Gregg Gilbert on what is and is not "The Gospel"

"Many of us would be helped in our preaching of the gospel by not just preaching the simple (though true) propositions of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone, but by re-embracing the epic of the Bible, placing those things in their proper place in the grand storyline. ... But ..." - 9 Marks

2743 reads

There are 19 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It strikes me that this particular debate is between people who have the same belief about what the gospel is, but disagree over what aspect/feature/dimension of the gospel is most awesome. They have different "favorite parts of the story." ...which seems OK to me. It's a healthy debate, but it's not really about "what is the gospel?" so much as "what's the most important part of the gospel?"

And the problem arises from the need to express the gospel in "three or four sentences that you can fit on a napkin." If you're going to communicate, you have to compress sometimes.

And when compressing, it's easy to distort, based on the parts you like best. 

It's probably not completely avoidable. I understand the passion behind the debate, too, because each party has a view on the "heart and soul of the gospel" that, to them, is obvious.

To me, it's obviously about transformation. Transformation of those who believe from sinners into saints. Transformation of the world order and the planet. All through Christ ("penal substitution... justificaiton by faith alone"). All for the purpose of "the glory of His grace."

So I don't know which side of the debate that puts me on. But it really does sound like McKnight and Bates are distorting the gospel at times at various points in the debate, maybe by overstating what they see as the problem w/Gilbert et al's emphasis: "They seem to be saying that 'Jesus is king' is the gospel, and that personal salvation, atonement, and justification are not."

It's vital that we not reduce the gospel to something individual and transactional. It's vital that we not omit the personal and transactional!

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Howell's picture

Which approach will you use when you are standing next to patient's bed in hospice?

 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When we're face to face with that kind of suffering and someone near death, I'll bet the "Gospel = Christ is King" folks get pretty focused on personal salvation. I'll bet they put it in the "bigger picture" context, though. It would be a really fascinating study to collect "individual crisis communication of the gospel" incidents from people of the "individual justification emphasis" as well as the "kingship emphasis" and compare them on select criteria to measure the difference.

I'll bet it's pretty small when things get real like that.

But then there's Sunday to Sunday preaching and teaching... to the rest of us.

Lots of fundamentalist preachers I've heard preach seem unaware that there is anything more to the gospel than here's how you avoid going to hell when you die. And that's pretty sad.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bates' big focus is that faith = allegiance. He gets to the same place as Lordship salvation, but he comes from a completely different perspective and his concern really isn't the same. He has an (I believe) 8-part list of things that ought to characterize the Gospel, and "Jesus as King" is the big one.

I liked his book Salvation by Allegiance Alone. It challenged me a lot. But, his list is an ivory-tower compilation. A pastor just can't hit each bullet-point in a sermon, every time. I took away from it the need to present Christ as King, and a new angle on the Lordship concept without diving into the cesspool of that particular debate. In many contexts, faith does = allegiance. I discuss this in a forthcoming Baptist Bulletin article that'll come out sometime later this year. I largely relied on Bates for that.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

KD Merrill's picture

I understand why covenant theologians and even some squirmy dispensationalists conflate the gospel of the kingdom with the gospel of the grace of God.   

What I don't understand is when those who ostensibly ascribe to a normal, literal interpretation do this.  The gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and the apostles preached during His earthly ministry was directed to one population group - one group, only.   They proclaimed it to the Jews and its message fit with Messianic prophecies proclaimed to the Jews in the Old Testament.  Its message is also distinctly different than other gospels found in scripture.

Compare:

Gospel of the Kingdom - preached by Jesus and His disciples to Israel only

  • Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Matthew 10:7 - "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
  • Mark 1:15 - "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."

Gospel of the Grace of God - revealed by Jesus to Paul and preached primarily by Paul and directed to everyone

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, Galatians 1:6-12 - "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures..."

And the one forgotten gospel, announced during the Tribulation to all mankind, the Everlasting Gospel.  While its announcement is made during this period of time, its name indicates that the message is valid from eternity past to eternity future.

  • Revelation 14:6-7 - "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."

Three gospels.  Three unique messages.  Three unique audiences.  

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When one looks at the Bible as a whole, it's clear that there is one plan to redeem the world and those who believe through Christ. The message of this plan is the gospel, and there's is only one.

The presence of a qualifying phrase emphasizing one aspect or another doesn't create a new gospel.

