Part 7 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 7 “What Is the Gospel?”

Part 7 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 7 “What Is the Gospel?” April 10, 2012

Part 7 of Response to The Gospel as Center. Chapter 7: “What Is the Gospel” by Bryan Chapell

Bryan Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary and is Reformed Presbyterian. I approached this chapter expecting to find somewhere in it a ringing affirmation of monergism as part and parcel of the gospel. I was not disappointed, but I was wrong.

This is a marvelous chapter with which many good Arminians can agree whole heartedly. I suspect that would come as a shock to the editors of The Gospel as Center if not the author of this chapter.

I say “many good Arminians” simply because the chapter includes a strong endorsement of what is popularly known as “eternal security” or “perseverance of the saints.” However, many Arminians do agree with that; it is a matter of diversity of opinion among Arminians. (I don’t want to get into another argument about that here; I am simply stating my opinion. Take it or leave it.)

The main thrust of the chapter is well expressed in one sentence on page 126: “Our spiritual status is not determined by what we do but by what Christ has done.”

Some will argue that the chapter’s emphasis on faith as a gift conflicts with Arminianism. The author says on page 122 “even the faith we have is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).” Whether “gift” in verse 9 refers back to faith or grace or both is debatable, but most, if not all, good Arminians agree that faith is a gift. Arminius affirmed it.

At the same time Arminians will want to say that faith is our response to the gift of God’s prevenient grace and offer of free salvation. Paradoxically (perhaps some will want to say “absurdly”) it is both “gift and task.” Elsewhere Paul asks rhetorically “What do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor. 4:7) Obviously, whatever good thing we have is a gift of God to us. Arminians simply add that a gift must be received and, in another sense, faith is our reception of the gift of faith.

I wonder what the members of The Gospel Coalition will think if they hear that Arminians agree with the main points of Chapter 7? I hope they will rejoice. Somehow I doubt it. I hope I’m wrong.

Some may think that this chapter’s explanation of the atonement will offend Arminians. In fact, however, most Arminians have historically embraced the penal substitution theory and there is nothing in the chapter that a believer in the governmental theory could not affirm. And the chapter’s description of the atonement says nothing about it being intentionally limited. All it says is that “Christ’s atonement—though it is sufficient for everyone—does not apply to everyone.” (p. 119) Arminians agree.

To be sure, an Arminian determined to quibble and find fault will find something to disagree with in this chapter. And I’m not saying I agree with everything in it. All I’m saying is that there is nothing in it that conflicts with essential Arminianism.

I will even go further and say that it is an excellent summary of the gospel. Were it to be preached in my church I would have nothing against it. (Again, that is not to say I agree with everything in it, but I don’t hear very many sermons I agree with entirely. Even those with which I have some minor disagreement receive my imprimatur!)

Now, having said all that, let me say that I do not think someone who disagrees with the satisfaction or penal substitution theories of the atonement is denying the gospel. One can heartily affirm and endorse that view of the atonement without dismissing fellow evangelicals who believe in, say, the Christus Victor model or C. S. Lewis’ “Ideal Penitent Theory” as opponents of the gospel. Perhaps that is what Chapell is saying here, but I don’t find anything in the chapter that requires it.

The next chapter, Chapter 8, is “Christ’s Redemption” by Sandy Williams, a minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I look forward to reading it and responding to it here.


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