The Whole Gospel

As a brief interlude to prove I haven’t forgotten about you, first I want to point out a review of a Zondervan product I received under the condition that I actually review it (for good or ill), which is now up at Evangel. I point to it because it is ironically called The Whole Gospel, which is the point of this series, after all.

As a second review of a new resource on this topic, let me heartily commend to you the new book from Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel? It has been endorsed by everyone on earth at this point as the burbs indicate (well, everyone associated with 9Marks, T4G, and the Gospel Coalition, anyway), but let me underscore three attributes of this book which I think make it a necessary resource for the discerning reader and faithful Christian:

[1] It’s spectacularly brief. Including the 3-page Scripture index and the front blurbs, it’s 127 pages. There are devotional books with less real meat in them which are half-again longer than this book, yet this book will do more good for those who read it if they take it even marginally-seriously. And at a compact 5x7 page size, the only people who will find reading it a burden will be those who cannot read English. This is a time when condensed text and content are a massive advantage.

[2] It is written at a popular level. It’s conversational writing without being breezy, but it is utterly readable.

[3] It looks like it’s worth giving away. You all know my beef with tracts: we have this God-sized ransom of good news we are trying to tell people, and the only thing we can think of to put it on to give away is 7-cents worth of 2-color print. This small book is in hard cover, and if you give it to someone, it looks like you gave half a thought to the value of the real gift you are trying to give them.

This is not light matter, btw. Back when Piper first published The Passion of Jesus Christ (now titled: "50 reasons Christ came to die"), it was an indispensible intro to the Christian faith. This book surpasses that accomplishment not because it is more thorough, but because it is more concise, putting the reader’s attention on what matters most.

Note to Crossway: find a way to make this book not $12.99 but $6.99 so that it will be distributed widely and used often as the first place people are introduced to the faith. There are at least three material improvements that could be made that would make this book the tract of choice for those concerned about serious, discipleship-minded evangelism (cover, paper and layout) which could be changed for the sake of cost but not made so cheap that they make the whole thing a throw-away. Consider it.

If you want a full review of this book, go here to Discerning Reader and read that review and recommendation. Otherwise, go get 5 and give them away this week.

Very Briefly

Long to-do list at work, and still only the same number of hours to do it in, so the third part of the "half-gospel" series will be delayed.

In the meantime, you're all clever people. Think about genetic engineering for a little while. There's a false gospel with teeth.


Been working on some font embedding for the blog this weekend, and thanks to some ingenious on-line tools, it works in IE8 and pretty much nothing else. Not in Firefox, not in Safari, nothin'.

It does look pretty sweet in IE8, though.

The Half Gospel (2)

Last time I made a point of saying:
And how are any of the admonitions in the NT to the various churches to live as if Christ’ death and resurrection were real any less a part of the Good News? You know: Paul’s point in making these things plain is summed up when he says plainly, “such ones as these you once were” [Eph 2; Col 1] – meaning you are now something better, and have a better purpose and objective.
There are several reasons I said this, and of course the first is that it’s the first post in a series of bloggery goodness and I had to make sure I said something worth blogging about a second time.

But another significant reason for saying this is that this is part of Paul’s Gospel which, I think, is getting lost in our “Gospel-centric” movements. I say “our” because let’s face it: I was blogging about the definition and centrality of the Gospel before it was a fad. I’m an O.G. blogger – Orthodox Gospel. Before there was T4G there was centuri0n out there giving Tony Campolo the angry eyebrows, and writing open letters to Derek Webb wondering if he has both hands on the discipleship wheel, and of course declaring that others who are far more post-medieval than I am are “clowns”. I’m a Gospel-centric guy.

But here’s the thing: I suspect some people say they are “Gospel centric” and they are in fact intellectually and academically afraid that if the Gospel means more than “God did”, they are trudging into either Liberalism or Catholicism. And these are guys who, frankly, think that people who don’t baptize babies are “churchless” and that those who do not pass the cup and the bread around every week are somehow turning their back on grace.

