Archive for category Gospel-centered

The Words of the Gospel of Eternal Life

I appreciate the recent article by Duane Litfin in Christianity Today, May 2012, entitled “You Can’t Preach the Gospel with Deeds and Why It’s Important to Say So.”  In some earlier posts and previous articles I have lamented the problem of expanding the definition of the gospel of eternal life to include within the umbrella of the definition the social implications of that gospel.  Hence, attempts are made to place what has been termed the “social gospel” under the definition of what the Bible means by the word gospel.  Litfin’s article assists us in the direction that I would like to see us go.  It is the biblical direction in my view.  It is also not a denigration of the responsibility of Christians to do social action as a witness to the gospel or an act of love in Jesus’ name.  But Litfin articulates with clarity the importance of the out loud declaration in words of the content of the gospel of eternal life.  Note this paragraph from his article:

“So let us say it again:  The belief that we can ‘preach the gospel’ with our actions alone represents muddled thinking.  However important our actions may be (and they are very important indeed), and whatever else they may be doing (they serve a range of crucial functions), they are not ‘preaching the gospel.’  The gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching it is inherently verbal behavior.  If the gospel is to be communicated at all, it must be put into words.”  (p. 41)

I have not yet read Litfin’s new book Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance.  However, in light of the CT article, I think I would find it agreeable and useful.  Beyond that, the expected harmony with Scripture makes the book an attractive purchase.  Interestingly, Jesus said in John 5:24, “…he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life…”  Our good deeds may point people to God so they can consider His work (Matt. 5:16), but salvation comes by believing in the words of eternal life.

My Story

My personal testimony can be found under the My Story menu at the top of my blog site.  However, I have decided to include it here since many readers only look at the blog entries.

All men in their innermost being want their lives to matter.  I am no different.  I have, since my earliest recollections, wanted to be someone whose life counted in a significant way.  As I have come to know and understand, a life that really counts is also one that counts for eternity and not just for this life’s journey.  Also, I can never remember a time when I did not believe in the existence of God.  From the time when I was five years old and prayed my first prayer when I had to go to the hospital for surgery to the time I prayed a few years later for God never to let Mom, Dad, my brother Jimmy, or me ever die, I believed I could talk to a heavenly Father.  Where this desire to communicate to the Creator came from I cannot tell.  I never attended a church service except for one occasion before I was twenty years old.  I can only believe that the Scriptures are true and wise when they speak of the innate knowledge of God and eternity that the Maker has placed in every one of us.

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Gospel-centeredness, Jesus, and Social Action

I recently attended the Bible Faculty Summit conference on Christology which was held this year at Maranatha Baptist College.  I delivered a paper entitled “Gospel-centeredness, Jesus, and Social Action.”  In that paper I critique Richard Stearns’ recent book A Hole in our Gospel and the writings of N. T. Wright.  In the former, I show that the definition of the gospel has been expanded wrongfully to include the so-called social gospel.  In the latter, I show that the implications of the gospel are inappropriately expanded in the social direction.

In doing this analysis, I wanted to support social action for Christians (which I believe in) and not just have a knee-jerk response to liberal social gospel ethics.  However, I wanted the Bible’s teaching to clearly draw the parameters and definitions.  Although I greatly respect Stearns’ desire for more social action on the part of Christians,  I do not believe that this need justifies expanding the biblical definition of the gospel.  I have provided an excerpt below of my critique of Stearns.  I am doing some additions to the paper.  I hope to post a link to the completed work when I am finished.

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Gospel-centered, God-centered, or Christ-centered?

 Recently in chapel at Baptist Bible Seminary, I spoke briefly on the topic of gospel-centeredness.  I took my short sermon from that day and reworked it for this blog entry.  Perhaps it may be of benefit to the reader.

 Over the last few years I have been doing some thinking about being “gospel-centered.”  Much of the motivation for such talk within evangelicalism is positive.  This has taken on the aura of a mantra in many quarters.  The rise of conferences like Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition have value in calling the evangelical world back to the significance of the gospel of Christ and away from the vapid and vacuous forms of Arminianism that dominate much of the landscape, especially of the Electronic Church.  I am not lambasting all Arminians, just those who are radical in their orientation and who present no clear gospel.  For example, I often watch Joel Osteen on television to see if he is ever going to present the gospel of Christ so that people will understand it.  I have not yet heard it.

