I wonder if people debating Gospel issues sometimes miss each other because they use different senses of the word “issue.” In fact, that seems almost certain.
People sometimes call something a Gospel issue. Such statements seem to mean that the Gospel implies or perhaps requires adherence to some activity or belief. Probably the most common claim is that social justice is a Gospel issue.
I know these discussions have a lot of depth to them. So here I do not want to directly engage them but work to define the phrase Gospel issue. In my view, some debates around this slogan become mired in confusion because two sides privilege different senses of the words Gospel and issue.
Defining the Issue
In the first place, the phrase Gospel issue by definition can mean something that flows out of the Gospel—issues forth. Issue can mean the result of some action. While somewhat pedantic, I think this definition of issue works better than the alternative: issue as meaning topic or subject.
The difference is this. The first definition of Gospel issue speaks about beliefs and activities that flow from the Gospel. It means the Gospel is for all of life, but it does not define all of life as the Gospel. The second definition basically implies that any issue called a Gospel issue is included in the Gospel.
I wonder if people debating Gospel issues sometimes miss each other because they use different senses of the word issue. In fact, that seems almost certain.
Defining the Gospel
In Scripture, the Gospel or Good News means a message preached (e.g., Acts 15:7; 1 Cor 15:1–4) or an entire Gospel Book. Each Gospel book takes the title The Gospel according to Matthew or Mark or Luke or John. They are not Gospels—but each the Gospel according to so and so.
As a whole, early Christians meant the Gospel books when they said the Gospel. This is because that is what they are titled. And the first words in the Gospel according to Mark are: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). It is hard to be plainer than that. Whatever is in Mark is the Gospel—beginning with John preparing the way for Jesus.
When the Good News of Jesus is preached in Acts, Peter for example includes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). That is to say, the message of the Gospel can be as simple as “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31) or as lengthy as reading the four accounts of the one Gospel.