I Am Profoundly Thankful for the Gospel

In the midst of the consumerism and excess that now accompanies Thanksgiving and Christmas in North America, I am profoundly thankful for the Gospel.

The Gospel, which comes from a Greek word meaning "good news," is the announcement that Jesus is alive, and is Lord, and is Savior. It is the story of his life, death, and resurrection, and that narrative's significance in the broader biblical story of God's creative and saving activity. It has both cosmic significance and deeply personal application. It implicates both the remaking of the whole created order and the salvation of broken and sinful individual human beings.

I consider myself an "evangelical." This English word is basically a transliterated form of the Greek word that we routinely translate "Gospel." This is not a socio-political, ethnic, or denominational label; it simply means someone whose life is shaped by an all-permeating commitment to the narrative of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and to the Scriptures in which that narrative is foreshadowed and told and retold and elaborated upon, and to the personal and corporate holistic mission that naturally flows from these realities.

This is important both for what I have said and for what I have not said. I have not said that evangelical means, for instance, Free Church, or Reformed, or Wesleyan, or charismatic. In other words, I understand evangelicalism to be an ethos that centers around several very powerful and central concepts (Scripture, Gospel, mission) and has room around the table for disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues. As important as those issues might be, they are not at the center.

Most Christians instinctively recognize that some doctrines are more central to Christian identity than others. There is good biblical precedent for this. Pop quiz: What's the only Christian doctrine Paul explicitly says would single-handedly negate Christianity if it were false? Answer: the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15). Self-identifying as an evangelical means that I commit to the reality that Spirit-led believers who make these essential doctrines central to their lives can nevertheless disagree on many other matters of faith and practice. The Gospel is large enough that such a thing is possible and, I would argue, inevitable.

I am thankful for the Gospel because it is powerful enough and true enough, and deeply beautiful enough, to make this sort of broad Christian unity possible. I believe this very strongly, even when I sometimes look around at the global Church and wonder why this unity is hard to see.

There are some today who are very concerned with policing the boundaries of evangelicalism as an ideology or movement. I understand why they do this; mostly they are worried that, historically speaking, giving ground on certain specific doctrines (such as inerrancy) inevitably leads to giving ground in other areas (such as biblical realism - e.g., Jesus' miracles are real, his resurrection was an objective historical event), which leads way to liberal theology and ultimately a denial of the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, which I agree lies at the heart of the Gospel. 

Al Mohler's thoughtful essay in the recent volume Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism is representative of this point of view. It is as if, for him, evangelicalism is a pile of leaves, and too much creative play will fling the leaves everywhere until what's left is not a robust pile but an amorphous mass of trampled tree leavings.

I just don't think that this fear is warranted. I don't think it's a warranted fear because (1) this is not always how the scenario has played out and because (2) I think the Gospel is simply too powerful to be lost in such a slippery-slope way. (Roger Olson has an essay in the same Four Views book that I agree with very much on this subject.)

I am thankful for the Gospel because its magnitude and power are such that my brothers and sisters in Christ do not have to march lockstep with one another on everything. We can disagree on all sorts of things but still be filled with the same Spirit, dedicated to the same global Church, journeying on the same mission, and saved by the same Jesus. This is something to be celebrated, and I will continue to hope and pray that this theological unity can become practical unity, so that concrete communities of faith can cooperate with one another and can foster environments of openness and freedom within themselves.

It is sometimes difficult to imagine that this could actually happen. But I believe very strongly in the power of the message of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. That changed everything and continues to do so.

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