7 reasons to study the gospels (or why Paul isn’t enough)

We, as evangelicals, love Paul. We love doctrines and justification and theology, and Paul provides a clear map of the theological landscape. The gospels on the other hand… well, we like it when Jesus takes out the Pharisees, walks on water… but what’s with all the parables? Or with the Sermon on the Mount? And how exactly do we apply the stories of Jesus to our lives?

When it comes to doctrinal formulation, we often prefer Paul to the gospels. Yet, here are seven reasons why Paul is not enough:

(1) The centrality of the gospels – The gospels have been central to the church and God’s people throughout the centuries. The prayers, the language, have all been from the gospels. Only recently in evangelicalism has Paul become so central.

(2) Different discourses of truth – Propositional doctrine is important and necessary (as in Paul), but it is not the only way. Narrative truth is also important and necessary, and in fact, is the way God has chosen to communicate the most! It’s like different kinds of maps: topographical maps, road maps, property line maps, etc… None of them contradict, but compliment each other. They are all different discourses of truth. So the Bible is a like a book of maps. It communicates truth, through a variety of maps.

(3) Paul presupposes the story of Jesus – The story of Jesus forms the basis of what the apostles go on to preach. We cannot truly understand the doctrines that Paul is teaching without understanding the gospels.

(4) The Jesus traditions are the oldest – They are certainly older than the epistles. The earliest writings are the epistles, but the gospels are a much earlier oral tradition.

(5) Encountering the risen Jesus in the text of the gospels – Encountering Jesus in the flesh makes us realize that we can’t always categorize reality into neat little boxes. As important as doctrinal statements are (and they are important), they are not the same as encountering a Jesus that is still alive and present with us.

(6) We are story people – In the fabric of our being, story is how we make sense of life. Stories are crucial to who we are. They can create life and hope and vision in us that abstract propositions cannot. When Jesus tells stories of two men that go to pray, the Pharisee and the tax collector: this is more powerful than the summary we can make of it (i.e.: “God forgives humble sinners”). This is not to pit propositional truth against narrative truth. Both are needed.

(7) We get a direct sense of the Bible’s story line – Through the Gospels we understand the flow of history, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

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