partakers of those blessings is to preach a nongospel. Indeed it is to preach an antigospel— bad news—because you’re simply explaining wonderful things that your sinful hearers will never have the opportunity to be a part of. The gospel of the kingdom—the broad sense of “gospel”—therefore, is not merely the proclamation of the kingdom. It is the proclamation of the kingdom together with the proclamation that people may enter it by repentance and faith in Christ. Perhaps, in fact, it would be more accurate (though clunky) to speak of the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom through the cross. And that leads to another point.
Third, and more specifically, the gospel of the cross is the fountainhead of the gospel of the kingdom. It is the gate through which all the blessings of the kingdom are to be gained. The fact repeated over and over again throughout the New Testament is that the only way a person can become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom is by coming in faith and repentance to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus for salvation. To put it in terms of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a person can’t simply jump the wall and partake of the blessings of the kingdom; you have to go through the Wicket Gate of faith and repentance, or the blessings of the kingdom will be closed to you.
Incidentally, that’s why it makes perfect sense for the New Testament writers to call the gospel of the cross “the gospel,” even as they go on calling the whole complex of good news “the gospel” as well. Because the broader blessings of the gospel are attained only by means of forgiveness through the cross, and because those broader blessings are attained infallibly by means of forgiveness through the cross, it’s entirely appropriate and makes perfect sense for the New Testament writers to call forgiveness through the cross—the fountainhead of and gateway to all the rest—“the gospel.” That’s also why we never see the New Testament calling any other single promise of God to the redeemed “the gospel.” For example, we never see the promise of the new creation called “the gospel.” Nor do we see reconciliation between humans called “the gospel.” But we do see reconciliation between man and God called “the gospel” precisely because it is the one blessing that leads to all the rest.
—Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 107–109.
Whichever view we are taking at the moment, keeping the cross our central focus should be sufficient to keep us from slipping off into a social or political gospel.