The Gospel of Acceptance

The gospel can be viewed from a variety of angles, and undoubtedly the most widely disseminated angle is that of its benefits. That is, we describe the gospel by what it accomplishes for us. We appeal to “felt needs” in humans. No one in their right mind questions the beneficial dimensions of the gospel, and no one should question the gospel brings benefits to an individual person. So, the gospel can accomplish liberation (liberation gospel), the gospel can accomplish (mostly) material flourishing (prosperity gospel), the gospel can accomplish salvation from sins (forgiveness), the gospel can accomplish a theodicy (Anselm’s gospel), the gospel can accomplish relational completion (reconciliation), and the gospel can accomplish personal fulfillment (Joel Osteen’s gospel). The gospel is often presented through the benefits of one or more of these.

Those who focus on the benefits of the gospel often reflect on God’s grace and God’s love. For instance, Brennan Manning’s many writings, not the least of which is his Ragamuffin Gospel, focuses on God’s love and acceptance of unworthy messed up sinners. Phillip Yancey’s widely-read What’s So Amazing about Grace? probed the theme of seeing the gospel as the sheer and bounteous grace of God.

J.D. Greear’s new book, called Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, endorsed by the whole swathe of the NeoPuritan crowd, focuses on the gospel’s benefits and probes those benefits through the lens of the performance (religion) vs. trust/faith (gospel) categories that Tim Keller has used in his many books.

Here is where this post is going if you want to know: Greear’s right on God’s acceptance of us in Christ, but his understanding of the gospel is 100% through the lens of its benefits, it is entirely individualistic, it fails to deal adequately with the Storied framing of the gospel with Jesus and the apostles, and therefore misses an opportunity to teach the kingdom basis for seeing the gospel framed (by Jesus and the apostles) as about Jesus as King (Messiah) and Lord. In other words, I’m convinced his gospel is not christological enough and is one-sidedly soteriological. We need both, and we need them in the right order. Greear’s book is not as succinct as Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel? but both are what I call soterian approaches to the gospel. (On Wednesday I will examine the gospel presented by Bryan Chapell in the Carson-Keller book called The Gospel as Center.)

Greear’s approach is that of a person who had come to the end of his ropes of performing before God, of doing things religious and spiritual as acts of seeking God’s favor, of doing everything one can do to serve God. That is, his central concern is this question: “Am I doing enough for God?” (205). The gospel for Greear is that performance is religion and the gospel is about what God has done for us in Christ and that God has done everything for us and that therefore we can do nothing that gains acceptance before God. [I would have liked to see Greear talk about how often the Bible, not the least of whose characters who speak like this are Jesus and Paul, about heaven as reward, but he doesn't and that's that. And I'm not at all convinced this problem is the problem of the NT.]

Here are some of Greear’s ways of expressing the gospel, and for Greear gospel living flows theologically from gospel perception: we focus on what God has done, that overflows into gratitude and gospel-inspired actions of loving obedience.

The gospel turns religion [performance] upside down. The gospel assures us of God’s acceptance, given to us as a gift earned by Christ’s worthiness, not ours. In response to that gift, we are moved to obey. Love for Him grows in response to His love for us (36).

The gospel is that Christ has suffered the full wrath of God for my sin (46).

Zacchaeus was not changed by a command of Jesus, but by an experience with Jesus (62).

Thus, rather than enumerating a list of commands to obey, true gospel preaching highlights a story — a story about God that reveals such power and beauty that you are never the same once you have encountered it (64). And, “Gospel change is the Spirit of God using the story of God to make the beauty of God come alive in our hearts” (65).

That’s what being “gospel-centered” is really all about — not moving past the gospel, but continually going deeper into it. It’s about realizing that the gospel is the final answer to every issue and problem in life and about seeing the whole world through the lens of the cross (191).

Salvation [and he really does equate gospel and salvation] is not primarily about us doing something for God. Salvation is about knowing what God has done for us — and sitting in stunned awe of it (209). [False dichotomy.]

This gospel is counterintuitive for humans who are “hardwired for ‘works-righteousness’ — that is, the idea that what we do determines how God feels about us. Unless we are actively preaching the gospel to ourselves daily, we fall back into ‘works-righteousness’” (48). He continues throughout the book with this very theme:

Each day Jesus says to us, ‘You are My beloved child. I am wel pleased in you. Now live that way.’ Satan, on the other hand, says, ‘Look at you. Look at the condition of your circumstances. Look at how poorly you’re living. There is no way you are God’s beloved child” (52).

Preach the gospel to yourself. You must tell yourself that because of Jesus you have the absolute approval of the only One whose opinion really matters.

To make this gospel of acceptance and non-performance indelibly clear and imprinted into the soul, Greear has a four-part gospel prayer that clearly captures his perception of the gospel:

“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”
“Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”
“As You have been to me so I will be to others.”
“As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

At one point in the book, “God is Better,” Greear gets to a more christological gospel and gives a list of ways Jesus is better: better than … money, human love, any earthly pleasure, earthly power, and popularity. Greear later gets much closer to a christological center (instead of a soteriological center) when he says, “The gospel is an announcement that Jesus is Lord and that He has won the battle for your salvation” (222).

But this approach — not performance but what God has done for us, and once we bathe in that we are transformed into obedience — creates for Greear (and others like him, e.g., Tullian Tchividjian) a problem he faces on nearly every page of the Bible: why are there so many commands in the Bible? So he asks, “But if the gospel gives us the heart that fulfills the law, why does God still provide us with these rules and instructions?” He proposes the following reasons for the presence of law in the Bible, in the NT, in the face of those who are regenerate:

1. To enlighten our darkened hearts.
2. Obedience to the commandments limits the damage of our sin.
3. To discipline ourselves to practice certain behaviors that help us to develop a love for them.

And so we come to two sides of legalism — which is at the heart of the human problem for Greear — and it is (1) feeling closer to God because you do commands or (2) putting so much emphasis on the external commands that the inner life is neglected.

Greear then compares his gospel to distortions among other groups, and he contends the gospel is the priority and it is about what God has done and not what we are to do — so he pushes back against charismatic, seeker-sensitive, fundamentalist, younger, Reformed, prosperity gospel, discipleship-focused and emergent churches.

There is so much to say here — but it would take a chapter in a book. I agree with the grace-shaped focus of this book, and I do think the book should have been called Gospel of Grace or Grace because there’s so much more about the gospel in Jesus and the apostles that is not discussed. But I agree that we are saved by what God has done for us in Christ and not by what we do, but I want to point to a few problems I have with this book.

First, his emphasis on performance as religion begs a ton of questions, assumes a history of theology that was shaped by Luther and Calvin, and fails in the end to deal adequately with the reality of Torah in the Bible. Put a little more historically, Greear’s view of “performance” is a view of Judaism, NT works language, and humans in light of a misunderstanding of Judaism that posits “works” over against “grace” in a way that needs more careful discussion. In other words, he reads the NT in light of the Reformation’s battles with the Catholic church. Yes, this means the New Perspective of Judaism has been entirely neglected in this book. For instance, he says, “The preaching of the law produces only Pharisees” (63). I don’t know what he means here by “law” or by “Pharisees,” and I think the latter term is a stereotype that doesn’t match reality. There’s more to “law” in the Bible than what he means by “law.”

