Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, August 11, 2014

What is the gospel? #4:

The vast amount of response to these posts (bit of self-deprecating sarcasm, there) has become so great that I can't keep up anymore.  So this will be my last post on this, at least for the foreseeable future.

On the question of whether the more traditional understanding of the gospel is correct or needs to be expanded, I land firmly on both sides of the fence.  (When I speak of "traditional," I am speaking of my tradition.  To be more clear, this definition by W. A. Criswell, taken from a list in a previous post, is a fair example of what I'm speaking of.  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.))  A perusal of the list in that previous post, or a survey of the more complete list, from which I took my list will give you an idea of what I mean by an expanded meaning of the "gospel."

Over the past few days I walked with the Apostle Paul through the book of Galatians.  In doing a word search in Galatians I find 11 times that the Apostle uses the word "Gospel."  It is clear from his opening salvo, 1:6-9, that Paul is very interested in preserving the integrity of the Gospel.  N. T. Wright also recognizes that Galatians is a gospel saturated book.  His article though it is not precisely along the lines of this discussion is worth reading.

A couple of quick points that I draw from Galatians.

  • It appears that, in the sense in which he is using the word, Paul sees things in a bi-polar manner.  There is the true gospel, which he shared with the Galatians (and, I presume, with everyone else to whom he ministered) and there are all the other "heteros," "distorted," "contrary" inferior gospels, so-called.  They all suffer a basic flaw--they have no basis in reality (1:6-9, as well as the gist of the entire book).  Paul expresses amazement that they would so quickly desert the truth (1:6).  He sarcastically asks who has bewitched them (3:1).  He is perplexed (4:20).  To say the least, he regards their turn from the pure gospel that he presented as disastrous.
    We should be cautious in two directions.
    1)  We should be sure that we have an accurate, by a Biblical standard, understanding of the gospel, &
    2)  We should be wary of new definitions.
  • I take it from Acts 15, as well as the argument of Galatians, bolstered by Hebrews that the error of the Galatian heretics was adding to the gospel.
    Apparently the defining concept of the Galatian heresy was they held that those who were coming to the Lord needed to be circumcised--the par-excellence mark of Judaism--in order to be saved or to fully progress in their walk with the Lord.  Note Paul's argument in 2:3, 2:11-21 (Paul regarded this behavior he confronted as a threat to the "truth of the gospel."), 5:2-12 (It would be difficult to imagine a more graphic rejection of their position than v. 12.), & 6:12-15.
    Adding to the gospel is dangerous.
    In this regard this message, more than half a century old, by Charles Ryrie is relevant.  
  • Erring in regard to the gospel has dire consequences.  When one looks at 6:7-9 in the light of the tenor of the book & 6:12 it would seem that Paul may have had more than fleshly works in general in mind when he warned of the coming harvest.
    It doesn't take a great deal of reasoning to conclude that if one errs in regard to the foundation, the gospel, it will bring negative consequences later.
One can look in the book of Galatians for definitive statements about what constitutes the gospel.  N. T. Wright, in the article referenced above says, "4.1-7 states in one particular form the content of ‘the gospel’."  The vehemence with which Paul defends the gospel he proclaimed to the Galatians--in other places he speaks of "my gospel" (Rom. 2:16, 16:25, 2 Tim. 2:8)--would indicate that he had well-defined the gospel.  We can assume that he is consistent in his preaching.  Therefore we can look to passages like Romans 1:1-18 & 10:8-15, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 & 15:1-8, as definitive of the gospel Paul preached.  

Having said that, all of which can be construed as an argument in favor of the traditional definition of the gospel, and it is, I will now, switch to the other side--at least partly so.
I will repeat some questions I asked in my second post on this subject, and attempt to answer them based on my observations and thoughts:

  1. Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
  2. Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
  3. Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
  4. Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
  5. 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?
I begin to answer these questions, in general, with the observation that   εὐαγγέλιόν (gospel) is a word that was in wide use at the time of Christ's earthly ministry.  To assume that every mention of  gospel is 
referring to the same message is unwarranted.   The good news the angel shared with the shepherds could be different, or at least differently nuanced, from the good news defined in 1 Corinthians 15, both of which are likely different in some respects from the "eternal gospel proclaimed, or to be proclaimed, by the angel in Revelation 14:6-7.
It seems that attempts to redefine and expand the gospel often involve something like this:
"Sure it says in certain passages that the gospel is a presentation of these basic facts, the death, burial, resurrection, and need for faith in these events, for salvation.  But Jesus presentation of the gospel included healing and good works, the goal of the gospel is not a home in heaven for people, but a people of God for the Lord of heaven, the gospel is the fulcrum on which the whole story of God's plan and work pivots.  Without the gospel there would be no church, no redeemed earth, no people of God, living to the glory of God.  If we are going to define the gospel, we must include all of that."
I'm not sure, though I am open to further input.
It seems that the disagreement over the definition of the gospel is at least in part a semantic one.

Used in the sense that the word gospel was used in the popular culture--to announce victory, or the birth or ascension of a king, the good news the angel brought to the shepherds was absolutely cosmic.  It changed everything.
The central events of the gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15, not only result in the salvation of individuals, Acts 16:31, but in the formation of the church, 1 Cor. 3:16, & Titus 2:14, but the same gospel-power that saves those who trust the Lord, will someday redeem this earth, Romans 8:18-25.
Clearly the truth that makes up the gospel, if accepted by faith, results in a changed life, 2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:10, James 2:14-26, & 1 John.

So, yes, in our attempt to maintain the simplicity of gospel some of us may have pushed the pendulum too far, but if we make the gospel too complicated for someone to be able to share with a man who is about to commit suicide, Acts 16, we have pushed it too far the other way.

