How do we read a Gospel as Scripture?
By “Gospel” I mean the literary genre itself. A Gospel announces good news and our canonical Gospels locate this good news in Jesus, particularly his ministry, death and resurrection.
It has been common for modern readers to think of the Gospels as primarily or fundamentally history or even biography. When read through this lens our response is to believe the facts or to believe the story. We confess it; we acknowledge it; we recite it. As confessors of the story, the church has sometimes reduced it to a history lesson. These are the facts we believe. Or, we might reduce the story to a list of creedal statements.
There is certainly nothing improper about believing the story or even acknowledging the facts which the narrative asserts. The problem is when we think of this as the only or even primary purpose of the Gospels themselves.
In this mode of reading, the Gospels are preambles to Christian living. They are the evidence of Jesus and once we believe the evidence and become Christians, then we move on to the Epistle or the rest of the New Testament to find out what it means to be Christian or how to live as Christians. The Gospels, then, are functionally evidentiary; they are practically, if not solely, apologetic tools. In this construal, they tell the story we believe but not the story we live.
I think the Gospels are much more than that.
The function of the Gospels is not merely to tell the story like a witness in a courtroom, but more like a storyteller who draws the hearer into the drama itself. The Gospels invite us to participate in the story of Jesus and not simply believe it. They call us to follow Jesus and not simply believe in him as an artifact of history.
The Gospels are not fundamentally histories but narratives. They are historical, to be sure, but they are more appropriately regarded as stories that project a world in which we are invited to live. The Gospels invite us to live out the story of Jesus in our own lives.
We follow Jesus into the water. We follow him into the wilderness. We follow him into ministry–to the tables of the marginalized, to the sick and diseased, to the broken and hurting. We follow him to the cross and die with him daily. And, one day, we will follow him into glory where our mortal bodies will be transformed into the likeness of his resurrected body.
The story of Jesus is our story. The Gospels are our narratives. They are not historical artifacts or pieces of mere evidentiary history. They are the story of our lives as disciples of Jesus.