Second, and this one is a critic that concerns me about a trend I’m seeing among the young NeoPuritans. Anyone who has to explain why commands are present in the NT has misunderstood something very seriously. The fact is, God speaks from Genesis to Revelation through commands and almost never says “but first you have to understand that this command stuff only works if you are grace-soaked so that you can obey them, and if you are grace-shaped you will do them, and really don’t even need them.” Jesus loads his teachings with commands; Paul loads his moral sections with commands; read 1 John sometime — or read James, which is soaked in commandments. My complaint here is that if one has to justify commands in the Bible, one has made some wrong turns. If commands make you uncomfortable you’ve got something wrong theologically. If you want to say preach only God and God’s grace and never commands… well, then, you’re telling God that he should have done things in another way. Of course, we do these commands of God by God’s grace, but part of God’s grace is revelation — and Torah is part of how God communicates to us.

Third, as I said about Gilbert’s book in my King Jesus Gospel, I’m unconvinced these approaches to the gospel need the Old Testament, need the Story of Israel, need Jesus to be Messiah, and need to see the gospel as the announcement that the long-awaited Messiah has finally come to rule. This gospel of Greear is a soterian gospel through and through. There’s more, not less; the gospel includes the message of salvation, but it is starts with a Story that finds fulfillment in Christ, and from that Story we find salvation in the Savior.

Fourth, which leads me to a point I have made repeatedly on this blog and in my writing: the proper method for defining gospel in the NT is to examine where the NT is defining gospel, not by making our theological center the gospel and explaining our theology as gospel. The place to begin is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (3-8, 3-28), the gospeling sermons in Acts, and the Gospels as the gospel. I’m simply not convinced that method will yield Greear’s gospel of acceptance by what God has done and not by our performance. That gospel is more about the Story of Jesus; his gospel is about a theological mechanism in a justification worldview.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    Scot,

    Thanks for the honest and fair review. I have read a number of your books, most recently the King Jesus Gospel and have greatly benefited from your writings.

    Obviously, this is not the place for a lengthy interaction with your critique. I did find this to be a curious statement, though:

    “Anyone who has to explain why commands are present in the NT has misunderstood something very seriously…My complaint here is that if one has to justify commands in the Bible, one has made some wrong turns.”

    It seems that in nearly every epistle in which Paul discusses the law he has to “defend” himself against the charge of antinomianism. As his gospel-logic develops, for example, in Romans, he has to stop and say, “Am I teaching that we can sin freely that grace may abound? God forbid!” This was not a gratuitous logical insertion. The reason he had to put it in there is that a one-sided view of the gospel can lead one to that conclusion. Or, in 1 Timothy, Paul had to explain why the law is still “good.”

    Thus, it seems that your critique would have to apply to most of Paul’s writings, as well. And if our explanations of the gospel do not lead people to the same question, or compel us to defend ourselves against the same charge, then how are we preaching the same gospel logic Paul employed?

    Paul’s answer as to why the law is good is that the law is a reflection of God’s heart and purposes in the world. The law, Paul says in Timothy, is necessary for law-breakers (1 Tim 1:9). God doesn’t need any law; He does lawful things out of His character. As regenerated believers find ourselves in that place where we have been given new hearts but still struggling with our law-less flesh, we have to heed the law to train our flesh in new appetites for godliness. The greatest fuel for godly desires, however, is reflection on Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law and His death in our place. That produces the heart of God in us, something external conformity to the law is unable to do. The gospel is about producing a race of people who love what God loves, not merely do what God commands. The law is good as a reflection of God’s heart and purposes. Where our desires conflict, we must obey. But as we obey, we should cry out to God for renewed desires, so that we can obey the law like Jesus did, who needed no law. This, and only this, is the righteousness “that exceeds that of the Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20). Growth in that kind of heart comes most from reflection on what God has done (1 John 4:19).

    I was also curious as to what you thought of the chapter on what a gospel-centered church (ch 14) looked like. This would seem to be the place that “your” thought and mine merge the most. In that chapter, I talk about the “good news” the gospel has for the poor and broken in the world.

  • http://www.manafo.blogspot.com david

    Love this line:

    “the proper method for defining gospel in the NT is to examine where the NT is defining gospel, not by making our theological center the gospel and explaining our theology as gospel.”

    I know that I fall into this trap, and yet I find many of us use ‘gospel’ to really tell others what our theological center is: reformed, charismatic, Anabaptist, etc.

    Thanks for the continual clarity on this important issue Scot.

  • scotmcknight

    JD, thanks for writing in. I don’t know you well enough to have your e-mail, so I was unable to send to you a note that this was coming up.

    In short, Paul’s charge about antinomianism is not the same: that charge is that he no longer holds the Torah as valid or as authoritative because he evidently is not requiring circumcision and food laws and sabbath, etc,, not that he questions any sense of God’s demands, since he is full of demands/commandments/imperatives. There is, then, a difference between law as principle (which I see in your chp, at least that’s how I read it) and Law as sociological marker (which I see Paul being called out on).

    For me, then, the gospel ought to lead to this question: Do we have to become Jews or not? Not, do we have to follow God’s will as demand. I hope this is clear. So I would see some in your paragraph above that begins with “Paul’s answer…” to be false dichotomies. I can agree and still not agree with your entailments. E.g., “The gospel is about producing a race [yikes] of people who love what God loves [agree], not merely [who says this?] what God commands.” Surpassing righteousness is not inner vs. outer, but Jesus-shaped following vs. Torah-shaped following. Jesus’ statements there are through and through eschatological hermeneutics.

    I see something in you and Tullian, and a few others, that concerns me: namely, a desire to be so focused on grace (gospel as you would call it in this book and what God has done) that a need arises as to why God would even have commands. In other words, the approach is preach and teach grace and one won’t even need to speak of commands — I’ve heard this one so many times from some in your crowd. If that adequately describes a meme, then I have a big question about such a meme: evidently Paul thought commands were the way to teach ethics. Of course, they flow from grace but I’m not hearing the biblical balance enough. I’m hearing, preach grace and what God has done and we won’t even need to speak of commands. I see that in your chp of having to justify commands.

    Yes, I did like that chp much more, but please understand the gospel for me is first to talk about Jesus as King, Lord and Savior and that entails both justification and justice. He came to bring kingdom, and kingdom entails justice, but gospel and kingdom are not simply justice.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Helpful interaction, guys! Thanks for talking with each other and not past each other.

    I’m not sure if Rom. 6 can really contribute to the discussion of the law’s (however defined) function in biblical theology that you’re having. I think J.D. is right that Paul got challenged on the radical nature of grace and so should we if we’re preaching the same Gospel. Scot, would you disagree? But since there’s no mention of the law in the objection in 6:1, I don’t see that it helps settle the issue of “law” in relation to Paul’s gospel.

    Scot, I don’t see how Romans 7 wouldn’t get Paul called out on more than just “law as sociological marker.”

    Glad to see this discussion creating more than mere name calling (here’s to hoping that “soterian” doesn’t become the newest pejorative for the young and reformed).

  • scotmcknight

    Peter G., yes radical grace will create questions but not on the principle of law and demand, etc. Romans 7 has enough problems of its own to discuss in this context.

