When is the Gospel at Stake?

I’m bouncing off a post that claims too many Christians are Chicken Littles because they run around claiming and worrying and showing their faithfulness by saying the sky is falling down all the time. That is, they think the gospel is at stake in every conversation.

Deny inerrancy? The gospel is at stake. Deny the KJV/ESV, accept the TNIV/NIV? The gospel is at stake. Deny penal substitution? The gospel is at stake. Deny the real presence? The gospel is at stake. Deny the centrality of justification by faith? The gospel is at stake. Deny Athanasius or Augustine or Luther or Calvin or Edwards or Wesley? The gospel is at stake. Enough already.

The gospel is at stake when central themes of the gospel — as defined by the New Testament, that is by Jesus and the apostles — are denied. At the core of the gospel is Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord. The central question of the gospel is Who is Jesus? not What is my theory of salvation?

As I have sketched in The King Jesus Gospel, here are the central themes of the gospel and I will connect this to 1 Corinthians 15:1-28:

1. That Israel’s scriptural Story comes to completion in Jesus. Anyone who tells a story of Jesus or of redemption or the Christian life that does not need the OT story denies the gospel. (There’s lots of this in evangelism today.)

2. That Jesus lived, died, was buried and raised — and exalted, and coming again, and will hand over the kingdom to the Father. Anyone who thinks Jesus didn’t live, denies the gospel; anyone who doesn’t think he really was buried (as a dead man), denies the gospel; anyone who thinks Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead (and this means came back to life in a body), denies the gospel; anyone who thinks Jesus wasn’t exalted before the Father, or that he won’t come again, or that he won’t hand the kingdom over — denies the gospel.

3. That he died “for our sins.” Anyone who thinks the death of Jesus doesn’t atone for our sins denies the gospel. How this happens isn’t part of the gospel. (Though denial of some kinds of this “how” are actually denials of an atoning death.)

4. That Jesus is Messiah, King, Lord, Son of God, and Savior. Anyone who thinks Jesus was not the Messiah of Israel’s Story, the King over the kingdom (kingdom theology implied), the Lord over Jew and Gentile — that is that he is Lord for all — and everyone, the Son of God or the Savior of mankind denies the gospel.

If these themes are what the apostolic gospel is — it’s right there in 1 Cor 15 and the sermons in Acts and the Gospels as the gospel — then denial of these themes denies the gospel.

Let us not be Chicken Littles. Let us affirm the gospel, and that means not confusing secondary matters with what really matters: Who is Jesus? is the central question of the gospel.

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  • Chris Oakes

    Amen. Well said.

  • John C

    This is very helpful, Scot. It strikes me that you’re identifying the Gospel with what C.H.Dodd and others called ‘the kergyma’ – the core message that we find repeatedly proclaimed in Acts and the rest of the NT. One great advantage of seeing the Gospel in these terms is that it allows us to be properly ‘catholic’ – i.e. to recognise Christians in different eras and communions as fellow believers in the Gospel of our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ.

  • Ok Scot,

    I can appreciate all of your observations except one. You state … “or that he won’t come again, or that he won’t hand the kingdom over — denies the gospel.”

    You do realize that there is the recognition by many that Christ did indeed already fulfill His Parousia by coming in Judgment upon the Old Mosaic Covenant in AD70 at the Temple’s destruction as predicted by Christ. At that time was the consummation of the finished works of Christ and the completed establishment of His Kingdom whereas He handed the Kingdom back to God. We could argue this issue until the cows comes home but in my opinion you have crossed over a line of biblical theological overstatement when you say that understanding “denies the gospel”. In fact the adherents would counter argue that the full Gospel has been watered down by such a statement.

    Just because the church hasn’t historically understood this story line due to the employment of apocalyptic language doesn’t mean those who grasp it are “gospel deniers”. The same way the church hasn’t grasped the Genesis story or the Ezekiel and Daniel projections. Apocalyptic type literature has been problematic within the church through the centuries. We are just now getting to where the gatekeepers can’t control the investigation anymore.

    I tend to let you go when you over generalize about this issue but when you start declaring people who are serious bible students and lovers of Christ and God as heretics then I’ve got to say something.

  • scotmcknight

    Norman, I have no intention to exclude radical preterists from orthodoxy by my statement. They do not in fact deny the fact of the second coming but dispute the when and how of the second coming.

  • RJS


    We could argue this issue until the cows come home – but I tend to agree with Scot. The idea that the establishment of His Kingdom is complete is wrong, and perhaps dangerously wrong. The only hope in this view is a disembodied existence post death. In effect doesn’t it cast doubt on the nature of the resurrection as a portend of what is to come for all?

