Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Is The Gospel, 2:

I am privileged to spend time every week with a couple of other pastors, just talking.  We have no agenda.  We just let the conversation go where it will.
This morning the conversation--though it entered through another portal--intersected with these thoughts on the nature of the Gospel.  My one word description of our nearly two hour conversation--pendulum.  
Let me apply that concept to my musings about the Gospel:
I grew up, spiritually, and was educated in a Fundamentalist environment.  Among other things that Fundamentalists reject is the social gospel.  "We are not called to clean up the fish pond.  We are called to catch fish."  We weren't opposed to humanitarian efforts; we just didn't get very involved in them.  The reasoning went something like this:  If I have only a limited amount of resources to invest would I rather invest those resources in helping people more be comfortable in this life, or would I rather spend them to enable people to be infinitely more comfortable for all eternity?  When put in those terms the correct answer is obvious.
In actuality, those who were actually on the front-lines doing ministry didn't make such a black and white distinction.  They tended to minister to people.  The hearts of those who carried the gospel to places where the need is great were often broken by the depth of need that they saw.  They offered whatever help they could to meet whatever needs they saw.  Clearly, though, the overwhelming emphasis was on the John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 Gospel.  Particularly from a rhetorical viewpoint, though, Fundamentalists vocally reacted against the "social gospel"--good works largely devoid of clear Bible teaching.  They saw the pendulum as being way over here, so they shoved it the other direction.  Many would say they shoved it too far.

Now some people are asking some questions.  The questions I hear tend to ask, "Is the gospel really as narrow as many have defined it?
In the recent message I shared, I identified these lines of inquiry, all of which have to do with scope of the Gospel:
  • Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
  • Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
  • Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
  • Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
  • In thinking since I shared the message I would add this one as well:  Does the presentation of the Gospel only include message of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, and the implications of Christ's saving work to the lives of those to whom I am talking?
As I think about these questions--and I think if you look herehere, and here, you can see that others are asking of these, or similar, questions--I have come to see more clearly that like most questions of balance this is complicated.

I'll leave this here for now.
I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What is the Gospel?

If you don't like this post, blame my friend.  A couple of months ago we were riding in his car and we began the discussing the definition of the Gospel.  His voice is one of many that advocates for a broader definition of the Gospel than that which has traditionally been given.  As I say, "one of."  If you peruse the web you will find many advocating that the gospel is more than 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, that it produces more than our salvation from Hell, and that it is about more than individuals being born again. I've been thinking, and reading, actually thinking more than reading--I haven't read any books on the subject.  I'm open to suggestions.

I did look at a blog that is a collection of definitions and descriptions of the gospel.  I compiled a handout from some of the entries I found there.  I figure these selections from the many entries on the blog form a good introduction to the subject.  The blog address is there.  You can dig to your heart's content.

Definitions of the Gospel—except for the first one these definitions all come from an ongoing project by Trevin Wax:

“The Good News . . . I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.  He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.  He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.  After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers.”  (The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6

“Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… [This gospel is] all of Christ the right David, how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God, are glad, sing and dance for joy.”  (William Tyndale, reformer, died 1536)

At its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, and that he has been established as Lord over all things.This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents (in Christ’s ministry) which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans, where he says what the gospel is, and then declares:“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.There you have it. The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was raised, and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.  - Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, pg. 94
The message from our Lord Himself is that Christ suffered and was raised from the dead and that remission of sins should be preached in His name to all people. That is the good news. That is the message. That is the gospel!”  - W.A. Criswell, from “The Remission of Sins” in Basic Bible Sermons on the Cross, 85.
What is the one, the changeless New Testament gospel? The first and the best answer would be to say that the whole Bible is God’s good news in all its astonishing relevance. Bible andgospel are almost alternative terms, for the major function of the Bible in all its length and breadth is to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God’s revelation recorded in Scripture.What is [the gospel]? God’s good news is Jesus.How did the apostles present Jesus? Their good news contained at least five elements.
·        The gospel events, as saving events.
·        The gospel witnesses, by which I mean the evidence to which they appealed for its authentication.
·        The gospel affirmations. (They concern not simply what he did more than nineteen centuries ago, however, but what he is today in consequence. “Jesus is Lord.”)
·        The gospel promises (what Christ now offers and indeed promises to those who come to him – a new life in the present through the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is also the guarantee of our future inheritance in heaven).
·        The gospel demands (repentance and faith – and (in public) baptism.
What is the Good News?
The good news is Jesus. And the good news about Jesus which we announce is that he died for our sins and was raised from death. In consequence he reigns as Lord and Savior at God’s right hand and has authority both to command repentance and faith, and to bestow forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit on all those who repent, believe and are baptized. And all this is according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is more than that. It is precisely what is meant by “proclaiming the kingdom of God.” For in fulfillment of Scripture God’s reign has broken into the life of men through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This reign or rule of God is exercised from the throne by Jesus, who bestows salvation and requires obedience. These are the blessing and the demand of the kingdom.
John Stott - adapted from 
Christian Mission in the Modern World
Here’s the gospel in a phrase. Because Christ died for us, those who trust in him may know that their guilt has been pardoned once and for all. What will we have to say before the bar of God’s judgment? Only one thing. Christ died in my place. That’s the gospel.  - Alistair Begg, from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter
The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.”
“Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”  - Tim Keller, from 
Christianity Today
The Gospel is “good news.” It is good news only to the degree that the bad news can be understood first.
The world is a messed-up place. It is not just our generation that is notices this, but every generation has had to deal with their share of problems. Today is not really any worse than it was 100 years ago or 1000 years ago.
The good news is that God is fixing what is broken in every generation. This is called redemption. Redemption means to “buy back” or restore to a previous condition.
God is in the process of putting his messed up creation back in order. The Gospel is the good news that that which was broken is being fixed.
But the brokenness had its genesis in us, mankind. God is different. He is perfect and demands perfection because of his character. In other words, as the Bible puts it, God is righteous. Our brokenness is due to choices that we have made. All of us have messed things up. This is called “sin.”
We have sinned through our selfishness, pride, hatred, and perversion of his creation. It is not the way it was supposed to be.
God allows us to reject him and suffer the consequences, but he also offers us hope. This hope is the Good news. It is the hope that God has not abandoned us. It is the hope for redemption.
God loves us in spite of our perversion of good. God loves us in spite of our rejection of him. … 
Michael Patton
“The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.
“When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.
“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.  - Pope Benedict XVI, from Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47. 
I welcome your involvement in the discussion.  I shared a lesson/sermon on the subject last night.  I plan to reproduce, on this blog, some of the thoughts contained in that message, but if you want to hear them before I put them here you can find the message at
See you later.