    But Peter I’m insistent on seeing “soterian” as a genuinely accurate descriptor for a way of framing gospel. Greear’s approach is soterian. That’s a description and it describes something I’m urging us all to rethink. First christology, then soteriology.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Scot, Romans 7 is definitely a tough nut but it’s still got to be dealt with ;) I’m also thinking now of 1 Cor. 15:56 (“the strength of sin is the law”) which would rankle more than just the sociological Border Patrol.

    I know you are always careful to use the term “soterian” descriptively. I’m hoping your readers follow suit.

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    Scot, Thanks.

    I would heartily agree that many in my “camp,” perhaps me, sometimes find ourselves in the precarious position of being more “gospel-centered” than Jesus. Paul frequently described the Christian life as a struggle, and the struggle implies commands that contradict our desires. I would say that is a deficiency in our teaching, but not necessarily in our approach to grace. The greatest book about the role of struggle and mortification in the Christian life was written, after all, by a Puritan (I’m thinking about John Owen).

    That concern was, in part, why I wrote the chapter on “why commands.” That wasn’t the first time I introduced commands in the book, I just thought it needed a fleshed out chapter. Your work has challenged me, and I remember reading your book King Jesus right after mine was published, and thinking you made some great points about the full scope of biblical gospel… and what that meant for my “title.” That said, I thought that all the rest of the things you observed about the “Gospel of King Jesus” flowed out of the finished work of Christ, not really as a subsidiary or subsequent part of it. Thus, the gospel of Christ’s finished work is the core of it all. Obviously, much more to be said on both sides regarding this.

    I know I’ve got a lot to develop in regarding this, and your work and others have sharpened me. Thanks. Blessings and look forward to future interaction.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    I appreciate J.D.’s emphasis on grace, but I cannot agree that it is solely reflection on the gospel that produces sanctification, nor can I agree that this is an accurate summary of NT teaching on spiritual transformation. That basically amounts to claiming that one or two very specific spiritual disciplines – reading the Bible and focused thinking / prayer – are intended to account for our whole sphere of beliefs, dispositions, psychological baggage, habits, etc. There is just too much good research (both biblical and psychological) about the necessity for a wide range of spiritual disciplines, employed within the context of God’s gracious gift of life in the Spirit through Christ, to bring about the believer’s gradual sanctification. We are actually given the means to do these things through the Spirit, and this means a great deal more than simply reflecting on the Gospel (which is, of course, an enormously helpful and important thing to do!). And, of course, some of Scot’s criticisms about the very definition of “Gospel” are helpful too; but an approach to sanctification that assumes the reality and availability of a transformed life, and the ability of believers to cooperate with the Spirit in practicing that life, has less to explain away about biblical commands than other conceptions of sanctification.

  • Rick

    Rory #8-

    “I cannot agree that it is solely reflection on the gospel that produces sanctification, nor can I agree that this is an accurate summary of NT teaching on spiritual transformation.”

    What do you do with John 15 (Vine, branches, abiding, “apart from me….nothing”,. etc…)?

  • http://michaeljdonahue.blogspot.com Mike Donahue

    This reminds me of the Easy Believism vs. Lordship Salvation debates between John MacAurthur and Zane Hodges, although I think you guys are being a lot more friendly.

    I agree with Scot that we have to keep Christ’ person, nature and offices as central in our presentation. John 1:12 says “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” What concerns me about Scot’s position is his acceptance of N. T. Wright and E. P. Sander’s New Perspective on Paul. I think reading Stephen Westerholm’s Perspectives New and Old on Paul will clear up that confusion.
    http://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Old-New-Paul-Lutheran/dp/0802848095/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333380050&sr=1-1

    I agree with Greear that “The greatest fuel for godly desires, however, is reflection on Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law and His death in our place. That produces the heart of God in us, something external conformity to the law is unable to do.” The fact is, apart from the redeeming grace of God, humanity is bent on works righteousness.

  • Bill

    Regarding commands – isn’t there a world of difference between a commandment that brings attention to itself (law) as a guide to righteous living, and a commandment that brings attention to God as the ‘Person’ to hear and obey as our Guide to righteous living? It seems to me that the former is the basis for the old covenant, and the latter the new. And, if I understand Paul’s letter to the Galatians, wasn’t the former designed to lead us to the second? In other words, where we find the former in the NT isn’t it used to bring us to the latter? Thus wouldn’t the ‘gospel’ be the whole story of God from Genesis to Revelation – one that brings all things into oneness with the Creator?

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    @Rick – What definition are you assuming for Jesus’ command to “abide”? Do you assume that John intends that language to refer primarily to Scripture reading and meditative, individual prayer (which is often what I think is communicated by the idea that Gospel reflection is what produces sanctification)? If so, that seems to contradict 15:10: “If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

    I suggest that “abide” refers to specific patterns of life that cultivate and maintain love and allegiance to Christ and cooperation with the Spirit. This seems to fit well with other NT passages about spiritual growth and sanctification, especially places like Rom. 6, 8, and 12 in which Paul seems to assume the possibility of a believer’s actively cooperating with the Spirit. This certainly includes individual prayer, Scripture reading, and reflection on the Gospel (although, again, it is important to keep in mind that what we mean by “Gospel” might be too narrow), but it would also include confession, celebration, eating together, sharing life in community, praying corporately, simplicity, practicing joy, etc.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    @Mike – It does not seem adequate to claim that what fuels godly desires is “reflection” on the Gospel. In other words, changing habits and beliefs is accomplished by sitting and thinking. This flies in the face of a great deal of research into process of human habit and belief formation and runs the risk of implying that those who still struggle with wrong beliefs and habits are simply not convinced enough of the Gospel, or simply ought to spend more minutes / hours in individual contemplation of certain Bible verses. Again, spending a long time meditating on passages of Scripture is an incredibly healthy and beneficial thing to do, but it is meant to take place in context of an overall kind of life which includes healthy involvement in community and other spiritual disciplines put in place in the power of the Spirit to act as conduits for the kind of life now available through the kingdom to believers who are new creations.

    Furthermore, Mike, your citation of Westerholm’s book – as though it answers all possible questions about the NP debate! – seems a bit disingenuous, even given how helpful that book undoubtedly is. Some Jews may have believed what is called “works righteousness” but there is ample evidence that other Jews understood that their standing with God was due to grace and grace alone.

  • scotmcknight

    JD, thanks for your graciousness — after all, I pointed at you in this post. Here’s a big one for me: in my view, many (I’m not saying this about you) see in the word “gospel” what amounts to “my theology, a rich theology of grace that is far more difficult to accept and is far more rigorous than others think and there are only a few of us who really believe it all and have the courage to take it all in.” In other words, “gospel” has become “high Calvinist theology.” Much of what I see in TGC’s gospel-shaped, gospel-focused, gospel-this-and-that, is for me mostly the same as high Calvinism.

    Remove it all and replace it with “Jesus, King Jesus, Lord, Savior” and now we’ve got the gospel. The gospel is about Jesus, not about our theological systems. I see then in your study an emphasis with which I’d agree as a theology, we are accepted by God on the basis of what God has done for us and not by what we do … all is well at good there, but the gospel is first and foremost a declaration of good news about Jesus as King.

