Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Wheat-Gospel and the Weed-Gospel

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Jesus proclaimed a good news of salvation that evoked great joy, but later a perverted form of it evolved and spread along with it. It was actually a threat of terror that evoked great fear. No more did it give joy, love and peace, but it spread anxiety, fear, anger, and enmity. Instead of bringing heaven on earth, it brought hell on earth. Let us see how it happened.  

Jesus’ Gospel
Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It was about our world becoming the kingdom of God. Right now it is the kingdom of Satan, and if we choose to reject Satan’s rule, and accept God’s rule, our world will become God’s Kingdom. Jesus asserted that God alone is holy/good/just, which helps us to be convinced that it is human to err. With this conviction, it becomes easy for us to admit our mistakes and seek forgiveness and also to forgive others. Jesus also taught us that God is like a father to us, and He loves us unconditionally. Such awareness of God’s love helps us to return such love to God and also to love one another. With such convictions about God about ourselves, our world gets transformed into the kingdom of God.  
 This is a great news that can be applied in the life of individuals and societies and in the life of the entire world. It is up to us to convert our world into a heaven-like one filled with love, joy and peace. Our world can become a great big family united by love. All we need to make it happen is to repent -- have a different mindset.
This is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus, out of which evolved the early Christianity, which was a very powerful civilizing movement. Out of all the books in the New Testament, the first epistle of John presents the gospel of Jesus most clearly (1:5-10). The sermon on the mount (Mt 5-7) also presents Jesus’ gospel. The Lord’s prayer, taught by Jesus gives us a very clear picture of Jesus’ gospel. The kauma, the earliest liturgy in the Syriac tradition, also presents Jesus’ gospel clearly.   

The Gospel gets perverted
The idea of God’s Kingdom was further elaborated with more details. It was believed that God would send a new king to replace Satan. The new king was referred to as the Messiah or Christos. It was believed that as soon as the messiah came, there would be a judgment, and Satan and all those who supported Satan would be burned in hellfire, and a brand new world would be inaugurated. This belief, which was literally understood, created a lot of anxiety and fear in people, for there was a possibility for anyone to be classified along with Satan as sinners. This made them fearful of the imminent judgment and the judge himself. They earnestly wished and prayed to spare them on the judgment day. Thus with this belief, God became their enemy instead of Satan.
When Jesus travelled around with the good news of the Kingdom of God, the primary concern of people was whether they would enter the kingdom. Some of them approached Jesus with such a question: what do I do to enter the kingdom of God? Or, what do I do to gain eternal life? Whether they would have a place in the imminent kingdom was the primary concern of most of the people of that time.
In the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus taught, the primary request is to deliver from the evil one, Satan. Satan is ruling the world, which is the cause of all of our problems. So what we need is to be delivered from the rule of Satan, and to be placed in God’s rule. But with the above-mentioned belief about the imminent judgment, God became the enemy, and our need was to be delivered from the judgment of God. God is sitting there ready to cast us to the hellfire, with a long list of all the sins we have ever committed. Thus God as the loving father gave way to God as a wrathful judge.
So the salvation we need is not from Satan, but from the wrath of God. Jesus was presented as the savior who saves us from the wrath of God. Jesus takes upon himself the capital punishment of death so that we can be spared from God’s wrath.  
Jesus himself never proclaimed this perverted gospel. He only presented God as our loving father with unconditional love, and asked us to turn away from the rule of Satan and accept the rule of God. He taught that such a conscious choice would make a radical shift in our life, which was exemplified in the story of the prodigal son.

Original Gospel
Perverted Gospel
What is salvation
Our well-being with right relationship with God and fellow beings
Escape God’s judgment and get to heaven after death
Who gives salvation?
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice
Who needs salvation?
We, the children of God
We, the children of Satan, sinners by birth
From what?
Satan’s rule
God’s wrath
Role of Jesus
Replace Satan as ruler
Protect us from God’s wrath
What do we need to do?