If we're going to read that way, we'd have to add a forth one... Somewhere Paul says "according to my gospel." So there were have Paul's gospel. Then there's the "gospel of God" in Mark 1:14, so we're up to five. Then there's the "gospel of his son" in Rom 1.9. If we suppose it's not another one, which of the already mentioned gospels would it be?

Which one is "the gospel of the glory of Christ" in 2 Cor 4.4?

The idea of multiple gospels is fraught with problems.

I do believe that the good news of the kingdom focused on on the arrival of the One who will be King, making the kingdom itself "at hand."

But this was also preaching of repentance and faith. (Mark 1:15)

It's the same gospel with slightly different framing before the cross vs. after.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Steve Davis's picture

I agree that a multiple gospel approach is "fraught with problems."

I devote a short chapter in a recent book I wrote on Urban Church Planting published by Wipf & Stock, Here's an excerpt for what it's worth. You'll have to buy the book to see the rest :-)  https://wipfandstock.com/author/view/detail/id/198275/

"I want to close with one major theological and practical issue you will face in the city which relates to the church and kingdom dynamic and the mission of the church. As N. T. Wright observes, “kingdom of God has been a flag of convenience under which all sorts of ships have sailed” (2008, 203). These ships are social, political, nationalistic, and theological. Their corresponding agendas often have little to do with the arrival of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus.

The opening of the gospel of Mark proclaims the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Jesus arrives on the scene, “preaching the gospel [of the kingdom, KJV] of God" (1:14). He announces that “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). The phrase “is near” can be understood as referring to something still to happen. However, as France comments, “If Jesus is understood to have proclaimed as ‘near’ something which had still not arrived even at the time when Mark wrote his gospel (let alone 2,000 years later), this is hardly less of an embarrassment than if he had claimed that ‘it’ was already present” (2002, 92).

There are passages which indicate a present kingdom aspect (Luke 17:21) and others which point to a future aspect (Matthew 25:34; Luke 21:17, 31). Multiple texts demonstrate that the gospel of the kingdom was the message of Jesus and the apostles (Luke 4:43; 9:1, 2). Jesus “instructed the seventy to proclaim, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’" (Luke 10:1, 9). In Acts we find Philip who “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ …." (Acts 8:12). The Apostle Paul in Ephesus "entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). Near the end of his ministry, Paul “expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God …." (Acts 28:23)."

 

 

KD Merrill's picture

When one looks at the Bible as a whole, it's clear that there is one plan to redeem the world and those who believe through Christ.

No argument there - although, the content of the faith throughout the ages has varied based on the revelation given to men.

 The message of this plan is the gospel, and there's (sic) is only one.

Whoa.  Need a chapter and verse on this statement.   Where in Scripture do we find the supposed truth that every usage of the word "gospel" indicates redemption?  That would be like saying every usage of the word "salvation" indicates salvation from sin.  "Euangelion" simply means "good news," and the context defines the content of the message.

The presence of a qualifying phrase emphasizing one aspect or another doesn't create a new gospel.

Again, agreed.  The context, however, determines the message/content/audience of the "good news."

If we're going to read that way, we'd have to add a forth (sic) one... Somewhere Paul says "according to my gospel." So there were (sic) have Paul's gospel.

Incorrect.  Basic rules of hermeneutics (examining the context, comparing scripture with scripture) determine this.  2 Timothy 2:8 reveals the content: "Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel."  Clearly, this is not the same message preached to the Jews in the gospels.  The content of the message fits the gospel of the grace of God, according to 1 Corinthians 15.  It makes sense for Paul to call this "his" gospel, because it was revealed directly to him by the resurrected Jesus, according to Galatians 1.

Then there's the "gospel of God" in Mark 1:14, so we're up to five.

Incorrect.  Look at the context.  This gospel is the gospel of the kingdom, according to the next verse.

Then there's the "gospel of his son" in Rom 1.9. If we suppose it's not another one, which of the already mentioned gospels would it be?

The gospel of the grace of God.  Verse 4 provides the context. 

Which one is "the gospel of the glory of Christ" in 2 Cor 4.4?

Using basic rules of hermeneutics, which one do you think it is?  

The idea of multiple gospels is fraught with problems. 

Not true.  What problems?  The idea is Biblical.  It is derived via a consistent hermeneutic approach.  

The conflation of different gospel messages (that ignores basic rules of Biblical interpretation) into one is fraught with problems.    

