February 26, 2020

“The Gospel” Discussion Continues…

“The Gospel” continues to be a lively discussion in Christian circles these days. Two good posts on by D.M. Williams add insight and fodder for further discussion:

In his first post, Williams includes several written definitions and video discussions on the subject by adherents of (New) Reformed doctrine, such as the Resurgence, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Ligon Duncan. He identifies their definitions with the core of Luther’s teaching in the Reformation — justification by faith. Though Williams appreciates the importance of this doctrine and thinks it correct (as far as it goes), he sees a significant problem with identifying justification sola fide with the Gospel:

If one identifies the gospel with the doctrine of justification sola fide, then, by implication, one has to say that only (some) Protestants believe in the gospel.  Not only does this equation require one to automatically put contemporary Catholics, Orthodox, and many other Christians in the “unbeliever” box, it also means putting everyone from the 1st century to the 16th–Ignatius, Irenaeus, Basil, Thomas a Kempis, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc.–in that box as well.  Most of the spiritual greats of Christian history–the Church Fathers and Mothers, the Medieval doctors, the great mystics–are all cast outside.  To my mind, this implication alone is sufficient to warrant a reconsideration of the evangelical equation of the gospel with Luther’s doctrine of justification.

To make the point clear: Williams is not quarreling with the doctrine of justification by faith. He is questioning whether it should be equated with “The Gospel.”

Instead, D.M. sets forth this definition: “The gospel is, properly speaking, the royal announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the God of Israel’s promised Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

In support of this definition, he sets forth the following points:

1. We must keep in mind the first century context of the NT, when “Gospel” would have carried the idea of (a) the accession of a ruler, or (b) the announcement of victory in battle.

He marshals support for this by setting forth evidence from first century documents using “gospel” words, as well as First Testament scriptures and New Testament texts that portray the Messiah (Jesus in the NT) as the one who would defeat the powers arrayed against God’s people and be enthroned as God’s eternal King. Williams concludes:

This consistent close connection between euangelion/euangelizomai language and announcements of rule strongly suggests that many of the initial hearers/readers of the early Christians’ evangelical language would likely have understood that language as the announcement of a new ruler (see, e.g., Acts 17:7), and, unless there is strong NT evidence to the contrary, we should presume that the NT writers probably intendedtheir language to be so understood.

2. ”The gospel” in the Gospels is “the gospel of the Kingdom,” not the doctrine of justification sola fide.

D.M. Williams notes that the words evoking “gospel” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not do so in the context of “justification by faith.” Instead, they invariably point us to the Kingdom.

After looking at some Gospel texts that use “gospel” language and showing how the concept is linked with “kingdom” terms, he notes that there are other passages such as Luke 18:9-14 where “justification” language is used, and Mark 10:35-45 where substitutionary atonement terms appear. Nowhere are these passages described as “gospel,” though Williams observes that the second text does shed light on the nature of Jesus’ rule: “that rule is coming about not through Jesus wielding the sword against Israel’s enemies, but through Jesus’ dying on Israel’s behalf.”

* * *

Why is this discussion so important?

D.M. Williams concludes: “…if the NT gospel is the announcement of God’s ruling the world through Jesus Christ, then all Christians–Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike–believe in the NT gospel.”

Comments

  1. I think he got it half right.

    It (the gospel) is not only who He is…but what He has done…for you.

    I think it’s the hearing of that second part that creates faith in those who actually hear it (Romans 1:16), and sets the captive free.

    • I’ll agree with that. The Gospel is about Jesus. Making it about faith seems to divert the focus back on us.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And leads to “I Have More FAITH Than You!” one-upmanship.

        Never mind that “Faith” is usually considered a PASSIVE phenomenon. You just sit there having Faith Faith Faith while the lukewarm apostates and heathens do all the heavy lifting.

      • That’s why it’s justification by grace through faith. The prepositions are important. Faith does not justify, it does not earn grace. Christ earned grace on the cross for the world. Faith is how grace is received by the individual. It is the acceptance and trust that the thing Jesus did on the cross was for me.

        The Gospel isn’t just Hey, Jesus is King. That’s not good news for me at all. He’s coming to Judge. The Gospel is that Jesus earned grace and gives forgiveness to all who want it, and requires nothing from me in return. The definition offered here is one that Mormons, Jehovah witnesses, and heck, even the devil himself could accept: “The gospel is, properly speaking, the royal announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the God of Israel’s promised Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Satan knew that.

        I don’t understand how that is good news at all, or what the pastoral thought is here, or what kind of agenda is driving this Gospel-less “gospel.” It’s supposed to be good news.

        • The whole “Jesus is King” meme misses that what’s important is the nature of that kingship, namely, that Christ ruled as King from a cross, taking on the sins of the world to reconcile the world to himself, without his subjects deserving any grace or doing anything to receive it. He broke down the doors of hell and said you’re all free, believe it and follow me to live with God in eternity.

          That is justification by grace alone, through faith alone. That is what is important about Christ’s kingship.

        • The Gospel isn’t just Hey, Jesus is King. That’s not good news for me at all. He’s coming to Judge.

          The fact that God is returning to judge is indeed good news. It means He hasn’t forgotten His promises, and that what the prophets were crying out for is happening. But the news is actually better than just that. He’s not simply delivering His people, but He’s opening the door for all of humanity.