Reject Satan and accept God
Hide behind Jesus
Believe Jesus’ sacrifice
Judge and Judgment
The Old Testament asserts that God is the judge, and the judgment belongs to God, which means that God alone can do the right judgment, for God alone has sufficient knowledge to do so. Our knowledge is partial, so we cannot make the correct judgment. It was based on this understanding that Jesus advised us not to judge others. In the story of the prodigal son, the older son expects his father to make a judgment about which son was right and which one was wrong. However, when he sees that the father does not judge, he himself makes the judgment.
The idea of a final judgment occurs in the Zoroastrian religion, which probably comes to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We may assume that this idea was originally employed as a scare tactic. Whoever used this idea hoped that people can be scared to behave well. In the pages of the New Testament, we see the Pharisees believing in the final judgment. They believed that the messiah would have the Jews on the right side, and gentiles on the left. Some Pharisees affirmed that only those Jews who strictly follow the rules would be safe on the judgment day. We see John the Baptist also using this tactic. He says that just as a farmer would burn the fruitless trees in his garden, God would get rid of all the evil doers from the world. He hoped that people would start bearing fruits in their life fearing the final judgment. He asserted that only those people who do good in their daily life would be safe.
Jesus is also presented as having similar belief about the final judgment. However, Jesus never presented it as the primary problem. The primary problem for him was the rule of Satan, and his primary activity was to overthrow that rule. It is possible that it was a part of Jesus’ teaching at the beginning, but later his focus might have shifted. It is also possible that what we read in the gospels is the view of the writers regarding Jesus, and not of Jesus himself. Jesus tries to explain in John’s Gospel that it is not God who judges, but it is we human beings who judge God. Also he clearly states that he came to the world not to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-21)
It is unlikely that Jesus or John the Baptist or the Pharisees believed in a literal judgment. It was merely a belief about what might happen in the future, and they probably might have used this belief as a scare tactic.
Let me illustrate this with an example from our everyday life. Let us imagine an intersection where vehicles frequently collide with each other, and casualties occur. People plead the police to evolve a solution. To solve this problem, the police fix some stop signs and implement very strict traffic rules. Whoever breaks the rules are heavily fined. Now people begin obeying the traffic rules fearing the fines, and the casualties lower. But the police officers are now seen as their enemies, and not as friends any more.
This is an illustration of what has happened in Christianity. The original problem was/is that people surrender themselves to Satan, and lead an evil way of life. To bring them back, their leaders used scare tactics informing them that God would punish them if they continued in their evil ways. This has made them scared of God.  
Once people get scared of God, naturally, they move away from God. They hide themselves from God’s eyes just as Adam and Eve did. Although they mechanically do the religious rituals, they hearts stay away from God like the prodigal son’s brother.
Although Christianity started as a religion of love, it has become a religion of hypocrisy and hatred. Its God is no more the father who loves unconditionally, but a God who is getting ready to cast all the sinners into hellfire. The traditional liturgy of Christianity is filled with prayers requesting God to spare us and our departed ones from the final judgment.

Jesus’ Parable  
One wonders if Jesus had this in mind when he said the famous parable of the wheat and weeds growing together in the same field (Mt. 13: 24-30). The owner of the field sowed only good seeds in his field, but at night his enemy sowed the seeds of weeds there, and both grew together. The servants wonder how the weeds appeared there, and ask permission to clean the field of the weeds, but the owner prevents them saying that if weeds are uprooted, wheat also will be uprooted along with them.  
Weeds have been in existence since the time of Jesus. Today after 2000 years, when we take a close look at the field of Christianity, what we see is not a pleasing sight. In the traditional churches-- orthodox, catholic, and protestant, weeds replaced the wheat early on, and people have either deserted the field or remained inactive. In the evangelical churches, weeds are thriving, with very little room for the wheat. Overall, there is very little wheat remaining in the field of Christianity.
The best sample of the weed Christianity is the one in Nigeria, where they try to appease the wrath of God. Bringing heaven to earth is not their concern, but they are waiting to escape to heaven when Christ comes. As a result, Nigeria has become the crime capital of the world. It has become a hell. Compare it with Almolonga, a city in Guatemala. Most of the population there believe in the father-God that Jesus proclaimed, and their goal is to bring heaven on earth. As a result, Almolonga keeps on getting closer to heaven. They don’t have jails there, and no more drunkards there. The city has become very prosperous, and it is producing all the vegetables Guatemala needs.  
