I just picked up an article this morning by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, from LeadershipJournal.net called The Gospel in All its Forms. I read the first lines and put it down to come write this post. The article begins,
“The gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore.”
I love the “both/and” nature of that statement because it is a healthy corrective to several unhealthy tendencies I have seen recently in the church (and maybe even contributed too). Many seem to have an “either/or” mentality when it comes to the gospel. I’ve seen this play out in two ways that impact me directly and Connexion (the college ministry of ECC) also.
First, there is a pervasive attitude that you must choose between preaching the gospel and equipping the saints. I think this comes from an overly simplistic understanding of what the gospel is, assuming gospel summaries like “Four Spiritual Laws” are the sum total of the gospel rather than just a brief and incomplete outline of the gospel. Recently, I was accosted by a guy after a message in which I reconfirmed my commitment to preach the gospel and only the gospel. He felt that as a believer he wouldn’t benefit or get anything out of such simple gospel messages. It’s highly likely that I’m largely to blame for this – i’m sure it had to do with my lack of explanation during the message. I should’ve explained that I think the whole of the Bible is either gospel or preparation for hearing the gospel (law). But while I am largely to blame, so is a faulty understanding of the gospel. It is not something we learn and grow beyond. We initially learn and believe the main points, the summary outlines, and spend the rest of lives growing into it – into a deeper understanding of its doctrines, its implications, etc. In a ministry like Connexion that strives to be outreach oriented and at the same time equip students for ministry, we are constantly faced with the question “how do you reach and minister to both”. The answer – preach and teach the gospel! There are delicacies there to please (maybe not the best word) every pallet.
That leads me to my second observation, very similar to the last but worded differently. In much Emerging Church literature there is a talk about the gospel of the kingdom. No problem there, Jesus talked about it a lot too. However, what emerging folk (and the liberal folk before them) emphasize is kingdom living, not entrance into the kingdom. For example, Doug Pagitt writes, “The good news is not informational…Instead we have an invitation into a way of life – life we constantly realize is not ours alone” (Preaching Re-Imagined, pg103). Commenting on this, Kevin Deyoung writes, “If the good news is an invitation to a Jesus way of life [which we’re bound to fail at] and not information about somebody who accomplishes something on my behalf, I’m sunk. This is law, not gospel” (Why We’re Not Emergent, pg. 114). Similarly, Machen described liberalism as beginning in the imperative mood (“do this”) while true Christianity begins in the indicative mood (“this is true”) and then moves to the imperative (“so do this”).
There is a danger in overreacting to the gospel as imperative theology of liberalism and emerging churchism and totally neglecting the kingdom motif. That would still be to err by adopting the “either/or” mentality. Instead, we ought to recognize and teach that the gospel is about how one enters the kingdom (by faith in the one who purchased us by his blood) and how one lives in the kingdom (by the power of the Spirit and in conformity to Jesus’ pattern of life).
Certainly there are enough jewels in the gospel rightly understood to occupy us for a few lifetimes, and fuel our worship for a few eternities.