          I think The Return of the King for the LOTR trilogy is a good picture of this. Middle Earth and its inhabitants were suffering because the rightful king was displaced. They are waiting for the for the true king to deliver them.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            If the “good picture” is of Aragorn returning to deliver his people from Sauron, why is it so often preached as Cthulhu awakening to destroy the world?

          • It probably has a lot, if not everything, to with the fact that for most of the their history, the Jews found themselves as the ones without power. The same could be said for the early church. Now, though, Christians are often the one wielding power. Those wielding power don’t usually look forward to the day when they have to answer for how they used that power.

          • Explain how Jesus returning to judge is good news without also including justification through faith alone.

            Good luck.

            Aragorn returning was good news because his people knew they were his people. How do we know we are Christ’s people? What do I need to do to be one of Christ’s people?

          • Boaz,
            I don’t understand why you’re trying to put words in my mouth. I never claimed that Christ justifying the ungodly wasn’t integral to what God is doing. It’s not an either/or situation. I was responding to your assertion that the statement “Jesus is King” isn’t good news. It most certainly is good news!

          • You missed my point. You assert that “Jesus is King” is good news. My point was that by itself, with nothing else, it’s bad news. You need justification to make it good news.

            What two things do you want to know about an announcement of a new king (1) is he my king, and (2) what is this king going to do.

            Your reference to LoTR is great. Aragorn’s kingship was not necessarily good news by itself. It was bad for Sauron, bad for the orcs and southern tribes. He wasn’t their king. Does Jesus identify us as allies of Sauron to be conquered or loyal subjects to be protected? If we are orcs, what’s he going to do to the orcs? Slaughter them in a highly entertaining CGI bonanza!

            The LOTR Gospel would be that though we are all orcs, the new king made us part of his kingdom despite our rebellion, while we were still in rebellion, without having done anything good or deserving.

            That is justification by grace through faith. How does one not see this throughout the Gospels, and why would anybody want to remove it from the proclamation?

        • I had a seminary professor who often warned us about the dangers of prepositional theology. 🙂

          But if you say that prepositions are important, I will point out that Romans 5:1 states that we are justified by faith. Romans 4:24 also states that “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

          • My point was that Lutheran doctrine is careful about the prepositions to avoid heresies. You can say justification by faith as long as what you are doing is distinguishing a received faith from merit-earning works, which is Paul is doing in those passages.

            But when you talk about justification by faith, some get the idea that faith is something generated internally to present to Jesus to show one is deserving to be in his kingdom. That’s essentially the Baptist doctrine underlying credobaptism, or the Lutheran pietist heresies.

            That’s all wrong. Faith is my Spirit-caused response to hearing the Word of Christ’s grace. When I’m told Christ died to reconcile me to God and doesn’t hold any of my sins against me, (the real Gospel), I must respond by either believing it or denying it. If I believe it, it’s because of the power of the Spirit in the Word to turn my will from myself towards God, and I take no credit for that new faith. Lutherans say “justification THROUGH faith” to emphasize this passiveness in receiving grace, which helps prevent folks turning faith into another merit-earning work to be self-righteous for or despair over.

          • Hi Boaz,

            Nice theological summary. I just don’t see the concept of “received” faith in scripture. (Though I do agree with you on the merit-earning works.) I would be happy to be enlightened. I have always understood faith as our response to God’s grace. Where would you point me to to convince me of your viewpoint?

  2. I hear his critique and he has given me some food for thought. The problem that I see with the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ view is that although people talk about it, no one I have heard has been able to flesh out what that means, what the implications are for the church and me personally, and why we should be excited by it.

    So Jesus is the new King.

    And this means what?

    He triumphed over sin, death, and the devil.

    Good. And this means what to the Church?

    What effect does this Kingship have in my life? What effect does the Victory have in the life of the believer.

    It seems to me that without justification, this message lacks traction, and dare I say relevance.

    • “So Jesus is the new King. And this means what? He triumphed over sin, death, and the devil. Good. And this means what to the Church?”

      What is funny is that these were the very questions on my mind as I woke up this morning. I read about things like the Fruit of the Spirit and many other promises but I see/experiance very little of it. They kingdom come, thy will be done. We are commanded to pray this but where do we actually see it coming?

      I would like to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom, but like you I don’t see much traction except in the area of justification.

    • Good questions, Kyle. I agree with you and others that those who are trying to help us think through “the King Jesus Gospel” (as Scot McKnight calls it) have some work to do in helping us flesh it out.

      • What’s there to flesh out? It’s John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-10.

      • Well for one thing, and I recall McKnight saying something like this, it does away with the notion of Jesus’ Kingdom as something that primarily exists in the abstract, “in my heart.” A “kingdom” in first century Israel has borders, boundaries and citizens. This of course may raise questions about theocracy for some, but as you go forward, I think these issues can be dealt with.

        • Yes. I think the concept of Kingdom is actually a tremendous corrective on the individualism of modern evangelicalism. We speak of salvation as something like “getting to heaven” (leaving creation behind, so to speak), we speak of the world order as a second priority (why build a park or feed the hungary–it’s all fading away), and we speak of faith as a kind of internal mental disposition that leads to psychological strength in our private lives (perhaps with the side-effect of making us virtuous people in our public lives). But if the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is King and is establishing God’s kingdom, then the redemption of th world order and establishment of blessed community (one far outside the boundaries of ethnicity, etc.!) become front-and-center.

