In recent times, the definition of the gospel has been reconsidered, and I think that this is, in short, pointless. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. One benefit from this reconsideration is that it caused us all to really identify and articulate what we meant by “gospel” and critically think through the issues. That’s gotta count for something right? More specifically, popular writers, such as Tom Wright, have advanced the notion that we’ve understood the gospel wrongly–through a Lutheran lens rather than through the more accurate biblical lens–and that the gospel is simply “the narrative proclamation of King Jesus” (N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 45). Nothing more, nothing less. It does not, consequently, refer to a method by which one gets saved, he states.
So far this is consistent with Paul’s explanation of the gospel from 1 Cor 15:3-8, in which he outlines that Christ died according to the Scriptures, he was raised on the third day, appeared to his disciples, at one point to 500 people, and lastly to the Apostle Paul himself. There is nothing in this immediate context about a call to repentance or such. But the New Testament reports a variety of ways in which evangelists proclaimed the gospel. Peter (in Acts 3) calls for repentance in the middle of his sermon while expositing the gospel to his audience (cf. Acts 3:19). Philip preaches the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, and he responds by getting baptized (Acts 8:35-39). Paul also preached the gospel and explained the necessity of “the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38). In short, I think Wright splits unnecessary hairs about the definition of gospel, and the response to the gospel (to repent, be forgiven, and be baptized) is just as intrinsically necessary as the actual content of Jesus’ ministry.
With that in mind, here’s the gospel: Jesus came and lived a perfect life to die for our sins, as a substitution on our behalf. Then, in accordance with Old Testament prophecy, he resurrected from the dead (thereby proving he is God), and appeared to his disciples for about a month and a half, then ascended to heaven, where one day he’ll come back for his followers. Our response to this should be to accept the validity and truthfulness of this historical event, confess our sins, admit that Jesus died for our sins, repent from our sins (i.e., turn away from them), and live the rest of our lives serving, loving, and enjoying the Savior of our souls. That, my friends, is the essence of the gospel.