We need the kind of Christianity that brings heaven down to earth, not the kind that helps people to escape from this miserable world to the heaven above after death. We need the kind of Christianity that presents God as father who loves all people unconditionally, not the kind that presents God as a judge getting ready to burn all the sinners in hellfire. We need the kind of Christianity that helps us live in this world with love, joy and peace, not the kind that makes us live here with fear, anxiety, and hatred.   

The servants in the parable could differentiate between the wheat and weeds, but for the last 2000 years the weed-gospel has been mistaken to be the wheat-gospel throughout the Christian world. Our inner eyes have been blind. If we can regain our eyesight and distinguish between the true and perverted gospels, Christianity can once again become a civilizing movement in our world.

John D. Kunnathu
Jan 17, 2019

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Evolution of the Christian Gospel

The Context
Jesus lived in a world of pain and suffering. Sunday school classes have given us the picture of a Jesus who toured in a peaceful countryside preaching and healing. However, this picture is far from the truth.
The people of Jesus' world were under foreign dominion, and they were oppressed in every possible way. They did not have freedom of religion. Their high priests were appointed by the Romans. Many patriotic people were made outlaws and were forced to live by highway robbery. We read about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices (Lk.13: 1). How cruel it was on the part of that foreign governor to slaughter the Galileans while they were doing a religious ritual in their temple! Jesus sent out the twelve with a warning that they might be arrested or killed (Mt.10: 17-30). The government authorities were always in fear of mass riots (Mt.26: 5). There were spies among the people, which is the reason why Jesus talked to the people in parables but in plain language to his disciples (Mt.13: 9-13).
In the absence of political freedom, the land’s economy deteriorated day after day. The gap between the rich and the poor was getting wider. We read in a parable of Jesus that there was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day, and at his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table (Lk.16: 19). In another parable we see a man who could not pay his dues liable to be sold into slavery along with his wife and children to clear the debt (Mt.18: 23 -34).  What a frightening situation! In another parable Jesus speaks about a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men (Lk.18: 2). From the story of Good Samaritan we assume that burglary must have been very common (Lk.10: 30). Jesus advised not to store up treasures on earth, where thieves break in and steal (Mt. 6: 19).  
Due to the political oppression and economic deterioration, the people were suffering from starvation, sickness, and mental illness. We read about a pool in Jerusalem where a great number of disabled people used to lie --the blind, the lame, the paralyzed waiting for a movement in the water to be healed (John 5: 2). We also read about mentally ill people living in tombs (Mk. 5:2). How hopeless they were!
In such a miserable situation, the religion of the land had the responsibility to rise and take the leadership and lead and guide the people like a good shepherd. However, the religion had gone blind. How could it lead the blind people? Rather than assisting the people with their life, the religion imposed even more burdens upon them. The people were like sheep without a shepherd. Many shepherds approached them claiming to show them the right way. But instead of showing them the right way to green pastures and streams, they led them to deserts and wolves. Often religious leaders proved to be wolves disguised as shepherds.
In this miserable condition, one prayer rose from the depths of their hearts: God, save us! That is all they could do!
 A Diagnosis of the Problem
The civilization that gave birth to Christianity functioned within a powerful mythological framework. In a world of kingdoms and empires, the best minds of the day equated the entire cosmos into a mighty kingdom. They managed to answer the basic questions of existence within this framework. They analyzed the existential problems,  made a diagnosis of the problems, and also proposed solutions using this framework.  Here is the myth in a nutshell:
 It was believed widely that the world is an empire, and God is its emperor. The earth, a province of this empire, has been mismanaged at the time because of the irresponsibility of the governor appointed by God to manage the earth. This governor was a responsible angel to begin with. The earth was a part of the mighty Kingdom of Heaven. In those days earth was a place of love, joy, and peace. All the inhabitants of the earth lived like a family caring for one another. Poverty and sickness were unheard of. The earth was a blessed place of plenty and prosperity.  However, later when the angel turned irresponsible, a huge wall of enmity rose between heaven and earth. Also there arose among the earthlings the walls of prejudice and hatred in the names of race, color, caste, gender, and class. Thus the earth, which was once a part of Heaven, became a hell. People were hoping that someday God would replace this governor by a responsible one. The present irresponsible governor was called Satan (rebel), and the new one was called the messiah (the appointee).