          That’s still a little abstract, but the potential for practical application is tremendous, whether we’re talking about having a more robust view of the church or figuring out how to spend our lives. If I think the Kingdom is something God is bringing to existence around me and only in my interactions with people, then the ordinary parts of life become sacramental and I cannot afford NOT to think about inviting people over to dinner, planting trees, building homes, making art, etc.

          This doesn’t subtract from salvation by faith, but rather makes Christ the one who fulfills God’s promises to Israel and in whom we are counted “God’s people” and members of the community-coming-into-being.

    • It’s funny, but I have exactly the opposite reaction. The soterian gospel that focuses on justification seems small to me — it’s only a slight exaggeration for me to say that it seems to lacks relevance for much of my life except the end when I cash in my ticket to heaven.

      But Jesus as lord, though, as the new king — that’s exciting stuff! For me, this gives a wider context to Christian living. I’m not just trying to improve morally as evidence that I’m “working out my salvation with fear and trembling”; I’m learning how to live in the tension of the already-and-not-yet kingdom, learning how to show the grace and love and peace and justice of Christ in my daily (incredibly mundane) life. I grew up with the soterian gospel and, apart from discussions of evangelism and moralism, it didn’t seem like the gospel had a lot of relevance to my daily life, to non-evangelizing interactions with friends and coworkers, to the stuff of daily life that doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on moral growth. Plus, the soterian gospel seems so individualistic — it’s about me and Jesus, not Jesus and the world.

      And Jesus triumphing over sin, death, the devil? That helps me so much to respond with both mourning and hope to the brokenness in the world around us. Mourning, because it all represents our broken relationship with God — it’s not the way the world is supposed to be. But hope because they’ve all already been defeated, and soon the kingdom will come in which they no longer exist. I never really understood that hope or had a way to truly mourn the current brokenness until I started to understand the kingdom gospel.

      It may be true that writers need to do a better job of showing how the kingdom gospel is relevant to the church; I haven’t read a lot of NT Wright or Scot McKnight. But for me, at least, the kingdom gospel was mind-blowingly better than the soterian gospel. It’s actually impacted the way I live in a way that I never imagined the gospel could. Maybe I never truly understood the soterian gospel; and I’m in no way saying that a part of the gospel isn’t that Jesus saved me, individually, from my sin. But seeing the gospel as larger than me and jesus — which I didn’t before I encountered the kingdom gospel — has a profound impact on my life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It’s funny, but I have exactly the opposite reaction. The soterian gospel that focuses on justification seems small to me — it’s only a slight exaggeration for me to say that it seems to lacks relevance for much of my life except the end when I cash in my ticket to heaven.

        A “Gospel of Personal Salvation and Only Personal Salvation” becomes nothing more than personal Fire Insurance with bonus Rapture Boarding Pass.

      • Sarah — most important comment today. Thanks for this perspective.

      • +1k. The kingdom vs. soterian gospel, though, do not have to be mutually exclusive. Could they possibly be two sides of the same coin? Kingdom is the meta-narrative while soterian is the personal narrative, though it must find its place in the larger picture. They both need each other. Personal salvation is, in the end run, quite a lonely idea if the Savior is not ruling over the universe. Jesus as King, though, is reinforced when you know you have citizenship in His kingdom. I believe both concepts can reinforce each other, and the big problems, (liberalism or fundamentalism) come when one is emphasized to the exclusion of the other.

        • Miguel, S. McKnight does not identify “soterian” with “personal salvation”. So in that sense it is not the other side of the coin. It would be worth reading his book if you haven’t done so already.

          Wright describes personal salvation as something that is found within the gathering of the people of God that God is doing, which occurs within the arena of history. He likens these as nesting within each other, as the wooden Russian dolls.

          I have to say I agree with Sarah. I had no good news to give until D. Willard in “Divine Conspiracy” helped me begin to understand what I was reading in the Gospels, as I was searching to find out what ***Jesus*** said was the good news. Reading Willard was the beginning of a huge paradigm shift for me, that ultimately made God bigger, more faithful, more glorious, and had profound effects on my personal walk with Christ, as well.

          Dana

        • From the bit I have read, I think N.T. Wright would argue that they are two sides of the same coin, and that we have to have both truths on the table, to understand either one fully.

          • Danielle, I have read most of what Wright has published, at least in book form. He just doesn’t go there. If he were in a pastoral counseling situation,one-on-one, he might bring something like that into the discussion, but he would also nuance it a great deal.

            Forgive me.

            Dana

    • The relevance for your life, for anyone’s life in any era, is that the true King’s authority overthrows and replaces the unjust kings and imposters- the Herods, Caesars, etc. The good news for a first century Jew would have been that the pagan powers are being challenged and overthrown, including that of the corrupt religious system. The true king pulls back the curtain on the injustice and abuses of the false kings, and delivers his people from the usurpers. Amid all this is the proof that the true king reigns in that the false king’s primary weapon- death- has been stripped of power. Justification, in this scheme, is the way into the Kingdom- simply by ‘seeing’ the Risen King and believing, the disciples are now partakers in a new world, a new political system.

  3. I’m on my way over to view the original articles. Thought provoking stuff.

  4. I am almost done reading N.T. Wright’s How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels and in just reading what Chaplain Mike excerpted from D.M. Williams’ posts, I think they may agree. I surely do love N.T. Wright’s books.

