Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Implications of the Gospel

Apparently there are quite a few folks, even in the evangelical world, who cannot agree on a basic understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So let's take a look at the debate concerning the gospel.

In January of this year, an article by Tim Keel, pastor of Jacob's Well in Kansas City, Missouri, was published in Leadership Journal (a publication of Christianity Today) that was titled, "An Efficient Gospel?".  He argues that modernism has "reduced" the gospel into a set of propositions, and that our understanding of the gospel is too small.  Keel believes that many evangelicals see Jesus only as Redeemer and tend to downplay or "miss" that He is Creator as well.  He contends for a more Kingdom-minded approach to the gospel.  Although apparently well-intentioned, it seems that Keel is misguided in trying to expand the meaning of the gospel.

The Spring 2008 issue of Leadership Journal brought an article by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York City, titled "The Gospel in All Its Forms."  Keller argues that there is only one gospel, but that it can be communicated in various forms.  While I generally agree with Keller's premise and conclusions (and completely agree that there is only one gospel), I would have encouraged a different word than "forms."  To me, as if my opinion meant anything, those are not different forms of the gospel he refers to in the article.  This may be a mere semantic difference, but to me it is an important one.  To say there are different forms of the gospel in Scripture could sound confusing to a nonbeliever (and perhaps to some believers).  The idea of four primary gospel components, such as God-sin-Christ-response, or God-man-Christ-faith, or creation-fall-redemption-restoration, comprise the same form of the gospel.  They are simply different angles from which to view the one form of the one gospel message.  That said, I commend his article.

In April, Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, delivered a message at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky, titled, "Improving the Gospel."  Dever, in part, responds to Keel, and is correct in confronting those who want to expand on what they consider a "reduction" of the gospel.  While few conservative evangelicals will disagree with the tenets of his message, many would probably find it difficult to take things as far as Dever does (like, for example, his illustration of his own unwillingness to offer advice on how a biblical worldview could inform a governmental official's question, based on the belief that it's not his job as a preacher of the gospel).  Mark is a friend (okay maybe only on Facebook, but I have spent a little time with him), and I think I know his heart.  But let's just say that Mark likes to stir the pot every now and then—and he would agree (he says of this conference message that he was "deliberately provocative and deliberately slightly overstated").  Maybe we need some issue-raising pot stirring every now and then.

Here you can see Ed Stetzer interviewing Mark Dever, and at one point they specifically discuss Dever's message referenced above.  Part 1 is certainly interesting, but Part 2 which is embedded here speaks to the discussion at hand, from about 3 minutes, 40 seconds through about 8:20.

Others have stepped into the fray as well, and it is a worthy discussion.  The truth of the gospel is at stake and it is worth fighting for.  But it begins with a question that Tim Keel said a camp director asked years ago: "If someone were to ask you what the gospel is, what would you say?"

In answering that question, many today are including the implications of the gospel—like caring for the poor and hungry—in their answer.  While it is absolutely true that we should right the wrongs in society and think more Kingdom minded, we must remember that personal accountability before God for one's sins ultimately comes down to that person's repentance and faith in response to Christ's death and resurrection.  Caring about societal problems is vastly important, but that care should flow from a person's (and collectively the community of faith's) response to the gospel.  It is the result of living in the gospel, having believed it.

So brothers and sisters, go live the gospel!