Thus Jesusworld was eagerly looking for the messiah, who was going to descend upon the earth and put an end to the terror of Satan. Some of them believed that the messiah was going to arrive directly from heaven accompanied by the angels of heaven, but some others believed that he was going to enter the earth as a human child.
According to this view there was nothing much the people could do; God had to intervene, and change the governor. But why does God take so long to act? Is there anything people can do to encourage God to act? Anxiety was mounting!
Their leaders, mainly, Pharisees, answered the questions as follows: The Kingdom of God would be established when the Jews start observing Sabbath diligently.  They supported their answer with the following reasoning: God made a covenant (agreement) with Jews, His chosen people, that God would protect them if they remain His people by obeying His commands, especially, the command to observe Sabbath.  They were under Satan's dominion because they had not been keeping Sabbath as they should.  When they all observe Sabbath diligently, God would liberate them. The Pharisees prescribed a large number of silly rules of how to observe Sabbath, such as how many feet one may walk, and how many pounds one may lift on that day.  They also classified people into righteous and sinners according to how seriously they observed these rules.  The majority of the common people, who couldn't follow the intricacy of the rules, were branded sinners by the Pharisees. 
This is the context in which John the Baptist comes to the scene. Let us say it probably happened in around AD 25. He proclaimed the good news that God was going to remove Satan, and appoint the messiah soon. He differed from the religious leaders in one major aspect. He ignored the ritualistic rules and emphasized the moral rules. He encouraged people to treat one another with respect and mercy and love. He encouraged people to come to him in River Jordan and take a ritual bath representing their decision to reject Satan and accept Messiah in their personal lives. They were asked to leave behind evil deeds and start doing good deeds.
A prophet in the line of the prophets like Hosea and Amos, who raised their voice for social justice, John asked people to be good and do good in their day-to-day life. Unlike the Pharisees, he didn't tell the people anything about observing Sabbath. He believed along with Hosea that God pleases not in sacrifices but in merciful deeds. If you have two shirts, give one to someone who doesn't have any, he told people.
In order to help the people understand his ideas better, he used the metaphor of a farmer and farm. God is like a farmer, and the world is like His farm. People are like trees and plants, and the good deeds are like fruits. God, the farmer, expects all people to be fruitful. Those people without good deeds have no place in God's farm. They will be cut down and used as firewood. The Kingdom of God as John understood consisted of only those people who do good deeds. One doesn't have to be a Jew or has to follow the rules of Sabbath to be in God's Kingdom according to John. One has to turn from evil and do good deeds.
Jesus, a younger relative of John, was excited at this. He took the ritual bath from John in River Jordan. Thus we may assume that Jesus accepted the leadership of John, and joined his movement. Before long John was arrested and beheaded. Jesus then continued the mission left behind by John. He proclaimed the same good news that God was going to remove Satan from power, and establish Gods kingdom on earth. It seems that he and his disciples continued to give the ritual bath in Jordan as John did. But soon Jesusmovement developed independently of Johns movement as it gained further clarity.
John had asked people to do good deeds in order for them to escape from messiahs judgment. It was believed that when Messiah comes, he would separate all people on his left and right, cast all on the left to the fire, and let the ones on the right to be in his kingdom. Thus God, for John, was primarily a king, who was an impartial judge, and we are like Gods subjects in his kingdom.  
