The Gospel: How We Have Been Rescued From Peril

I am nearly finished reading Alistair E. McGrath’s book, Reformation Thought.  So much of it reminds me of ongoing debate and confusion in the Christian Church today.  When we forget the “Solos” of the Reformation we easily slide into all sorts of false gospels.

Monergism, a site dedicated to Reformation theology and thought explains why their main goal is to promote salvation by Christ alone:

That salvation is His [Christ’s] gift for guilty sinners, not a reward for the righteous. The Bible and the gospel itself continually draw us back to message of Christ alone as our redemption. We do not contribute, even partly, to our right standing before God, but Jesus provides everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe (Deut 29:4, 30:6; Ezek 36:26; John 6:63, 65, 37) . It is precisely here that is the focal point for which the church has battled throughout its history because the enemy would have us dilute the gospel with something other than, or in addition to, Jesus Christ.

 

One article answers the question “What do we mean by the ‘gospel’?”  (Excerpted from Timothy Keller’s book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

What do we mean by “the gospel”? Answering this question is a bit more complex than we often assume. Not everything the Bible teaches can be considered “the gospel” (although it can be argued that all biblical doctrine is necessary background for understanding the gospel). The gospel is a message about how we have been rescued from peril. The very word gospel has as its background a news report about some life-altering event that has already happened:

Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Luke 2:10, And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

 

….The gospel is “heraldic proclamation” before it is anything else (D.A. Carson, “What Is the Gospel? —Revisited,” in For the Fame of God’s Name, 158). It is news that creates a life of love, but the life of love is not itself the gospel. The gospel is not everything that we believe, do, or say. The gospel must primarily be understood as good news, and the news is not as much about what we must do as about what has been done. The gospel is preeminently a report about the work of Christ on our behalf — salvation accomplished for us. That’s how it is a gospel of grace.

 

And I find Keller’s note on a commonly heard aphorism instructive:

USE WORDS IF NECESSARY

The popular saying “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” is helpful but also misleading. If the gospel were primarily about what we must do to be saved, it could be communicated as well by actions (to be imitated) as by words. But it the gospel is primarily about what God has done to save us, and how we can receive it through faith, it can only be expressed through words. Faith cannot come without hearing. This is why we read in Galatians 2:5 that heresy endangers the truth of the gospel, and why Philippians 1:16 declares that a person’s mind must be persuaded of the truth of the gospel. Ephesians 1:13 also asserts that the gospel is the word of truth. Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 1:23 teach that we advance the gospel through verbal communication, particular preaching.]

 

 

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The Dogma is Vital

Dorothy Sayers again:

If we really want a Christian society we must teach Christianity, and it is absolutely impossible to teach Christianity without teaching Christian dogma.  (Creed or Chaos, 1949).

How the essay begins:

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology.  It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously.  It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.  It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism.  And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it.  The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.    (Creed or Chaos?, 1949).
You can read the entire essay here.

Confused Minds

Reading from A Matter of Eternity: Selections from the writings of Dorothy L. Sayers:

The popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling.  (Mind of the Maker, 1941).

…it is hardly an exaggeration to say that many people contrive never once to think for themselves from the cradle to the grave.  They may go through the motions of thinking, but in fact they solve all problems either by the dictate of their emotions, or by accepting without enquiry the ruling of some outside authority.  Even quite well-informed people do this.  (Begin here:  A War-Time Essay. 1940).

“There’s nothing you can’t prove if your outlook is only sufficiently limited.” (spoken by Lord Peter Wimsey in Whose Body?,1923).

Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Authentic Reactionary

I have discovered Nicolás Gómez Dávila and am enjoying some of his aphorisms such as these:

    Those who replace the “letter” of Christianity with its “spirit” generally turn it into a load of socio-economic nonsense.
    The modern theologian longs to transform Christian doctrine into a simple ideology of community behavior.
    Clergymen and journalists have smeared the term “love” with so much sentimentality that even its echo stinks.
    The Gospels, in the hands of a progressive clergyman, degenerate into a compilation of trivial ethical teachings.
    Not having gotten men to practice what she teaches, the contemporary Church has resolved to teach what they practice.
From the blog dedicated to English translation of his aphorisms:
Nicolás Gómez Dávila was a man of wide-ranging interests, and his aphorisms reflect that fact. Although he was to a certain extent an autodidact—he received an excellent secondary education, but never attended university, instead relying on his voluminous library—he may rightfully be considered one of the great thinkers of the 20th century. Among the scholarly topics he wrote about are religion, philosophy, politics, history, literature, aesthetics, and more. Besides these scholarly interests, however, many of his aphorisms betray a more personal dimension, with intimate observations on topics like love and the process of aging.
…Gómez Dávila proudly labeled himself a reactionary and actually created a literary persona for himself as “the authentic reactionary…For Gómez Dávila, the reactionary’s task in our age is to resist democracy. By democracy he means “less a political fact than a metaphysical perversion.” Indeed, Gómez Dávila defines democracy as, quite literally, “an anthropotheist religion,” an insane attempt to rival, or even surpass, God. The secret of modernity is that man has begun to worship man, and it is this secret which lurks behind every doctrine of inevitable progress. The reactionary’s resistance, therefore, is religious in nature. “In our time, rebellion is reactionary, or else it is nothing but a hypocritical and facile farce.” The most important and difficult rebellion, however, does not necessarily take place in action. “To think against is more difficult than to act against.” But, all that remains to the reactionary today is “an impotent lucidity.” Moreover, Gómez Dávila did not look forward to the establishment of a utopia; what he wanted was to preserve values within the world. For this purpose, not force but art was the more powerful weapon.

The blog is very well done and includes a section titled “What did Nicolás Gómez Dávila think about…?” where you can search by category.

Firmly Bound, Forever Free

“The Christian’s life in all its aspects—intellectual and ethical, devotional and relational, upsurging in worship and outgoing in witness—is supernatural; only the Spirit can initiate and sustain it. So apart from him, not only will there be no lively believers and no lively congregations, there will be no believers and no congregations at all.” – J. I. Packer