TGC and Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?

TGC and Did Jesus Preach the Gospel? August 25, 2012

Because of the number of folks writing me to respond to this question here goes… TGC, as I understand it, will devote some of its energies this year to the gospel and if Jesus preached it, but a video was put up on their site in which there is a conversation with D.A. Carson, Tim Keller and John Piper dealing with this question — with my former colleague, D.A. Carson, leading the questions. Since it was brief I will offer only a few brief comments.

First, I’m glad they are asking this question. I was with a friend the other day, I asked him straight up, “Are the Gospels the gospel?” With a bit of a look of dismissal and condescension, he said No with the suggestion that it’s clear for everyone but me. He’s at odds with Carson, Keller and Piper on this one. They think Luke presents the gospel. I agree.

Second, there was a bit of an assumption that they knew what the gospel already was and they were asking if the Gospels, and their focus was the Gospel of Luke, fit that already-understood-gospel. They didn’t have time to discuss and define the meaning of “gospel,” but this issue is not without strategic importance here. Some would want to ask if Paul preached Jesus’ gospel, and one good example of someone who asks that is Mike Bird.

Third, the guiding assumption seemed clear to because of how the conversation progressed: it was an attempt to show that the Gospel of Luke can be read as teaching a soteriology of the cross (not enough on resurrection, but that’s not their problem alone — many of us struggle with getting resurrection in the gospel). In fact, there was a rather common problem here: they kept speaking about the “narrative” of Luke, which simply misses the point. Discussion of Luke’s “narrative” means we are not asking if Jesus preached the gospel but if Luke’s narrative art presented the gospel. D.A. Carson, I thought, made a good point: he said the narrative of Luke showed a Jesus who faced Jerusalem from Luke 9:51 on. Well, yes, I think that’s very true — though it is the words of Luke and not he words of Jesus. I take it to be a genuine record of the action of Jesus, but it still remains “words in black” in red-letter editions. I’d rather see discussion of Mark 10:45 (not in Luke in the same form) and the Lord’s supper narrative in Luke, which Carson did bring up. Piper brought in his case that Luke 18 teaches justification by faith and imputation (by reading narrativally the connection of the parable of the tax collector and then the rich man story).

Fourth, overall I wanted more but their time was limited and the more I wanted is this: The Gospels are called the “Gospel” because they are the gospel, and they are the gospel because they tell the Story of Jesus, which is how Paul said all the apostles understood the gospel in 1 Cor 15:3-5 (Piper did go to 1 Cor 15:3 and mentioned “for our sins”). Which leads to this over all conclusion: I thought the discussion was shaped by showing the Gospel of Luke has the soteriology of Paul/their theology while I would want to argue that asking if Jesus preached the gospel is asking if Jesus himself told a Story in which he was the fulfillment, as the King, as the Messiah, as the Lord and as the one who saves us from our sins. Jesus’ message was utterly self-centered! That’s gospeling. In other words, while their focus was soteriology, the Gospels teach us that the first step is christology and that will lead us inevitably to Jesus the Savior and a soteriology.

So, I liked what they said but I didn’t like what they didn’t say: Christology is first, soteriology flows from Christology.

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  • Billyv

    I like how you and NT Wright have been outlining the gospel. When I read Mark 1.15, I see that the gospel that Jesus preaches is that the Kingdom is near (because the king is near), thus alter your agenda and submit to the King (i.e. repent) and believe because this is good news (the gospel).

  • Jason

    Thanks for responding to the video, Scot.
    I had referenced you in the comments of TGC’s post as a bridge builder between the “either/or” of kingdom and cross. I think Keller was tying to do the same in his comments. He pushed in a sort of here legged position on gospel as (1) Jesus as Messiah (2) Jesus as dying for our sins and all that brings and (3) rising from he dead to defeat death and evil to be the victorious one who is now but will return to bring it into fullness.
    I think those comments get pushed aside by Carson for the most part and Piper entirely, which is really too bad. I’m looking forward to reading the chapter they linked as a free PDF, which, unless I’m mistaken, was referenced by Keller from which he drew hose 3 points.

