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Gospel 5

posted by xscot mcknight

We live in an age that seems intent on narrowing the gospel to even singular issues. What I find in these discussions is not that the person who argues for a singular issue (as central or the most important element) is wrong but imbalanced. To reduce the gospel to a singular issue runs the serious risk of missing the expansiveness of the gospel as it is presented in the Bible. Not only do we have to examine texts like those in the Psalms or Isaiah, but also those in Jesus (and the Evangelists) and Paul and Peter and James and Hebrews — and not let any of these take total control. Which leads us today to Luke 3:18.
John the Baptist was also a gospel preacher: “3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother?s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.”
Not only do we know that Jesus was a gospeler and that he got himself imprisoned for gospeling, but we can jump back and see what he preached to see what the gospel was for John the Baptist. I have the text below, but I give the big picture first:
1. His message was shaped by Isaiah’s prophecy of the return to Jerusalem by the Babylonian exiles: his gospel announced some kind of “return.”
2. His message was shot through and through with a sense of God rectifying wrongs, and this rectification was salvation.
3. His message involved the call to repentance and the turn to good works.
4. His message involved the threat of judgment on Israelites who did not repent.
5. His message saw repentance as economic justice.
6. His gospel message pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, who would baptize with more than water. He would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” (I take this to be a purging empowerment for repentance and moral revolution.)

3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
?The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
?Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.??
Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ?You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ?We have Abraham as our ancestor?; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.?
Luke 3:10 And the crowds asked him, ?What then should we do?? 11 In reply he said to them, ?Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.? 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ?Teacher, what should we do?? 13 He said to them, ?Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.? 14 Soldiers also asked him, ?And we, what should we do?? He said to them, ?Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.?
Luke 3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ?I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.?



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Travis Greene

posted September 29, 2008 at 7:28 am


I’m intrigued by 2 points. 1, John says, “…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” I imagine this refers to the resurrection, but it’s interesting that the word “flesh” in particular is used, rather than simply “all men” or “the world”, as we find elsewhere.
2nd, John’s answer to the soldiers. Though I strongly sympathize with total pacifism, this verse has always held me back. It seems like John is saying there is a way to be a godly soldier. Is it possible to believe strongly that war is always a failure, and that peace cannot come through war, and yet Christians are not forbidden to be soldiers?



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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2008 at 7:33 am


Travis,
To grasp what John meant by “salvation” we’d have to enter into the little evidence we do have about John, but that would suggest he is thinking of Israel’s restoration. “All flesh” is an idiom for “everyone.”
Yep, the pacifist stance doesn’t find support in John’s response. He could have said “drop your swords.” But John’s focus in each of these is economic stuff.



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Ben Wheaton

posted September 29, 2008 at 8:10 am


Scot, don’t you think that it appears that part of John’s message focuses on “sexual politics” as it is known today? Criticizing Herod’s infidelity is the only jab that John addresses to the political powers–all the economic justice stuff is addressed to persons, not states.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2008 at 9:26 am


Ben,
Yes, J-B does do that, but not in this text. That comes later. But, I don’t know what you mean by “sexual” politics. He criticizes the inappropriate marriage of a leader.
Well, is it that easy to distinguish invidudal economic ethics from state economic ethics?



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Travis Greene

posted September 29, 2008 at 11:16 am


If salvation means Israel’s restoration, it surely implies something about John’s understanding of that restoration that he says its benefits are for everyone, not just Israel. Or is it more that everyone will see God’s salvation for the Jews, and therefore learn about who God is, and not that they will necessarily receive this salvation?



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Scott W

posted September 29, 2008 at 11:19 am


Ben #3-
John’s condemnation of Herod’s marriage was “political” inasmuch as his condemnation is embedded in the socioreligious discource of his time,based on YHWH’s covenant,just as much as this type of discource, ironically, is used for the same puropses in our so-called “culture wars.” It would be seen as a threat to his political legitimacy.