KD Merrill's picture

As N. T. Wright observes, “kingdom of God has been a flag of convenience under which all sorts of ships have sailed” (2008, 203). These ships are social, political, nationalistic, and theological.

And the social and political ships had no business carrying that precious cargo.  

The opening of the gospel of Mark proclaims the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Jesus arrives on the scene, “preaching the gospel [of the kingdom, KJV] of God" (1:14). He announces that “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). The phrase “is near” can be understood as referring to something still to happen. However, as France comments, “If Jesus is understood to have proclaimed as ‘near’ something which had still not arrived even at the time when Mark wrote his gospel (let alone 2,000 years later), this is hardly less of an embarrassment than if he had claimed that ‘it’ was already present” (2002, 92).

 The kingdom of God was near.  It was at hand.  The King was on the earth.  He walked among the Jewish people.  He made a legitimate offer of a kingdom to the Jews and they rejected it.  

There are passages which indicate a present kingdom aspect (Luke 17:21) 

Of course!  The King was in the midst of them, offering to set up His kingdom.  They rejected His terms and crucified Him, thus ensuring a future fulfillment of an earthly kingdom.

 Multiple texts demonstrate that the gospel of the kingdom was the message of Jesus and the apostles (Luke 4:43; 9:1, 2). Jesus “instructed the seventy to proclaim, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’" (Luke 10:1, 9). 

Of course!  To whom was the gospel of the kingdom preached?   Jesus, in the companion passage in Matthew 10, specifically forbade the apostles from preaching the message to anyone but the Jewish people ("These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. - Matthew 10:5-7)

In Acts we find Philip who “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ …." (Acts 8:12). 

 To whom?  

The Apostle Paul in Ephesus "entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). 

 To whom did he preach?  Why do you think he preached this message to this audience at this time?

Near the end of his ministry, Paul “expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God …." (Acts 28:23).

To whom did he preach?  The rest of the verse indicates the audience and his rationale: "persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening."  He spoke to Jews in Rome, attempting to prove by way of apologetics to them that Jesus was indeed their Messiah.

Using the book of Acts as a means of building doctrine while ignoring its context and the transitional nature of this period in history is dangerous at best.

G. N. Barkman's picture

The rules of hermeneutics are not given to us in Scripture.  They are derived from various assumptions, and can be colored by one's doctrinal presuppositions.  They can also be deceitful when students elevate them above Scripture.  They offer the false comfort of confirming one's previous theological disposition.  How convenient when the interpretive rules one uses yield the interpretation that one already espouses.  We need to be willing to reexamine and alter our hermeneutics when Biblical data does not conform to our favored interpretations.  Only the Bible itself is divinely inspired and infallible.  Rules of interpretation, while necessary to inaugurate Biblical study, can become a man-made device to obscure the true meaning of Scripture.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bro. Merrill wrote:

The gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and the apostles preached during His earthly ministry was directed to one population group - one group, only.   They proclaimed it to the Jews and its message fit with Messianic prophecies proclaimed to the Jews in the Old Testament.  Its message is also distinctly different than other gospels found in scripture.

Gospel of the Kingdom - preached by Jesus and His disciples to Israel only

Gospel of the Grace of God - revealed by Jesus to Paul and preached primarily by Paul and directed to everyone

And the one forgotten gospel, announced during the Tribulation to all mankind, the Everlasting Gospel

This is why some (not all) flavors of dispensationalism can verge on "another gospel." The Scriptures are sliced up into atomized chunks for different people. The church began with the Baptist. No, wait ... it was at Pentecost. No, wait ... it was in the middle of Acts! So glad I have no part of that silliness. I won't try to defend my statements. The marginalization of this flavor of dispensationalism is proof enough of its impotence.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Matthew Bates and Scot McKnight are both out with whiny, ivory-tower, snobby foolishness today in CT. This is stupid. Can these men act like adults, instead of teens pouting from their room? As if he is trying to single-handedly take hyperbole to new levels, Bates writes:

With regard to what’s been happening at T4G, TGC, and 9Marks, a decision is difficult. Actually, the embarrassing is easy to finger. What John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, and others associated with T4G ("Together for the Gospel") and TGC ("The Gospel Coalition") have been asserting to be the heart of the gospel is not even part of the gospel in Scripture.