    There is clearly evil yet at work in our world – how is this evil ultimately conquered?

  • Underneath the oft repeated remark, that ‘Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, but we got the church instead’ is a conundrum. The historic creeds cover much of your four point kerygma, yet they gloss over the teaching of Christ. Much orthodoxy but little orthopraxis!

    Whilst I’m not seeking to take away from a high Christology the way Jesus framed the message placed the accent on ‘The Kingdom of God is like’ and not ‘Who do you say that I am’? How is it that we ensure our summaries of ‘gospel themes’ don’t default to dogma rather than the Way of the Kingdom?

  • TEK

    I don’t understand this statement: “coming in Judgment upon the Old Mosaic Covenant in AD70.” Why do you believe that Jesus’ parousia was enacted through a group of Roman soldiers attacking the place where the LORD had caused his name to dwell? Why would Jesus come in judgment on the “Old Mosaic Covenant”? Did god give that covenant, which he promised would be an everlasting covenant and which Jesus spoke of as not one jot or tittle passing away from it, so that he could destroy it? Regardless of whether this squares with the gospel or not, it doesn’t seem to me to square with what the Biblical corpus teaches. Perhaps you could illuminate this for me?

  • scotmcknight

    Phil, the “life” of Jesus is implicit or assumed in the gospel statement of 1 Cor 15. I think the same of the Creeds.

    In King Jesus Gospel I make the case that christology is the core and that Jesus preached himself.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say “dogma” instead of the “Way of the Kingdom”. You see the first as pejorative (I’m not sure I do but I don’t know what you mean by it) and the latter expression — well, it can mean a lot of things. Again, in King Jesus Gospel I articulate what kingdom means and I would say it involves dogma.

  • scotmcknight

    TEK, I don’t want this post thread to be overrun by Norm’s preterist views of 70AD, so if he begins to write on that the comment will be deleted. You can find discussions all over the internet about that topic.

  • CGC

    HI Everyone,
    Well, Phil may be responding to what he has viewed historically of the Western church splitting or tearing apart belief (dogma) from behavior (kingdom life) at times? But this is not true of Eastern Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox actually more define themselves as a way of life. But as Scot said, I don’t think we need to pit dogma against kingdom living either (which the EO’s would not do either). Some of our conundrums in the western church or more specifically, some of the forms western Christian theology has taken is not true or hardly registers among those in Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • T


    I resonated with the original post, and love this line from yours: “At the core of the gospel is Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord. The central question of the gospel is Who is Jesus? not What is my theory of salvation?” Amen!

    I feel like this post, culminating with that line, makes the point of your KJG very powerfully, especially for folks who don’t see the importance of distinguishing Christology and soteriology, especially as they present the “gospel.”

  • DRT

    My nit to pick is regarding “handing over the kingdom”. While I love the imagery around god becoming all in all, isn’t that the only place where it says that? Perhaps I am just not familiar enough with the rest of the NT

  • JohnM


    Correct. Except if denial on those secondary questions amounts to, or functions as a gateway to, denial of the central truth – “(Though denial of some kinds of this “how” are actually denials of an atoning death.)” being a case in point.

    Yes, there are secondary issues – which doesn’t mean the same thing as not-important issues. Then there are tertiary issues that seem to get made into central issues for some folks – like who gets to be preacher.

  • Scott, in this instance I didn’t describe dogma pejoratively. I simply meant to raise a question about the explicit absence of the teaching of Jesus in creedal orthodoxy. I think there is a clear case that we should make explicit what matters most – in this case both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. What is implicit to some is invisible to others. Isn’t this a fundamental thrust of ‘The Politics of Jesus’?

  • Scot,

    Thanks for the clarification.


    As Scot implied this post doesn’t need to be shanghaied to discuss this issue. If you ever want to converse privately I would be happy to explain some of the issues with you. However I’ll leave you with this parting observation. The hermeneutic that posit a future physically redeemed planet earth for only the faithful is derived from the same approach that YEC utilize to describe the stage of the earth 6 -10000 years ago. A return to the Garden state uses apocalyptic language to literally establish both positions.

    TEK, just click on my name and it should take you to my personal blog page.

  • I have noticed this kind of talk, particularly from Gospel Coalition aka Together for the Gospel aka conservative evangelicalism. Almost comes across as the old Fundamentalism clothed in new vocabulary. Like Fundamentalism, what claims on the surface to be united by certain fundamentals or in this case the gospel is practically united in what it is against.