  5. Oh, and I did just go over to Williams’ site and I see others comparing what he writes to what N.T. Wright writes. Williams hasn’t read How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels yet, though.

  6. I actually finished reading Wright’s How God Became King yesterday morning.

    It would seem to me that Paul’s epistle form, especially in Ephesians and Colossians, is to first tell us who we are in Christ, then to tell us how that is lived out. The living out part is the response to the “good news” of Christ as King. The living out part can only be accomplished by faith (alone) in the veracity of the Gospel proclamtion.

    T

    • “The living out part can only be accomplished by faith (alone) in the veracity of the Gospel proclamtion.”

      I’d love to hear more about what that looks like.

  7. He goes too far in the other direction.

    Still have to go with 1 Corinthians 15 and Acts 2. Proclaiming the gospel without mentioning His death (and what it accomplished) is not something Paul and Peter did.

    • He’s not saying that, Rick. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is exactly how he became King and inaugurated God’s rule on earth as in heaven.

      • But it is part of the gospel. Again, I will have to point to Peter and Paul.

        We need to be careful about emphasizing just one part of the gospel, or the benefits of the gospel, rather than the complete gospel (as seen in 1 Cor, the sermons in Acts, etc….)

        • Again, he’s not leaving out any of those things. The Gospel includes the whole story of Jesus and what he did.

          • Yes, but we could then just sum it up with “Jesus is Lord”. However, that is not what Peter, Paul, etc.. regularly did. They felt it important to include the critical elements of His death and what it accomplished. Paul did not leave it (“first importance”) at just King of King/Lord of Lords.

            Perhaps we are differing on what is the gospel, as opposed to how it is proclaimed.

            I also am not totally thrilled with the stricly “royal announcement” aspect, although I think it certainly includes that. To state is as such in 21st Century America would come across as just a political statement. Jesus is more than just King, as wonderful as that is.

          • I don’t think you can make the statement “Jesus is Lord” without implicitly affirming His death and resurrection. Jesus is Lord specifically because He died and rose. As Paul says in Colossians 2, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

          • So why did Paul not just say that in 1 Cor. 15? Or Peter in Acts 2 or Acts 3 (etc…)?

            And what are part of the purpose and ramification of His death and resurrection (“died for our sins”, “put an end to the agony of death”, etc…)?

            Including not just who He is, but also stating what He did seems to be an important part of what is included in any gospel definition. We don’t just see it as implicit or assumed- it is stated.

          • Rick,
            I’m honestly confused as to what the point is you’re trying to make at the moment. Are you saying that Peter and Paul would not be on board with presenting the Gospel in terms of Kingdom? I guess I see it all throughout Paul’s writings, and even Peter’s sermons have to be evaluated in the context of the audience he was speaking to. Peter was talking to Jews who found themselves in a situation where they were waiting for God to come back and deliver them from exile. That it what Peter is telling them has happened. The moment they were waiting for has happened, and they need to believe it or risk missing it.

            I don’t think you can look at 1 Corinthians 15 without putting it in the context of the whole book. Paul starts off in Chapter 1 by giving this overview:

            For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

            “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
            the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

            Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

            Actually if you read through the whole book, I think a good case can be made that Paul is establishing the Lordship of Christ as a way to validate his own apostleship. Because Christ is Lord, the Corinthians can believe the message he’s telling them, and they need to adjust their lives to reflect this fact.

          • Rick, please take into account that these are 2 brief blog posts focusing on the meaning of euangelion and it’s cognates in the NT. The fuller discussion can be found in NT Wright and Scot McKnight and Daniel Kirk and so on.

          • I think McKnight’s book was terrific.

  8. Hold up hold up hold up.

    Did he just say that nobody from the 1st century to the 16th believed in justification by faith alone?

    I mean, obviously that specific terminology didn’t really exist before the Reformation. But to say that no one believed the basic core of that doctrine until the Reformation is a pretty damning admission for a Protestant to make, isn’t it? How does that not amount to saying that the Reformers introduced a completely new interpretation of Scripture? Wasn’t the whole point of the Reformation that the Catholic church had not just gone morally astray, but had fallen into doctrinal error, and that the original, correct faith needed to be recovered?

    I’m not usually one to try to have the Catholic/Protestant debate. It usually just hurts people and doesn’t convince anyone. But that stunned me. If you agree with the statement that no one believed in sola fide justification for the first three quarters of Christianity–that the basic core of that doctrine was nowhere to be found until the 1500s–how do you remain Protestant?

    • I’m honestly not trying to pick a fight. Am I just misreading him here and making a mountain out of a molehill?

    • I don’t think that Luther introduced a totally new interpretation of Scripture, per se, but he did take some ideas that Augustine introduced and take them to a level that went beyond where they were before. I don’t think it’s that no one believed in justification. It’s just that the importance it was given changed.

      Historically, salvation was viewed much more from a sacramental perspective, and, actually, Luther didn’t stay very far from that himself. It was other Reformers such as Zwingli that really started down a radically different path. And most Evangelicals have followed Zwingli’s lead rather than Luther’s.

    • I also thought that was a pretty stunning admission. As an Orthodox Christian, I agree with it, but I was surprised to read it from a protestant. Phil is right that Christians prior to the reformation believed in justification by faith. It’s the “alone” part that is at odds with Christian Tradition prior to the reformation. That phrase is contrary to Scripture (see James 2:20-26), and it unnecessarily separates faith and works as if they are two separate things.