But the Gospel is in fact, “God did for us.” For example, take a look at what Jesus says here:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. [John 14]
Consider it: Jesus is here at the last supper, and when he tells the Apostles that the reason their hearts should not be troubled that he is “going” is that he is going somewhere for their sakes. That is: the “good news” is not that Jesus goes [to his death on the cross]; it is in fact that Jesus goes [to his death on the cross] to prepare a place for the believers. That is: it is not just that Jesus does something, but that it is for us, and that somehow there is something that makes us different.

Jesus also said this:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15]
”Aha!” says one of those who thinks I have gone AWOL here, “You’re confusing ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel’, Frank: ‘Abide’ is a command, and this cannot be the Gospel because it something one must do. My doing is my death, if I can be so bold: only Christ’s doing is life for me, and I’ll trust him thank you very much. I’ll put my hope in His death and resurrection, and really hold your advice at arms length because let’s face it: you’re veering into the land of the doubtful here. This is not good systematic theology, and I exhort you to turn back.”

Well, before you start wielding the systematic fire hose to get me off your theological front porch, let’s see what some actual bacon-in-the-fire Protestants thought about this.
They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
That’s the WCF XIII.1, yes? And that’s what Christ is talking about in John 15: those in Him are not just “in him” but he is also “in them” so that they are no longer dead branches but branches full of new life.

Paul says it this way:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. [Rom 8]
I mean: that’s the book of Romans, people. This is the Reformed home court. Yet when Paul says that we do not keep the Law in order that we be righteous but that Christ kept the law in order that we might live according to the spirit of life rather than the dead flesh, somehow we start wondering what’s for lunch or how nice it is outside. Paul says here without any real qualifications that God sent Christ to fulfill the law for us in order that we can therefore walk according to the Spirit.

This is the Gospel: Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance to the Scripture. But if it is for us, and now our sins are the things ruined and we are now in the spirit, in the true vine, headed for a place prepared for us, is it moral and spiritual beer-thirty? Can we take eternity off? Is the Gospel the good news that we have a permanent vacation?

Or should we instead say, “God loves us, and has a wonderful purpose for our lives?”

I’ll be thinking about that next week. You think about it until then, and be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house, because of the Gospel.

Bleh. Blogger Comments.

The Blogger Comments are turned back on.

This is also a review of the "Echo" comments platform: while Echo plainly has many "Web 2.0" capable functions, it is utterly useless for the blogger who does not use a generic template. I am sorry I paid them money for their service, and I would paid double what I paid them for Echo on an annual basis to get Haloscan back.

Total thumbs-down to Echo and JS-Kit.

Oh Brothers and Sisters ...

After much toil, I have upgraded the blog to a "new" blogger template, which means growning pains. And in my haste I think I have annihilated the old template, so I am certain I will have lost a lot of things -- like the blogroll, and the Gospel in the sidebar, and the books that used to be on the right ...

... pheh. Look for things to keep getting upgrades as the weekend and week wears on ...

UPDATED: Thanks Google Cache! Wow -- they cached the site from THURSDAY! What a life-saver!

Also: comments disabled for a little while. I'm sorting it out.

UPDATED: Yeah, the comments may be lost forever and we may need to start from square one with Blogger comments -- which will be better than nothing. Not much better, mind you, but better than talking to myself. Will research this week and get back to y'all.

The Half Gospel (1)

The permanent fixture in my sidebar is 1 Cor 15:1-4, yes? You’ve seen it over there for ages, and I’m sure you all remember it by inclination if not by heart:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
Now, I want you to consider two things, both of which are systematic interpretations/paraphrases of that passage.

Here’s #1:
Now I would remind you, brothers, that I preached to you, and you received my preaching, in which you stand, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that we are now OK in accordance with the Scriptures, and that we have new life in accordance with the Scriptures
You all recognize this, yes? It’s the flimsy feel-good motivational speaking that can pass for preaching in some churches, and many good people are sadly these kinds of preachers, and these kinds of Christian disciples. They want to know about themselves – and they want the Scripture to talk about them. That would be relevant, you see.

Is there really a reason to take that apart? It’s been done. We get it: It’s not good news if it’s merely about “us”. The only insight I would add to those critiques is that this is a systematic theology – it’s just a very flawed systematic theology.

