Review of You Need a Better Gospel: Reclaiming the Good New of Participation with Christ by Klyne R.

October 27, 2023

Snodgrass, Klyne R. You Need a Better Gospel: Reclaiming the Good News of Participation with Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022, pp. 174, $24, paperback.  

better-gospel

The author is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at North Park Theological Seminary. He posits two chief problems facing ministers in today’s America: “our society has little interest in a gospel, and the church has failed miserably to do justice to its own message” (p. 2). Snodgrass maintains that the church desperately needs to recover its own gospel, what he calls “a better gospel,” a gospel better than simply a ticket to heaven when you die. Here is the author’s short explanation of the gospel:

God is for us and loves us, and God intends to have a people, a “family.” Even when people ignore God, go their own way, and do what is wrong, God will still have a people. God grieves over the world, filled as it is with suffering, sin, and evil. That God is for us is demonstrated—revealed—powerfully through Jesus, the promised Deliverer. In Jesus, God identified with human suffering and evil, confronted sin, demonstrated how humans should live, in his own being took on our sin and dealt with it, and gave his life for us, demonstrating just how much God is for us. God is the God who creates life in the midst of death. Jesus’s resurrection is the good news. With Jesus’s death and resurrection God has defeated both death and evil, offers forgiveness, and engages us with meaningful action. God gives his transforming, life-creating Spirit to us to give life and purpose now, to create a community of Spirit-endowed people who reflect God’s character and purposes in the world, and to give hope of ongoing life with God in a new earth and a new heaven. In a real sense the gospel calls us into being and into life engaged with God. This is a gospel of participation and power, good news indeed. (p. 6)

His goal is to show that this gospel of participation pervades the Scriptures, through both God’s participation with us as seen in his love for us, the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the giving of his Spirit, and our “participating in the life of Christ and of God through the Spirit and being transformed by the participation” (p. 20, italics original). By our “participation” he does not mean “becoming God.” The distinction between Creator and creature remains. Rather it is expressed by terms such as being “bound with/ attached to/united with/incorporated into” Christ and his body the Church.

Snodgrass wonders why this focus has been lost, since it was stressed throughout church history by Christian thinkers. He points out Old Testament texts that speak of “clinging to the Lord” and “being attached to the Lord” as well as the texts’ emphasis on being bound to God in covenant and participating in God’s mission. He highlights the Synoptic emphases of the kingly reign of God for and with his people through the ministry of Jesus, and Jesus’ call to discipleship to renounce an ego-centered life and be attached to Jesus. Participation language fills John’s Gospel and First John. The author notes the importance of John’s repeated verb “to remain/abide in” and the theological stress on our participation in the life of the Trinity.  Snodgrass argues that Acts reveals participation by its stress on the interplay of God’s actions and human response.

Over two chapters the author discusses Paul’s letters with the twofold question: How does salvation work and for what purpose? Focusing on four texts, 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:4; Ephesians 2:4-10; Romans 6:1-14; and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, he shows how Paul repeatedly stresses the two-way participation, God’s participation in Christ by the Spirit with us and our participating by faith and life with him. The author especially points to the Pauline language that we died and were raised with Christ. What happened to Christ happened to us. “How does salvation work? By participation, both the participation of God in Christ with us and our participation with Christ in baptism and life” (p. 141). Because we are “in Christ,” caught up into the force-field of Christ, there can be no separation of salvation from ethics. The Christian life flows from participation. Snodgrass also draws attention to Hebrews 3:14; 1 Peter 2:4-5, 24; 4:13; and especially 2 Peter 1:3-4, “partakers of divine nature” which he understands as focusing on the present moral life. He affirms the traditional saying that “He became what we are that we might become what he is” (p. 162). Snodgrass concludes by stressing how churches today desperately need to reclaim the gospel of participation.

By way of evaluation, I thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant writing of Snodgrass. I found the volume quite moving and inspiring. Where is it decreed that biblical studies must be written in a boring way? He does a good job of bringing together into one discussion the many biblical texts that speak of participation and rightly stresses that the participation moves in both directions, God through Christ in the Spirit toward us and we attached to him by faith. In this respect I thought he could have emphasized more that both directions of the participation are maintained not in a direct fashion but mediated by the Word, as Jesus says in John 15:4-7, “Remain in me, and I in you . . . . If you remain in me, and my words remain in you.”

The author’s survey of texts raised for me some questions for further pursuit. Given the frequency of participation language in Pauline texts, when does Paul speak of Christ dying outside of us and for us and when does he say that we died with Christ? The former strikes me as non-participatory on our part. Is there any internal logic with each type of discourse?[1] Snodgrass properly stresses throughout the Christian’s active living with God. While that is true, there are also many texts that speak of “faith” as passive receiving of God’s gracious gift such as the forgiveness of sin. How do these two types of discourse relate?

Snodgrass has written a superb study that highlights the prominent biblical emphasis on participation, both the Lord with us and we with the Lord. Christians need to reclaim the biblical gospel in all its richness, good news from God that is much “better” than merely a ticket to heaven when you die. I highly recommend his edifying and enriching book.

Paul R. Raabe

Grand Canyon University

 

[1] For an attempt to address this question, see Paul R. Raabe, “Who Died on the Cross? A Study in Romans and Galatians,” Concordia Journal 23 (1997): 201-212.

 

 

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