As part of the Evangelical Alliance’s “Confidence in the Gospel” initiative. We are pulling together 5 national consultation days to have the major conversations about how we raise confidence in the gospel across the nation. The first of these days will focus one of the most contentious and challenging questions we need to ask ourselves as evangelicals: “What is the gospel?” People from a range of different backgrounds assume they know the answer to this question and so it often remains an unnamed and unspoken elephant in the room in much discussion. I am pulling together some of the programme for a major conversation about this subject and wanted to brainstorm the questions with you. Love to know which questions I have forgotten and would love to hear who the key players both in the UK and wider afield we need to involve in this conversation. I am assuming in the conversation that participants have a high view of scripture and a desire to take it seriously in our contemporary cultures.
1. Does the gospel preached have to sound like Paul in Romans? Or Can it sound like Paul in Athens? Jesus in Galillee?
For many the gospel is the order and content of bits of the book of Romans. So for example – we must convict of sin first (romans 3:23), we must talk about Christ’s death next (romans 5:8) and then we must call people to confess with their mouths and their hearts (Romans 10:9). But the gospel according to Paul in Athens has space for a different angle. Jesus sometimes lead with grace first and then challenge. If we depart from the Romans model have we as some believe departed from biblical orthodoxy?
2. What is the difference between the gospel and the call to radical discipleship?
This seems to be what Don Carson is talking about by asking us to distinguish between the gospel and its entailments. He seems to be arguing that the gospel is news about what Jesus has done – but does not include our response to that news, see here:
By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments. The gospel is the good news of what God has done, especially in Christ Jesus, especially in his cross and resurrection; it is not what we do. Because it is news, it is to be proclaimed. But because it is powerful, it not only reconciles us to God, but transforms us, and that necessarily shapes our behavior, priorities, values, relationships with people, and much more. These are not optional extras for the extremely sanctified, but entailments of the gospel. To preach moral duty without the underlying power of the gospel is moralism that is both pathetic and powerless; to preach a watered-down gospel as that which tips us into the kingdom, to be followed by discipleship and deeds of mercy, is an anemic shadow of the robust gospel of the Bible; to preach the gospel and social justice as equivalent demands is to misunderstand how the Bible hangs together.
Not sure if I understand what he means. If the entailments are not “optional extras” but therefore “necessary inclusions” why does he make such a big deal between distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments. Surely its the same as preaching faith and repentance – trust in the gospel message and a calling for an appropriate response. A lot of the emphasis on what the gospel is has been too narrowly defined in terms of God and me as an individual who wants to go to heaven when i die because of Jesus’ death. Lets explore the full scope and scale of the gospel and its response.
3. Does the gospel always need to include an account of penal substitution?
Not wanting to resurrect old debates, but if we recognise both that Penal substitution is a clear biblical model of the atonement is it also admissible that there are other models present in scripture too. Have we preached the gospel if we have drawn mainly on the model of Redemption, Sacrifice, Victory or Reconciliation to name but four others.
4. What are the key motivators for calling people to believe? Is the threat of Hell an essential part of every gospel message?
Some argue that we have not preached the gospel if we have not warned people that if they don’t respond then they are facing eternal conscious torment in Hell. Even those that believe in eternal conscious torment are not always convinced that this needs to be a part of a gospel message for it to orthodox. Is it true to Jesus’ teaching that the threat of Hell was the primary motivator he gave for every evangelistic conversation?
5. Should the gospel sound like a self-esteem self help programme?
Some groups make the gospel sound like God’s main priority for your life is that you see yourself as loveable. Now working with traumatised children I am beginning to understand how important a correct self image is. But if the gospel stops there – surely we are missing some important elements of the gospel out.
6. Should you expect to get the “whole of the gospel’ across in every evangelistic message?
I have been preaching evangelistically I have been aware that there is a mental ticklist in some of the Christians listening to what I am saying. But is there a place for scene setting sermons that clear away the challenges or do we need to distinguish between apologetics, evangelism and discipleship? I would argue for a more seamless connectivity between these three areas.