  • The gospel is at stake when I bear the name of christ but do not proclaim good news to the poor, lliberty to the captives, sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed.

    I deny the life of Christ every time I fail to see him incarnated in the lines of worry, stress and anger on a strangers face.

    I deny the death and burial of Christ every time fail to give my self up in selfless, ambition-less, senseless love for an other, even in the midst of their insults and abuse. Even if they disagree with MY doctrine.

    I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I fail to see the boundless potential hidden in The image of God within the heart of EVERY person—regardless of what they believe intellectually—and choose instead to see ugliness and withdraw in judgement. Every time I think that I live and yet judge an other based on outward appearance or how they treat me, I deny the resurrection of Christ—and die.

    The gospel is literally at stake in my life every single day and it has next to nothing to do with what I believe intellectually.

    The gospel is at stake when I presume it can be expressed by my “words of eloquent wisdom” (yes, I see and intend the irony) rather than in my “weakness and fear and trembling”.

    The gospel is at stake every time I think that I “see” and speak to or treat an other as if they do not.

    I deny the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Every. Single. Day.

  • Since Rachel Held Evans has been doing her week on women in ministry, that topic is rather in my mind a lot at the moment, so that obviously is at work in these remarks.

    I have often felt that those who complain that women in ministry is a secondary issue are doing so as a say of saying “we don’t want to talk about this or change our current (non-inclusive” views. Your post from Daniel Kirk yesterday gets at some of this, and I have my own response elsewhere. And, certainly, there have been those (again, with non-inclusive views) who have argued that we can’t allow women to church office because “the gospel is at stake.” I agree with you, and with this post, to say that such people are very much mistaken.

    On the other hand, I do wonder if “the gospel is at stake” on this issue. But from the other side. Not because of any of the points of doctrine that you raise, but because the task of evangelism (of spreading the gospel) is diminished when we don’t permit all those who God has gifted (including women) to do that work. In this way, far from being “Chicken Littles” when we say that allowing women to serve in all roles of Christian ministry is important, we are seeking to do work that is of paramount gospel importance.

  • Scot, how would you work Galatians into your answer to the question? This is one I wrestle with. I’m not sure I see denials of any of your non-negotiables in the Galatian heresy and yet Paul gives his strongest rebuke in that letter (1:9).

    It seems that, according to Paul, if you hold that righteousness comes through the law then you have effectively affirmed that Christ died for no purpose (2:21). That makes it sound like the Gospel is at stake in justification. And Justification, I take (and I assume Paul and his opponents too) to be a theory of salvation.

    This one’s puzzled me. What do you think?

  • scotmcknight

    Peter G, you can read it in my commentary on Galatians. Essentially, they denied Christ as sufficient Savior/Lord/King/Messiah by requiring sufficiency to be based on Torah. They “subtracted [Christ] by addition [of Torah].”

    Nate W., I’m tempted to say “clever rehearsal of Peter Rollins” and to say it is a category change so that now “orthodoxy” means “orthopraxy.” The necessity of orthopraxy does not eliminate the meaningfulness of orthodoxy. The debate about “the gospel is at stake” is an issue surrounding orthodoxy, and sometimes that debate loses contact with orthopraxy, which is sad, but even then doesn’t substantially change the importance of orthodoxy. The gospel is defined by 1 Cor 15; when is the gospel at stake is the question. On that one, we have to think of what the gospel means and how it is denied.

  • Luke Allison


    Do you think supercessionism would be a violation of point 1 of your post? In which case, much of evangelicalism denies the Gospel!

  • scotmcknight

    No, I don’t think supersessionism denies the gospel if it means the Story is complete/fulfilled in Jesus. If it means “do away with Israel, with the OT, with the Torah,” then it denies the only Story that makes sense of the gospel/Jesus.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well said and much needed! It reminds me of little Arnie on the boat drifting away from the dock “How can I jump when I got no place to stood?!” 

    Your list, to me, seems very Nicene, which is great. I would be even happier if you added a dash of Constantinople (or Acts) making the gospel firmly Trinitarian. As Gregory Nazianzen wrote,  in reference to the Council of Constantinople’s goals, “We adhere with God’s help, and shall adhere, to this faith (Nicaea), supplementing gaps which they left concerning the Holy Spirit.” Quoted from T.F. Torrance, “The Trinitarian Faith”.


  • Scot,

    #3 “Anyone who thinks the death of Jesus doesn’t atone for our sins denies the gospel. How this happens isn’t part of the gospel. (Though denial of some kinds of this “how” are actually denials of an atoning death.)”

