Which Gospel? Introduction, Part 1

This series is based on a great article in Preaching Today. The author, Skye Jethani, addresses the turmoil in the modern evangelical church over how the gospel should be preached.

In most conservative, American Protestant churches the gospel has been pretty straightforward: believe in Jesus, get saved. The Churches of Christ have added “get baptized” and “repent” to the list: believe, repent, be baptized — get saved. (We usually add “hear” and “confess,” but these are really part of “believe,” right? I mean, you can’t believe without hearing and we can’t baptize you or accept you as a brother until you tell us that you believe.)

Thus, for us, the gospel has always been about getting saved — at the moment of baptism.

But in the Churches of Christ, there’s a second gospel we sometimes teach. For many, “gospel” includes all doctrinal truth. Hence, the inferences that we must appoint a plurality of elders or worship only a cappella are considered “gospel.” This is why we have publications named the Gospel Advocate, the Gospel Minutes, the Gospel Gleaner, the Gospel Gazette, the Gospel Journal, and the Gospel Preceptor — and why some of us damn as apostates those who dare infer differently from us.

I’ve dealt with this heresy several times before, such as here and here, and so won’t delve further into it.

Rather, for purposes of this series, I want to consider the redefining and broadening of the gospel going on in current evangelical literature. The importance of this should be pretty obvious. We are supposed to be all about the “gospel.” The better we understand it, the better we’ll be equipped to be about our Father’s business.

Now, there are several trends all going on at once, leaving many of us in information overload. And, quite naturally, there are those who demand that we stick with the gospel as preached in the 20th Century — it’s just believe and be saved. We might need to tweak the presentation and our methods to get people in the building to hear it, but it hasn’t changed, indeed, cannot change.

Of course, the gospel cannot change. No one really disputes that, which is why the chest-thumping over the issue is less than honest. The question isn’t whether we should change the gospel. It’s whether we’ve misunderstood it. More precisely, it’s whether we’ve understood it completely.

Let’s make a list of areas where the literature is challenging our understanding.

Gospel of creation

N. T. Wright argues in Surprised by Hope that the gospel is bigger than our souls.

(Rom 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

This and other passages point out the gospel is about the redemption of the creation — not just individuals.

Gospel of evil

In recent years, many churches, including many Churches of Christ, have preached a therapeutic gospel. The gospel will heal your marriage, your finances, your addictions, etc. And while there are great truths here, the tendency of such teaching has been to minimize sin as rebellion. Rather, sin became something to be overcome through counseling. (It’s no coincidence that many of our preachers are trained in counseling — which is a topic for another day.)

There’s now a trend back toward recognizing evil as evil, and not merely mental illness.

The younger generations — particularly those in a post-9/11 world — don’t see sin primarily as brokenness…. They see sin as active rebellion. They don’t shy away from the presence of evil in the world, and they wrestle with its reality from a gospel perspective. They want to deal with the rebellion in humanity.

The political gospel

Shane Claiborne and others [say] the [powers], our country, our economy, and other cultural forces need to be deconstructed by the gospel of Christ and not vice versa. So, here we have a category of politically subversive activism that is brewing at the edges of our conversations about the gospel.

These ideas actually go back to the seminal work of John Howard Yoder in the Politics of Jesus. And N. T. Wright has often pointed out that the gospel confession “Jesus is Lord” was necessarily subversive in First Century Rome, as the oath taken to Caesar was “Caesar is lord.” When converts became Christians, they gave their loyalty to Jesus rather than Caesar. It was not Jesus and Caesar. It was Jesus instead of Caesar — but we’ll pray for Caesar and obey the law insofar as the law doesn’t violate God’s will. These are the sorts of distinctions that get Christians killed.

Today, we sometimes urge our members to pray to God and then pledge allegiance to America. But if Jesus is Lord, then President Bush and Congress and the Governor are not. And this makes the gospel radically political.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Which Gospel? Introduction, Part 1

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    For very few is the Gospel ever more than adherence to a religious form. An agnostic friend of mine recently asked me if white middle class people just understood the gospel better than everyone else. I asked why. He said well since the church in America is so disproportionate to the surrounding secular demographics either white middle class people understand the gospel better than others or Christianity in the USA is mostly based on white middle class western culture rather than brutal concepts that affect ones core character.

    The gospel literally means good news from Greek word eugelion. Not let’s see about all those publications that you mentioned Jay. If someone was to read them they might understand the good news this way.

