[disclaimer: When I say our theological circles, I mean primarily the three basketeers and our close associates. I do not mean that we are identical in our thinking, but we share a common heart that is working through some things. In that sense we are of one mind. While we do occasionally come to different conclusions, the differences do not amount to a thimbleful when compared to the vast universe of agreement. That said, I do not intend to speak for my blog mates or my dear friends who are quite capable of expressing their own thoughts…which I hope they do here.]
Politics, it has been said, is the art of deciding who gets what. In our theological circles there are several whats being contended for these days, and I would like to draw particular attention to one issue for the purpose of discussion: the gospel. It seems that the definition of the gospel is in a state of transition…or dispute…or something.
I grew up hearing that the gospel was that Jesus died for my sins, and if I believe that (whatever that means) I will go to heaven when I die. Later in life I was exposed to a more sophisticated development of the gospel which followed several formulations from the Four Spiritual Laws, to the Romans Road, to FAITH. People share the gospel. Preachers preach the gospel. We look for churches that are faithful to the gospel. But what does that mean?
What do we mean when we say the gospel? Are we talking about a formula or set of propositions that, once believed, assure us of eternal life? Or is the gospel something else? To hear N.T. Wright say it, the gospel is not a prescription of how to “get saved,” but is a grander statement. Wright’s summary statement of the gospel is that “Jesus is Lord.” More than a bumper-sticker slogan, Wright contends that this statement sums up who God is in Christ, and that this is the gospel. Now, Wright does not deny that there is more to the story (i.e., the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension and Authority of Christ), but the essential good news is that Jesus is Lord.
John Piper finds N.T. Wright’s views on justification to be dangerous, and has written a book to refute Wright’s views. Not content to let the gospel be merely a declaration of Christ’s lordship (though not opposed to it), Piper says that if the gospel doesn’t give someone an answer to the question What must I do to be saved? it is not gospel at all.
(Related is the question of justification. What does it mean? When does it happen? Is it actuated by faith, or is faith merely a declaration that justification has occurred?)
But the political question is this: Who gets to decide, and by what means are these terms defined? One thing I think we’ll all agree on is that much is at stake.