  • scotmcknight

    Jason, I liked that comment by Keller but, as you put it, it got no traction. The discussion seemed to revolve around #2.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Thanks to Kenneth Bailey, I’ve come to believe that, in Luke, Jesus speaks the Gospel, too, in Luke 15.

  • Percival

    Luke 4:14-21 when Jesus is rejected at Nazareth is a clear announcement of the gospel. He even says, “He has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor…” and, “This scripture has come true before your very eyes.”

    How much clearer could it be that Jesus considered this a proclamation of the gospel?

  • I’ve come to the same point as you mention here, Scot. If someone asks me, “What is the gospel?” my answer would be, “The story of Jesus.” Then we can move on and ask, “OK, what does that story of good news mean?”

  • Adam O

    I could be mistaken, but I believe I heard Piper say at some point in there, that Jesus preached the Gospel because Jesus preached Jesus. To which I was like, “Way to go, Pastor John!” But then he explained and it turned out that he really just meant that Jesus preached imputation… It is strange, because I know these guys would all affirm Jesus as King, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as fulfillment of the Israel story, as completion of God’s creative and redemption plan…but they don’t want to include any of that in the Gospel. But the gospels really highlight that stuff considerably more than the “imputation” gospel (as KJG points out well). I don’t know, it just makes me frustrated because essentially we all trust and summit to the same Lord, but just can’t speak the same language with each other.

  • Elizabeth

    This: The Gospels are called the “Gospel” because they are the gospel, and they are the gospel because they tell the Story of Jesus.

    I read enough here and other places to understand (sort of!) that this is an important and nuanced discussion. But the average person in the pew who reads the sentence above, would likely say “Yes, exactly. So…where’s the big discussion here? Where’s the controversy?” (This is true of many of the Christians in my circle – perhaps the people I know aren’t average?).

    I’m thankful for all you write, Scot. I’ve learned so much.

  • scotmcknight

    Elizabeth, Yes and No. Yes, the distinction seems arcane, but the actual preaching of the gospel shifts dramatically from pushing soteriology (you are sinner, etc) to pushing Jesus (here’s who Jesus is, this is what it means for you).

  • Elizabeth

    Scot, I agree completely that it ends up making a big difference in the actual preaching of the gospel. Sorry I wasn’t clear in my comment.
    Thanks again for addressing this. As I said, I’ve learned a lot by reading here daily and I always appreciate both your content and (especially) your tone.

  • Trent Voth

    I’m new to this board and the discussion so bear with me, but it seems to me that a central aspect of the original Gospels draw from their political ramifications in a context where “Gospel” represented the call to new allegiance to a new basileus (king/emperor) and that, starting with Mark, labeling an account a Gospel communicates a powerful (and frequently ignored) political message.

    The shifting of allegiances, the submission to a new king, the furtherance of a new kingdom with a new set of expectations, by extension challenges and pushes back other competitors. The Gospels seem to bring the same call on our lives today, and as a result salvation seems just as tied to our daily lives as our afterlives.

    As a result, the limitation of the Gospel to a purely “heavenly-kingdom” aimed message not only limits its impact but seems to miss its original call.

  • DRT

    As my corporate america friends and I so often do, I like to simply try and read what is said and react to it to get its meaning (it takes a lot of practice to attempt to do that, and when I read the soteriological gospel it is obvious that it is all about what’s in it for me.

    But, Jesus certainly seems to preach the good news to the poor, the message of salvation for mankind, but the reduction of this to ‘me’ is the biggest problem, imo.

  • picking up on what Jason said and Scot’s gospel=christology not soteriology.
    Keller articulated those three ‘forms’ of the gospel some time ago in ‘The gospel is all its forms’. One place to find it on the web is here
    One question: seems to me that Keller is not quite saying the same thing as Scot, though they are close. For Keller atonement/justification is one form of the gospel. For Scot it is an implication or consquence of the gospel?

  • scotmcknight

    Trent, nice articulation and comment. Thanks.