    The gospel is not that I’m accepted but that Jesus is King, he is accepted in the beloved circle of the Father, and because we are in him we too are accepted. Make sense to you?

  • Rick

    Rory #12-

    I don’t think we are that far apart. But notice that you are quoting Scripture/the words of Jesus to point out what we should be doing. As we meditate (“Abide in me”, “if my words remain in you”, etc…) on such passages, including your quote from John 15:10, we are strengthened to do such things. It is an outflow of that relationship with Him.

    Likewise, as we focus on the gospel, and I speak of the fuller gospel Scot speaks of, we are shaped by the recognition of His greatness. We are drawn in for deeper and deeper relationship, and the resulting keeping of His commands.

    But again, I don’t think we are that far apart in regards to what abiding consists of.

  • Nathan C

    Prof. McKnight, if we make the kind of distinction you’re insisting upon between the gospel/Christology and the benefits of the gospel, how do we say the gospel is good news? To put it more pointedly, what difference is there between saying “Jesus is Lord” and “Caesar is Lord”? The answer is much, of course, but it’s hard to talk about the character of Jesus when we’re forbidden from being specific about his benevolence.

    Am I misreading you? Because, I don’t see the gospel being divorced from its benefits in 1 Cor 15 or the gospel sermon in Acts 2. It looks more like the benefit is being used to help explain Christ’s character. 1 Cor 15 starts off by noting that Christ died for our sins and proceeds to affirm that Christ was raised and through him comes resurrection. Likewise, the climax of the Acts 2 sermon is Peter’s identification of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, but he sets this in context by beginning by quoting Joel about how God will pour out his Spirit and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In both passages, the nature of the benefit conferred tells you who Christ is.

  • scotmcknight

    Nathan, nor do I divorce benefits from christology — ever (though some have read me that way in spite of what I say and no matter how many times I say they keep repeating it). The good news depends on what the bad news is, and uniformly soterians think the bad news is that “I am a sinner.” Well, yes, but the bad news begins with Adam and Eve usurping the role of God in this world so the bad news is that we need a king and Jesus is that king. The good news is that this king has come, and that means that king’s rule brings redemption. So the good news is not just the benefit, and I see too many gospel presentations to be 100% framed by the benefit to us personally. The gospel is that Jesus is King and Lord — that’s what we announce. First christology, then soteriology. Not soteriology, which then forms a christology wherein Christ is used to bring the benefits. This order thing matters immensely.

  • Nathan C

    Prof. McKnight, it was very kind of you to respond. If you don’t mind a follow up question, would it be more fair to your views to say that you think that the gospel is more than but includes its benefits? I appreciate that you don’t want people to try to get the benefits without Christ (Amen!), but I think people hear you trying to prevent that by making a distinction (a much more moderate word than divorce) between the gospel and second-order benefits implied by the gospel.

    A rigid distinction between the two has christological implications, right? It would make it difficult to call gospel that “Christ is Savior” because that inherently benefits someone. And a lot of christological material in John would be similarly suspect; “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” could be a great benefit to those who have seen Jesus.

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    Scot, it does. I am still processing a lot of this. I don’t have a problem with your final statement except insofar as some may use it to downplay the centrality of Christ’s substitutionary work in His gospel. Because the sin of humans was the primary problem, everything flows from His removal of its power and curse in the cross. He was King before we rebelled and would have been declared King had we never done so.

    The Son’s birth as Jesus was specifically to reverse the curse sinner’s had brought upon themselves. In the fulness of time, Paul says, God sent forth His Son to be… born under the law, that He might redeem those under the law. HIs declaration of King was and is a redemptive declaration. Paul says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

    All of Jesus’ work hinged upon that central act. What we do now flows from it as well. All of His healing and justice acts, and ours as well, begin with the redemption begun in the cross and which we taste the firstfruits of in the resurrection. To separate “King Jesus” in any way from “substitutionary death Jesus,” as if they were not essentially integrated, would be unwarranted, as I see it.

    Also, I do not see what I am arguing as being “high Calvinism.” In the Reformation tradition, yes, but in the stream of many branches of the reservation, many of whom would not prefer to classify themselves as Calvinism. A unity around the substitutionary nature of Christ’s work and its apprehension by faith alone would be larger rubric I’d prefer to write under.

    To other commenters, I would note that some are responding to a position I do not hold nor advocate in the book. Your concerns about a lazy approach to sanctification I hold as well. I do not believe our only work in sanctification is simply to reflet on what Christ has done. That is where our sanctification begins, and is the most defining force in our sanctification, but we are to struggle, to mortify, to discipline, to pursue, and to fight in our sanctification. I think especially helpful here are the works of Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, et al.

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    P.S. That last comment turned out to be much longer than I intended it to be. I started out intending 2 sentences and ended up with a small tome. I am not trying to extend our conversation and will consider myself “heard” on this matter. Thanks for taking time to interact with my thoughts!

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    P.P.S. Please excuse the absurd number of typos in that last comment. Note that “reservation” is supposed to be “Reformation.” I would blame it on the 4 kids running around my family room yelling their heads off right now, but that would be an excuse I use too often.

  • Larry

    Nobody’s answered a “milque-toast” accusation yet, that a system that needs to so carefully place commandments in such large bowl of benefits is in danger of making the meal too soggy.

    Exhibit 1. Romans. Paul does not give his readers a single commandment until Romans 6, and it is to consider themselves dead to sin. It is not milque-toast. It is not ignoring the Law. It is not catering to the flesh or ignoring the Lordship of Christ, to speak of God’s equipping work, so that the soldier not run out unequipped.

  • Larry

    The event itself, that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus, whom you crucified,” Acts 2:36 — has ramifications for both heaven, and earth too.

    Scot, you in effect ask a very good question, does a message that puts the benefits of Christ for its hearers in the forefront need “the Old Testament, need the Story of Israel, need Jesus to be Messiah, and need to see the gospel as the announcement that the long-awaited Messiah has finally come to rule”?

    Saying that Acts 2:36 alone, or a summary like it, is the gospel, and that its benefits are properly part of its implications, is fine, when we’re aligning things logically and seeing what follows from what, what is implied by what, etc. It’s certainly very true that benefits flow from God having made the Jesus whom they crucified both Lord and Christ.

    Let’s grant that forgiveness and other benefits follow logically from Acts 2:36. Let’s grant that there are very important present-life blessings in the OT, Israel, Christ as Messiah, and His rule.

    Now, do we want those of our listeners who are dead spiritually, to come to life or not?! Did Peter, having accused them of crucifying Christ, and announced that God was making Christ’s enemies His footstool, finish there?

    That’s why Paul says it is of first importance to the gospel that Christ died for our sins, and why Peter goes on in Acts 2 to tell them how to be forgiven. How would it sound to them, that bare fact alone, that God has made the Jesus whom they crucified both Lord and Christ, when Peter had just finished saying that Christ was to sit down until God put all Christ’s enemies under his feet?

  • Scot McKnight

    Well, Nathan, I’m no longer concerned that people are hearing or repeating it. I have said over and over that christology entails salvation; I distinguish but do not see soteriology as second-order.