At least Bates can write coherently. He thinks justification by faith isn't the Gospel; it's am implication of the Gospel. Be still my heart; my inner theologian is all a-flutter now ... McKnight, on the other hand, writes like an angry theology wonk counting angels on pinheads:

But making justification “central” is a problem. To begin with, it tends to be explanatory: one can make anything central if one uses it to explain everything else. But it’s unbiblical because one finds the term “justification” three times in the Gospels (Luke 10:29; 16:15; 18:14). Rare is the point. When one presses this too hard one discovers that Jesus didn’t or rarely did preach the gospel of the centrality of justification. That’s a serious mistake. Jesus, instead, chose kingdom to express his gospel. That’s why the Evangelists say he preached the “gospel of the kingdom.” He preached the gospel… he is the gospel. Everywhere he went he was gospeling. He was the “autobasileia,” the kingdom itself.

These guys need to stop arguing in popular forums and just telephone each other and have it out there. At least they'd spare the rest of us.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

KD Merriil

Even in my dispensational days I never understood this.

"He made a legitimate offer of a kingdom to the Jews and they rejected it. . . .The King was in the midst of them, offering to set up His kingdom.  They rejected His terms and crucified Him, thus ensuring a future fulfillment of an earthly kingdom."

It seems that in the plan of God there was a legit offer to establish an earthly kingdom he knew would be rejected, that had it been accepted Jesus would've still needed to die because it was part of God's plan, but Israel rejected the King and his offer, so there was a B plan to establish the kingdom later. It sounds as fanciful now (and unbiblical) as it did then. I understand that the establishment of the kingdom was accomplished according to God's own plan and independent of man's approval. There may be distinctions between its present and future aspects but nonetheless there is no hiatus. 

But this might be a sidetrack on the article itself. I do think that Bates and McKnight are offtrack but don't have time to argue that. I would be in greater agreement with Sprout, Mac, et al that justification by faith is at the heart of the gospel. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

 ... so there was a B plan to establish the kingdom later.

I have never understood why this was Plan B, as if an afterthought that God was unaware of. I could see an open theist saying but the rest of us? It seems to me it was Plan A. 

But more importantly, when you say "there is no hiatus," I wonder how you explain "Will be taken away and given to a people producing the fruit of it." How is that not a hiatus? It was taken away from that generation and given to a later one. Now, we might debate what later generation it is given to (though I think Scripture is rather clear about this as well), but how can we debate that it was taken away? Even the disciples questioned the timing of the "restoration" of it which, again however you take that passage, indicates that they thought there was a hiatus.

 

KD Merrill's picture

The Scriptures are sliced up into atomized chunks for different people.

I've always found that hyperbole adds much to a conversation.  I find it much more refined than "snobby foolishness," don't you?  :)  Perhaps, atomized chunks is what Paul had in mind when he exhorted Timothy to rightly divide the Word of truth.  

So glad I have no part of that silliness. 

I may be wrong, but it would seem that whether one espouses dispensationalism or covenant theology, in order to form one's own ecclesiology, one must have an opinion on when the church began.   Apparently, all divergent views from the approved and accepted view are hereby termed "silliness."  But enough about "snobby foolishness."

I won't try to defend my statements. 

Wise choice.

 The marginalization of this flavor of dispensationalism is proof enough of its impotence.

Or, since we're not all that concerned about employing a consistent hermeneutic, perhaps it lends some context to Jesus' question as to when He comes if He'll find faith on the earth.   

Note: That was just my light-hearted, yet lame attempt at "snobby foolishness."   

KD Merrill's picture

Brother Davis, 

It likewise confuses me that those of a Calvinist persuasion (and I don't know if you consider yourself Calvinist or Arminian) would be confused about this.   As Larry commented, this was all part of Plan A. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

It sounds like we occupy wholly different spheres of Christianity. Have fun in your camp. I'll have fun in mine. Ciao.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

"Should Protestants break fellowship with or excommunicate Protestant leaders such as Chandler, Gilbert, MacArthur, Piper, and Sproul if it is true that they have made mistakes about the true content and boundaries of the gospel? Absolutely not. This would be wildly inappropriate."

Wow... just wow. This Matthew Bates, whom I have NEVER HEARD OF, has the unmitigated gall to write that sentence? Who is he? What has he done? MacArthur! Piper! Sproul! Yeah... they got the gospel wrong and you got it right...

You might want to check your ego before you write that book.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bates is a younger scholar with three books out. I think he's immature. He's acting like it. I liked his second book. Disappointed in his comments. If you impugn Dever, JMac, Mohler, Sproul and say they have the framing of the Gospel wrong, then you're young and immature.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?