Wait. What? The gospel isn’t everything?
Those were my first thoughts when I saw the title. So let’s get into it. First a brief summary, then some important quotes, and then my personal reflections.
The gospel is good news announcing that we have been saved by Jesus’ death on the cross. The gospel isn’t how we live or something we do, but something that was done for us. It is the message of how we have been saved. And not everything in the Bible is the gospel (but Keller pointed out that it can be argued that biblical knowledge is necessary for understanding the gospel). Understanding the definition of “gospel” is imperative.
The gospel is not the results of the gospel. To say that the gospel is justice or healing or restoration is not accurate. But the gospel will lead to life change that will include those things (among others). Keller noted that doing justice does NOT spread the gospel. That the gospel is good news means that it needs to be proclaimed by mouth, not by actions.
The gospel has two equal and opposite enemies. The gospel is the center of two things: religion (legalism) and irreligion (antinomianism). These could also be defined as moralism and relativism. Both are equally dangerous. Legalism professes that you must live a holy life in order to gain salvation. That is false in that the gospel teaches us that we are saved by grace through faith. Antinomianism professes that you once you have been saved you may live however you wish. That is also false, because once we have been saved, our lives will be changed.
The gospel has chapters. There are two ways to answer the question, “What is the gospel?” The first way is individualistic. It focuses on how someone can be right with God through what Christ has done. The chapters for this answer would be: Who God is, what sin is, who Christ is and what he did, and what faith is. The second way is universal. It focuses on how God will restore the earth to himself. The chapters for this answer would be: Creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Keller noted that only preaching the first answer has the danger of promoting the Western cultural attitude of God providing spiritual goods for us. But only answering the second question, Keller said, is not to present the gospel at all.
These are the chapters of the gospel that Keller noted (p. 33):
||Where did we come from?
||From God: the One and the relational
||Why did things go so wrong?
||Because of sin: bondage and condemnation
||What will put things right?
||Christ: incarnation, substitution, restoration
||How can I be put right?
||Through faith: grace and trust
Keller did an excellent job of fleshing out each of these four chapters. To summarize it would not do it justice. I encourage you to read it for yourself.
The right relationship of the gospel to all of ministry. Ministers may believe that the gospel is the minimum standard of doctrine, thus diving in to deeper doctrine, or more specialized areas such as social justice, intentional community, and cultural engagement. This may lead churches to lose sight of how powerful the gospel is. Keller compared it to an orchestra. They must tune to one true source of pitch, not to each other.
The gospel is not primarily a way of life. It is not something we do, but something that has been done for us and something that we must respond to (p. 29).
We must not, then, give the impression that the gospel is simply a divine rehabilitation program for the world, but rather that it is an accomplished substitutionary work. If we make this error, the gospel becomes another kind of a salvation by works instead of a salvation by faith (p. 30-31).
Biblical knowledge is necessary for the gospel and distinct from the gospel, yet it so often stands in when the gospel is not actually present that people have come to mistake its identity (p. 32).
It is not the amount of our faith, but the object of our faith that saves us (p. 36).
Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one “main thing” of a church (p. 37).
Here are some not-so-random conclusions I had.
- This was a good reminder for me of the gospel, what it truly is, and the power that it has.
- I’ve been in church services before when I thought, “Was I in church or was this a conference session?” It was because the gospel wasn’t presented. I don’t want anyone to ever leave church and have that thought.
- All of the Bible is good and necessary. But just preaching parts of the Bible isn’t good enough. We need to preach the gospel specifically, but in the context of the whole of the Scriptures.
Since I made some application for Free Will Baptists from the introduction, I will make some here as well.
Free Will Baptists are a segmented denomination. Some think it’s doctrinal issues, but I think it’s because of theological vision (as described in the introduction). As it relates to this chapter, I believe that most Free Will Baptists hold a good central view of the gospel, not swaying too far toward legalism or antinomianism.
That being said, many Free Willers think that other Free Willers are too far away from the center. Some pastors wear suits and ties, only use the King James Bible, and sing hymns. Some pastors wear jeans and tees, never use the King James Bible, and sing the most contemporary songs available. It seems that one side thinks the other side is getting close to relativism, and the other side thinks the first side is getting close to moralism. And maybe, maybe, there are some who truly are getting away from the center of the gospel.
But I think that most Free Will Baptists are much closer to the center of the gospel than other Free Will Baptists think they are. We all believe that you are saved by grace through faith, that it is not of works. That’s why I think it’s so important to understand the idea of theological vision. Once you do, you realize that what the pastor wears, what version of the Bible he uses, and what songs he sings are part of what he believes will help him minister in his time and place. When I understand that, it’s okay how you minister. We still serve the same God and preach the same gospel.