The Gospel of the Gospel Coalition

The Gospel of the Gospel Coalition April 5, 2012

The Gospel Coalition is an association of pastors and theologians around fidelity to the gospel and a commitment to make that gospel known and to support pastors and churches in gospel-shaped ministries. So, when the two major architects of TGC edit a book (The Gospel as Center) that expounds its principal statements on principal ideas, the one on gospel is to be seen as a center piece of the whole.

In general, TGC is known for its “confessional” (though not in the sense of the Reformed confessions specifically, or the Lutheran confessions specifically) and “evangelical” approach and therefore its gospel is nothing other than a robust commitment to a reformed soteriology. The “confession” is then the alliance of these Christian leaders around TGC’s “confession,” and this book contains chapter length discussions of TGC’s principal statements. (After the jump I have clipped their “Gospel” statement.)

If the movement is about the gospel, then “What is the gospel?” statement by Bryan Chapell expresses the heart of TGC. This chp weaves into it a marvelous story of the gospeling of his brother, David, and how that gospel restored the marriage of his parents.

First, Chapell defines gospel somewhat as follows (and I have added the numbers): “the message that God has (1) fulfilled his promise (2) to send a Savior (3) to rescue broken people, (4) restore creation’s glory, and (5) rule over all with compassion and justice. So he argues “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) is a good summary of the gospel.

Then Chapell breaks the gospel chapter into three parts: What God requires, he provides; what God provides, he perfects; whom God perfects, he uses. This summary itself shows that the gospel is about provision, perfection and use — that is, God works to provide the means of salvation, he accomplishes that perfectly in his people, and he uses those people in his mission. Chapell’s gospel — like TGC — is thoroughly “soterian” (it is about how God saves us). [The same is seen in the chp called “The Plan” by Colin S. Smith.]

First, what God requires, he provides: he discusses God’s image, God’s holiness, God’s justice, God’s righteousness, God’s love, covenant faithfulness, faith in Christ and rest in Christ. These are articulate, traditional, biblically-shaped observations. It is shaped much more by holiness than love, though love is clearly present, and that means Christ is depicted as a satisfaction-bringing sacrifice for our sins and guilt, a double imputation … in other words, God provides what humans need to be restored to holiness. The proper response to what God has done is “simply believe in Jesus as their Savior” (121), but here he emphasizes that our faith does not save; Jesus saves. And the whole of the Christian life is a dwelling in Christ, a resting in him.

Second, what God provides, he perfects: there is a teleology or eschatology at work in the gospel provision: eternal life. This is secured by union with Christ in his death and life, and family privileges. Chapell expounds this with some very important soteriological categories in the assurances of our adoption in Christ: unchanging status, perpetual protection, personal power, spiritual growth, spiritual security and eternal inheritance.

Third, whom God perfects, he uses: this is the least developed of his sections, and it deals with individuals, corporate (church — more Israel, please), and the overall redemptive purpose.

This chp is overall a good sketch of a redemptive/transformative model of salvation in a reformed key, so I would call it a “soterian” gospel. The provision-perfection theme shows the continuity of the work of God — a kind of perseverance of the saints or an ordo salutis that says the justified will be sanctified. He equates the gospel the with the ordo salutis.

I have some concerns, and none of this will surprise those who know what I have written in The King Jesus Gospel. In that book I argued we have equated “gospel” with the “plan of (personal) salvation” and in so doing have taken one part of the gospel (its saving benefits) and made it the whole, and in so doing have also knocked out bits that deserve far more attention — namely the Storied nature of the Bible coming to its fitting completion in Jesus as the King, Lord and one who saves. Furthermore, this tends to make the whole thing about what God did for us, for me instead of what God is doing to establish is rule in this world. What Tom Wright calls “God becoming King.” So, any gospel that is driven by soteriology is going to miss these things, and this chp by Chapell does just that.

1. There is some tension between the statement (below) and this chp, not that the chp disagrees but that the chp reframes the whole in such a way that elements are not as present in the chp as they are in the statement. If my summary is sufficient above, you can read it and see the statement below and see the tensions.

2. I’d like to see Chapell flesh out “faith” more because the NT directives to gospel preaching are to repent, to believe and to be baptized — not to avoid confess in Romans 10:9-11. Repentance is inherent to a proper gospel response; so is baptism.

3. Chapell’s is mostly a Pauline framing of the gospel, and it is a Pauline soteriology framing the gospel, and it lacks interaction with 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (the statement below is framed by 1 Cor 15 more), and it lacks discussion of how the gospeling sermons in Acts fit into the gospel, and there is a noticeable lack of reflection on the Gospels as the gospel because, well, Chapell frames the gospel through Pauline texts. These are method elements I consider fundamental to defining gospel.

4. Christ in this chp is mostly Savior and Lord; there’s not enough about his life and teachings and the kingdom of God he preached; there’s much more to be said about the Story of Israel coming to completion in Jesus as Messiah/King, though he does have some good stuff on Lordship. So, this chp could be bathed in the Gospels as gospel and in the Story dimension of the Bible — and not just the story about how people get saved.

Here is TGC’s “Gospel” statement:

The Gospel We believe that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ—God’s very wisdom. Utter folly to the world, even though it is the power of God to those who are being saved, this good news is christological, centering on the cross and resurrection: the gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed, and the authentic Christ has not been proclaimed if his death and resurrection are not central (the message is: “Christ died for our sins . . . [and] was raised”). This good news is biblical (his death and resurrection are according to the Scriptures), theological and salvific (Christ died for our sins, to reconcile us to God), historical (if the saving events did not happen, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied more than all others), apostolic (the message was entrusted to and transmitted by the apostles, who were witnesses of these saving events), and intensely personal (where it is received, believed, and held firmly, individual persons are saved).

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