December 16, 2017

My Strange Experiences With An Absent Gospel: Gospel Articulations (Part 3)

jpI’ve been trying to emphasize the Gospel as the foundational content of the Christian life for many years. While I’ve worked at fresh articulations of the Gospel, there are a lot of familiar articulations of the Gospel that show up in my preaching and teaching with high school students and the adults in chapel and in my classes.

For example, these are four different Gospel articulations that I’ve used repeatedly in speaking and teaching. They are not definitions or creeds. They articulations that summarize and balance the content of the Gospel as I understand it. It’s language I want my hearers to hear frequently. Sometimes in phrases. Sometimes in whole sermons or lessons.

Announcement: The Gospel is the glad announcement that God himself, through Jesus, has done everything necessary to rescue his broken world and save its broken people from judgment and ruin. All persons are invited to believe this glad announcement, to be forgiven and to become a disciple of Jesus who is King and Lord.

God: In the Gospel, God shows us that he is the loving and gracious Father revealed in Jesus Christ his Son. This is the face of God that the Christian will look upon for all of eternity. In our Father, there is no condemnation or rejection for his Son or those who belong to God in him. Everything the Bible says about God is true, but for the Christian, God is Jesus in our experience. The Glory of God is the majesty and Glory of Jesus in the incarnation, his sufferings/resurrection and the scriptures.

Jesus: Jesus is our salvation. We say with Simeon: “My eyes have seen your salvation” as he held the infant Christ. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. He lived a life we could not live and and died a death in our place. He was raised to make us right with God and give us life in God’s Kingdom. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated the power of Satan, evil and condemnation. Jesus rules the universe today as the one true King and will return to rule over a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus commands all persons to repent and believe in him.

Kingdom: The Kingdom of God was announced and established by Jesus and it continues in human history by his authority and power. Salvation comes into history as the Kingdom of God takes root in the world. The Kingdom of God is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth where God’s righteousness lives and salvation is experienced. Jesus invited all persons to come into this Kingdom, to live in its new realities and to work for its inevitable triumph.

This is some of the “foundational content” that should underlie whatever applications we make and whatever we say that reflects on the Gospel.

It doesn’t seem that it would be particularly difficult to put the Gospel in a place where, for example, if we talk about God without Jesus or the culture war without reference to the Kingdom or salvation without reference to the person of Christ, it would sound wrong.

So why doesn’t it?

(By the way, I’m not offering these articulations for theological autopsy. This is how I talk and unless you are an ordination committee I’m seeking to get past, don’t treat me like my articulations are up for theological pinata practice.)

Comments

  1. Great post! One aspect of the Gospel that I find most essential is the suffering/healing dicotomy. We suffer because of sin. Christ suffered to forgive our sin. We find healing because of His suffering. Now we can fellowship in His suffering and know the power of His resurrection!

  2. Why not use more scripture?

  3. Its difficult because once you start pushing Jesus and our forgiveness through him into everything, you get a reputation as divisive, overly concerned with doctrine, weak on mission or morality (antinomian), etc, just ask any outspoken LCMSer.

    Plus that doesn’t sell as many books as making up some new Christian-labeled self help program.

  4. I’ve got a question that I’ve been struggling with over the last several days. The professor who’s teaching a class I’m taking on the Pentateuch and Former Prophets (a Baptist minister with a Ph.D. who I respect more than I can say) cautioned us against treating the OT as if its stories and teachings only have value when applied to prophecy, typology, etc. of Jesus. He said something to the effect that having a monolithically Christo-centric a view of Scripture is poor theology, poor hermaneutics, and is not consistant with being Trinitarian.

    While I agree with him that the OT has its own lessons, stories, and applications that have value outside of the NT reality, how do I balance that truth with the equally true need to view things from a Gospel/New Covenant perspective and reality? E.g. if I’m preaching on the Binding of Isaac in Genesis, how do I do so without either betraying the context of the passage or without betraying the Gospel? There seems to be a dichotomy here that I’m having troubles coming to peace with.

    • I have a problem with his overwhelming blast on a Christo-centric view of Scripture as poor. It is true that in saying, as Dick Lucas cautions, “Yes, everything points to Jesus… just don’t forget the everything.” The lessons do have value in and of themselves, but if they do not connect in a meaningful way to Jesus, you end up with morality tales, along the lines of Aesop’s Fables. Very helpful, just not the Gospel. So you should spend some time on the binding of Isaac, explore it fully, what did this story mean to its readers and all that. But if you don’t talk at some point about another Father who placed His Son as a sacrifice, what are you doing? There was a ram caught in a thicket. God found no such ram, but let His Son be killed. Does your prof suggest you not go there?