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Luke

posted September 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm


Scot,
When you say “singular issues” are you referring to penal substitution? I only ask this because that is what it seems to be in Evangelicalism from my view. It seems like we stop at “Christ died for your sins and took the wrath of the Father upon himself in your place” and then we just kind of stop there. I don’t doubt that there is some type of substitution, I just don’t know if I’m willing to sign the dotted line that says penal substitution is the Gospel (most around my parts say if you don’t believe in penal, then you’re not saved).



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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2008 at 12:47 pm


Luke,
That’s one of the reductions, but there are a number of them, including social justice.



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John Frye

posted September 29, 2008 at 2:00 pm


Scot,
Do you think that the reduction of the expansive gospel to single issues results from conflict, e.g., old liberal theology assaulting penal substitution? In the end, we get the result of an evangelical obsession with penal substitution to the neglect of other biblical presentations of atonement.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 29, 2008 at 2:03 pm


John,
I’m not sure on that one. I haven’t investigated this sort of thing, but from the Reformation — and one can back up to Anselm to see satisfaction theory — there was an emphasis though justification by faith on the singular act of God to remedy the sin/guilt problem. Some of the very best theologians from that time on expressed the gospel in those terms.



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Rebeccat

posted September 29, 2008 at 3:48 pm


I was just thinking about this last weekend. It seems to me that orthodox protestant believers have responded to challenges to the tenants of Christianity by working ever harder to nail down essential beliefs which must not/can not be compromised. It has been a quest for firm teachings based on well defined beliefs – getting it right, IOW. This process has, I think led to the narrow gospel which often typifies churches today. Yet, one of the things which I believe God has taught me over the last couple of years is that being right is not as important as we like to think (and trust me – I really, really like to be right!). Yet, being right isn’t irrelevant either. So, I’ve been struggling with how to explain a faith where there are things which are essential and true without creating a narrow gospel which does not do what it is supposed to do in people’s lives and in the world. The best I have been able to come to is approximately this:
The gospel is about being transformed in mind, spirit, will and relationship through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The opening for this reality is created through the salvic work of Christ on the cross and our deliberate submission to the way of Christ. It is through the practice of spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, study, fasting, worship, etc. that we open ourselves to this transformation by the Holy Spirit. Out of this transformation comes deepening understanding of God’s truths (ie right belief), a new life filled with the fruits of the Spirit and a transformed way of relating with the world which causes us to act as light and salt in the world. When we work through this process alongside and with the help of other believers, we are the body of Christ – a demonstration in this realm of the Kingdom of God which serves as a powerful witness to the rest of creation.
I guess I would say that the gospel is primarily about transformation. It is out of this transformation that all other good things comes: personal holiness, right belief, social justice, community, etc. Perhaps the mistake of much of Christian thought has been to try to substitute the results of the gospel for the gospel itself – if that makes sense.
-Thoughts?



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John Frye

posted September 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm


Scot (#10),
Thanks for the push back. I do agree that justification by faith alone in the penal substitution of Jesus is a key Reformation value. I’m thinking of more recent conflicts were the biblical symphonic presentation of atonement (a community called…) is reduced to one note.



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Daniel

posted September 30, 2008 at 7:54 am


While it may be dangerous to reduce the gospel to one issue, I’d say it’s also dangerous to overlook the foundational issue of the gospel aka the atonement of sinful man via the substitutionary death of Christ. Again, there is more to the good news than this, and these other aspects shouldn’t be ignored. But the reason Christ went to the cross was to save sinners. Without that everything else would be eternally worthless.



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Rebeccat

posted September 30, 2008 at 9:15 am


Daniel, while I agree that the salvic work of the cross gives meaning to everything else, doesn’t everything else also give meaning to the work of the cross? That is, if you view everything other than the cross as secondary (completely contrary to the understanding of the early church and the words of Christ, BTW), then the cross is not honored, but defiled.



