Friday, May 30, 2008

The Gospel in All Its Forms

Like God, the gospel is both one and more than that.
by Tim Keller

Tim KellerThe gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it (1 Peter 1:12). Humans are by no means angels, however, so rather than contemplating it, we argue about it.

A generation ago evangelicals agreed on "the simple gospel": (1) God made you and wants to have a relationship with you, (2) but your sin separates you from God. (3) Jesus took the punishment your sins deserved, (4) so if you repent from sins and trust in him for your salvation, you will be forgiven, justified, and accepted freely by grace, and indwelt with his Spirit until you die and go to heaven.

There are today at least two major criticisms of this simple formulation. Many say that it is too individualistic, that Christ's salvation is not so much to bring individual happiness as to bring peace, justice, and a new creation. A second criticism is that there is no one "simple gospel" because "everything is contextual" and the Bible itself contains many gospel presentations that exist in tension with each other.

No single gospel message?
Let's take the second criticism first. The belief that there is no single basic gospel outline in the Bible goes back at least to the Tubingen school of biblical scholarship, which insisted Paul's gospel of justification was sharply different from Jesus' gospel of the kingdom. In the 20th century, British professor C.H. Dodd countered that there was one consensus gospel message in the Bible. Then, in turn, James Dunn argued in Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (1977) that the gospel formulations in the Bible are so different that we can't come up with a single outline.

Now hundreds of websites of young Christian leaders complain that the older evangelical church spent too much time reading Romans rather than Jesus' declaration that "the kingdom of God is at hand." But to be true to first-century Christians' own understanding of the gospel, I believe we must side with Dodd over Dunn. Paul is emphatic that the gospel he presents is the same as the one preached by the Jerusalem apostles. "Whether it was I or they," Paul says, referring to Peter and the others, "so we preached and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:10-11). This statement assumes a single body of gospel content.

One gospel, many forms
So yes, there must be one gospel, yet there are clearly different forms in which that one gospel can be expressed. This is the Bible's own way of speaking of the gospel, and we should stick with it. Paul is an example. After insisting there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8), he then speaks of being entrusted with "the gospel of the uncircumcised" as opposed to the "gospel of the circumcised" (Gal. 2:7).



Daniel Detroit said...

There is one gospel and it is the Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, He was buried and He rose again the third day according to the scriptures. It is grace given by God that opens up a man's eyes to accept this foolishness of God. We do not make a decision for God, God makes a decision for us, as Paul on the road to Damascus. So to my own conversion. We live in a crooked generation where this one true gospel is rejected, but God has a people, a remnant of the nations, and His purpose shall be accomplished.


The Hedonese said...

Reading Keller's Reason For God now... at first i thot wah... RM100 so hefty price... but after the first few chapters i have no doubt this is the Mere Christianity for our generation and dare say it's better in terms of issues coverage and dealing w questions asked by people today

Edwyn Tay said...

Absolutely agreed! Here're some thoughts that arose in my mind on the possible causes of "narrow" readings of Scripture after reading the
post and article.

1. Lack of serious study of all the relevant material on a subject but
a refusal to acknowledge it because of pride. One just has to say
something intelligent for boosting one's public image even though the
stark reality is that of superficial knowledge.

2. Imposing foreign logic to Scripture often in the guise of
christianized categories and thus dividing what Scripture doesn't
divide. I'm thinking for instance of the common practice of employing
theories of atonement in a mutually exclusive and competing manner.

3. Allowing the state of academic discussion (often within an entirely
secular context) to dictate conversations on things pertaining to the
Gospel rather than the content of Scripture within the context of an
assembled congregation of believers. It is interesting that in the
article, the poles of one Gospel message or
many Gospel formulations are pegged to the academic discussions of
Dodd and Dunn. Scholars need to earn a living. Part of the way the
scholarly "game" is often played is to highlight one point that others
have neglected in order to make it the pet subject for one's own
scholarly contribution. This would then provoke rejoinders for more
comprehensive evaluations, and on and on the "ping-pong game" goes.
I'm not accusing Dodd and Dunn here. I'm simply describing much of the
culture of scholarly debates in secular settings. For this reason, the
climate of current scholarship is not an accurate assessment of what
is going on in local congregations; nor should it prescribe what ought
to go on! Riding on the wave of scholarly preoccupations for a
"narrow" reading of Scripture no matter how respectable in the
academic world the reading is, is to listen to an unreliable

4. The unfortunate premium placed on immediacy of information
acquisition and self-promotion on that basis, along with an unhealthy
impatience with steady, systematic, disciplined study that aims
towards comprehensive mastery of a subject. I believe the best cure
for such a cause for the "narrow" reading of Scripture is studied and
patient labor in expositing the whole counsel of God week after week,
year after year in the same congregation or fellowship group, or in
our personal study. There is no short cut to understanding the mind of
God in Scripture.

Personally, I think much of online forum discussions and blogs are
guilty of encouraging a generation of young people to think too highly
of themselves with piece-meal understanding of subjects without the
sober self-assessment that is characteristic of a godly disposition.
One can say anything, pontificate anything on the basis of a few
popular blog posts, and will still have some form of public support
without ever being called to account for what was said inaccurately,
injuriously, impolitely, etc. This lifts the ego to the tenth heavens
but is deadening spiritually.

I apologise for the somewhat longer than usual and perhaps provocative thoughts, some of which will surely be challenged.

_fl@mEs_ said...

How was the Gospel formed?

_fl@mEs_ said...

pls. answer quickly..

Dave said...

Inspired by the Holy Spirit :)