Jesus realized that people cannot be forced to do good deeds. Unless people do good deeds willingly, they are merely pretending to do good deeds. No one can do good deeds just out of fear of punishment. Jesus presented a radically different view of God, and of how we may do good deeds willingly. Although God is the king of the world, God is our father, and we are Gods children. God loves us unconditionally giving rain and sunlight to all people irrespective of whether we do good or evil. God is the one who can exist without doing anything wrong, for he knows everything. We do errors in our daily life, for our knowledge is limited. Once we realize that God loves us unconditionally as our father, and that God alone is good, it makes a radical transformation in us. We love God in return. We begin to admit our mistakes and forgive our fellow beings who do mistakes. Our world gets transformed to a family in which we live together with love, joy and peace.
Thus instead of passively waiting indefinitely for God to establish His kingdom on earth, we have to actively create it in our lives.
Seeing himself as a prophet in the tradition of the great prophets like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea, Jesus communicated with the people around him very effectively. He saw the fundamental problem of human existence as blindness of the inner eye of both the common people and of the leaders. He was aware that most of the things he talked about most of the time didnt reach the minds of most of the people. Most of them didnt have the ability to distinguish between literal and metaphorical, and they couldnt distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant. He lamented like Isaiah, These people do not see even if they have eyes.
The leaders of his time thought that the huge wall of separation between heaven and earth existed because of the heavenly kings displeasure at the earthlings. The solution, as they saw, was for the people to make an attempt to please the heavenly king by being righteous and doing the right acts as prescribed by their religion and culture.  However, Jesus believed that the huge wall of separation between heaven and earth existed because of mans displeasure at the heavenly king. The king of heaven had never had any enmity at earthlings. People had enmity toward the king of heaven because of their misunderstanding that the king had had enmity toward them. This enmity toward the king of heaven also resulted in their enmity toward each other.
The solution was simple. People would have to get rid of this misunderstanding about the king of heaven. They would need to understand that the king of heaven is like a father to them, and that He loves all His children unconditionally. The king of heaven loves them even if they hate Him. Once they have this understanding firm in their mind, they would begin to love the king of heaven and their fellow beings unconditionally. Thus the wall that separates the earth and heaven would fall down, and the earth would once again become a part of heaven.
The Kingdom of God
The popular view of the Kingdom of God was the imminent Jewish empire that was going to be established by a new king (messiah) specially appointed by God. This was exciting to all, but they were concerned about who would be qualified to be in the Kingdom. Most of the religious leaders popularized the view that only those who diligently followed the religious rules and rituals such as Sabbath would be in the Kingdom. Jesus, however, claimed that meaningless observance of rules and rituals wouldnt assure entrance to the Kingdom; what is needed is a meaningful observance of the essence of the law, which he stated as Love your God and love your neighbor.  
What is law? And why is love the essence of law? God is the king of all that exists -- heaven and earth (the world). The whole world runs according to the laws of God. However, humankind is not automatically placed under Gods rule.  Being Gods children, we have the right and freedom to choose to be under Gods rule or to deny Gods rule over us. If we choose to deny Gods rule, the whole world will have to suffer its consequences. We do so out of our ignorance and immaturity. All people in the world are born as childrenignorant and immature, and we gain knowledge as we grow older and get mature. So, it is human to err. Therefore, God doesnt see us as His enemies though we suffer the consequences of our sin. Although God has no enmity to us, some of us misunderstand God and see God as our enemy.  This is like mistaking a piece of rope to a deadly snake in dim light. We will either try to flee from God or try to befriend God. We try to make God change His enmity by acting good and extra-decent. But how can we befriend someone who is already a friend? All attempts to befriend God are absolutely futile. This is what those religious leaders of Jesustime were encouraging people to do. The only sensible solution is to realize the truth that God has no enmity to us, which will help us approach God, and honestly admit that we have denied Gods rule. As we become mature and know the truth, we repent instead of trying to make God repent. When we see God loves us, we will be able to love God as well us our neighbor.
This is the gist of what Jesus preached as this writer understands it. Jesus explained it in his sermons and parables. The parables of the prodigal son and the Pharisee and tax collector make this idea crystal clear.