    Here is the GOOD NEWS!

    1. Women must remain silent at all times.
    2. Any sin may send you to Hell at any time.
    3. If you get an unscriptural divorce you may not go to Heaven and may never again marry even if you have repented.
    4. Any support of other denominations will land you in Hell.
    5. The most important thing to God is the one hour assembly twice a week and how it must be conducted.
    6. A musical instrument anywhere near the auditorium may put your soul in danger.
    7. Any communion that is not weekly only on Sunday is an abomination and will put your soul in jeopardy.
    8. If die you may go to Heaven you can never really know because you may have committed a sin that you forgot to ask forgiveness, so keep your fingers crossed.

    I could go on but I won’t I actually have written down some 300 rules that many of the churches of Christ have and had over the years. Is it any wonder that the ever watching unbelieving world does not see very much good news (gospel) in traditional legalistic church, which the majority still are whether they want to admit it or not

  2. Nancy says:

    Joe, that is a very accurate description of what I was taught to be the gospel (except, I was taught 3x / week but maybe that is a disputable matter.) Imagine my surprise and great joy when I actually started studying the Bible and discovered the truth.

    Praise God for the Good News!!

  3. Alan says:

    Today, we sometimes urge our members to pray to God and then pledge allegiance to America. But if Jesus is Lord, then President Bush and Congress and the Governor are not. And this makes the gospel radically political.

    There is a sense in which that is true. Yet Paul also taught submission to the governing authorities. Jesus taught submission to the tax law. And the context for his instruction about going the second mile was the requirement for submission to the occupying Roman soldiers.

    We are not to be subversive to the government. We are not to become engrossed in civilian affairs. Politics is not our primary responsibility. Instead, we are on a spiritual mission. The Kingdom of God is not of this world.

  4. Nick Gill says:

    Yes, Alan, but the kingdom of God is and has always been FOR this world. There is no sense in which the gospel is not radically contrary to the ways of the world, be they racial, political, economic, or moral.

    How can we be "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth" if we are not intentionally subverting the evil traditions and practices of the powers around us?

    "Overcome evil with good."

    Loving one's enemies is deeply subversive of the ways of the government. Have you watched any political campaigning?

    Don't you know that a Roman soldier would have to answer to his own authorities if someone heard that a Jew carried his kit for two miles? No one would believe that the Jew OFFERED to do it. What would happen if a lot of Jews actually listened to Jesus and started actually carrying Roman gear for two miles?

    The Romans would STOP making them do it at all, because this crazy two-mile thing was getting them into trouble!!!! That is subverting evil with good.

    Indeed, we are on a spiritual mission, but you seem to be saying that because it is spiritual, it has nothing to do with the world. I believe Scripture says that because it is spiritual, it must contact and affect all areas of the world. That is what salt does to meat, what leaven does to dough.

    The Bible doesn't tell us, like Sandy Claws, "to be good for goodness' sake." We're to be good for God's sake. We're to be good in ways that generate confrontation between the powers of the world and the power of the Kingdom. That's the idea behind 1 Peter 3:15. When people ask us, "Why are you acting so different? Why do you 'confidently expect' something so different from what WE [the world] expects?" we should be ready to say, "We believe that CHRIST [the Anointed One of Israel] IS [now and always] LORD [THE ruler of heaven and earth]." Every power on earth that does not so confess is living and working in active rebellion against the kingdom of God. But Rev 11:15 and Php 2:10-11 tell us in no uncertain terms that this situation will shortly be remedied.

    in HIS love,

  5. Jay Guin says:

    We are citizens of heaven. Dual citizenship is not allowed.

    I'm not big on two-kingdom theology when it asks for dual loyalties. We serve but one Master.

    On the other hand, in service of the one Master, we are obedient to civil authorities, where not inconsistent with Kingdom business.

    Think of how an American citizen living in a foreign land, say, Romania, as a missionary, treats the local government. He respects the laws, where not contrary to his work in the Kingdom. He pays his taxes. He prays for the foreign rulers.

    But he doesn't consider himself a subject of the foreign government nor does he have any particular allegiance to it, other than paying his taxes and being appreciative of good government.

    I doubt seriously that he hangs the foreign flag on his front porch or raises his children to be "good Romanians." Rather, he raises them to be good Christians who see their true citizenship to be in heaven.

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