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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Four Aspects of the Gospel (Concluding Thoughts)

The gospel is that:
  • The kingdom of God is replacing the kingdom of the world in Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ brings peace (shālōm) to those with faith.
  • Our sins can be forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works of the Law.
  • God has fulfilled his promise to Israel's fathers through Jesus Christ.
What might we learn from this?  Here are a few ideas.

1. We can select our gospel emphasis according to our audience.  After all, that's what the apostles and New Testament authors did.  We can look at these four aspects of the gospel as a palette from which we may choose the most effective and compelling way to communicate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ tailored to the specific needs and longings of those who hear.  That also means that if in a given gospel-presentation we do not mention one or more of these aspects, we do not have to feel ashamed that we have failed to proclaim the gospel.  (If that were true, then a number of the New Testament authors are in a heap of trouble.)  However . . .

2. One predominant gospel emphasis to the neglect of the others tends toward heresy.  In Francis Schaeffer's pamphlet about the charismatic movement, The New Super-Spirituality (1972), he points out that when part of the entire sphere of Christian doctrine is unstressed by the church, then a movement inevitably arises to correct the church, but it frequently overstresses the part that has been neglected as if it is the most important part or even the only part that matters.  Then that movement becomes a heresy not because it teaches what is false of itself, but because it blows that part totally out of proportion to the whole, which then does lead to false doctrine.  Meanwhile, the rest of Christians who had been neglecting that part now intentionally avoid it even more, because they don't want to be anything like those crazy heretics, but that actually makes their teaching even less biblical because it is less complete.  So in Schaeffer's words, "Satan fishes equally on both sides and he wins on both sides" (p. 28).

The same thing can happen within the segment of Christian doctrine called the gospel.  Among Protestants at any rate, theological conservatives/evangelicals have tended to stress Aspect #3 heavily.  In fact there is currently a gospel-obsessed movement that contains many adherents who are highly skeptical of any teacher or church that does not repeat #3 as often as possible, using the right words to do so.  Liberals on the other hand have stressed #2 and to a lesser extent #1 with the so-called "Social Gospel," though they have often twisted those aspects by emphasizing human efforts to achieve peace and the kingdom instead of the work that Christ has already done to achieve these things.  But in either case, I'd like to suggest that even if one's articulation of the gospel according to one of these aspects could not be more doctrinally pure, if one makes that aspect The One That Really Matters, heresy is just down the road.

3. An articulation of the gospel in which Jesus Christ is not central is no gospel.  Our biblical investigation here ought to make that apparent.

(By the way, sorry I haven't written with my previous frequency lately.  Things have been crazy.  Hopefully I'll be able to ramp it up a little soon.)

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