The Righteousness of God
Those people who see God as their enemy try to please God and change His mind by following the religious rules and by doing all sorts of good deeds. But they cannot be right in Gods eyes. Their good deeds are in vain because they are done for the wrong purpose-- to make God repent. They appear righteous in their own eyes (self-righteous), but they are really not righteous in Gods eyes. But those people who approach God without any pretension, like the prodigal son or the tax-collector, will appear righteous in Gods eyes. The tax-collector does not think God has enmity to him, nor does he have any enmity to God either. God justifies him, which means that he appears righteous in Gods eyes. The Pharisee, who justifies himself, is not justified by God; he does not appear righteous in Gods eyes.
Jesus said, Seek ye first Gods kingdom and his righteousness(Mat. 6:33!. Those who seek Gods Kingdom will seek Gods righteousness because they are one and the same. Those who are willing to submit themselves to Gods rule would be willing to know what is right in Gods eyes. They do not seek their own kingdom nor do they seek their own righteousness. This distinction between Gods righteousness and self-righteousness was stated clearly by Paul as follows: For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.Rom 10:3
Paul expands this idea in his epistles to Romans and Galatians. In order to be in Gods kingdom, one has to be righteous in Gods eyes. One can be righteous in Gods eyes by faith; not by good works or by following all the religious laws and rituals. We have to believe that God is friendly to us, and approach God, willing to submit to Gods will. We have to get reconciled with God, and become friends with God. We wont get reconciled with God if we see God as our enemy. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith unto faith (Rom 1:16-17).
We also need to realize that God alone is righteous, in the sense that God never does anything wrong. God is the only one who knows everything, so God alone can remain fully righteous. Once when someone addressed Jesus, Good Lord, Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach the great lesson that God alone is good.  This is the sense in which the angels in Isaiahs vision sing Holy! Holy! Holy! About God. If God alone is righteous, we admit that we humans err, due to our limited knowledge. If we admit so, we will be willing to seek forgiveness and forgive others.  
The Original Christian Movement
The truth, as represented by Jesus, clashed with blindness. The religious leadership joined forces with the political leadership and managed to shut the mouth of Jesus by crucifying him along with some political criminals. Blindness had a temporary victory, but the truth couldnt be buried for long. Truth continues to resurrect whenever there is someone who is willing to stand for it, though the forces of blindness join forces to shut his/her mouth again.
Born and raised in his cultural milieu, Jesus made use of the mythological framework of the messiah to communicate with the people. Although many of his listeners took it literally, Jesus took it as it really was metaphorically.  Many of them even thought that Jesus was the messiah they were looking for, and some of them encouraged Jesus to assume such a role, and save the nation from the rule of the Romans.
It seems that Jesus actualized in his person and life the mythical figure of the messiah. The messiah was, for him, a prince of peace who would establish lasting peace through non-violent means.  He would rather be killed than kill others.  He kept it a secret at the beginning lest he should be treated as a threat by Roman Empire. Later he revealed himself as the actualization of the messiah in Jerusalem, and he was immediately crucified.
We have an account of what happened after the time of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles. After a period of fear, confusion and anxiety, the disciples and friends of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, and they prayed together for guidance and strength. They gained unusual courage and also the abilities to speak in other languages and to heal the sick, which they claimed to be the gifts of the spirit of God. Peter took over the leadership. They told people that Jesus was really the messiah, sent by God to save them from the rule of Satan, but their leaders crucified him, and rejected the salvation offered by God. However, God raised him to life, and has appointed him as the messiah. He is sitting at the right hand side of God ruling the world. He will come back to make the final judgment. There is time until his return to join his side or to reject him. Their courage and the miracles they did served as the proofs of their claim.  
A lot of people believed them and joined their side. They travelled far and wide with the mission of proclaiming this news everywhere, so that people will have a chance to repent and join the side of the messiah. There were Jewish people living in most of the cities of the Roman empire and also in many places in the Persian empire. The synoptic gospels, written several decades after Jesus, were written primarily to prove that Jesus was none other than the messiah.