    The gospel saves; but the gospel is not just Jesus died for me but that he lived, died, was buried, was raised, exalted, etc.. to the end of time when God is all in all. The gospel completes/fulfills the Story of Israel so that is the context of what it makes it good news, and while Jesus came to save sinners — that isn’t all he did. He came to be King and as King and Lord he saves.

    Here’s a question for all of us:

    Why is there so little about personal salvation in the Old Testament? I once asked an evangelical OT scholar that question and he said he could think of only one or two texts in the entire OT that really did bring that up. Why then if the central problem is our sin is this so rarely the focus of the texts? (I do think the sacrificial system gets to this but it does so in a comprehensive way and not so much in a conversional way, so I’d include that as part of my texts in the OT.)

    Why then is the driving force of the OT a narrative about Israel’s life as a nation and its yearning for a king — king stuff everywhere and all the time — the whole of the historical books are shaped/influenced by this theme. And the prophets are looking to a day when God would finally establish his reign and bring redemption — understood as forgiveness, peace, justice, peace, love — to his people. That narrative makes total sense for the NT gospel being “The King is now here! It’s Jesus!”

  • Scot McKnight

    JD, I believe in substitutionary atonement (see my A Community called Atonement) as how, but not the only how, atonement occurs. The cross is central to the Story of Jesus.

  • Scot McKnight

    JD, I should have collated all this:

    I should have been more clear; I’m speaking in general about high Calvinism not about you. I didn’t see that much Calvinism in your book, but I suspect you’re in that camp.

  • Larry

    Scot, I’d like also to comment on your great spoof, “The fact is, God speaks from Genesis to Revelation through commands and almost never says “but first you have to understand that this command stuff only works if you are grace-soaked so that you can obey them, and if you are grace-shaped you will do them, and really don’t even need them.”

    (This is a very good point. At least you didn’t say “grace-besotted.”)

    Protestants get confused between sola fide, and some sort of prima fide; between something being solely through faith, and something being through “faith first.”

    Protestantism’s understanding of sola fide does not depend on all those “first you have to” things you mention. Due to over-systematization and tidy categories, we think of the order of things as always the same. Was it for Cornelius (Ac 10:4; 11:13)? Was it for Abraham (Gen 12:1; 15:6)? Paul (22:10, 16)? In other words, were God’s doings with those individuals, whom He undoubtedly saved, through faith first, prior in time to anything else? Is that the ordo?

    So, not having the need to invent a “faith first” for those individuals, how about the disciples of Christ? Did the fishermen drop their nets because of a prior experience of faith? In John, “the disciples believed in him” (2:11), that is, Christ, after already being his disciples (2:1). The gospel of John is unique in giving a conversational paradigm for the beginnings of the following of Jesus by Nathanael, Philip, Simon Peter, and Andrew, in Jn 1.

    In all these cases, Protestants need have no shame over sola fide, because God is free to accept a sinner through faith alone, which Trent anathematized.

  • Larry

    Perhaps the dialog has seemed to have died down, so let me add a snippet on your last intruiging question, Scot. “Why is there so little about personal salvation in the Old Testament? I once asked an evangelical OT scholar that question and he said he could think of only one or two texts in the entire OT that really did bring that up.”

    In analogy, it’s like the bride’s sister asking the groom why he waited so long to reveal his intentions: we can know something, that God the Father was honoring the work of the Son, including the time of it. It is our privelege to hear any of the details of the timing of it at all, phrases like “the fulness of time” in Galatians 4, and other phrases like Paul’s “because of the forebearance of God, having passed over the sins previously committed, for the demonstration of his righteousness at the present time.” in Rm 3.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot, this post has really stretched me mainly because I find the language used in your points to be uninspiring and difficult to relate to. Now, the stretch part of me is to try and figure out why I feel that way since I agree with your points.

    What I have come up with is an analogy. My analogy (is that the right word) is of an archer where Jesus is telling us how to hit the target but we concentrate on the grip, the aim, the type of arrow etc but still miss the target.

    Worse yet, the target is not actually hitting a bulls eye, but experiencing the joy that comes from hitting a bulls eye.

    So we misinterpret the instructions as an end, and then we misinterpret the target with an end, but what we need to realize is that the end is something else entirely other. We need to realize that the attempt, or the competition, or the practice or …. what I am not sure,….is the end. Not hitting the target.

    Thanks for a thought provoking time on this.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Oh, I also found this sentence,

    That’s what being “gospel-centered” is really all about — not moving past the gospel, but continually going deeper into it.

    to be the essence of your article and what I find best about the gospel.

    The goal orientation of our culture obscures the true nature of why we are here. It is not to achieve a goal, it is to understand and experience the …. experience, the interaction, the relationship

    Sorry to anyone who has say these things already, I have not read the other comments…..so little time…

  • Jordan

    Just one comment. My pastor, J.D. Greear, preaches God’s commands to us. He does this to help us as forgiven sinners pursue a more holy life. In fact, he did a whole series helping us better understand how to obey the Lord’s commands. Check out his series on the 10 Commandments called “This is What the Heart Looks Like.” http://sermons.summitrdu.com/sermons/

  • Bev Mitchell

    Has anyone else noticed that in a fairly extensive, and well argued, discussion of a book entitled “Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary”, there has been barely any mention of the Holy Spirit? Just call me puzzled.

  • http://42lifeinbetween.wordpress.com Matthew Rushing

    I would say that it is not that we have to explain the commands, every there is a list of “commands” it is preceded by an explanation of the power to actually carry out what is listed. The power to do those things come not through me but through what has been done on my behalf. Jesus has done what I cannot and it is through the power of the Holy Spirit working in me that I can begin to see the “commands” or fruits really show up in my life.

    From personal experience, I can say that this understanding of the gospel has revolutionized my life. I have actually been able to change and become more devoted to the “commands” in Scripture because I know what Jesus has done for me, I can to nothing to be loved more or less and so it frees me to completely abandon all for Him. When one feels the freedom of the gospel then on will find nothing sweeter than following the guidelines of the Creator, Sustainer and Provider.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Jordan @ 31: searched through the whole list of available sermon more than twice and couldn’t find “This is What the Heart Looks Like.” If you have a specific link please post that. Lots of other interesting sounding stuff, but not that one.

  • Chris White

    Bev, interesting point but the Scriptures do say the Holy Spirit will speak about Christ, not himself.

    Peace.

  • Josh

    JD, If your still reading. Thanks for writing your book. After reading Scot’s book King Jesus Gospel I started a study of the gospel in the scriptures and read various books about the gospel. Of those ‘soterian’ type books I enjoyed yours the best. Primarily because you have a wonderful way of describing the relationship Christians have with God. Spot on awareness of Gods acceptance and grace. The more I think about his grace the more I want to obey.

    Others,
    JD’s initial reference to Rom 6.1 sparks this comment. One thing I see in Romans 6.1-11 is Paul’s narrative and participational logic operating in his answer to the rhetorical question. That is believers have participated in the sequence of core events of the gospel narrative – the death and resurrection of Christ. Likewise Christian identity is now shaped by that same sequential narrative (Rom 6.11). Q. Can we say now our identity is shaped by the gospel?… The question in 6.1 is not generated from Christians being law free, it is generated from being brought from sin/death to new life/obedience.
    Paul’s answer to Rom 6.15 is more along the lines of being law free perhaps. Here however Paul’s underlying logic concerns slavery and ownership (redemption language). Anticipating Rom 7.4-6. Old form of slavery – old form of obedience. New form of slavery – new form of obedience. Paul is not on about throwing out Christian responsibility to their new owner. At the same time we can rejoice in the assurances given (Rom 5.8-10; 8.1,31-39; etc).