Now here’s #2:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel, which was delivered as of first importance: that Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Let me say this: for some people, this is the Gospel – which is Christ’s work only, to the exclusion of all things not actually personally done by Christ – for example, evangelism. Evangelism is not the Gospel, they point out with very fine systematic precision. And one wonders thereafter what kind of a Gospel it is that is not proclaimed, and which does not have an effect both in this life and the next on real people.

“Well, wait a minute, Frank,” comes the rejoinder from the seminary student who undoubtedly will take exception, “Of course it’s the Gospel that must be proclaimed – it’s the message that something was done! It has to be proclaimed; it has to be believed. There has to be repentance. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here because we want to make the work of Christ an objective fact of history.”

This is actually my point and my complaint toward this seminary student and his kin as they come in many shapes and sizes: if the Gospel is an “objective fact”, it’s like a rock or a golf ball. It’s just something that was or is. It’s something we describe – saying what it is, meaning of course you cannot “live the Gospel” or something like that (or so we say) becuase it is somehow apart from us.

The problem is that the Gospel is not “Christ died”, but in fact “Christ died for our sins”. Christ died for us. That makes the Gospel not merely something “out there” or even “right here” but in fact something in which we, for whom it was done, somehow participate. That is, if there is a Savior, there must then be those who are saved. Something is received, and it makes “us” different both now and forever.

If that’s not enough – and it seems like plenty, and it seems plenty obvious – think about this: if we are “saved”, what’s it mean to be “saved”? See: to say that the Gospel is only that Christ died and was resurrected is to cut off the Gospel on the God-only side of the issue. This is a mistake, it seems to me, as grand as to cut it off on the “us” only side. The “us”-only Gospel thinks the effect is the only thing; the “God-only” side thinks the cause it the only thing. But the Gospel is good news to us, and somehow it makes something of us we weren’t before.

I want you to think about something: what if the Gospel was only “Christ died and raised from the dead, just like Scripture said he would”? That is – what if what Jesus did was only prove that He was God? That’s actually pretty cool, if you ask me – but even if that’s all Jesus did, he’d deserve to be worshipped, right? If someone could prove they were actually God, they would deserve worship because God, by definition, deserves worship. But even in that case, there is an effect which cannot be denied without in fact denying the cause.

How much more is this true, then, if Jesus’ death doesn’t just prove His Godhood? What if He proves He is both Lord and Christ? What if what He has done is actually glorifying to Him because its effect is actually greater than the act of Creation? Doesn’t that mean that we have an obligation to call that part of the Good News as well?

Think of it this way, my systematic friends: even the “Solo Christo” commandos believe that someone is not really a Christian if he doesn’t practice the sacraments. These fellows are plain in their view here: it’s a necessary consequence of the Gospel to celebrate the Lord’s table, and to baptize those who are rightly named in the church – those who refuse to do so are, frankly, not Christians. Irenic footnotes are made for those who are martyred before they can be baptized and who are never in fellowship because of extraordinary circumstances, but those who frankly refuse the sacraments are simply not Christian in their view – because these things are necessary consequences of the Gospel. How, then, can those things not actually be part of the good news? How are they any less part of the good news than the sound preaching of the Word of God?

And how are any of the admonitions in the NT to the various churches to live as if Christ’ death and resurrection were real any less a part of the Good News? You know: Paul’s point in making these things plain is summed up when he says plainly, “such ones as these you once were” [Eph 2; Col 1] – meaning you are now something better, and have a better purpose and objective.

It’s in this Gospel where all of Paul’s letters reside. It is this Gospel which Paul re-preaches to the Corinthians in order for them to stop acting like lost people. It is this Gospel which Paul preaches to the Galatians so that they don’t start seeking the approval of the Law but to exceed the requirements of the Law [cf. Galatians 5] by putting on the Spirit of Christ.

And here we are, just like those churches, with half the Gospel. We can identify the doer of the Gospel; we can identify what he does. And we forget for whom he did it and what then they (meaning: we) ought to be.

This relates to some of the goings-on around the internet lately, but this is already quite a gale force blow. Stew on it and I’ll be around another day to give you a more particular application of this point.