The Gospel Truth

Back in my seminary days, our theology prof gave us an assignment. It was simply this - define the Gospel. When Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, that he was “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation”, what did he mean? When he wrote of declaring the gospel… “by which you are being saved” (I Cor. 15:1-2), what exactly was he proclaiming? What is the gospel?

 

That is a very good question. A very important question. Especially so, in that this term is at the heart of our movement – “The Gospel Coalition”. It is the Gospel which brings us together… which stirs us… which compels us. We are committed to defending and promoting the Gospel.

I believe this is a worthwhile task. But more than worthwhile. It is a critical task. The Scriptures tell us that this Gospel has the power to spiritually save people. In other words, it has eternal ramifications. Heaven and hell rest on the Gospel – thus my capitalization of the word. It is at the heart of the mission of the church.

Therefore, it is of supreme importance that we get this right. Eternally so. The souls of people are at stake. If we don’t understand the message we are called to proclaim, define it incorrectly, or minimize it, then people will not experience salvation, or more frighteningly, mistakenly believe they have, when in fact they have not. What more horrific thought could there be than for one to enter eternity and have the Lord say, “I
never knew you; depart from Me….”

The problem, however, is that we have witnessed an increasing drift from the Biblical teaching regarding the Gospel. And this drift has taken place within the so-called “evangelical” camp. What we once assumed to be quite clear and understood as the central tenet of our faith, no longer necessarily is.

For instance, we believe the Gospel includes the belief that man is fallen and lost in his sin. That is the core problem. The first man, Adam, disobeyed God, and, as a result, all are now born in sin (Romans 5:12). And yet, I know of an “evangelical” seminary president who doesn’t consider the literalness of the Adam and Eve account in Genesis to be important. Not important?  This has massive implications for the Gospel. If our
understanding of original sin is fuzzy, what then of its cure? Is the literalness of Jesus and his resurrection not then important either? This strikes at the heart of Biblical teaching, and undermines all of our theology.

Further, is our belief in the substitutionary atonement. It was on our behalf that Christ suffered and died, thus satisfying the righteous wrath of God (Romans 5:9). Yes, there are other aspects and descriptors of what was accomplished on that cross,
but that is the central element. All of Scripture, including the Old Testament, in all of its sacrificial typology, points to this doctrinal truth. But, challenging this, are supposed scholars like N.T. Wright, who says that “we have paganized our understanding of salvation, substituting the idea of God killing Jesus to satisfy his wrath.” Some call it
“divine child abuse.” This is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures, and, in the words of John MacArthur, heretical. Paul warns Timothy “that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” What is frightening is that Wright’s teaching is welcomed by so many within
the “evangelical” camp.

The Gospel also teaches that Christ is the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12). Unless one receives the salvation which Jesus alone offers, there is no hope of eternal life – only a final and lasting judgement from God. But this too has been questioned.

I remember a discussion with a major “Christian” agency leader, who would not directly answer me when asked if people in other faiths were lost. One was left with the distinct impression that there were perhaps other avenues available. We are also seeing a trend toward working alongside other religions. What was once clear, is now at times quite opaque.

It is also quite concerning that churches, Christian colleges, and even missions agencies, are moving further away from evangelistic emphases, and increasingly toward a more social and politically oriented focus. Human rights, poverty, and the ecology are eroding the evangelical landscape. Now, none of them are wrong in themselves, but what of the priority of the Gospel? The simple Gospel. We can feed
people forever, but if they die without Christ…?

So… the Gospel. We as The Gospel Coalition are for a time such as this. It is the most critical of all things, this Gospel. Let us define it, defend it, and proclaim it this “power of God to salvation.”