    • The key part of the report is “only have value when applied . . . .” He is actually right. We need to read the Old Testament on two levels–and maybe more, GRIN. One level is the level of how would the believer at the time of the prophecy have understood what was being said. This is important because otherwise we lose sight of the fact that prophecy that has no meaning for the believer at that time is useless for answering the questions that were being asked.

      But, many prophecies, and many of the Psalms, point to a secondary fulfillment, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of the Old Testament passages do not point quite as clearly to Our Lord Jesus Christ, but still they do point that way.

      Finally, the attitude of the Early Church Fathers was that everything points to Our Lord Jesus. And, they were right, all of Scripture and Creation point to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Your professor may have over-emphasized the importance of understanding what the Old Testament meant to the believers who were alive at the time of the prophecy. Or, you may have focused on Our Lord to the point that you missed how His prophecy answered both their concerns and our concerns. GRIN.

      • That makes some sense. And I guess there’s a difference between study and preaching. For example, I don’t want to miss what the text actually, literally says because I’m so busy looking for types, hints, etc. of Jesus. But at the same time, if I’m preaching on the passage, to ignore the ways the text points to Jesus and the reality of a Gospel worldview would be irresponsible in my role as a minister of the Gospel. The idea of seeing it on various levels appeals to me. And it makes sense from the way that the NT uses OT quotations and fulfilments, what with some of the quotations being applied waaay beyond the context of the passages in the OT.

        I just don’t want to be a poor student of the Word or a poor Trinitarian. I’ve been accused of the latter (not by the professor, fwiw) due to wanting to emphasize Jesus so much. I hadn’t really questioned my method until I mulled over what the professor had said.

    • Obed,

      I hear where your prof is coming from. I like the Lucas quote from DSY on not forgetting “the everything” and I hope that is the warning your prof is articulating rather than abandoning the Christ of the OT altogether.

      One of the things I wish we would do more of is find Christ where we least expect him. Like Ed Chigliak on the long defunct TV series “Northern Exposure” I’ve been seeing a lot of lessons in movies. In everything from Saving Private Ryan to I Am Legend (and more overtly in its predecessor The Omega Man) go Gran Torino, I see Christ figures all across the screen. I don’t know that Spielberg, Matheson, and Eastwood all set out to tell Christ stories, but that is where they end up – the willing sacrifice of one’s life on behalf of someone undeserving and incapable of helping themselves.

      I think this theme is so powerful it permeates human history, and most clearly in the OT, centering on Jesus as the embodiment of God’s highest articulation of this message. But as IM points out, the power of the gospel is not just its message (which we hear too infrequently despite it being all around us, even in popular culture and even though it is veiled and hidden because it is so deeply longed for) but in its outward demonstration in our lives as recipients of redemption.

      I am still powerfully moved at the close of Saving Private Ryan when Ryan is asking as he gazes across a field of white crosses if his life had earned this. While grace proclaims that I cannot ever deserve Christ’s sacrifice, gratefulness compels me to ask, will my life be so lived that at the end of it, when I kneel before an empty cross, that testimony to my Savior’s sacrifice, will I hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant”?

    • I have to admit, I agree with your professor. The Old Testament texts have original, primary meanings that mattered to the original audiences and that have value in themselves. I’d begin any personal study, and certainly any scholarly one, with these original meanings. They are the foundation, so to speak, on which any additional meaning is based. They are also part of the background needed to understand Jesus’ contemporaries and their responses to Christ’s messages.

      Of course, as Christians we’re interested in secondary meanings well. I don’t think they are less valid, and in practical preaching pastors would be remiss not to discuss them. But getting the primary meaning is an important step. And it also tells you how God’s Word worked in the community of his faithful at the time it was written … and for several centuries following!

      • Obed, I too agree with those who are saying to use balance, but by that definition I would suggest your professor is not in balance when he uses such strong language against a Christ-centered view.

        John 5:31-37 and Luke 24:13-49 provide the point of view from which we are to read the Old Testament, as given to us by our Lord Himself.

        I wonder, if Paul were in your professor’s class, would he be treated as a poor Trinitarian if he said “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

        Jesus is the center and substance of everything…as iMonk said, He is the face of God we shall gaze upon for all of eternity. Don’t let anyone shift your gaze away from Him, even when looking at the Old Testament.