    • As Chaplain Mike emphasized in the post, it’s not the doctrine itself that we’re talking about here. It is about equating the gospel with justification by faith alone. One can believe in that doctrine without it being the sole definition of what the gospel is.

    • I think what Williams is saying is that the church before the Reformation did not equate “the gospel” with “justification by faith” in the way Luther did because of the context of his battle with Roman abuses.

      • Well if that’s the point he was trying to make, then it makes sense coming from a Protestant perspective. Just the way he phrased it made me do a double take.

        Hopefully I haven’t sent the discussion down a rabbit hole not related to the post!

    • This is sort of germain; it shows how it was that the gospel started to be viewed through a different interpretive scheme, with Luther. (there were others before Luther, of course) :

      http://theoldadam.com/2012/02/21/here-it-is-the-question-that-percipitated-the-reformation/

      It does a nice job of explaining the Catholic view, and then the “new” (or rediscovered) view of Luther and how these came about.

      Part 2 is also excellent.

  9. Bill Metzger says

    The Gospel is ALWAYS the announcement- IN WORDS- that God graciously forgives all sinners for the sake of Jesus’ suffering, death on the Cross, and resurrection. It is ALWAYS about what Jesus actually DID for the whole world. And the Gospel includes what Jesus CONTINUES to do for us in His “Good News”! My two cents! Romans 1:16

  10. The definition he quoted by Sproul is not the only one I have heard from him. This one seems to focus specifically on the relationship between the Savior and the saved, and provides decent fodder for William’s critique. However, I’ve heard Sproul give another definition that addresses all Williams concerns as well as the ones mentioned by the other reformed guys. He says the Gospel must have three parts:
    1. The person of Christ.
    2. The work of Christ. (don’t forget, He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God…)
    3. How this work is applied to us.
    “Justification by faith alone” goes under that third category, and that is where we have room to disagree across the Christian spectrum. You could argue that the first two points alone are enough of a Gospel, but the third point is not exactly separable from them. It kinda makes it easy to see how our differences in doctrine seem so foundational that it nearly looks like a different gospel.
    As far as I know, however, Roman Catholics do believe in Justification by Faith, just not “alone.” And the reason for this, correct me if I’m wrong, is that what we call “sanctification” they call “progressive justification” or something like that. I believe Protestants err when we say you are “saved” after you are “justified.” That becomes salvation through faith alone without works, and we all agree that faith at some point does produce works. IMO, until we’re chillin with Jesus at the big sushi bar in the sky, we’re not completely saved.

    • Thank you. I was trying to formulate this into a cohesive thought. You stated it so well.

      • Thanks! I find writing my thoughts in blog comments to be helpful in processing them. This is a good place to think out loud.

    • Miguel,

      You are completely saved now. (I think we can;’t waver on that lest we open the door to the Christ +, advocates.

      You’re right, it won’t be complete until that Day, or when we die.

      Point being that everything has already been accomplished, by Him. So we don’t end up like the Catholics, or Evangelicals who lack real assurance in Him, and are therefore always looking for evidence from what they do, say, feel, or think.

      I know you already know this. We just have to be careful in our language.

      • Steve,

        I have assurance in my salvation because I am “in Christ”. Making statements like this are not appreciated.

        Mike

        • I appreciate this perspective. I think that getting back to viewing salvation as theosis is a good way to sidestep many of these debates. I appreciate how my Orthodox friends like to point out that we aren’t saved, but we are being saved. Salvation is a process that continues even after death.

          I think this is an instance where the Greek idea of perfection has overtaken the Jewish idea of shalom in popular thought. Perfection to most people implies a state of unchanging purity, whereas, shalom implies wholeness and things working the way God intended. I think the latter is a more helpful concept.

          • THIS is brilliant. I’m assuming that the Greek idea of perfection is the word Jesus used when he said, “be thou perfect?” …This has something to do with the idea of completeness more than absolute freedom from err. Possibly both ideas are looking at the same truth from different cultural lenses.

          • I remember a discussion with my Hebrew and Greek prof about this. He stated that “perfection” in scripture must be understood in Hebrew terms rather than Greek terms. As a side note, I believe that this also informed Wesley’s understanding of perfection as well.

        • Mike, on the basis of what can you know that you are “in Christ?” Being “in Christ” is just another way of saying “saved,” so it’s pretty much saying, “I can know that I’m saved because I’m saved.”

          Arminians and Calvinists both, ironically, point to works as evidence of being “in Christ,” because saving faith does lead to the production of good works. However, this leaves room for plenty of skepticism, especially when we see blatant unbelievers outdoing us in terms of civic righteousness. I believe that the sacramental traditions, as a whole, tend to say that you can know you are “in Christ” because you are baptized, cf. Rom. 6:3,4. Roman Catholics and Orthodox, feel free to correct me on that one.

          If Steve’s comment pricks you, consider that it may be stirring up a healthy skepticism. It is a blanket statement, but it’s not derogatory; if drawing assurance from something other than what Christ has given us for assurance is enough for you, that’s fine, provided you do not neglect the means of grace and thereby disobey Christ (the expression of unbelief). Lack of right belief about baptism doesn’t render it ineffective.