            On the other hand, I want to expand the discussion somewhat with the following question:  “Should we be gospel-centered, God-centered, or Christ-centered?”  Arguments can be made for each of these for doing theology.  In doing ministry, especially at the local church level, one can see that the gospel would or should be prominent as the church reaches out to its culture.  After all, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, NASB).  However, should the gospel itself – understood here as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-8) – be the central interpretive motif for our entire theological worldview?  I think that is a different question than ministry focus.  Paul is not excluding or diminishing the value of other areas of doctrine.  Nor is he necessarily saying that one’s entire worldview is built upon the gospel alone as the core.

            Some would argue for God-centeredness.  Culturally, the need is great.  We live in an era where Islam is resurging and New Age mysticism with its Hinduistic ideas has such an influence in the Western world.  The issue here is the nature of God.  Within evangelicalism there is the open theism debate which also highlights the very being of God as crucial in our time.  The debate over sovereignty has heated up with the Reformed resurgence.  Biblically, can anyone imagine any theological category in the Word of God that is more important than God?

            However, as I think about central interpretive motifs and know that people have a penchant for having them, I remember all the attempts to find the center of the message of the Bible.  Some of the candidates for the unifying theme of the Bible have been kingdom, covenant, promise, redemption, dispensation, holiness, already-not yet, the glory of God, etc.  To highlight one is sometimes to diminish the others.  Does any one of these concepts actually integrate all the others?  There exist also agenda-driven theologies such as feminist theology, the social gospel, black theology, and other attempts to take one issue and view all of theology through that one lens.  Such an approach to doing theology does not take the text as it was meant to be taken and may devalue other teachings that the Word of God gives.

            Lately, I have been talking more and more about Jesus-centered theology although I have an open mind as I continue to consider this issue.  The advantage of a Jesus-centered approach over a gospel-centered approach is that it is inclusive of all that Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for His people.  Does this succeed as a central interpretive motif?  Probably not.  However, it does fit with several passages that give gospel appeals.  Even in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter, the gospel lends itself to the discussion of the future resurrection of believers.  Eschatology along with some of its details is not far behind Paul’s famous definition of the gospel (see 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 50-52).

Of special interest to me is Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17.  The outline of the content of Paul’s message is clear:  God is the creator; men must repent of their sins against Him; if they don’t, they will be judged; if they are judged, they will be judged by the man (Jesus) whom God raised from the dead (see 17:22-31).  The framing of the gospel presentation includes some eschatology.  There is a future time of judgment to come.  In this way, the entire gamut of what Jesus does is highlighted, not just the Cross-work. The Cross is certainly the basis for the forgiveness of sins.  One must depend upon the finished work of Christ on the Cross to be saved.  However, the Bible often speaks of the “package” of all that Jesus does across time. 

One other major passage which speaks of the career of Jesus, so to speak, would be Romans 8:29-39.  There the promise is given that God finishes what He starts based upon the various aspects (past, present, future) of the ministries of Jesus.  It is also interesting that both Peter and Paul highlight a future focus as the hope of oppressed Christians (1 Peter 1:4-5, 7, 13, 5:4; 2 Thess. 1:5-12).  I doubt that Peter was actually devaluing the Cross when he made the following statement:  “Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).  This focus on the Second Coming was necessary and commanded with clarity.  Yet theologically, one might be criticized in today’s theological climate as overdosing on eschatology if one emphasized this truth.

So, I have come to a conclusion.  To emphasize the Second Coming at the expense of the First Coming is to spit on the Cross.  However, to emphasize the First Coming and the Cross at the expense of Christ’s future glorious work is to deny the glory of the God that we worship.  So, at least for the time being, you will find me emphasizing more and more a Jesus-centered theology that glories in all that Christ is and all that He does throughout all of history.