    What are some ways of denying the ‘how’ of atonement that are actually denials of atonement itself? I’m curious. Can one get away with denying PSA or Christus Victor or Moral Exemplar or their least favourite theory of atonement?

    God bless.

  • Scot Miller

    …anyone who thinks Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead (and this means came back to life in a body), denies the gospel.

    Hmmm…. Since the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:4-8, Col 1:24, 1 Cor 12:12-27, Eph 5:30), could I believe that the Church is the resurrected Body of Christ without “denying the gospel”?

  • Great stuff Scot – succinct, clear and an excellent reminder in our hyper nuanced western Christian culture

  • Vince

    What About Mormons, this is from their website?
    This is what they claim to believe about Jesus.

    Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God. His birth, life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the many prophecies contained in the scriptures concerning the coming of a Savior. He was the Creator, He is our Savior, and He will be our Judge (see Isaiah 9:6, 53:3-7; Psalms 22:16-18).

    Under the direction of our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ created the earth (John 1:10; Hebrews 1:2).

    When Jesus lived on the earth (approximately 2,000 years ago), He led a perfect life. He taught by word and example how people should live in love of God and others.

    Through His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and by giving His life on the cross—that is, by performing the Atonement —Jesus Christ saves us from our sins (1 Peter 2:21) as we follow Him. Because of the Atonement, you can be forgiven of your sins when you sincerely repent (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 26:30).

    Through His Resurrection, Jesus Christ saved us from death. Because He overcame death, we will all be given the gift of resurrection, that is to say our spirits will be eternally re-united with our bodies (Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:22). When life on this earth is over, Jesus Christ will be the final Judge (Acts 17:31; John 5:21-22; Acts 10:42

  • Rick

    Bev #23-

    I appreciate what you are saying, and too consider the gospel-orthodox-creedal connection. However, if we look at the expansion of 1 Cor 15 in Acts or the Gospels, we see that Trinitarian formula. For example, Peter’s gospel presentation in Acts 2 is very Trinitarian.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Agreed. I’m just wondering if we should insist on actually mentioning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in any sufficient, biblical formulation of the Gospel. My vote would be yes. After all, batteries are included 🙂

  • scotmcknight

    When the Chicken Littles of this world are sqwauking about the sky falling down … I want to go first to 1 Cor 15 and get the basics sorted out. I’m not saying 1 Cor 15 is a drop-dead final listing, but is the place to begin. The Creed filled out 1 Cor 15 with stuff that was argued as latent or implicit in 1 Cor 15.

  • Great post.

    But are you suggesting — it’s not clear — that “denying” a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement denies the Gospel? That would put many Eastern Orthodox in hot water..

  • Ellen

    Wow, Nate W., there’s the real point. While we do need to maintain some basic orthodoxy i.e., the Story, if we do not live it out in love as Jesus did we have missed it altogether. No matter how good our theology is, we deny the gospel.

    The gospel does humble us. 🙂

  • Nathan

    I love this. Evangelicalism is fraught with this chicken little craziness. And it is not just about the gospel. We tend to wring our hands about everything and problematize things that really don’t matter. I appreciate the forcefulness in Scot’s recent posts. We need a strong voice from the center.

  • Just one other observation: it’s interesting that we (we evangelicals) tend not to think about baptism, the church, or the sacraments in this connection. My Catholic friends as well as my Orthodox friends would say that these are also at the heart of the Gospel, since they are what form us into the new, beloved community.

  • scotmcknight

    David, #31, not sure how you got that, but denial of PS is not denial of the gospel unless one means by that denial that Jesus’ death is not atoning. My questions paragraph that ends with enough already is a sketch of the sorts of claims one hears.

    On sacraments … I chose to anchor this post in 1 Cor 15’s statements. Those sacraments embody gospel claims but are not the gospel itself. (So I’d argue.)

  • Thanks Scot.

    So what theory of atonement would be necessary not to deny “atonement per se? I’ll go out on a limb: IMHO, to say that the “moral example” theory is the only theory of atonement would be a denial of atonement, because the “moral example” theory doesn’t imply any metaphysical significance to the atonement. Clearly, in scripture and in historic Christian theology, Christ’s atoning death in fact effects something in our persons and in the created order itself. The different “theories” of Christus Victor, PSA, etc., are simply human analogies for that mystery (which understood properly should be complementary), but the essential thing is that the atonement was and is “real” and not merely some kind of metaphor.