          • How can you, or anyone be sure that they really are “in Christ”?

          • What is my assurance? Jesus Christ died for me, and I have placed my trust in him. It doesn’t get much more complicated that that for me.

            It is kind of funny. Assurance is not really a topic that comes up much in the churches I attend. Probably because it is not considered to be much of an issue.

        • Michael,

          You have faith in your faith?

      • Steve Martin says, “So we don’t end up like the Catholics, or Evangelicals who lack real assurance in Him,”

        Wow, that’s a blanket statement, Steve! I am Catholic and I do not “lack real assurance” in Jesus.

        • Thanks for chiming in on that point. As a Roman Catholic, on the basis of what can you know that you are completely and fully forgiven for all time? I honestly don’t know the official RC position on this.

          • Miguel, we are not supposed to include links in posts, but if you search on Catholic Catechism in a google search, you will easily find it and in the very first part called the Prologue, it is written “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” That is just one of many things which serve to help us know that we have real assurance in Jesus.

          • Ok. So where’s the part that is supposed to cause us Lutherans to howl and scream in protest? 😛
            I think we’re on different planets with the term “assurance,” but that’s ok, because you have (and use regularly) the sacraments. I suppose a better way of putting the “assurance” question would be, “How do you know for absolute certain that you indeed are a Christian, you have been adopted as a child of God and are forgiven of all your sins?” Do Roman Catholics believe you can know the answer to this with certainty? I grew up being taught the answer was no, but I’ve been learning that most of what I knew about Catholics was wrong.

          • Miguel–theologically, the answer is no. But the point isn’t to be like “So who knows if you’re good enough? Keep climbing that ladder! Muahahahaha…”

            The Church is pretty hesitant to talk about what happens to individuals after they die. Yeah, we have those canonized saints–but they’re the only ones that Rome has said anything about, either direction. They aren’t willing to say that you know you’re a real Christian, because humans have shown a real talent for self-deceit. And who knows, you might renounce Christ and end up a blaspheming mass murderer before it’s all over. At the same time, if the blaspheming mass murderer repents in their dying moments, who are we to limit the mercy of Christ?

            At the same time, since I’ve converted, the Sacraments have given me a far greater experience of assurance than anything I had as a Protestant. When I sinned, again, for the thousandth time, I told myself I was forgiven, read verses about forgiveness, and felt very unforgiven and consumed with guilt. Now, I go to Confession, and it’s impossible for me to not believe in my forgiveness as I hear the words “I absolve you.”

        • Good, Joanie.

          I’m glad that you have full and complete assurance.

          You are the exception. I grew up Catholic. My whole family is Catholic. I have many friends who are Catholic. I’ve heard many homilies by Catholic priests. And I do not see much assurance, at all.

          You have to realize that we do need to generalize when we make these statements. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to discuss anything.

          • Steve, please. 1John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

            Joanie’s quote from the Catechism is good too; it comes partly from Galatians 4:4.

            Don’t let yourself be accused of stealing the faith of others. I know that’s not your intent.

      • Steve, I’m with you in that we can have full assurance now. However, there’s always the question of saved from what? We still experience suffering which is the result of sin. We are now saved from the penalty of sin (justification), we are being saved from the power of sin as we grow in grace (sanctification), and ultimately we will be saved from the very presence of sin (glorification). THAT is full salvation. This idea of “getting saved” is a revivalist concept rooted in decision theology. I’m forgiven, completely, now. But I got so much more and better to look forward to.

  11. I read Sproul’s “Getting the Gospel Right” years back, and it was painful for me…a very negative reaction to the idea that Catholics and Evangelicals might share some common ground. I hated reading it, because I generally enjoy Sproul.

    Thanks for sharing this very balanced, and accurate, presentation with us, CM.

  12. On pages 216-217 of N.T. Wright’s book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels he writes, “Yes, the gospels affirm Jesus’s divine identity. Yes, they affirm his death on the cross as the climax of God’s age-old plan of salvation. But the purpose of God coming incognito in and as Jesus and the purpose of this Jesus dyuing on the cross was–so the gospels are telling us–in order to establish God’s kingdom, his justice, on earth as in heaven. As in Psalm 2, the point is that in this way the nations are to be called to account. This is how the creator is bringing his creation back into proper shape.”

    I like that. He brings all the strands within the holy scriptures together to make one perfect coil.

  13. Scott Smith says

    As some have already indicated, there is an important distinction between “What Jesus Does” in reality (or properly), and how we talk about “what Jesus does.” More accurately you could replace “Jesus” with “the Trinity” since salvation/justification is the work of all three.

    That is to say, prior to the reformation, in churches without a history in the reformation, and in churches which are currently trying to distance themselves from their reformation roots, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have, are, and will continue to elect people in the words of Baptism, create faith through the words of institution, and sustain faith through the proclamation of absolution–even if nowhere else. (Of course you could switch the verbs around if you like). God will continue to completely alter the nature of people’s relationship with Him.

    Would each person so elected and in whom faith is created be able to articulate that faith in the words of the Small Catechism, or Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession? No. They are just one of many windows into the same house. I just happen to think it’s the clearest, widest, and best lit window. Starting with Justification sola fide enables us to account for the new Kingdom and the Kingship of Christ. However, I think starting with the Kingdom and Kingship can create a bit of a snag when it comes to the unavoidable issue of Justification.