        “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” – 2 Cor 1:20

        In Christ,
        Mark

  5. I think the disconnect occurs because we wrongly ASSUME that indeed, we have all already put the foundational gospel into practice, and now we just need more “practical” steps to apply the Gospel to the “real world”.

    Fro example, if I came to you for marriage counseling, and you said I needed to know that Jesus is my high priest of the order of Melchizedek, I would probably conclude that you have no comprehension of my real-world problem. So, I set down the book of Hebrews, and pick up the latest self-help book – from a Christian author, of course – looking for 8 practical tips to spice up my marriage, probably cribbed from Redbook but perhaps sprinkled with random scriptures about marriage to give it the seal of christian approval.

    I’m not trying to diss the practical tips; I am saying we should not assume that the gospel has already completed/perfected its transforming work in our lives, and we only have to sweat out a few remaining details.

    • Exactly, Steve. I think one of the main “Articulations” should be the very transforming power (grace) that comes through gospel-living, rather than making our promised gift of transformation just another “application”, though I suppose it is just an application…

      Too many are left zooming off into the practical tips, which lead newbies into legalism, or an experience of “knowing God” without expecting anything from him except answered prayers, and are unaware that there is any help from God in actually living the Christian life. Even being able to “walk the walk” is a gift. Christians give up or just coast when the going gets tough because they don’t realize how they can and will be transformed into thinking differently about their situations, and help is there if they know what to actually ask for. Kevin DeYoung’s post yesterday is on being careful what you pray for, as what we think we want can destroy us. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/11/19/433/

      The gospel is for every day of our lives, not just to save us once. As Michael said, “Jesus has defeated the power of Satan, evil and condemnation.” Living the gospel means being free of the desire of worldly things (sin), free to depend on God instead of ourselves (sin). Even as we all fail often in these areas as we grow in faith, we are forgiven and know we need not compromise with the world to avoid guilt (condemnation). Maturing in Christ means that as we try to live as he wants, doing his will, not ours, we come to a greater understanding of just how much we need a savior every day. We are indeed transformed, entirely by God, not by what we are doing, and that transforming presence in our lives proclaims him, and brings us joy and peace knowing it is indeed God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

      What say you, Michael?

  6. To the guy whose comment I just deleted:

    1. Your comment about the Piper image was ridiculous. It’s a guy preaching. It happens to be Piper. Do you think I’m the enemy of Piper because I disagree with some things he’s said? Good grief.

    2. I’m not looking to expose false Gospels. I’m showing what a healthy articulation of the Gospel as the foundational content of the Bible looks like in my life. Period. The end.

    3. The backdrop is the absence of Gospel-centered communication and the ensuing confusion.

  7. Let me try to take these comments in a different direction.

    While the question “What is the relationship of the entire canon of scripture to the Gospel of Jesus” is an important one, it is not the question Michael is answering in this post.

    The question Michael is answering is, “What do I say when I speak about the Gospel?” In other words, what are the primary images, the key phrases, the central themes that I constantly anchor back to when I try to help someone understand what the Gospel is and is not about? Michael uses the word “articulation” here as a very specific term with very specific meaning and outlines 4 of of those anchors that he keeps going back to.

    I love this and here is why. I have noticed that the men and women whose ideas have the greatest impact on me have done the hard work of distilling their most powerful ideas into images and phrases that stick with me. Because I have sat under their teaching, I understand that the images are packages, or perhaps trucks, or train cars or ships. The images transport the ideas from their hearts to mine, but the images are powerful because they contain the treasures within.

    This is why Michael starts his list with one word: Announcement. That’s the picture. Then he unpacks the contents of that picture a bit so that we can see what’s inside that one simple elegant word as he uses it to convey Gospel truth. If you could sit down with Michael over a cup of coffee (or five) I imagine that you could converse for a few hours just on the concept of Gospel as announcement, moving back and forth from scripture illustration, to contemporary story, to theological analysis, to personal testimony and back again to scripture — all about the proclamatory nature of The Gospel.

    For those who sit under his teaching long enough, the word Announcement becomes a trigger. They will hear something, or read something and immediately be brought back to one place or many places where Michael explained that this is one why Jesus’ Gospel works: as an announcement. The same would be true for the other three articulations Michael mentions.

    I can still list off some of the key images of some of my best teachers who used this approach to preaching and teaching: Your Garden Spot, The Beauty of Holiness, Third Degree Zoomers. All of these phrases (which carry only shallow import to you, if any at all ) are freighted with meaning to me and I refer to them often.