    I’m not sure on the Church and the sacraments. It seems to me that they embody the Gospel “in fact” and not just “in symbol” — and that of course is the heart of the theological debate between the Radical Reformation and most other strands of historic Christianity. If there is no salvation outside the Church, then to deny the Church is to deny the Gospel; same with the sacraments the Church administers. (Again, to me this all goes to metaphysics: just as the atonement is not merely a metaphor or symbol, neither are the Church or sacraments merely metaphors or symbols).

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    I’m not sure anymore that Evangelicals are right in making the kind of separation you seem to suggest between the gospel and sacraments that re-represent the gospel. This just seems to me to follow the same lines of what we have done by separating evangelism from discipleship or justification from sanctification (which I know you are concerned about as well).

    Making distinctions is important but how do we know ever when we have gone too far in separating what God has joined together? I think the RC’s and EO’s have a point trying to follow a more both/and model than our Protestant and Evangelical either/or models? It also seems they have more spiritual ways of resourcing their faith while us Protestants/Evangelicals are so used to it seems scaling things down to the bare neccesities.

    Still, despite these remarks, I think you have handled some tough issues in a very healthy way. Thanks!

  • Just one other thought on this question of “denying,” drawn again from some good thinking about this sort of thing in Catholic moral theology. To “deny” something in a culpable fashion is to know that it is true and to consciously reject it, or to willfully turn a blind eye to the truth. When you impute “denial” of a truth to someone, you’re saying: “you are guilty of willfully turning against something you know or should know to be true.” This is a serious charge. It may be that your interlocutor simply misunderstands, or is confused, or is misinformed or mistaken. Really, at the end of the day, only God knows what someone finally “denies.” So the rule ordinarily should be charity: not quick accusations of “denial,” but patient instruction.

  • Thanks for this post. It will help lots of people.

  • I guess Spurgeon went overboard then, by making systems of theology the gospel:

    “And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”

  • Percival

    I appreciate your reminder that we live out the gospel through the church and her sacraments. However, as someone who takes the wine and the bread as symbolic, I have to object to your use of the words “merely” and “just” with the word symbolic. A symbol, when through faith it connects you to the substance behind it, is not diminutive even though many have made it so. In fact, one could just as well argue that elevating the elements beyond the symbolic is diminutive.

  • CGC

    Hi Percival,
    Does the symbolic reflect the real presence of Christ for today?

  • dopderbeck

    Percival (#42) — I hear you. But then, this is one of those big areas of contention, isn’t it? I’m a member of a local church that sees the elements as “merely” symbolic. But, I’m coming or I’ve come to think that “merely” is appropriately used here. There’s a deep inconsistency, IMHO, in realizing the metaphysical significance of the cross and then of not realizing the metaphysical significance of the sacraments. If the cross and the resurrection aren’t “merely” symbolic, then it seems to me neither are the Church and the sacraments. But, that’s just where I’ve arrived and my thinking.

  • T

    Nate W., dopderbeck and the Jesus Creed all have me thinking about I John as it deals with issues of this post. I was especially interested in this line from dopderbeck about why some older streams of the Church would point to the sacraments as “the heart of the gospel, since they are what form us into the new, beloved community.” It’s the reason given–that the sacraments “are what form us into the new, beloved community” that I think is especially interesting. I think it needs to be said that it is love–God’s kind–that forms us into the new, beloved community, which is a huge reason it receives such high priority in the NT (esp. by contrast to any of the sacraments). I realize that higher church streams would say that the sacraments, at least, are the tangible forms of God’s love, and to some extent I would agree. But what is often elevated (and fought over), namely baptism and Eucharist, are no where near enough to form into Christlikeness, certainly not in their current forms.

    In any sacrament, God is supposedly “especially” present. But consider this from 1st John: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us” and “We love because he first loved us.” And finally, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

    Not only does I John display a very high Christology (putting who Jesus is above the mechanics of the atonement), it tells us that love from God is what leads us to love others. Further, it tells us that we can’t experience God visually, “but if we love one another, God lives in us.” So, God is best “seen” by and through the Church not visually, but through loving one another. Further still, I John gives us ideas about what this “love” would look like, and frankly, it’s not especially ceremonial, but practical to help those in the way they need help. Indeed, one could make a very good argument that how we love is “a gospel issue” because it is the closest thing we have to letting God be seen; it allows us to experience the central character of God, as well as forms participants into “the beloved community.” It both performs and prepares recipients for God’s cruciform mission.

  • CGC

    Hi Dopderbeck,
    Another way of getting where you are at is by looking at the early church fathers. They seemed to be there from the get go!

