Core Value One: The Gospel and What it’s Not
Last week I mentioned how I’d read a lot of different blog posts and articles focused around the question “what is the gospel?” Surprisingly, one of my favorite articles was written by a man named Mark Thompson, the Principal of Moore College – an Anglican Theology School in Sydney, Australia. Mark did a great job of articulating what the gospel is and what the gospel isn’t so I used much of his material in this post. For the entire article, you can go to http://www.moore.edu.au/resources/thinktank/09-03-2015/what-is-the-gospel.
Mark makes a good point that clarity about the gospel is all the more urgent at the moment because of the variety of ‘gospels’ being offered. It is essential in a city like Austin where spirituality is embraced but the gospel largely is not. Many in our culture believe that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about God as long as you are sincere. This mindset would be similar to a doctor telling a sick person that it really doesn’t matter what medicine or treatment they are prescribed because any will do. We would be outraged by a doctor who practiced in this manner yet we are comfortable operating like this with spiritual and eternal issues. Here is how the New Testament presents the gospel:
- The gospel is a message. This means that the gospel is not something we do but something that has been done for us that we first hear, receive, and then pass on to others.
- The gospel is God’s message. It is critical to recognize that this message is not our message, it is God’s message addressed to us. It’s not up to us to change it, tamper with it, or reinvent it.
- The gospel is God’s message concerning his Son. At the heart of this message from God is what he has to say about his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:3). It is about Jesus, about who he is and what he has done.
- The gospel is God’s message concerning his Son and the salvation He has won for us. The first mention of the gospel in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks of it as the ‘gospel of our salvation’ (Ephesians 1:13). We first have to realize that we need saving though for the gospel to make sense. As the apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:18, “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.”
There are also several ideas that people mistake for the essential gospel.
The gospel of inclusion has swept many parts of the United States. According to this gospel, there are no grounds on which anyone could be left outside the Kingdom. No matter what background, belief or behavior — all must be recognized as belonging in the Kingdom, because no one is excluded. How does it square with the picture of the end, where among those outside the city include ‘the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood’ (Revelation 22:15)? Not everyone is inside. The gospel excludes those who, tragically, will not come (Mark 4: 11–12; Matthew 25: 41–46).
The gospel of unity is another popular offering at the moment. We are told the gospel is unity and unity is the gospel. The gospel brings people together and so anything that separates people is against the gospel. Now clearly unity between Christian brothers is a wonderful gift of God (John 17: 20–23). It is something given but also something we are called upon to maintain and protect (Ephesians 4:3). Yet the gospel of unity goes a step beyond highly valuing unity. It involves defining the gospel in terms of unity.
The gospel of social justice was very popular in the early twentieth century and is currently undergoing a revival in some circles. Undoubtedly much of what is done in the name of the social gospel is good and right and appropriate activity for Christians. It arises quite clearly from the obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). A spirituality that has no regard for physical need is empty and useless (James 2:15). However, problems arise when the pursuit of social justice is presented as the message of the gospel itself.
By the time you are reading this we will finally be on our way to Austin due to our closing being delayed for several months. We are excited to get there and get started. Thank you for all of your support in the last few months. It means more than you know.
Dave and April