In spite of the courage and the good will of the leaders of the original Christian movement, it looks like they spread and watered a very simplistic belief as the cornerstone of Christianity. As a result, the religion that grew up in the name of Jesus didnt have much to do with what Jesus taught. It was more like what John the Baptist taught than what Jesus taught. It looks like they failed to understand initially the sense in which Jesus thought of himself as the messiah. That is probably why they believed and proclaimed that Jesus was going to come again as king from heaven. As a result, the movement that grew up in the name of Jesus was not firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus. Thus arose the gap between believing in the Christhood of Jesus and living a meaningful and fruitful lifethe gap between faith and doing good works. This is perhaps the context in which James, the brother of Jesus, asked this rhetorical question: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (James 2:14) He further says: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (2:26)
This disparity between faith and life is probably a major challenge the early Christian movement faced. Another challenge was the widespread and severe disappointment at the failure of Jesusreturn as the messiah as they all expected. A third challenge was an identity crisis as the growing community of Christians asked themselves who they were.  
Paul, a very educated Pharisee born out of Palestine, joined their movement. He travelled throughout the Roman empire with the Christian good news. He made an effort to understand what Jesus taught and explain it to his generation. He provided effective leadership to the Christian church in its challenges.  
New Israel
Slowly there emerged among them a new metaphor as a solution to these problems. Relating themselves to Israel, they called themselves the new Israel.  They claimed that the old Israel proved irresponsible to God, so God replaced it with the Christian church, the new Israel. Jesus was a new Moses, saving people from the captivity of Satan. Thus the Christian community saw itself as the New Israel, traveling to the Promised Land, and this became the official faith of the Christian church. The church believed that it was living in a world of sin and death. Under the leadership of Jesus, the new Moses, the church has claimed freedom from sin and death. However, as long as they are in the world, they are like the Israelites who were in the desert on their way to the land of Canaan. Their salvation began when they joined the church, they are being saved while traveling as a part of the church, and they will be fully saved when they reach the heavenly Canaan.
The Message of the Cross
However, Pauls message did not stop there.  It continued to evolve further. A covenant (agreement) was made between God and Israel at Mount Sinai with the mediation of Moses. If the people obey the laws of God, they will be righteous in Gods eyes-- that was the covenant. The contract was signed in blood by sprinkling the blood of the sacrificed oxen on the altar and on the people, which implies that neither party would break the terms of the agreement even if they had to shed their own blood (Ex. 19-24). Israel originated with this historic event. Paul relates this to the origin of the Christian Church, the new Israel. A new covenant was signed between God and the people with Jesus as the mediator. Jesus was not only the mediator but also the sacrificial lamb. Thus the new covenant was signed and the new Israel was born at Jesuscrucifixion.  If people have faith in God, they will be righteous in Gods eyesthat is the new covenant.
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." I Cor 11:25
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritancenow that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Heb 9:15
The two covenants were really not contradictory although they appeared to be. The old one asked people to obey Gods laws, but the new one asked to have faith in God. Faith is a friendly trust. The tax-collector has faith, but not the Pharisee; the prodigal son has faith, but not his older brother. Faith leads someone to surrender ones will just as the prodigal son does. Although he is a son, he surrenders himself to his father willing to be a slave. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…… through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Rom 3:21-22. The new covenant does not negate the old one; it is merely a means to that end. As Paul says: Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. Rom 3:31
With such a meaning attached to Jesuscrucifixion, it slowly occupied the central position of the Christian message displacing the original message. For the message of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. I Cor 1:18, 23
The New Creation
Paul related Jesus to Adam, the first human being, who was unwilling to submit to the will of God. Unlike Adam, Jesus, the new Adam, did surrender himself to the will of God. Thus, as a new creation, Jesus opens up a new possibility before humanity. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Cor 5:17. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I Cor 15: 47-49
The Message of the Incarnated Son of God
Paul placed his gospel within the prevalent myth of the messiah as we see in the hymn in Phil 2: 5-11
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 6Who, being in very nature of God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 8And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death
         even death on a cross!
 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
According to this hymn, the world, consisting of heaven and earth, is ruled by God from heaven. The messiah descends to the earth as a human being, and fulfills the will of God unto the point of giving up his life. Because he lowered himself so, God exalted him to the highest place in His kingdom.