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot,
    I found this post very useful on a couple of different levels. On one level, it was helpful to hear you interact with this book and to think about it in light of King Jesus Gospel.

    On another level, I found it useful for reflecting on my own preaching and teaching. How does what I actually say regarding the gospel actually compare with what I think I am communicating? How does what I say actually line up with what I am thinking? When on the spur of the moment, I am in the position of articulating the gospel, what do I actually say (compared to what I might carefully write down if I had to put something in writing)?

  • Bev Mitchell

    #35 Chris,
    Very true. Yet Paul seems to spend a lot of thine talking about, admonishing us to be aware of, in sync with, the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t seem like we should be as quiet about him as we often are. For a thorough look at Paul and the Holy Spirit check out Gordon Fee’s “God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul”. There us also a mini-version available entitled ” Paul, the Spirit and the people of God”. The latter would make a very good adult class study guide.
    Blessings,
    Bev

  • Bev Mitchell

    PS
    In a similar vein, but more up to date with current discussions – and cheaper, and with a digital edition is Amos Yong’s “Who is the Holy Spirit? A Walk with the Apostles”.

  • Bentley

    “In short, Paul’s charge about antinomianism is not the same: that charge is that he no longer holds the Torah as valid or as authoritative because he evidently is not requiring circumcision and food laws and sabbath, etc,, not that he questions any sense of God’s demands, since he is full of demands/commandments/imperatives. There is, then, a difference between law as principle (which I see in your chp, at least that’s how I read it) and Law as sociological marker (which I see Paul being called out on).”

    After reading this post this morning I later was reading Acts 15 and had this question in regards to what you said above in regards to the NT writers seeing their problems with the law as mainly sociological. Here in this Acts passage the believers who belonged to the Pharisees challenged the story of the Gentile’s conversion thinking that they must become circumcised and keep the law of Moses.

    Now, the way Peter responds seems to me to up the ante and move this from being a sociological issue to a soteriological issue. In v. 10 he equates what they are asking with putting a “yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” And then he goes further in v. 11 saying “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

    Am I reading this passage wrongly or does it seem like here that Peter saw the disagreement on the role of the law as more than sociological?

  • http://www.shenvi.org Neil Shenvi

    Scot,
    When J.D. pointed out that Paul was often charged with antinomianism as a consequence of the gospel he preached, you responded:

    “There is, then, a difference between law as principle (which I see in your chp, at least that’s how I read it) and Law as sociological marker (which I see Paul being called out on).”

    But if you look at the statements of Paul’s critics in Rom 3:8 or 6:1, their objection to Paul’s gospel was ‘Shall we sin that grace may abound?’ This objection implies that they saw the soteriological content of Paul’s gospel as a stumbling block rather than its sociological content. If the charge of antinomianism was merely related to sociological concerns, as you claim, then they would have instead asked: ‘Shall we cease to be circumcised that grace may abound?’ Thus, these objections undermine the claim that ‘antinomianism’ had merely to do with a rejection of the law as a covenant marker and support JD’s (and Luther’s and Calvin’s) understanding of the gospel as the good news of what Jesus has done for us and in our place to rescue us.

  • http://www.shenvi.org Neil Shenvi

    I also wanted to comment on your statement:

    “the proper method for defining gospel in the NT is to examine where the NT is defining gospel, not by making our theological center the gospel and explaining our theology as gospel. The place to begin is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (3-8, 3-28), the gospeling sermons in Acts, and the Gospels as the gospel”

    While I agree with the principle that Scripture should drive our theology and not the other way around, I am trying to understand how you minimize the soteriological content of the gospel by such appeals. Let’s consider the very places you cite.

    The ‘gospel creed’ in 1 Cor. 15 begins:

    1 Cor. 15:3 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died _for our sins_ [emph. added] according to the Scriptures”

    Peter concludes his first sermon in Acts with the following statement:

    Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ _for the forgiveness of your sins_ [emph. added]. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    Jesus issues the following statement in the Luke’s version of the Great Commission:

    Luke 24:47: “and repentance and _forgiveness of sins_ [emph. added] will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

    Are these statements (let alone the lengthy descriptions of the gospel in Paul’s letters) not emphasizing the ‘beneficial’ aspect of forgiveness of sins as central to the gospel itself? If the gospel is primarily a declaration that Christ is Lord, then how is that ‘good news’ since I am by nature a sinner and rebel against God? It seems to be that the ‘goodness’ of the ‘good news’ is predicated on the declaration that Christ is both Lord and Savior. Without the assurance that Christ reconciled us to God through his loving, compassionate, amazing, and infinitely costly redeeming sacrifice, the news of the gospel is not good news at all.

  • Scot McKnight

    Neil, I don’t minimize salvation. First Christology then soteriology.

  • Scot McKnight

    Bentley, good point but my access is too limited but that text can be seen about Jewishness. There are a few law as principle texts but not many.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I think Scott is right (#17), the order (The Lord then his benefits) is crucial. However, as I tried to point out in #32, there is a glorious elephant in the room. In the light of the NT emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and the entire Scripture’s revelation of the Holy Spirit as the person of the Trinity who does the things that need doing in our world, how can discussion proceed on such a topic with so scarce reference to the Spirit?

    To make sure that my first, admittedly cursory, reading of the posts was accurate, I have now gone through them carefully. For anyone interested, the results appear below. Listed, and sometimes commented on, are all references to the Holy Spirit, and all places where a reference to him cried out to be made, but wasn’t.

    #8 Rory
    “We are actually given the means to do these things through the Spirit, and this means a great deal more than simply reflecting on the Gospel (which is, of course, an enormously helpful and important thing to do!).”

    #12 Rory
    “I suggest that “abide” refers to specific patterns of life that cultivate and maintain love and allegiance to Christ and cooperation with the Spirit………Paul seems to assume the possibility of a believer’s actively cooperating with the Spirit.”

    #13 Rory
    “Again, spending a long time meditating on passages of Scripture is an incredibly healthy and beneficial thing to do, but it is meant to take place in context of an overall kind of life which includes healthy involvement in community and other spiritual disciplines put in place in the power of the Spirit to act as conduits for the kind of life now available through the kingdom to believers who are new creations.”

    #14 Scott
    “The gospel is not that I’m accepted but that Jesus is King, he is accepted in the beloved circle of the Father, and because we are in him we too are accepted.” 

    Beautiful, succinct, inspiring. But isn’t the beloved circle the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

    #16 Nathan C.
    “Likewise, the climax of the Acts 2 sermon is Peter’s identification of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, but he sets this in context by beginning by quoting Joel about how God will pour out his Spirit and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In both passages, the nature of the benefit conferred tells you who Christ is.”

    Yes, but this is all of a piece. Don’t miss the first 13 verses of Acts 2, or Ac 2:33, which sort of sums it up. These are the kinds  of references I find missing in this discussion about “Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary”.