  • dopderbeck

    To follow up on my #43 with a story: my church doesn’t baptize infants; we “dedicate” them. The dedication ceremony includes giving the family a candle, which can be lit when (if) the child grows up and receives Christ. I think this is a sort of “denial” (or let me use a better word, a “missing”) of the Gospel. It fails to recognize that “salvation” in its fullness is inseparably connected to the life of the Church as a body. It fails to recognize that “the Gospel” is the good news of a new community. It fails to recognize that the power of “the Gospel” is at work from “before the foundation of the world” and that the “story” of the Gospel is extended with each new human birth. It fails to recognize in particular that each human being blessed to born into the community of the Church is elect and called to participate in God’s redemption of the world, just as the male infants of Israel were to be circumcised and set apart as blessed to serve. More controversially, it fails to recognize that the Church broadly and historically has understood baptism to confer the Holy Spirit in some special way (cf. Acts 19).

    To be fair, I’ve discussed these things with leaders in my local church and at least some of the emphases of the “dedication” service have changed a bit. And not everyone will agree with my line of thought here, which is fine, and I’m not intending to argue those points in detail. But, in my mind anyway, this illustrates that a conversation like this can’t really focus on a list of statements or ideas in the abstract.

  • dopderbeck

    T (#44) — yes, I totally agree that 1 John is a great locus for this kind of discussion. But — looking at the whole of the NT canon — really the whole of the Biblical canon — it seems to me that there are always particular practices that are inseparable from the good news of the Kingdom. As the Church begins to take shape in the first century, we seen in the various NT texts how this begins to work out with respect to Jewish and Gentile believers. Throughout it all, it seems to me, baptism and the Lord’s Supper remain absolutely central to the living identity of the new Christian community. And as CGC (#45) notes, these remain central for the Fathers — they aren’t just relics of Constantianism. (I think the same is true for a notion of Apostolic succession, but I frankly don’t know just what to do with that yet).

    Think about it this way: Exhibit A of a belief system based on knowledge in lieu of practices is Gnosticism. Christianity, in contrast, is an embodied faith, and the center of that embodiment is the presence of Christ in his body at the fellowship of the Eucharistic table through the material elements of bread and wine.

  • Rick

    dopderbeck #46-

    “It fails to recognize that “the Gospel” is the good news of a new community.”

    Isn’t that a benefit/consequence of the gospel?

  • T


    I like what you’re saying, but where you put more emphasis of “embodiment” on sacraments, I put it on love in a practical, self-sacrificial, cruciform way. The “practices” would be sharing our second shirt with those that have none, etc. It would be the many forms of love we see practiced and taught radically in the NT. I agree wholeheartedly that “Exhibit A of a belief system based on knowledge in lieu of practices is Gnosticism.” But I would follow that with: “Christianity, in contrast, is an embodied faith, and the center of that embodiment is the presence of Christ in his body when they love one another as Christ loved. I’m thinking too of how Paul criticized the “love feasts” of the Corinthians. It wasn’t because they were breaking some seemingly arbitrary rule of ceremony, but because they weren’t acting loving toward one another in how they shared the meal. This turned the power and intent of the meal on its head.

    I think the danger of elevating special knowledge or specialized procedures or ceremonies is that the practicalities of love of neighbor are de-emphasized (which is precisely what Jesus argued against in the Judaism of his day). Given the critiques and commands in the NT, this is the greatest of ironies. It’s not the Eucharist that builds up, but love. It’s not the Eucharist or baptism (whether dunking or sprinkling) that we pursue above all, but love. It’s not ceremony that marks us as Jesus’ disciples, but love. And God isn’t ceremony or procedure at his core, but love. Mother Teresa isn’t respected by all because she got the Eucharist right, but because she loved like Christ.

    This post and a recent one that discussed sectarianism are strong reminders to me to prioritize love. One could argue that even the Galatian error wasn’t an offense against some vague principle of atonement theology, but against the goal of the cross to unify Jews and Gentiles in love.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Apostolic succession is something as well I think the church today needs to recover. I certainly see why it’s easier for some people to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy or the Roman Catholic church (it makes a lot of this sorting out easier).

    It seems like we have made scriptural and ecclesial resources that show our unity in Christ as new places for division. Certain theological doctrines become tests for fellowship rather than places for Christians to celebrate their unity in Christ. Apostolic Succession historically did separate the Christians from the heretics but it did so by those who were schismatics and ended up dividing the church. What about today where [some] Christians desire ecumenical unity and recognize the historical importance of the catholicity of the church?