    DRT, it is for “me” too … You are not alone in this thread in saying Jesus preached the gospel “to the poor” … but a gospel to doesn’t define what gospel is, and that means we ask what did Jesus mean by “gospel” and how much of the gospel is about Who he is and what he means to the poor? And Luke 4, from which “to the poor” comes, focuses on Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That is a brilliant christologically-focused passage. “Today” … Jesus says to indicate he is the One about whom that passage speaks.

  • If we’re starting with Luke, then pneumatology is first, Christology is second, soteriology is third. Luke 1, I think, suggests this pretty strongly. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were marked as special because of the Spirit’s presence with them. Christology is given meaning by the fact the Spirit came on both John before he was born as a proclamation to the Christ even, then on Mary as the power of God to bring forth the Christ. Given the highly pneumatological character of Acts, it seems especially important to note how key the Spirit was for Luke. Thus also for our understanding of community and salvation.

  • Good order. Christology, Doctrine of God, soteriology/ecclesiology etc. …

  • Bev Mitchell

    Patrick O (15)

    Great point. One must work very hard to downplay the Holy Spirit in Luke’s writings.

    Now, and only a bit tongue-in-cheek, if a biologist can be permitted to comment on such a delicate matter, this conversation is strongly reminiscent of the contrasting, sometimes contentious views of reductionist vs. systems level thinkers in the other life science. The quotes come from Denis Noble’s little book “The Music of Life” – essentially a polemic to champion systems thinking. I’ve only changed some nouns and one adjective (see the key at the end).

    “The logic for explaining the success of the gospel therefore does not lie in its written code; it lies in how that code is interpreted and in how the results of that interpretation fit into the overall logic of life.” (1) and (2)

    “The gospel needs to be read through the life of Christ, not the other way around.” (3) and (4)

    “But we sometimes seem to have forgotten that the original question in gospeling was not what makes a good biblical interpretation but rather ‘what makes a dog a dog, a man a man’. (5) and (6)

    “… the expression of the gospel….will involve levels of activity that are determined by the system as a whole. This is so obvious that it is truly extraordinary that there should be such a great and repeated need to point it out.” (7)

    “We need a manual that lists all of the functions the gospel is involved in, and how it contributes to each. Scripture does not provide one. We have to work this stuff out for ourselves.” (8) and (9)

    And needing no translation,

    “The first four notes tell us when Beethoven’s fifth symphony is to be played, but the symphony itself is much more than the first four notes.”

    (1) a gene——the gospel
    (2) DNA———written
    (3) genome——–gospel
    (4) the phenotype—–the life of Christ
    (5) genetics——-gospeling
    (6) protein——-good biblical interpretation
    (7) a gene———-the gospel
    (8) a gene———-the gospel
    (9) nature———-Scripture

  • Bryce

    Can “Gospel” vs “gospel” help a little in reconciling the gospel of Christ with the soteriological emphasis of Paul’s gospel? (Maybe someone else has already tried this that I’m unaware of) To be clear: I do not believe Paul’s gospel contradicts Jesus’ Gospel. What about using Gospel with a capital “G” to refer to the Gospel message Jesus himself proclaimed, (that the Kingdom is made available to us in himself, ie Mark 1:14-15 etc) versus “gospels” with a lower case “g,” to refer to all the glorious implications and meanings derived from that “Gospel,” which are also “good news” and unable to be contained by books. Since “gospel,” a heralded message, is a communicative act, its existence is dependent on 3 things: the messenger, the King’s message, and the hearer. Therefore: Biblical author/ Preacher/Christian sharing testimony today+implication(s) of the Gospel Story of Jesus + audience (Gentile/Jew, god-fearer, etc.) = content of Christian “gospel.” I’m thankful God has given us the unique gospels (plural!) of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and others in the Scriptures that point to the truths Jesus gospeled through his life, death, and resurrection.

  • Scot McKnight

    Patrick Mitchel, the truth of the gospel saves because Jesus is the Savior. It is the benefit for humans of the gospel. For me Keller gets close to seeing justification as the gospel itself.

  • donsands

    The good news, or Gospel, is really unbelievable news isn’t it. Jesus died on a Roman Cross, and He rose 3 days later, and He ascended back to His Father, where He came from in the first place.
    And John the Baptist tells us Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Wow!

