Quality Time [1]


Listen: I want to agree with something James White said in that MP3 about the presentation of the Gospel, and expand on it for the sake of what has become the topic of discussion in the theological blogosphere: James quoted his fellow elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church Don Fry as saying, about the Gospel, "What you save them with is what you save them to."

The position of the prepositions notwithstanding, I agree. There's no question -- you have to agree with this simple and elegant statement of how methods yield results. The irony, I think, is that it cuts both ways.

See: James has used this to extoll the necessity of a specific kind of Gospel presentation -- one which is systematically rich, and makes sure that we get all 5 solas plus TULIP into our message when we speak to the lost. The truth is, I don't disagree that this is a very useful and very powerful way to present the Gospel. But it is one way, and as a tool, what it does is save people with a healthy knowledge of theology.

But there is at least one other kind of evangelism given to us in the Bible -- which still presents the Gospel. It occurs in Acts 7 when Stephen stands before the High Priest, and it is a beutiful example two things, and I want to underscore the second thing first, and talk about the first thing in terms of the second.

The second thing this passage, which is Stephen's message, does is say this:
Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness,
just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it,
according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn
brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations
that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days
of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to
find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon
who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell
in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

'Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?'
Now, this is a discourse to the Jews, right? To the council of the High Priest, before whom Stephen was brought on charges of blaspemy. And this passage in particular is about the patriarchs building a temple to God even though God doesn't have one home on Earth.

But look: Stephen's plea to the council is about where the Lord dwells, and goes from there to the accusation that they have even put Christ to death! After saying that God doesn't live in a human-made house (and boy -- could we do 3 posts on that?), Stephen concludes that these men killed all the prophets (through their fathers), and killed the Christ, and that they don't keep the law which they were given.

Now, some will say: "Cent, my brother, the Bible never calls this 'the Gospel'. You can't call this the Gospel. It's flawed to do so." But to that noble brother in Christ, I say this: Stephen's speech in Acts 7 takes exactly the same form of Peter's speech at Pentecost, with the only difference being that the listeners, rather than being convicted to repentence, are hardened unto evil deeds.

I mean, seriously: they then tear their clothes and take Stephen out and stone him. Nobody saved there.

So how do we call this the Gospel? And what manner of Gospel is this? And how does this relate to agreeing with James White that the Gospel with which we save people is the Gospel to which we save them?

I will answer the first question here, and then the weekend kicks in at my house. We can call this the Gospel because it preaches the Christ to people in terms they will understand. Now, you would think that, for example, if NPP was true, Stephen would have given a discourse here on the variegated nomism of second-Temple Judaism. But instead he gives the history of nation Israel from Abraham to Solomon and the first temple.

It's a somewhat brilliant idea, Sanders, Dunn and Wright notwithstanding. In the same way Peter tells the crowd on Pentecost that prophecy is being fulfilled here today, and that prophecy is to witness to the coming of Christ, Stephen tells the council that God made a covenant to Abraham, and kept it through Isaac, Jacob, Jospeh, and then after the prophecy of the captivity was fulfilled through Moses.

But there's an interesting part in that Moses bit: "This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?'--this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush." Ruler and Redeemer? Does that sound familiar to anyone? I mean, Stephen doesn't say that Moses was the Christ, but it seems transparent -- and is totally a vanilla statement of orthodoxy -- to say that Moses is a type of Christ, right? Why make that point here when Stephen is talking to the Council?

See: Stephen is telling the Council -- like Jesus did, btw, in Mat 23 -- that God was willing to save the people, but they (the council) are not. God has sent one who has the authority to judge, and the willingness and ability to save, but it's not a human priest. moses was like Him, but Moses was not Him. To make that clear, Stephen puts in Moses' own prophecy of the Messiah, "God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers."

Stephen is talking about the Messiah. Stephen is telling these men that God has made promises He is determined to keep. And Stephen is telling them, as Christ did before him, that they are just like their fathers who murdered every prophet sent to them from righteous Abel to Zechariah the son of Barachiah. So when the final statements come from him -- "I see Him at the right hand of God!" and "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" -- They have been given everything they need to know.

I mean: they are Jews. They have all the Scripture the Apostles had. They had Jesus right there. But when Peter said, "He is now Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified," that was the Gospel. The question is whether they receive it or not.

When Peter said what he said, people were cut to the heart -- so he answered their question "how can we be saved?" When Stephen gave the bottom line, the whole lot listening were enraged -- so Stephen didn't tell them anything except that Christ is glorified, and then, before dying at their hands -- you know, like all the prophets -- he asks God not to hold this against them.

Listen: that's the Gospel. God made promises to Abraham, and kept them through Moses who prophecied of a ruler and redeemer -- a Lord and Christ -- who would come after him. And though God was faithful even to David and Solomon, and there was a temple built for God, Israel rejected the covenant of God through Moses. But God doesn't live in a house: God lives in all the earth. And His Christ has come, but Christ has been killed by men just as all the prophets have been killed -- because men resist the work of God, they are wicked exactly as their fathers have been. But Christ is glorified at the right hand of God.

And the messengers who come to you -- they come out of love. They pray from you even when you are killing them, that God will not hold it against you.

See: I agree with Dr. White. The Gospel you save them with is the Gospel you save them to. But who are you saving? I mean, are we declaring the Gospel to a universal ampitheater of identical men, or are we declaring it to every tribe, tongue and nation?

Is it not the Gospel when we tell the Jews that God keeps His promises in spite of man's sin and infidelity rather than "the basis of justification is the substitutionary atonement of the one-in-substance person of the Son who is raised from the dead as sign of God's acceptance of His death as sacrifice"?

Isn't it?