On the The Gospel Coalition website is a short explanation of the gospel by D.A. Carson. In his concise chapter on “The Biblical Gospel” from For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future (p. 75-85), Carson defines the gospel by its connection to the entire corpus of the biblical narrative. He writes,
Thus the gospel is integrally tied to the Bible’s story-line. Indeed, [the gospel] is incomprehensible without understanding that story-line. God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath. But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects. In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell.6 What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).
As usual, Carson hits the nail on the head, and helps us see that the “simple gospel” can only be understood and proclaimed against the backdrop of the whole counsel of Scripture. This has import for personal evangelism, preaching, counseling, and everyday decision-making.
In his chapter, Carson also shows that the gospel not only presents a positive message about Jesus Christ; it also denies any and all pseudo-gospels that plague our churches today (and throughout church history for that matter). He cites the ‘evangelical’ trend towards psychology as one of the greatest causes for distorting the gospel.
A litany of devices designed to make us more spiritual or mature or productive or emotionally whole threatens to relegate the gospel to irrelevance, or at least to the realm of the boring and the primitive. The gospel may introduce you to the church, as it were, but from that point on assorted counseling techniques and therapy sessions will change your life and make you happy and fruitful. The gospel may help you make some sort of decision for God, but ‘rebirthing’ techniques—in which in silent meditation you imagine Jesus catching you as you are born from your mother’s womb, imagine him hugging you and holding you—will generate a wonderful cathartic experience that will make you feel whole again, especially if you have been abused in the past. The gospel may enable you to be right with God, but if you really want to pursue spirituality you must find a spiritual director, or practise asceticism, or discipline yourself with journalling, or spend two weeks in silence in a Trappist monastery.
Tomorrow I will preach on Galatians 1:6-9: What the gospel is and what the gospel is not. Carson’s short essay, like Paul’s excited admonition to the Galatians, reminds me that the gospel is something that is easily distorted and too often assumed. Consequently, there are dozens of half-gospels that are tempting us to turn from the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. So, I am praying that for our church and for myself, that we will trade in our own personal narratives for the gospel-narrative of Jesus Christ and that we will eschew any vision of Jesus that makes him less than the eternal Son of God, sent to earth to be the bleeding sacrifice, who takes away the sin of the world, and delivers all those who trust in him from this evil age.
I am praying that we will know what the gospel is and what the gospel is not!
(For more on this subject see Greg Gilbert’s new book: What is the Gospel?)
Soli Deo Gloria, dss