    The 4 “gospels” are the cornerstone of truth, and the apostles and prophets are the foundation built upon this perfectly placed Cornerstone.

    We really are so blessed and should be in awe every moment of every day by the love of God.

    have a terrific joy filled Lord’s Day my brother and friend! May God help us all to grow in His grace and truth, so that we can love Him, and others, even our enemies in His name. Amen.

  • Scot McKnight

    Patrick, I base that statement about Keller on his book The King’s Cross. Over and over it was performance vs. grace/faith.

  • Jason

    Yikes, my first post had a few auto-cowrecks in there. I should stop iphone commenting…or proofread better…

    Patrick Mitchell – Thanks for the link. Keller does use those same 3 points in that writing, but in both cases he is following the “Keller-recommended essay by Simon Gathercole on “The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom” in the book God’s Power to Save” TGC included in their original post.

    This is Gathercole’s summary of Paul:
    “the gospel is God’s account
    of his saving activity in Jesus the Messiah, in which, by Jesus’ death
    and resurrection, he atones for sin and brings new creation.” (149)

    This is his conclusion as to where Paul and the gospels overlap, which is pretty much exactly what I pointed out in Keller’s comments:
    3 Key Themes: “(1) the identity of Jesus as Messiah, (2)
    his work of atoning sacrifice and justification, and (3) his inauguration
    of a new dominion. These lie at the heart of the apostolic
    gospel.” (154)

    I read/skimmed through the essay and while there is much acknowledgement of the theme of Jesus as the completion of Israel’s story and his Lordship, it still largely fails to make it into the basic formulation.

    I agree with Scot and Adam O that it’s really unfortunate that this theme, though recognized, is not being put into it’s central role. More than that, it ought to be what frames the message and yet the discussion goes round and round point #2 (most frantically and even more narrowly to imputed righteousness,by Piper). Ever since reading KJG early this year I’ve been studying what the gospel is and I cannot figure out why such a narrow form keeps getting propped up when it can’t hold all the other aspects that TGC doesn’t deny are part are there.

    I agree with Scot: The gospel is Christological, which brings salvation.

  • SuperStar

    Without the resurrection, there is no good news. When will the Gospel-centered folks pay more attention to this?

  • Wow- this is worth the time of discussion – “is the gospel the Gospel???” or “is the Gospel the gospel???” It seems that these three men are asking if Jesus did enough for them and their conceived theologies. Adding McKinght’s commentary as a fourth voice, which I deeply appreciate, makes me jokingly wonder (and speaking internally to my denominational tradition, to which McKnight formerly taught) “Was this the four men in a hot tub that we considered as part of our logo?”

    I’m not sure that TGC is offering anything substantial to the church. Keep having a myopic conversation. I am thankful that McKnight, Wright, and others choose to find avenues that are graciously ecclesial for their association.

  • michael

    Broadening this a bit beyond the “gospel discussion” per se, Keller is an enigma to me in some ways. He “appears” to be different than Piper, et al of TGC in his tone, content, and nuance in both his writings and his videos/messages. Yet he continues to participate in TGC and does these videos with Piper, etc. It gives me cognitive dissonance.

    Does he really believe the same stuff as Piper, Driscoll, etc. but just nuances it so its mostly winsome vs. offensive?

  • Scot,

    I would love you to respond to the Gathercole essay that Tim Keller recommends in the video.

    Many Blessings.

  • scotmcknight

    I’ve not seen it, Steve.

  • The link to Simon’s Gathercole’s essay is at the bottom of the original TGC post. You can read the whole thing online.

  • Scot, thanks for your thoughts on this. The moment I was done watching the clip I wondered how you would response. I posted the following on the TGC wall, and thought it might be worth sharing:

    I love Piper, Carson, and Keller dearly. Their insights (both in sermons, lectures, and books) have been a great influence on me. Yet, I am uneasy with Piper’s approach here. I think it’s too susceptible (and rightly so) to the kind of criticism of N. T. Wright or Scot McKnight that an individualist gospel 1) downplays or ignores the Old Testament story of Israel (Piper is especially guilty of this), and 2) elevates the Pauline corpus into a canon within a canon, making Paul the cipher through which we interpret the Gospels. I think these charges are worth considering (even if, at times, they are overstated).

