A Response to Bauder
Your last essay raised the question of the gospel as a basis of fellowship. I think you would agree that the gospel is essential to all Christian fellowship. The question that you raise is how much cooperative effort is possible on the basis of the gospel alone.
By the way, who do you think you’re addressing? Are you trying to convince conservative evangelicals of the error of their ways? Are you trying to persuade young fundamentalists to stay in the FBF? What’s going on here?
I appreciate the fact that you phrased your essay in terms of testing ideas rather than positing absolute conclusions. The form that you chose invites response. If you meant to construct an argument that would satisfy all enquiries and answer all objections, however, then you have fallen seriously short of your goal.
Having acknowledged the importance of the gospel—unquestionably it is the most important thing in the world—you then seek to diminish its importance by arguing that Christians do not pay attention to it except under certain circumstances. The two circumstances that you mention are evangelism and polemics, i.e., when the gospel is being offered or when it is being defended.
This assumption seems to overlook a great deal of the New Testament evidence. In the New Testament, the gospel is not merely a way of being justified. It is the foundation of and motivation for the entire life of faith. Everything that we need in order to live for God is provided in the gospel. Even as believers we need to continue to preach the gospel to one another.
You need to look no further than the epistles to see this dynamic at work. The epistles are, after all, written to Christians. They are not addressed either to the lost or to false teachers. Their recipients no longer need to be evangelized and they are not denying the faith.
Yet the epistles are filled with the gospel. For example, 1 Corinthians 15 gives an extended exposition of the gospel. The entire epistle to the Galatians is arguably an elaborate explanation of the gospel and its implications. And what shall we say of Romans, where Paul devotes five entire chapters to the task of explaining the gospel to believers?
In view of the New Testament’s massive concentration on the gospel, it seems absurd to maintain that the gospel is simply assumed by Christians until it needs to be propagated or defended. Unquestionably there is a time and place for Christians to focus upon the gospel alone.
Your argument about the “Together for the Gospel” and “The Gospel Coalition” crowd seems somewhat misbegotten. In the first place, let us suppose your observation is correct and these leaders do include more than the gospel as a qualification for their organizational fellowship. Even so, your argument looks like an example of the tu quoque fallacy. Perhaps they do include more, but that does not mean that they ought to. Perhaps they and we really should be “together for the gospel” alone. It is possible that they and we need to amend our practice.
Second, you sound perilously close to equating conservative evangelicalism with the T4G-GC crowd. Don’t you realize that conservative evangelicalism has as many branches and permutations as fundamentalism, and perhaps more? I know several of the T4G-GC leaders. Some of them were even my teachers. But I would not limit conservative evangelicalism to their influence. Don’t you think you’re being a bit narrow in your definitions?
Third, when you do introduce other names, their relevance is not altogether clear. Why even bring up Rick Warren? He would not be classified as a conservative evangelical in anybody’s book. Nor is he a Calvinist, or any of the other things that you listed—other than presumably being a gospel believer. So Piper has him in to a meeting! Warren has not been invited to T4G or The Gospel Coalition. So what’s your point?
In short, it would seem that there is a time and place to confer, or write, or converse, or whatever—for the gospel per se. The gospel needs to be explored. It contains riches beyond our wildest imagination. Most believers never appreciate the wealth of truth that the gospel assumes, implies, and expressly teaches.
The gospel also needs to be applied, not merely to the lives of the lost, but to the lives of believers. A grasp of the gospel is absolutely crucial for making the right choices in a perplexing world. A love for the gospel is crucial for making the right choices in a truth-rejecting world.
In fact, the gospel is precisely what reveals the character of God-in-Christ to us, and at the most fundamental level. That is why it is the most important thing in the world. We do not see either God’s justice or His mercy in their correct proportions until they are displayed on the cross. God’s wisdom and power become truly evident in the death and resurrection of Christ. The only God we know, and the only Christ we serve, is the One Who is given to us in the gospel. And this is the chief end of the gospel, is it not? The gospel is not simply about getting sinners into heaven. It is about magnifying a triune God whose perfections are infinitely glorious and utterly praiseworthy.
We do not need less of the gospel. We need more of it. True, we need to proclaim it and to defend it. But we also need to hear it, learn it, explore it, apply it, and love it.
You say that the gospel is to be assumed. What—do you want us just to take the gospel for granted? We can’t afford that! The gospel was never more needed by God’s people than it is today.
If you do not take these matters into consideration, I think that you will never understand how important it is to be together for the gospel. You will always have a limited and shallow approach to Christianity. Perhaps you should reconsider.
Kevin T. Bauder, D.Min., Ph.D.
Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis
William Cowper (1731-1800)
My song shall bless the Lord of all,
My praise shall climb to His abode;
Thee, Saviour, by that name I call,
The great Supreme, the mighty God.
Without beginning or decline,
Object of faith and not of sense;
Eternal ages saw Him shine,
He shines eternal ages hence.
As much when in the manger laid,
Almighty Ruler of the sky,
As when the six days’ work He made,
Fill’d all the morning stars with joy.
Of all the crowns Jehovah bears,
Salvation is His dearest claim;
That gracious sound well pleased He hears
And owns Emmanuel for His name.
A cheerful confidence I feel,
My well placed hopes with joy I see;
My bosom glows with heavenly zeal,
To worship Him who died for me.
As man He pities my complaint,
His power and truth are all divine;
He will not fail, He cannot faint;
Salvation’s sure, and must be mine.
Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.