    # 17 Scott
    “The gospel is that Jesus is King and Lord — that’s what we announce. First christology, then soteriology. Not soteriology, which then forms a christology wherein Christ is used to bring the benefits. This order thing matters immensely.” 

    Absolutely! “Jesus is King and Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

    #19 J.D. Greear
    “I do not believe our only work in sanctification is simply to reflet on what Christ has done. That is where our sanctification begins, and is the most defining force in our sanctification, but we are to struggle, to mortify, to discipline, to pursue, and to fight in our sanctification. I think especially helpful here are the works of Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, et al.”

    Yes, there sometimes is struggle, mortification and discipline, but the Scriptures have much more to say about the decisive role of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. Among many others, there are references to calmness and peace (John 16:33; Phil. 4:4-7);extraordinary sweetness (Ps. 36:9 and ESV notes); extraordinary joy (John 16:22; Ps. 84:5-9 and ESV notes; Is. 40:31); spiritual wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-13); (the first three with reference to Saint Seraphim of Sarov)

    In addition, we can’t forget Paul’s declaration in 1 Cor. 2:4 and ESV note) “…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men in the power of God.” Or Saint Seraphim’s words “What God requires is true faith in Himself and His only-begotten Son. In return for that the grace of the Holy Spirit is granted abundantly from on high.” from “On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit”. We would argue with the good Saint about methods, but the results are unmistakable.

    #24 Scott
    “the gospel is not just Jesus died for me but that he lived, died, was buried, was raised, exalted, etc.. to the end of time when God is all in all.” 

    Amen and amen. And the “etc” could be replaced by “and sent us the Holy Spirit.”

    #27 Larry, Scott
    Are not “grace” and the Holy Spirit synonymous, at least at times?

    #29 and #30 DRT
    “So we misinterpret the instructions as an end, and then we misinterpret the target with an end, but what we need to realize is that the end is something else entirely other. We need to realize that the attempt, or the competition, or the practice or …. what I am not sure,….is the end. Not hitting the target.” 

    “The goal orientation of our culture obscures the true nature of why we are here. It is not to achieve a goal, it is to understand and experience the …. experience, the interaction, the relationship”

    Here one could discuss at length the powerful, necessary role of the Holy Spirit.

    #33 Matthew Rushing
    “The power to do those things come not through me but through what has been done on my behalf. Jesus has done what I cannot and it is through the power of the Holy Spirit working in me that I can begin to see the “commands” or fruits really show up in my life.”

    #35 Chris White
     “the Scriptures do say the Holy Spirit will speak about Christ, not himself.”

    Yes, but see #38 and #39

    #42 Neil Shenvi
    “Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ _for the forgiveness of your sins_ [emph. added]. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.””

    Yes, “the gift of the Holy Spirit” should sort this out! Paul was overtaken on the road to Damascus by the Spirit, not by a realization that he could be saved, but by a realization that Jesus was the Messiah; a realization that God had come into our human existence as the Son; and ultimately a realization that the Spirit had been given to help us overcome evil and to guide us in all truth.

    Note to the interested. Despite the quote from Saint Seraphim,  I’m not Eastern Orthodox, just your garden variety non-denominational, bapticostal, holiness movement pietist who remains puzzled with the nature, not the content, of this  important conversation.

    Sorry to preach – and I’m not a pastor or preacher……… but don’t ask my wife about the latter!

    Blessings all,

    Bev

  • http://www.andyrowell.net Andy Rowell

    Interesting to see my friends Scot and JD interact here. JD’s multi-site church here in Durham draws more Duke undergrads than any church in the area I think. I am not sure that Willow Creek where Scot attends and The Summit which JD re-planted and pastored look that different–both with interest in seeing adults come to Christ and be baptized and both try to emphasize racial reconciliation and reaching out to the needs of the surrounding community. Both eschew traditional liturgy in favor of sola Scriptura (though Scot himself has a more interest in the Great Tradition).

    JD is trying to avoid being labeled and pigeon-holed as Southern Baptist and Calvinist which I think is good for both theological and evangelistic reasons, and Scot is trying to charitably dialogue with Gospel Coalition folks to try to keep evangelicalism from splintering through caricature, group-think, and people talking past one another. So with JD and Scot I think there is some nice potential overlap here for dialogue.

    I hear Scot saying that JD (for reasons somewhat inexplicable to Scot) reduces “gospel” to grace for the the individual Christian. Is there not more “good news” in the Bible than “forgiveness of sins” thought that is certainly one major aspect?

    I was reading this today in Karl Barth and thought it echoed Scot’s accusation.

    “It was an intolerable truncation of the Christian message when the older Protestantism steered the whole doctrine of the atonement-and with it, ultimately, the whole of theology-into the cul de sac of the question of the individual experience of grace.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1 p. 150).

    Barth also writes,
    “The phrase ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is well adapted to sum up all that has to be said in this connexion. But it is better not to try to sum it all up in this phrase . . . the term ‘child of God’ signifies the unprecedented fact of a kinship of being which God has promised and guaranteed to man.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1 p. 599).

    I hear JD saying that he has a place for the things Scot mentions but still wants to foreground salvation from sin.

    I don’t know if I agree with Scot that “king” language is THE most significant theme of biblical theology that it provides the breadth that salvation from sin precludes. Scot himself hedges by acknowledging Old Testament emphasis on the sacrificial system. It is probably better to draw upon all three of the munus triplex (prophet, priest, and king) metaphors though I think these are too flexible to be of much help. But I really like that Scot wants to hold together Jesus’ person and work and suggests that a better description of the “gospel” than just “grace” are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). One can summarize the gospel briefer as “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) or “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9) but that is clearly shorthand for the longer description of the life and work of Jesus the Messiah as described in the Gospels and incomprehensible apart from the Old Testament.

  • http://www.jdgreear.com J.D. Greear

    Andy, thanks for your gracious interpretation of my comments, and even more for your charitable presentation of our church’s interests in our city.

    I think you are right that I am saying that the foreground of “salvation” is Christ’s propitiatory work on the righteous anger of the Father against sin.

    Ultimately, the reason we need salvation is because of the curse of sin. The curse at work in the world goes back to sin, and apart from sin there is no curse. Apart from Christ’s dealing with the curse of sin at the cross, there is no healing on earth.

    Thus, all the good news of salvation just begin with Christ’s substitutionary, salvific work, and everything else flows out of that.

    That is why “gospel” is inextricably linked to Christ’s removal of sin’s curse on the cross. It’s why Paul equated the gospel with Christ’s propitiatory work (Romans 1:16), or even called it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). To die for sin is specifically why Paul said Christ came (1 Tim 1:15; Gal 4:4)

    I do not think it is fair to say that emphasizing such precludes a robust involvement in the extension of Jesus’ healing and peace into societal ills (and, to note, neither you nor Scot have done that). I would argue that instead such a belief leads you to engage the needs of the world more energetically, and more effectively. Our generation has not “discovered” the needs of the world. Almost every sub-Saharan hospital in Africa before 50 years ago was built by Protestant evangelical missionaries.

    If anything, I believe our generation at a Christian is in danger of losing the greatest work (preaching Christ’s salvation) in the midst of all the good works. We care about Tom’s shoes, but what about Tom’s soul?

