Have we forgotten what the gospel is?

May 22, 2018

Saying things about God does not constitute the preaching of the gospel. Yet after Bishop Curry’s address at the royal wedding I fear that large swathes of the Church are not able to make this distinction. Now, I do not wish to attack Bishop Curry, he spoke eloquently and with passion, perhaps he never intended to preach the gospel. My concern is that many seem to think he did and that he did a fantastic job of it.

I know this post will bring division on the scale of the recent Laurel/Yanny saga but I haven’t been able to shake these words out of my head for days now. I have no axe to grind with the royal wedding and no spite towards Bishop Curry, but I must speak out against the dilution of the gospel.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

The gospel belongs to God and it is principally about Him, not us. We are not at liberty to add to it, nor take away from it however much we might be tempted. For in this gospel alone is salvation for mankind. Natural man doesn’t consider that he needs saving from anything. The proclamation of the true gospel should leave him under no uncertainty of his need of salvation. Salvation not principally from self, social constructs, oppression or even sin but from the great and terrible wrath of God against the sin in which he is presently living. If we as Christians are not able to define what we mean by ‘the gospel’, how on earth will we ever preach it?

If I were to decide to make a Victoria sponge, I would need to follow a recipe, using specific ingredients and sticking to certain guidelines. Let’s say I decide to use one egg instead of four and lard instead of butter, it’s safe to say that the end product could not rightly be described as Victoria sponge! The gospel is a specific thing. There are particular doctrinal ingredients that must be present if we are to preach the same gospel that Paul and the Apostles preached. If we flout this method it is not the gospel of God we are preaching but a gospel of our own making, devoid of salvific power.

Sin, judgement, Jesus as Christ, His atoning death and resurrection and repentance were the key ingredients of the gospel we find preached by Peter, Stephen and Paul in the book of Acts. The love of God is not mentioned in their preaching even once. Am I saying that God isn’t loving? No! I am simply showing that it is possible to preach the gospel without even mentioning the love of God. It clearly wasn’t central to the preaching of the early church. Peter was not crucified upside down for telling people that God loved them so much and that he wanted a relationship with them.

Can the message of the gospel be boiled down into ‘love is the way?’ Well, Jesus came to earth and encountered a world in a very similar state to our world today, a world full of loves and passions; we are lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure (2 Tim 3:2-4) and given over to vile passions (Rom 1:26). Our problem isn’t that we don’t love, it’s that we love the wrong things. The root of all this perversity is sin, if our gospel doesn’t deal with the root we will never see change in the fruit.

“The preacher who ignores these three awful and inexorable truths (sin, wrath and judgement) preaches an emasculated gospel, be he never so faithful in proclaiming other truth. He who preaches the love of God to the exclusion of God’s justice and wrath proclaims but idle sentiment. No one will ever truly desire salvation unless he first realises that there is something to be saved from…In no way can the love of God be so clearly, beautifully and convincingly set forth as in the fact that God makes plain to the sinner his condition and peril, and then shows him the way of escape, having, in His great mercy, Himself provided it at infinite cost. Now, at this point the Gospel comes in as indeed good news, showing God’s love for the sinner.” – R. A. Torrey

“When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.” Bishop Curry

No, we are not all children of God. We are not all brothers and sisters in Him. Adoption into God’s family is conferred upon the receiving of Jesus as Lord (John 1:12). It is not of natural means that we become his children but of spiritual (John 3:3). God’s love in this respect is not unconditional, it is conditional upon faith and faith is a condition. This is the beauty of the gospel that was being robbed by Bishop Curry, those who hear this message and put their faith in Christ are reconciled with the Father, those who reject it are not. The unregenerate Jews who came to dispute with Jesus in John chapter 8 saying “God is our father” were not humoured by Jesus. Nor did he throw an arm around their shoulder and say, “yes, you’re right, love is the way brother!” No, his words cut them to their core:

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” John 8:44

I hate being the grinch but I had to pen something to stop the inner witness of the Spirit from jumping on my brain. Put simply, the gospel of Jesus Christ is something specific, it is defined by God and revealed in scripture and we are not free to change it. If we preach a sinless, repentance-free gospel we are no longer preaching the gospel of Christ but one of our own making. If we preach a wrathless, all-affirming God we are no longer preaching the God of the gospel but one of our own making.

By Graham Phillips

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