    I find it strange how apostolic succession is now more often utilized as my church is better than your church or our sacramental reality is real and yours is not. For Christians who don’t care about unity or the catholicity of the church, none of this makes a difference. But it does make a difference for those Christians who find much unity with other Christian traditions. Until we start resourcing these great traditions as places of cooperation rather than division, things will continue on as the church limps on into the 21st century. If Christians can come to respect, honor, and love others who are from different ecclesial traditions, then I would hope these great tools would be places for healing the church rather than “We’ve got it and you don’t. The problem is you——you just won’t convert over and become one of us.”

  • CGC

    Hi T,
    If a Christian loves God and others, then they will also love partaking of the eucharist which visibly demonstates the unity of God and the unity of God’s people. I agree with the priority of love but this is not “sola love” but love working through faith and other things. How about John 6:54, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

  • Bev Mitchell

    dopterbeck #36
    You remark,

    “I’m not sure on the Church and the sacraments. It seems to me that they embody the Gospel “in fact” and not just “in symbol”

     It seems to me this is yet another place to emphasize the Holy Spirit. From an evangelical point of view (at least this evangelical) I squirm when the “symbol” is emphasized when it would be so much better to stress the real (perhaps special) presence of the Holy Spirit when the brothers and sisters of our Lord gather around his table. The better read theologians among us can point out any problem with this view. My question, to evangelicals,  would be, does your church emphasize the “symbol” while not really stressing the role of the Holy Spirit. The Baptist one we currently attend certainly does (when we have Communion) 🙁

    P.S. Thanks for the recommendation of R.R. Reno’s “Genesis” a couple of weeks back. It’s great!

  • Bev Mitchell

    CGC (#37),

    I like your emphasis here.

    “Making distinctions is important but how do we know ever when we have gone too far in separating what God has joined together? I think the RC’s and EO’s have a point trying to follow a more both/and model than our Protestant and Evangelical either/or models? It also seems they have more spiritual ways of resourcing their faith while us Protestants/Evangelicals are so used to it seems scaling things down to the bare necessities.”

    It’s also the same point I am trying to make re the Holy Spirit”. I appreciate that he is implied in the streamlined presentation of the gospel (Rick #28; Scot #30). But, would we buy a car from someone who stressed that the motor was implied?:) I’m only partly kidding here. 

    If we believe that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, why should we be reluctant to not explicitly put this in the bare bones version of the Gospel? Another way to make the same point in theological speak – hope I get this right… If we don’t wish to separate our orthodoxy from our orthopraxy, we should be careful to include the engine of orthopraxy in any basic formulation of the faith.

    Biologists have lots of Greek words to play with, but It’s great fun to try out some of those we never get to use. I think theologians beat biologists hands down in this category. 🙂 

  • T


    I’m not suggesting that it’s love or Eucharist. Or that love and sacraments are somehow opposed. What I am saying is that the clear emphasis in the new testament in terms of christian practices, whether for formation or mission or anything else, is love. If Paul can elevate love over faith or prophecy or martyrdom, I don’t think any of the sacraments are even comparable to love’s importance on any level. Further, it’s obvious from church history or even current divisions that we have a tendency to elevate the particulars this sacrament or that over our central command and example to love one another. That we frequently elevate lesser doctrines or commands over love is what makes these kinds of posts so necessary.

  • CGC

    Hey Bev, great thougths on the Holy Spirit.

    RJS, have you read Stephen Webb’s “The “Dome of Eden”? Any insights? I just got it but it looks intriquing! I just finished “Three Views on Creation and Evolution” and Howard J. Van Till taking an evolution approach did the best job from the others. One of the responders, John Jefferson Davis (progressive creationism) did a fine job as well but he was not one of the three major writers (I have a new profound respect for Van Till now!).

  • CGC

    HI T,
    I tend to agree and think you are making an important point although I would not call love or the sacraments so much doctrines but “embodied practices” as you rightly said in an earlier post.

    Thanks for the good thoughts.


  • DRT

    Dopderbeck, I am incapable of debating the following, but if you or anyone else has input to my thinking I would be more than appreciative to hear it.

    It seems to me that god has not changed throughout history in the sense that his orientation toward us should not change. I get that evangelicals think he liked us, then we made him mad, then he kicked us out, then he flooded the earth etc, but that view of god seems to make less and less sense to me. Instead, what I see is that god has stayed pretty much the same, but we have changed and our relationship with god has changed.

    So on to the atonement. When we talk metaphysical change, it seems that the change must have part to do with god. Is that right? But you also said that it implies a metaphysical change in us, come to think of it I don’t think you said god.