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Anonymous

posted September 30, 2008 at 10:18 am


Daily linkathon 9/30 « BrianD blog

[...] Scot McKnight continues his series on the gospel, part 5 and part 6. [...]



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Dana Ames

posted September 30, 2008 at 11:44 am


Daniel, I am curious as to how you reconcile what you say is “the foundational issue of the gospel, aka the atonement of sinful man via the substitutionary death of Christ” with Scot’s synopsis of what Jesus’ gospel was in Gospel 6, the three paragraphs above the last line.
This is not a trick question. I really want to know.
Dana



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Daniel

posted October 1, 2008 at 12:35 pm


Dana – I don’t believe that I reconcile w/ Scott’s definition of “kingdom”. I’m sensing (and am open for correction) that his definition of kingdom is more of a here and now, while mine is an “already, not yet.” Due to a broken wrist, and the inconvenience of typing with one hand, I’ll simply refer you to this sermon for a definition. He defines it better than I could anyway. :-)



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Dana Ames

posted October 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm


Ouch, sorry about the wrist- hope it is better soon.
Well Daniel, I suspected as much. It sounds like you are saying that the weight of Scot’s definition falls more on the “already” and the weight of yours/Piper’s falls more on the “not yet” side. But “the society in which the redemptive power of God becomes manifest, in which and through which God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven” is pretty explicit, and I don’t believe we’re supposed to wait to become this until Jesus returns, though I agree we will not know its fullness until then. I did skim Piper’s sermon; I can agree with his first paragraph- and there is nothing new for me in the rest of it. What makes better sense to me than the nobleman who goes away being Jesus in the parables, is the nobleman who goes away being the Father; I understand this is a common way 1st c. Jewish teachers started stories about God.
Here’s where I’m coming from. I am 52 years old, churched all my life, wanting to belong to God from when I was a small child. About ten years ago, after 25 years a non-liturgical evangelical protestant, I found myself re-thinking all the theology I had received. For me, this crystallized around, and led from, the question, “What is the gospel?” So I am very interested in Scot’s ideas in this series. I decided to dig into what Jesus said the gospel is, since if there are any supposed discrepancies anywhere, what Jesus says trumps everything, in my book… I approached this as someone with a great appreciation for Christianity having arisen out of Judaism, and as someone who loves scripture and understands something of how languages work.
…and what did I find, but that the gospel writers do not record Jesus saying anything about substitutionary atonement in the same breath/context as his announcement of good news. For Jesus, the Gospel is *all about* the kingdom of God. Which brought up many other questions for me. I found a great deal of help from D. Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy”. I commend it to you. And in terms of reconciling Jesus with Paul’s take on the gospel, it was NT Wright’s work on Jesus, not his “new perspective on Paul” stuff, that enabled me to do so. I realize if you’re a Piper devotee you’re not likely to go looking in NT Wright, but there it is- that’s my story, and you have yours… Willard gave me a God who is good and a whole life full of hope, for now and eternity. Wright gave me a Jesus I can fall on my face and worship, with ramifications touching on *everything* in life because of Jesus being a human (as well as God). A focus on substitution as the “foundational issue” of the gospel could not give me any of that.
All that to say that what makes the best sense to me about what the atonement is/means, if God truly is Good, is something that must be inclusive of but *larger* than the substitutionary aspect. Whatever it means, Jesus is the center, and it has cosmic ramifications… Oh well, I doubt I’ll change your mind. But I would say to you, read the sermons in the book of Acts and see at what point the preacher starts to get into hot water!
You’re a bright, and a sweet, young man. My hope is that you will continue to be faithful to Jesus, and enter into all the fullness of God’s love and goodness. And that your wrist will heal quickly without any other problems. Thanks for reading and answering.
Dana



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Daniel

posted October 7, 2008 at 11:35 am


Thanks for such a thoughtful reply Dana. My wrist is now part titanium, and currently mt brain is part Vicodin. I’ll definitely be reading acts from that perspective. One thing about this injury is that I’ve been able to do a lot more reading. :-)



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