I'm really done at this point, but just to stay honest, I'll briefly answer the 5 questions above.

  1. Does the Gospel only result in a one-time change, or does it initiate changed life?
    Beyond any doubt one of the great errors that has promulgated by the certain sectors of evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the idea that Jesus saves people without changing them.  Yes, the gospel not only saves people from hell, it saves them to good works.
  2. Is the result of the Gospel limited to the change in an individual’s life?
  3. Is the goal of the Gospel a saved person or a redeemed church?
    #3 is not an either or, though it is clear that many of us have overemphasized the individual aspect.  Christ purchased the church with His blood, Acts 19:28.  The impact of the gospel is clearly beyond the individual.
  4. Does the message of the Gospel have any implications toward the non-human creation?
    As I said above the events which make up the gospel also will result in the redemption of this fallen world.  Just a personal concern:  While I'm not saying that gospel presentations like The Big Story are wrong, I wonder whether the move change from talking about sin to talking about a world out of balance has more to do with sin being uncool, and ecology being trendy, than with a clearer understanding of scripture.
  5. 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?
    In the sense of doing evangelism, it would appear from Paul's ministry, in particular, that together with the context that defines these facts, the answer is yes.  I mean, if one understands the implications of these facts, and exercises true faith in Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again, he will be saved.
OK, your turn.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What is the gospel, #3:

Like most New Testament words that have been infused with powerful Theological meaning the word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) was a term already in use in the First Century.  I found this blog where Glen Davis has compiled a number of ancient references of the use of the word εὐαγγέλιον in non-Christian, pre-Christian ways.  The word is used in reference to military victories, the death of an enemy, or the benefits that a human ruler brings to his land.
In the Bible one finds indication that the word is, at least part of the time, used in this general good-news sense.

  • When Luke quotes the word of the angel, in Luke 2:10, "I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people."  The verb form of the word is similar to the way a herald in the employ of an earthly leader would use it.  The angelic use of the word is not all that different than the way another announcer used it in regard to a very non-divine matter: "I’ve got good news [εὐαγγέλια ] for you!” I said to them.  “News that are so good, I want to make sure that I’m the first to announce them to you.  It’s the price of sardines, folks!  It’s the best it’s ever been since the outbreak of the war!”
    The Gospel of Sardines, :)
  • Dispensationalists have recognized this general use of the term.  Whether one agrees with their recognition of different gospels--the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of Grace, and the Eternal Gospel--it is clear that they are right from a historical viewpoint that one cannot automatically assume that every use of the word εὐαγγέλιον, or one of its other forms, means what we have come to understand as "THE GOSPEL."
  • Indeed, some of the modifiers attached to "gospel" indicate that the writers a talking about a particular gospel.  (See below)
  • The Apostle Paul, as the Theologian of the New Testament draws the clearest lines.  He gives a definitive statement of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, and sometimes refers to the message he preached as "my gospel."  Pointedly he warns about "different gospels"--which lead to condemnation rather than salvation. 

    While this list is incomplete, here are some observations about how "gospel appears in the New Testament (This is simply some notes I kept for myself.  I haven't polished them.):
    Gospel, Euangellion is found over 100 times in NT.
    “Gospel of the Kingdom”
    ·        Matt. 4:23
    ·        Matt. 9:35
    ·        Matt. 24:14, “this Gospel of the Kingdom”
    ·        Luke 16:16
    “Gospel of Jesus” (or some other title referring to Christ)
    ·        Mark 1:1
    ·        Romans 1:9
    ·        Romans 15:19
    ·        1 Cor. 9:12
    ·        2 Cor. 2:12
    ·        2 Cor. 9:13
    ·        2 Cor. 10:14
    ·        Gal. 1:7
    ·        Phil. 1:27
    ·        1 Thes. 3:2
    ·        2 Thes. 1:8
     “Gospel of God”
    ·        Mark 1:14
    ·        Romans 1:1
    ·        2 Cor. 11:7
    ·        1 Thes. 2:8,9
    ·        1 Tim. 1:11
    ·        1 Peter 4:17
    “Gospel of the grace of God”
    ·        Acts 20:24
    Gospel & Great Commission, Mark 16:15
    “My Gospel”
    ·        Romans 2:16
    ·        Romans 16:25
    ·        2 Timothy 2:8
    “Different gospel”
    ·        2 Corinthians 11:4
    ·        Galatians 1:6
    On a couple of occasions we find the words, “this Gospel.”  Does that indicate more than one gospel?  Also note Rev. 14:6 “an eternal gospel.”
    Definitive statements about what constitutes the Gospel
    Look at Acts 15:7 & backtrack to what Peter actually did preach.
    Romans 1:16, salvation
    Romans 10:16 & 11:28 indicates that the Gospel is such that it excludes, as well as includes.
    1 Cor. 15:1>>
    2 Cor. 9:13, it is something that can be confessed.
    There are other, heteros, gospels: 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6-7
    Note Gal. 1-2.  Clearly from 2:14 it is clear that Gospel includes aspects of Christian life as well as Salvation experience.
    “Gospel of your salvation” Eph. 1:13
    One effect of the Gospel is the breaking down of the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Eph. 3:6
    Hope in heaven comes through the Gospel, Col. 1:5 
    Could part of the current debate be the result of trying to take a word with general meaning, and make it more specific than it is intended to be?
    Einstein is credited with saying something like, "Everything should be made as simple as possible and not one bit simpler."
    As we try to boil Christianity down to its core that is an adage that ought to be kept in mind.

    I appreciate your thoughts.