Friday, April 09, 2010

Ok seriously, what is the Gospel?

Because if it's this (and I'll argue to my death that it is), then it has to be a whole lot more specific than this. And the fact that so many haven't come to grips with that fact is one reason this is so true.


Bruce said...

It seems to me that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is able to describe the gospel in such a way that includes objective historical facts (Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, post-res appearances), individual response and results (faith, forgiveness of sins, resurrection) and eschatological victory (kingdom, destruction of enemies including death).

By all means, let's be clear about the distinctions between the announcement and the response and results. But perhaps we could get some clarity and agreement if asked another question along with "What is the gospel?" Try this: "What is to be proclaimed?"

Now look at Luke 24:45-49--
45 Then he [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

What is to be proclaimed? Certainly Jesus' death and resurrection in accordance with the Scriptures, but also response (repentance) and results (forgiveness of sins). If we ask only "What is the gospel?" we get stuck on what is it that saves you, that accomplishes salvation. That is a valid question and a critical issue. If we also ask, "What is to be proclaimed?" we can rightly include all the good news that Christ's death and resurrection really is for those who believe.

It would be very sad for the gospel-centered crowd (among whom I would be glad to be numbered) to be divided between those who so emphasize the center of the gospel (justification through penal substitutionary atonement) that they are perceived to ignore the rest, and those who are trying to see that same center-of-the-of-gospel in its rightful context of all that it truly is.

I think that your link to Tchividjian/Smith is indicative of the latter. As regards the former, I hope Gilbert defends the centrality of justification through penal substitutionary atonement without losing the context. I pray that we all can stay faithful far longer than the shelf-life of any buzzword or banner.

d4v34x said...

I can't see the actual content at the CR link, but I was just thinking the other day about ways the gospel-centered "thing" could go awry. In ways I think it has to go that way. There simply will be people who latch on to it buzzword style without embracing the transforming dynamic at its heart. Isn't this our age old struggle to treasure and preserve and transmit the pure faith?

brian said...

Another helpful distinction might be between the means and the ends of the gospel. The good news includes both the means and the ends (propitiation and reconciliation, justification and glorification, etc.). Thus, you can have a book by Piper called "God Is the Gospel". On one level, that's true. The greatest end of the plan of redemption is that we be with God, glorifying him forever. Yet when a 5 year old says, "I want to go to heaven to be with Jesus," we do well to question whether he or she knows the gospel. You can't be with Jesus apart from knowing and internalizing the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ.

What is of first importance is the means (substitutionary sacrifice and resurrection of Christ which demands repentance and faith). In other words, as Bruce put it, that is what we must proclaim. However, I would add, more and more I wonder if "of first importance" does not necessarily imply "greatest reality".

Could it be that first importance suggests first in order, not first in place? Election is to adoption. Justification is to glorification. And all of that is to the praise of his glorious grace.

In summary, we haven't BEGUN to preach the gospel until we've proclaimed what is of first importance (means). But we also haven't FULLY preached the gospel until we've proclaimed where the great story is going (ends). I think that's where Tullian is coming from when he calls it the gospel. However, Gilbert is right to point out what is primary. If we lose that, we've lost it all.

Ben said...


I agree. Good summary. I haven't seen GG's book yet, but I'm suspecting I will in a few days. My strong suspicion is that it embraces the full context.

Ben said...

Whatever precisely is "of first importance" in 1 Cor 15, it's clearly set in the context of receiving, standing, holding fast, and believing effectually. And that's where the notion that we can talk about the gospel without talking about a response is nonsense.

PJ Tibayan said...

Didn't Tullian write a blurb for Greg's book? Why blurb it and then post Scotty Smith without a clear and explicit statement of the cross/resurrection?

Ben said...

Haven't seen it, PJ, but it wouldn't be surprising to me. I have no doubt that both he and Smith believe the gospel and agree with Gilbert's expression of it.

I've been wondering lately whether the greatest danger to the gospel today isn't false things being said about it (McLaren), but rather true things being said out of order. By that I mean, central issues moving to the periphery, and (relatively) peripheral issues moving to the center. And, of course, some true, central things not being said at all.

Kent Brandenburg said...


At least I have caught your point on the worst way to abuse the gospel, that being to put in a "peripheral" place. You seem to know when someone has made it peripheral. I might have different criteria for what it is to make the gospel peripheral.

Could it mean not living the gospel? Paul talks about that in Titus.

Could it mean acknowledging the gospel but living like an atheist?

Could it mean not preaching the gospel, because of fear or love for the world?

The gospel is a message written in Words by God, so if we undermine the authority of Scripture, I believe, we threaten the gospel.

I think by what you write that you would assume that someone makes the gospel peripheral because he doesn't make it his number one blog topic.

As I look at Scripture, someone hasn't really cared about the gospel, I don't think, if he doesn't separate over it. Our church does. We confront people who preach a false gospel, try to help them come to a true one, and then separate from them if they won't.

And then we should be preaching the gospel all the time, which our church has to hundreds of thousands in perhaps the least evangelized area of the United States.

Anonymous said...


Your final link makes a good point. However, I don't think that your first two reveal any real differences. Not sure why you do.

Smith's bullet points say:

first -- . . . through the person and work of Jesus . . .

second -- . . . through the person and work of his Son, Jesus . . .

third -- . . . Jesus, the second Adam, servant-Savior and loving Lord, is redeeming . . .

fourth -- . . . God’s contra-conditional love for an ill-deserving people, and for his beloved and broken creation-a story which has Jesus as its hero . . .

fifth -- . . . It has a lyric to be known (theology), a music to be loved (doxology) and a dance to be learned (mission)

sixth -- . . . through the person and work of his Son, Jesus . . .

These statements clearly indicate that the gospel is the person and work of Christ responded to by people who are hopeless on their own.

I don't see how that's at root different from Gilbert's: "Even though we are sinners, and we have rebelled against a righteous God, yet God loved us and sent his son Jesus to live and die and rise in our place, to take the penalty of our sins on himself and pay it, to take the wrath of God on his own body and exhaust it. And, now he calls us to believe on him and repent of our sins so that we can be saved. And, the upshot of that is that once we do that we are called into Jesus Christ's Kingdom and we are called to live the kind of life that will glorify him . . ."

Of course I see that Gilbert spells out the details of "Christ's work" in his bit more than Scotty does in his. But, Scotty would not disagree with those details. No one can, nor need, say everything every time.

Again, the bit in your third link about "gospel centered" becoming a misguided, and ultimately empty, secret handshake among a little subculture is a good point.

But, one could argue a strong case that Jack Miller through Scotty Smith, Tim Keller, and a few of their friends and contemporaries, are the originators of the "gospel-centered" lingo. And, their very deliberate intent in using that language was/is to make the point that the gospel is for all of life and all of redemption -- not just for initial conversion, not just (but not less than) for "saving souls."


Anonymous said...

The word "gospel" is a touchstone refering to what a person(s) statement is as an assumption of truth. "What is to be proclaimed?" penal substitution!? Nay. For the theory of penal substitution, even tho a concept, is a concept that is not perfectable by any man's death. For it is this oath of God that has prevented the concept of penal substitution from being perfected.

"And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from EACH man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man."

What must be proclaimed is the fact that each man to save himself must give an account directly to God regarding the life of Jesus having been taken by bloodshed. The "gospel" of penal substitution never adresses God's set purpose for each man. Therefore the "gospel" of penal substitution is entirely false.