  14. Scott Smith says

    Forgot to add:

    Specifically to the topic–the Gospel is Jesus (full stop).

    • Exactly right, Scott, the gospel IS Jesus and Jesus is the gospel.

      He didn’t say “I point you toward the way, the truth and the life,” or, “I am ABOUT the way, the truth and the life.” He said, “I AM the way, the truth and the life.”

  15. Throughout history, the Church has gone through various phases of emphasis. You can see this in the way her children have preached:

    – Christ is LORD, and has defeated sin, death, and the Devil
    – Christ is reconciling people to the Father, through the Church
    – Christ saves us through the sacraments, His chosen means of Grace He has intrusted to the Church
    – Christ came to save sinners, and that means YOU
    – Christ calls for repentance, and now YOU must repent and receive Jesus
    – Etc, etc.

    And, it would seem, that these particular emphasis always seemed to come about just when they were needed. Not that the other facets of the Gospel were considered irrelevant. Rather, in a certain time and place, a certain emphasis was felt to be needed (whether or not the felt need was right or wrong depends on the colored glasses one wears).

    It would seem to me that this age is looking for the message that Jesus is the Christ, the LORD and KING. Why? As Galadriel has said, “The world has changed.” We have been industrialized, ravaged by endless (and increasingly deadly) wars, our philosophical paradigms have been vetted and gutted, and now we are awash in relativistic confusion and existential angst. In a world of seemingly endless chaos and unpredictability, people are looking for order and control. A promise that there is a purpose, and that someone holds to keys. Perhaps, that is why, we such a resurgence of the emphasis upon Christ as King.

    My humble observation and two cents.

    • You make excellent points, Tim.

    • I’ll second JoanieD on that.
      I would also add that the church seems to go through this continual process of hoarding, sorting, and dumping.
      We Christians — much like the Pharisees of Christ’s time — have this tendency to collect religious stuff over time, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it enduring, and some of it useful for only a moment in time. Eventually, we collect so much stuff that it interferes with the basic functioning of the church and creates a theological nightmare for anyone trying to pin down universal answers to fundamental questions. I think the RCC in the late middle ages was a good example of hoarding overload.
      At that point, we either go through a period of sorting or dumping (or a bit of both). Sorting involves trying to inventory and examine all this collected stuff and put it in some kind of rational, functional order. I think the imperial era was a major time of sorting, labeling, and defining what the early church had collected during its first three centuries.
      Dumping is that more extreme process of throwing out the stuff we deem as unnecessary, incorrect, or harmful. The Reformation witnessed quite a bit of dumping, along with some selective sorting, on the Protestant side and some extreme, emergency sorting on the Catholic side.
      These days I think Western Churchianity is in a strange, accelerated state of simultaneous dumping and collecting — much of it in response to preceding period of individual denominational hoarding and general stagnancy. Unfortunately, some of the stuff we’re now collecting is so toxic that many are fleeing the church altogether to get away from it. And some are looking back down the road for some of the items we’ve dumped that we should have held on to.
      Maybe, someday, the entire Body of Christ will figure out and agree on what we need to take with us as we follow Christ on this strange and wonderful journey through time.

  16. The gospel of the kingdom in the Gospels is indeed about Jesus as king, and the nature of his rule, but also about his kingdom of disciples, who seek to live under his rule. Thus this kingdom includes not only who Jesus is and what Jesus does; it also majors on what this king commands, what he teaches his disciples about how to live, how to speak and act. And Jesus teaches that his kingdom (of disciples) will spread out to all nations, becoming an international kingdom of disciples who obey what their king has taught. This faith in Jesus as king, and faithfulness to his new righteousness, are also linked with Jesus giving the Spirit (in the future) to his disciples. Thus Mt. 28:19-20 climaxes this Gospel by speaking of making disciples among all the nations, baptizing them in the name (presence and power) of the Father, Son, and Spirit, teaching them to do everything Jesus taught them, and their king will remain with them (in the Spirit) until the end of the age.

    In Matthew, the gospel of the kingdom of heaven starts with John the Baptist, who says it is about to begin, and the coming “strong one” is about to appear–the one who will baptize with the Spirit. When Jesus then comes to be baptized, John says he should be (the first to be) baptized (with the Spirit). But Jesus tells John to baptize him so they will fulfill all righteousness. Then the heavens open and the Spirit descends (anointing Jesus as the new king), and the voice from heaven announces this is the beloved son, with whom God is pleased (reflecting Ps. 2:6-7 about God’s decree of a new son, who is king, and Isa. 42:1, about God’s servant, in whom he delights, and on him he puts his Spirit, to bring justice/righteousness to the nations.

    Jesus then begins to call disciples, and begins (in his “sermon” on the mount) to teach them what it means to be part of his kingdom. His kingdom has now begun; the Spirit is powerfully at work in the words and deeds of the new king; and disciples are being prepared to become faithful members of this kingdom. The grace that will be given to them after Jesus leaves is the Spirit; the Spirit will enable the life (fruit) that characterizes Jesus new kingdom. Paul’s “charismata” (grace-gifts) include giving generously to the needy and speaking faithfully to strengthen the “body.” This is all part of what Paul means by “righteousness;” faith means not only believing in the new king/lord but also receiving the Spirit that gives new life. (I think Alister McGrath has concluded from his vast research that Luther was the first in church history to separate justification from regeneration. Luther focused on Christ’s righteousness as his alone, a righteousness imputed to “believers” who trust in Christ’s work, with faith being fulfilled in this inner trust.)

