Greg Johnson, one of my pastors at Memorial Presbyterian Church, preached a great sermon on Sunday from Acts 8:4-25. He looked at the contrast of how the the Bible says that when the true Gospel was introduced to a Samaritan city "there was great joy in that city", but when a man named Simon tried to manipulate religion (and therefore manipulate God) for his own purposes he was "full of bitterness and captive to sin". Greg pointed out that "religious conservatives" often try to manipulate religion for their own purposes--whether that be for public esteem, economic prosperity, or political power (among other things). But a real application of the Gospel will bring spiritual and tangible healing, and thus will bring joy. This joy is intended not only for individuals, but also (maybe primarily?) for whole communities, for cities, for cultures. And this joy comes from the Gospel breaking through the effects of the fall: sin, spiritual oppression, false religion, sexism, racism, greed--all of which are addressed in the passage. And interestingly, in the passage, the Gospel is not summarized by a list of do's and don'ts (which it never should be), nor is it a set of theological bullet points (which can sometimes be almost legitimate), but it is simply "the Christ". In other words, the Gospel is a person; it is a connection to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.
Well anyway...Greg said it well. I should note: my ideas above are inspired by his sermon, based upon my recollection of it, which could be faulty, and therefore anything good in it I'll credit to Greg and anything bad I'll take the blame for.
Speaking of a good sermon, here is a link to the text of one by Dr. C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary, which he preached on the same day as Greg (thanks to Anthony Bradley for the link). Dr. Collins is not the best preacher at Covenant (though, he's certainly in the top 5 or 8), but he's arguably the best exegete, or interpreter of the Bible (in that category, he's probably in the top 5 or 8 in the world today). The sermon is pretty dense with ideas, but it gives a vision for what "the Gospel" means that is a little different from what is often in mind. To tip his hand: it is not sufficient to think of the Gospel as primarily interested in what happens to my soul; it is much bigger than that. This is why the critique of Christianity as an emotional crutch for a guilty conscience doesn't hold water against a true articulation or comprehension of the Gospel.
boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."