- The Lotus Sutra as Good News: A Christian Reading 1
Christian Reading of Non-Christian Works
For Christians, the good news (the gospel) is, first and most fundamentally, a set of events: God’s loving creation of all things; his calling, or election, of a particular people to bear a covenanted relation with him; his incarnation, death, and resurrection; and the salvation of humanity wrought thereby. I’ll call this the fundamental good news. Second, and derivatively, the good news is any witness to these events, any reflection or description or commendation of them in words or actions. Not all such witnesses are equally comprehensive and explicit. Some may present only a part of the fundamental good news: God’s love, say, or some truths about the human condition that comport well with or are required by the fundamental good news. And such parts may be presented directly and explicitly; or largely implicitly, veiled by allusion and metaphor; or even entirely implicitly, present only in what is not said. I’ll call all such witnesses, no matter the degree of their comprehensiveness and explicitness, examples of derivative good news.
For us Christians, the Bible is the paradigm or archetype of derivative good news. There, for us, is found the supremely authoritative literary record of God’s acts for us and our responses to them. And in that literary record are the four gospels, which are also instances of derivative good news, but which bear the title ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ (evangelism) and are derivative good news in an even more special sense than is the Bible as a whole. This is because they contain an explicit record of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whose presence in the world was, is, and will be the pivotal event in God’s relations with human beings. The Bible as a whole is, for Christians, a work whose central topics are God’s acts and God’s relations to us, and it is uniquely authoritative on those topics. It is not itself the fundamental good news, nor the only witness to or literary presentation of the fundamental good news, nor a fully comprehensive and explicit witness to the fundamental good news; but it is uniquely authoritative for Christians as a witness and presentation to this fundamental good news. Christian understandings of the fundamental good news are therefore always formed in conversation with it, and are self-consciously constrained by what it says. It frames and constrains all other Christian instances of derivative good news, but is not itself framed or constrained [End Page 3] by them: this is its syntactic function in the formation of a properly Christian account of things.
This, obviously, is a specifically Christian view of what the good news is, of what the phrase ‘good news/gospel’ means. The claims made in the preceding paragraph are part of the grammar of Christian faith, enshrined in doctrine, liturgy, and practice. The gospel book may be lifted and kissed before being read to the community of the faithful; the sign of the cross may be made on forehead, lips, and heart before the gospel’s words are read, to signify the purification of understanding, speech, and emotion required before the words of the good news can be heard, and to prepare for the sanctification of the person that is ideally consequent upon their hearing. Thinking and doing such things is part of what it means to be Christian, much as bowing upon meeting is part of what it means to be Japanese. I am a Christian, so this view of the good news is mine. It is the place from which I begin in thinking about the good news. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous, or worse.
But this Christian view of what the good news is does not entail, nor even suggest, that derivative good news is found nowhere but in the Bible. The claim that God is related lovingly to all human persons is part of the grammar of Christian faith: the state of affairs it describes is part of the fundamental good news. It suggests that evidences of God’s love ought...