    If we fail to communicate the Gospel, if we fail to talk about it enough, it may be in part because we don’t pay enough attention to HOW we talk about it. There is much value in the skillful and constant use of a powerful image.

    This is a good start to getting us to think about that.

  8. Hey iMonk, I really enjoyed what you wrote today. I suspect we would not fully agree on the definitions of some of the terms, but that would be a bit picky on my part.

    • It may or may not be picky. It could also mean that you don’t agree at all. I don’t want to be insufferable, but definitions are a huge thing.

  9. Michael, I like what you wrote. Obviously, we cannot include everything in the beginning but I was a bit suprised that Spirit would not be included or mentioned in these articulations. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry begins with “the Spirit has annointed me to preach the Gospel…”. We see this same annointing Spirit that fills/empowers and is the differentiating force in gospel proclamation from all other relgious “articulations” that were encountered in the book of Acts and throughout church history.
    Just curious.

    • The Spirit uses words. The Announcement is word and means of grace and Spirit.
      “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” (Small Catechism). And Rom 1:16 again.

  10. Good solid gospel stuff, Michael.
    But for those of us who weren’t called to preach (not in the traditional Protestant sense anyway) and who don’t have frequent access to a pulpit and a captive audience, I think our “announcement” of the gospel really needs to start in the way we live our lives. In mean, heck, if we just start spouting off a theological, biblical, and historical outline of the gospel at work or the pub or wherever, most people are going to turn us off pretty quick and thereafter write us off as religious nuts. But if people catch glimmers of Christ in our lives and in the way we deal with and treat people, they will often come to respect that and be drawn to that — and, sooner or later, a natural, unstaged opportunity to talk about Jesus and the gospel will come our way. And when those opportunities do arise, I think it’s best to start from the personal — how having faith in and following Christ has made a difference in our own lives — and then later move into the bibical and theological arenas. For those who’ve never really read the Bible, quoting scripture at them is a lot like speaking to them in a language they don’t know. And unlike a lot of preachers, who push for a conversion before the invitation is closed, I think we need to be patient with people — showing them Christlike friendship and not making that conditional on them joining our church or adopting our beliefs.

    • Where ever you are, you can say that your Christian faith is about forgiveness of sins in Christ and not other things, first an foremost. Moralizing religion or atheism you can find anywhere.

      I’ve had this talk with a Hindu man, a stranger, looking down at the flu shot clinic from the railing of the upper level of the mall. He talked so much about India and Hinduism and Temples, I could barely get a word in. I just forced myself in and said that I was a Christian and believe in the forgiveness of sins. He says to me: “But why do you sin? You should not sin.” I tell him, but we do sin all the time, in this way and that way and at least in our attitudes and thoughts.” He looks at me like he got it. He knew that he was like that.

      Was it important that I was nice to him? Yea, he seemed lonely and he seemed like he needed to talk. But I am sure he sensed no special illumination. 🙂

      • Christiane says:

        Brigitte, perhaps in YOUR kindness to this man, in his loneliness, you reflected the kindness of Christ.
        When you took time to listen to this man, to hear him patiently, you taught him about Christ in a way that many others could not. When you shared with him that you were a Christian,
        that was special.
        If you had done all the talking, he might not have remembered much about what you said.
        But I imagine he remembers the kind lady who spent time listening to him when he was lonely, and, yes, that the person was a Christian. And that’s important.
        Some things we do for others tell them more about Christ than our words ever could.

  11. Rarely has anyone gotten me as right as Dubbahdee. Thank you sir.

  12. Michael –

    If a pastor preaches to a small congregation weekly, and a majority of the congregation are “believers”, how often do you recommend articulating the gospel message? Is it wiser to spend most of your weeks exploring “kingdom living” or discipleship focused sermons? And if one goes down this road, at what point does the pastor find himself accused of preaching “law” because discipleship involves many challenging “imperatives”?

    Or is it a constant balance of Kingdom/discipleship messages always soaked in the grace of the gospel?

    • Great question. I can’t imagine someone saying “Less Gospel. More Culture war.” I am willing to see a difference in how I present foundational content, but faithfulness to Gospel articulation isn’t so much a matter of communication as letting the Bible tell its own story its way. I don’t think we have talked rightly about anything unless we’ve related it- in some way and at some point- to the Gospel.

      Be clear here: I believe there is great freedom in how we can approach this and I’m not advocating any sort of slavish sameness. We aren’t reciting the pledge. We’re looking for the right place to bring in the Gospel. I’m doing a talk tonight on the metaphor of a “journey” as a way to describe life. The Gospel will come in at the very end.