According to the popular view, Messiah (Christ) was a God-sent king who would liberate Jews from the Romans, and establish a Jewish empire. The Christian church adapted this myth with significant modifications. They claimed that Jesus was the messiah. Initially many of them (including Paul) hoped that Jesus would return in the clouds to establish a kingdom, but soon it seems that most of them abandoned this claim. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written within the framework of this myth.
The myth of messiah served as a beautiful literary framework that appealed to the imagination of that generation. However, the succeeding generations mistook the colorful outer cover for the true content, and lost sight of the content.  The myth began to be understood literally, which thus became a doctrine, and it came down to us as the true faith of Christianity.
Johns gospel was written several decades after the Synoptics, probably by 80 or 90 or 100 AD. It was probably revised and edited several times before it attained the present shape. It presents the gospel of Jesus slightly differently.
Here the kingdom of God/Heaven is mentioned only a few times. It is replaced by Life/ Eternal Life. It is probably because the kingdom terminology was very much misunderstood as a political one. Eternal life is the heavenly life Adam and Eve had in Garden of Eden, represented by the tree of life as opposed to the tree of death. Jesus asked to choose the path life over the highway of destruction. It is the ideal life with perfect relationship between God and man, and among human beings. However, soon life and death began to be interpreted literally. Death became the natural death, and eternal life became endless (deathless) life.
It is repentance that gives entry to the kingdom of God in Synoptics. In John, it is a new birth that gives that entry. Repentance effects a radical change, and it is almost like a new birth.
It discusses in detail the role of the spirit of God (Holy Spirit) that would lead and guide us in our life. We also see the status of Jesus rising from being a prophet, to the messiah, to the Logos, and finally to the very throne of God. Such understanding later led to the concept of God as trinity.
Trinity and Incarnation
Although the idea of Trinity has been in existence since the beginning of Christianity, there has never been a consensus on what it really means. Its presence has led to major divisions among religions and also within Christianity. The primary bone of contention between Christianity and Islam is the idea of Trinity. Between Christianity and Judaism also it has been a major issue. The first ecumenical synod of Nicea was called to discuss Arianism, which is the question of trinity and incarnation. The council of Constantinople also discussed the issue, but failed to resolve the issue satisfactorily. The Latin western Christianity and the Greek eastern Christianity  divided on the issue of the procession of the Holy Spirit, another issue of the trinity.  Modern Christian churches like Jehovahs witnesses and several Pentecostal churches openly deny Trinity.  
A few observations may be made as follows. As God is beyond our sense perception and rational power, nothing can be observed or stated or conceived about God. Whatever we conceive or state about God can be only a belief. A belief exists only as long as there are people to believe it. A belief does not have the support of any evidences at all. A belief may be supported if it is beneficial for our well-being and growth.  
There have been attempts to explain how the belief of Trinity can be beneficial to humanity. Some people see the Trinity as a model of a perfect community in which thee separate individuals unite as one with love. But it is doubtful if the early fathers developed the idea of trinity with such a view in mind. Moreover, such a view does not explain the need of incarnation. Some others see Trinity as a possible explanation of the relationship between God and world. Accordingly, the world as a whole is seen as the incarnation of the second person of the trinity, which was born of the father, and is guided by the spirit of God. This idea explains how we exist as a part of the world as the incarnation of God, which provides meaning to our existence.
The idea of Trinity can never be an explanation of God as He is, but only an explanation of how God is seen by us in relation to our world. If we cannot show how this idea of God can be beneficial for the growth and well-being of humanity, we should humbly admit it. We need the good will to humbly explore how this idea evolved and how we may use this idea for the well-being of the humanity.
I have traced the bare outline of the development of the essential Christian message within the Biblical period. It can be followed through the succeeding centuries until our own time, and it can also be expanded with more details. It is my hope that this brief attempt of mine will encourage others to further study this compelling topic.
1. Bultmann, R. (1951). Theology of the New Testament. NY: Charles Scribners Sons. P.189