    So, what do you think a metaphysical change would be like? Why can’t it be that we have now been shown the truth, and we will forever be changed by that event, but is there a real metaphysical change somewhere? I just have a hard time buying into a metaphysical change and don’t understand why that would be required. Having said all of that, certainly something metaphysical happened to Jesus, but to us and all of creation?

  • Bev Mitchell

    I just posted something over on yesterday’s topic that responded to DRT #84 there. I was also thinking of DRT’s #57 here when writing it. To avoid confusion, I’ll post it it there only (#95) so that any discussion will stay in one place.

  • Scot,

    You say: “1. That Israel’s scriptural Story comes to completion in Jesus. Anyone who tells a story of Jesus or of redemption or the Christian life that does not need the OT story denies the gospel. (There’s lots of this in evangelism today.)”

    Is your biological resurrection (at the end of time) hope based on promises made to Israel? If that is true, how can Israel’s scriptural Story have come to an end. Did they not receive all that there were promised?

    Thanks in advanced.


  • Patrick


    The key here is “who is authentic Israel”? Is authentic Israel ethnic Jews or is it believing humanity, Jews and Gentiles equally? Isaiah called Messiah, Israel. That weird man wrestling with Jacob gave Jacob the name, Israel.

    Paul details how believers are the heirs of the promises to Abraham, not Israel after the flesh.

    If Messiah is Israel and if believers are in Messiah , it stands to reason believers are the authentic Israel of God. The OT narrative has resurrection of ALL of Israel as it’s goal, restored Israel.

    The ancient Jews took that as all ethnic Jews would be restored. I take that as all authentic Jews via belief will be. This is why it’s important to determine for yourself, who is an authentic Israelite from the Biblical perspective. Maybe Scot disagrees, this is my view.

  • Patrick,

    I would be somewhat close to what you say. However, I would see the Church as Israel Resurrected.

    I won’t go into the corporate body resurrection view, (I’m a Full Preterist) but consider this question.

    Daniel 12 posits the Resurrection of Israel at the time when “the power of the Holy People has been completely shattered.” We have two options. 1) This is AD 70 when the “typological” ethnic Israel with her typological Temple system was completely and finally destroyed, or 2) This is at the end of the “Christian age” in which, the power of Christ would be broken.

    I don’t buy number 2.

    I would also point out that Paul always goes back to Israel’s history during his discourse on the Resurrection. Those passages he cites never include biological death. (Hosea, Isaiah) He actually takes the need for resurrection all the way back to before the fall!

    I think it is time that we allow Paul, Jesus and the rest of Scriptures define “the death” and “the Resurrection” from that death. I think it is easy to prove that it has nothing to do with biology.


  • Mr. Mcknight,

    From the text of 1 Corinthians 15:1-28 it seems to me that Paul is clear that the Corinthians believed in the resurrection of Christ. In fact, Paul says that they were preaching that Christ had been raised from the dead.

    So how could the Corinthians be denying any and all resurrection from the dead, which is the traditional way this is taught?

    What do you think it was that the Corinthians were denying?

    Is it possible that the Corinthians were only denying resurrection to a specific group of “dead ones?” Possibly OT Israelite saints? Is it possible that 1 Corinthians 15 is a parallel passage to Romans 11?


  • Edward

    I think that some terminology was left undefined. I believe that when Scot talks about the gospel being at stake, he is talking about what sent of beliefs are the parameters which define whether you are in or out of legitimate belief. If you willfully deny such beliefs are you a Christian? Should other Christians work with you even if you live a properly moral Christian life? Can you actually live a kingdom life if you don’t understand who the king is?

    On the other hand is the question of what must be done with this set of beliefs.

    I think that 1 Corinthians 15, while being of central importance, is inadequate mainly because it relates almost only to situation in Corinth at the time. The Corinthians are denying *some* of the central aspects of the Gospel. But the focus is on resurrection. Jesus’ preaching makes clear, however, that the identity of Jesus is not the only central aspect of the good news. The good news of the kingdom is only good news if repentance and faith happen. I envision (as NT Wright so often hammers on about) Jesus being the announcer of the king giving a chance for the enemy army to turn back from their rebellion (repent) and swear allegiance to the king (believe). Obviously who the king is is important! But what the response is to the king is also important. Without a who, you have no direction for your energies. But what this king requires of you is of equal importance. James has not failed to make a very pertinent observation that those who have identified the correct who “there is one God” are as good as the demons, who tremble. One of you all mentioned that we need to have the engine in the car. That is exactly how James puts it! Belief without works is like a body without a spirit!

    Side-note: this is why reformed theology bugs me. The command to repent and believe seems to be suppressed or denied.