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.