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.”
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.”