    I would humbly add 1 more criticism to Piper’s approach: a lack of redemptive-historical emphasis. That is to say, Piper focuses more on, in the terms of John Murray, the “gospel applied” (ordo salutis) than the “gospel accomplished” (historia salutis). This is something that has long bothered me considering how influential George Eldon Ladd is to Piper’s thought.

    As Carson pointed out, Paul does preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (ex: Acts 28:31). Likewise, as Piper correctly noted, the emphasis for Paul on kingdom gets centered on the reign of the king, king Jesus. But Jesus taught more the inauguration of the kingdom in his own message and actions. Paul reflects back upon the accomplishment of Jesus and applies that to the various issues of his (largely Gentile) church plants. Jesus doesn’t need to teach double-imputation (a doctrine I embrace) in order to “preach the gospel.” Jesus IS the gospel. The Gospels are called the Gospels for a reason. Jonathan Pennington of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary makes this point wonderfully here:

    I’ve taken my swing at defining the gospel in terms of the whole drama of Scripture here: and especially here

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Joe.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I agree with Scot in his comment about Keller’s “King’s Cross.” Based upon the title, I thought it would read similarly to King Jesus Gospel. I was surprised at how traditionally soterian (to borrow Scot’s term) it read. He’s far and a way my favorite TGC guy, but at times he doesn’t differentiate himself enough from the others there enough for my taste.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Gosh, that was a sloppy last sentence. “away” not “a way” and one “enough” would certainly suffice.

  • James

    I may be missing something but why we can’t preach the gospel as justification?

    The good news for me could be summed up as: The promised Messiah has come.
    But why is it good news that the Messiah has come? Atonement.
    What makes it more special? The Messiah is God Himself.

    Luke 24:44-49:

    “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “ Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

    And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.

  • In the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is righteousness, the righteousness of God/salvation which was the essence of the Kingdom. The law and prophets, as above comment by James shows, proclaimed the eschatological forgiveness of sins ie justification. This is what Paul says in Roms 3

    Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    The One who came to give his life as a ransom for all and who had authority to forgive sins and did so and so, announcing that his blood was the basis of new covenant which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins would have no problem with Paul’s gospel, a gospel both christological and soterian.

  • Chase

    A couple of passages that come to mind to me are John 4 when Jesus tells the woman at the well, “I am he” and in John 5, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”

  • BradK

    The responses have focused on Luke, but specific passages that came to mind were Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Luke 4:43; Acts 1:3. All of these indicate that Jesus did preach the gospel. They also give insight into what that gospel was. The good news that Jesus preached was Israel’s king preaching about the promised kingdom of God. “Repent! The kingdom of God is here! Enter the kingdom!” The good news that the apostles preached (e.g. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as Scot mentions) was that the king was not dead, but was alive after being raised from the dead. “Our king is alive! The kingdom of God is still here! Enter the kingdom!” All of this is clearly tied back to Israel’s story as recounted in the Hebrew scriptures.

    TGC folks seem to get wrapped around the axle on justification, imputation, and really a lot of things on this topic.

  • The God booted out by our first parents in alliance with the Serpent is now back! This time his reign over creation radiates from the inside of human hearts and Kingdom blessings are here and more to come. How God did this is not the Good News – the means is not the message, though the message to be rightly understood requires those very means. The cross doesn’t get smaller in the King Jesus Gospel. It gets bigger because it is understood as Kingdom come and not a private escape hatch. I buy it, Scot. Your book, The King Jesus Gospel, and Wright’s, How God Became King, are game changers for Evangelicals who are struggling not to go back to reductionist late 19th century and early 20th century fundamentalism. TGC and the neoPuritans, as you call them, are delaying the change we have to make.

  • I’ve expanded my thoughts on the subject here:

  • jennifer_ellen

    How about, Jesus is first, and christology flows from Jesus, and soteriology flows from christology?