    Christ defined our mission simply: to be witnesses to Him and what He has done. Paul’s shorthand for that was “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.” (again, Acts 20:24)

    Thanks again!

  • Susan

    J.D.,

    I appreciate your concluding thoughts here, especially:

    “If anything, I believe our generation at a Christian is in danger of losing the greatest work (preaching Christ’s salvation) in the midst of all the good works. We care about Tom’s shoes, but what about Tom’s soul?

    Christ defined our mission simply: to be witnesses to Him and what He has done. Paul’s shorthand for that was “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.” (again, Acts 20:24)”

    I would add that part of the commission is to then teach the disciples/converts ‘to obey all that I’ve commanded”…which gets back Scot’s thoughts, but yes, salvation is in the foreground.

    Bev #45,

    I too was noticing the lack of inclusion of the Spirit’s role in the discussion when I noticed your first mention of it. You make some good points.

    Darrell Bock said this to me regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

    “In my mind, this moral provision is what the Spirit does for us, making us holy and covering us with Jesus by incorporating us into him so we are in him and (have put on Jesus). In my mind, thinking as a Jew, the forgiveness cleanses, rendering us clean outside of ourselves and anything we do, then the Spirit is the provision by which holiness is present and enabled. It is all a gift of God’s grace.”

    I think this ties things together in this discussion. Bock is not one to overlook the role of the Spirit.

    In fact, his book: Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News, ”connects the dots of the gospel throughout the Bible” (starting with the OT) with astute thoroughness. It’s a short scripture-packed read.

    Here’s a quote: “[regarding the new covenant] Two key ingredients came with this elaboration of God’s promise [Jer. 31:31-34]. First, there would be forgiveness of sin; second, God’s law would be written on the heart. That long history of unfaithfulness—even by God’s own people–demonstrated that human beings didn’t have it within themselves to keep their end of the covenant bargain. They needed God’s presence and power within them.”

    Ezek 36:25-27 ‘….I will give you a new heart and put my spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.

    “A new heart. A new Spirit. A new start. If God’s people are going to obey God’s law consistently, it won’t be by trying harder. It will be by God’s Spirit dwelling within them.”

  • Susan

    Scot,
    how about including Bock’s book, Recovering the Real Lost Gospel; Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News, in your reviews? He actually recommended your book to me awhile ago, and I suppose you know he wrote a blog on your King Jesus Gospel (at bible.org).

  • Bev Mitchell

    #48 Susan
    Thanks for the good quotes and response. I was beginning to think that no one was getting my point. Also thanks for the tip on the Bock book, It’s on my Kindle and I’ll move it up the list.
    Bev

  • Susan

    Bev,
    Just a thought….
    I wonder if your comments would have been more ‘noticed’ if you didn’t appear to be a woman(?) You might want to rethink using your nickname (?)
    Bt the same token I should try using my first initial!

  • Bev Mitchell

    #51 Susan

    Ha, Ha!
    Great minds…………:)
    I’ve been responding to various blogs of this general type (Oord, Olson, Jeff Clark in Canada) for a year or so now and have personally corresponded with all of them (well, with RJS here). After more than 65 years, I’m so used to the problem of having a “girls” name, that I usually give it no thought, until the last few days – since my diatribe here on the lack of reference to the Holy Spirit, in fact. 

    I’m of two minds on the issue, and just today was talking with a friend about it. His immediate reaction was, sounds like fun, why tell them? By then I had already decided to “tell them”, but something didn’t seem quite right about it. It’s certainly not right that it should matter, but it does!

    On the issue of using your initials, I vote no. It is very encouraging for me (perhaps for many) to see at least some women commenting. I’m a biologist, and by the time I retired 10 years ago, my department (one of the largest in Canada) was approaching the 50% mark for female faculty members. We probably passed that mark for students two decades ago!

    Writing this reminded me of a great essay by Joseph E. Coleson entitled “How Ever Shall We Preach Genesis 1-11?” Among other things, Coleson fearlessly takes on traditional interpretations re gender relationships based on the garden story. The following quote is from part 5 of his essay entitled “God’s creation intention was and is for gender (and other) equality among humans”. I can’t resist the following quote which clearly shows where he stands: “………. to teach that women are second class members of God’s family……… is sin of the first order. It is rebellion against the will and desire of God, revealed from the very beginning.”

     Coleson has a commentary on Genesis 1-11 coming out as “NBBC Genesis 1-11: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (New Beacon Bible Commentary”). It’s on my “watch for” list.

    Oh yes, the book containing his essay is “The Bible Tells Me So: Reading the Bible as Scripture” edited by Thomas Jay Oord and Richard P. Thompson

    Blessings,
    Bev

  • Susan

    Bev, It’s true of course that women are not second class members of God’s family, but I find that theology is primarily a man’s world. I’ve gotten used to dialoging with men on theological topics, but it does carry some interesting dynamics at times. I think that people tend to assume that a woman is not likely to be very knowledgable, theologically speaking. Often the most knowledgeable commenters are men, so perhaps a woman’s thoughts are more often overlooked.

    I’m highly interested in this topic, which is getting a lot of attention lately–that of “What is the gospel?”. It seems to be packaged in so many different ways now. Some emphases concern me as I see them weighting things in ways which distract from God’s priorities.

    BTW, my grandfather was a biologist, and my dad an MD. Most of the docs in the lab were men, but I think there have been a few women over the years. Dad gave much honor to the female lab-tecs, in a fun-loving sort of way. I don’t think he ever viewed himself as more important than anyone. Certainly that flows from knowing who we are in Christ and how God sees us.

    Anyway, I do think that you pointed to a significant omission in the above discussion–the role of the Holy Spirit. Indeed! God bless…

  • Brian G

    I’m not one to usually post comments to blogs but I must note how edifying I think this entire conversation has been!

    Usually the comments section of websites – especially news sites – devolve into little more than name calling, flaming, and baseless personal attacks. I must admit that when I saw JD was going to respond to Scot I held my breath and closed one eye…

    … and then sighed with relief. The amount of graciousness, humility, and desire to believe the best about the other is truly welcoming. That all Christians would disagree with each other about things so central to their confessions with such openness and generosity! The way in which this conversation has been conducted is as much a testimony to the gospel as the fine books both men have written.

    Thanks you, Scot and JD, for not embarrassing me for being a Christian by questioning each other’s salvation and theological acumen.

    Brian

  • Ben Pun

    Wow, I am very impressed by this gracious exchange between JD and Scot here. I really wish we had more of this dialogue between the “NeoPuritan” camp and people like Scot. Scot, I wonder if you have read Tim Keller’s article in Leadership Magazine, “The Gospel in All Its Forms”? (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/spring/9.74.html) I think Keller’s approach allows for a diversity in the way we frame the Gospel, especially in its individualistic vs. cosmic/history-of-redemption frames. While I think Keller does prioritize the individualistic frame, he is careful to say that we must allow for all the dimensions/presentations of the gospel. Matt Chandler seems to be trying to do the same thing in his new book, The Explicit Gospel. Perhaps a good book for you to review here soon, Scot?

  • Brad

    This post is not helpful Scot. Greear would not disagree with you.


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