    • At risk of getting us off-topic: Something that confuses me about John the Baptist is that he says at one point in one of the gospel writings that he did not know who was going to be God’s anointed until he baptized the person and saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rest on the person. But in Matthew’s gospel, John obviously knows that Jesus is the anointed, saying that Jesus should baptize him, not John baptize Jesus. I guess it is just one of those inconsistencies with which we live.

      • You are right: Jn. 1:33 says John did not “know” Jesus was the coming one who would baptize with the Spirit until he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and remain on Jesus. And, like you, I do not know how to explain this “inconsistency” with Matthew; maybe there will be a good answer in the eternal future.

        As for the gospel of the kingdom, it’s interesting that Jn. 3:3,5 links seeing and entering the kingdom of God with being born “from above,” i.e., being born “of the Spirit.” After this, the Gospel of John mainly uses “eternal life” (rather than “kingdom of God”). Jn. 3:36 summarizes (and interprets) Jn. 3:16 by saying: the one who is believing (continuous tense) in the Son has eternal life; the one who is not obeying the Son will not see life. Note the link between believing and obeying. And in Jn. 6:63 Jesus says it is the Spirit that gives “life”; the flesh is of no use (as in 3:6).

        • The inconsistencies actually bolster the truthfulness to me. If the writers of the Gospels were telling a made-up story they would have gotten together and not had any.

          At the same time, it helps with the argument that the Bible can’t be 100% inerrant. Clearly mistakes or at least misunderstandings got in. We deal with these things in different ways, of course. Some people tie themselves in knots denying that there are any inconsistencies. The SBC I grew up in warned us a lot about bibliolatry: we don’t worship the Bible, we worship the God that the Bible reveals. That moves the Bible out of center focus and helps in not putting inappropriate demands on it.

      • Those who try to harmonize the Gospels end up like those who foolishly contemplate the merkabah 🙂

  17. This will be the last quotation from N.T. Wright I will include (and it is a long one), as I know we are supposed to be discussing the writings of Williams. But this is just so beautiful, I have to share. It’s on page 239-240 in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels :

    “We have, alas, belittled the cross, imagining it merely as a mechanism for getting us off the hook of our own petty naughtiness or as an example of some general benevolent truth. It is much, much more. It is the moment when the story of Israel reaches its climax; the moment when, at last, the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls see their God coming in his kingdom; the moment when the people of God are renewed so as to be, at last, the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love; the moment when the kingdom of God overcomes the kingdom of the world. It is the moment when a great old door, locked and barred since our first disobedience, swings open suddenly to reveal not just the garden, opened once more to our delight, but the coming city, the garden city that God had always planned and is now inviting us to go through the door and build with him. The dark power that stood in the way of this kingdom vision has been defeated, overthrown, rendered null and void. Its legions will still make a lot of noise and cause a lot of grief, but the ultimate victory is now assured. This is the vision the evangelists offer us as they bring together the kingdom and the cross.”

    God’s garden city…I want to be and I want all of you to be gardeners in this city!

  18. He’s absolutely right. The justification doctrine is a response to a particular failure, or problem (persistent guilt, legalism, etc), not Gospel proper.

    The best defense I see of this is that the idea of justification by faith is just that – a conceptual, metaphorical construction to explain something. Kingdom is what’s literally happening before the eyes of the men and women in the New Testament. Death, Resurrection, and Kingdom.

    Dare I take it this way? The evangelical church is rife with functional Docetism, including among the highest level teachers, scholars, and intellectuals, and it’s because of a de-contextualization of the justification doctrine (all sorts of “personally saved” talk) from the human reality of the Kingdom of God as the actual activity of Jesus on earth. In other words, everyone is so eager to tell each other not to be a legalist (or the flip side- not to be in sin), that very few people have been bothering with historical Gospel content in a compelling way until recently.

    I tell you, it’s downright disappointing to get excited about the Resurrection of Christ (you know, that thing that actually happened in human history?) and then be subjected to a string of warnings about “legalism” or being “too doctrinally fixated” or something about “making sure it’s not just head knowledge.”

    If you’re constantly dealing in abstractions, you will eventually drift from a faith that is truly incarnational. If the Resurrection of the Body matters at all, that should suggest that God knows we need something more than abstraction alone. Or even as the primary announcement.

  19. Personally I think we find out the gospel most clearly when we go out and actually help and love other people. I experienced this recently as a trainee nurse. When I was near people dying or suffering I felt the loveof Christ and His good news in me more than any mission before. I was compelled to love these people, pray for them and at times even tell them a little of God (if the moment was appropriate)

    The Gospel is good news, it is told in what we do, not what we say. Go do something loving for a stranger, you will find CHrist there. it is a God thing, for God is good, not us

    Editor

    http://www.thechristiannetwork.com

    • Well, I get your point but I don’t think I’d agree that the gospel is not told in what we say. There’s no way to relate the gospel without telling them- the word “Gospel” means good news, the news of what happened. This might be bolstered (i.e. I could show you how much I believe it’s true) in what I do for you, but that is not news.

  20. My view of justification by faith is that how hard we try to hold up faith, we never quite get it right. It is faith that holds us up, and this this is the power that comes from God.