Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Response to Previous Post 'What Is the Gospel? by R.C. Sproul | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org'

Okay, I want to do something different here: instead of responding to DB’s last post in the comments section--which is limited in space--let me provide a full response here and make that a blog post.  Along the way I’ll go ahead and address you directly, DB, if needed. =)

In the article mentioned in the last post Dr. Sproul writes:
The Gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.
What was written there is good news--good for Jesus, since he is the one who lived a life free of wrongdoings and moral error.  But how is that good news to me?  I am not Jesus, after all.  And if Jesus died for his people, good; but how is that relevant to anything or what does that mean?  Did Jesus die to set an example of how his people should live selflessly?  Did he die to save his people from their past sins though not necessarily for sins that will be committed later down the road in the future?  And who are his people anyhow?  And if Jesus died as a sacrifice for his people, what does that mean?  Is Dr. Sproul using the word “sacrifice” in a loose and vernacular sense as soliders may “sacrifice” themselves by throwing themselves on top of grenades or by running unprotected in front of bullets to save fellow members of their unit or platoon?  Or is Dr. Sproul speaking of sacrifice proper?

The desire to avoid a long, cumbersome and tedious message is understandable, to be sure.  However, if I were to hear Dr. Sproul’s words with the ears of a pagan who has no prior understanding of Christian theology, how would anything from the second paragraph of the article produce the faith according to which God justifies sinners?  In anticipation of possible responses, let’s allow Dr. Sproul to finish his message by now quoting the third and final paragraph of the article:
The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own integrity. He’s a kind of wishy-washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.
The meaning of the word “sacrifice” still is not clearly and unequivocally explained.  However, if explanations and analogies had been sought and mentioned in the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 and in specifics of the prophecy of Isaiah 53, these might have been quite helpful.  These passages in turn would have been made more understandable by Acts 2.22-23 and 4.27-28 where even the apostles take time to clarify how the Romans’ killing of Christ could amount to an act of punishment executed by God himself.

Until these and other things are explained in people’s approaches to evangelism, there is not much to prevent more new instances of false conversions and false faith.  Remember that while the verb “believe in” does mean believe in and the noun “faith” does mean faith, it is clear that biblical writers still had something specific in mind when they spoke of the faith according to which God justifies sinners.  For example, if Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade and was hired to have someone fashion a new table for them, the trust or faith of the person who trusts the Lord to now provide him with a new table does not have the sort of faith that Paul talks about in Ephesians 2.8-9, clearly.  In fact, coaches, soccer moms, or other people who would today say “I believe in you” as part of a speech to pep up their athletes before a game are expressing what are merely beliefs that those athletes have great ability or potential, as opposed to expressing any trust, dependence or reliance upon those individuals.  So if one takes an unclear message, mixes it with modern semantic ambiguity, and mixes it also with faith’s capacity to have different sorts and objects or targets, he is poised to produce more cases of the false brethren that have been mentioned quite often in past articles of this blog.

(Again, apparently it is by vagueness of teaching and preaching that one unbeliever goes on to believe merely that Jesus is great and powerful.  Meanwhile, another unbeliever goes on to trust his response to the Gospel or a gospel as means of salvation from fear of divine wrath.  In the meantime, still another unbeliever goes on trust Christ for the wrong things, and so on.)

If one goes back to read the New Testament to see how matters were handled in the earliest days of the church, I think that he or she will find that it’s okay to spend some time, effort, and repetition in doing the work of what is rightly called evangelism.  In Acts chapter two apostle Peter finds time to quote the prophet Joel, to speak of the wonders and signs performed through Christ, to mention the role of predetermined or predestined actions in the life of Christ, and so on.  In Acts 13.13-52 the apostle Paul likewise does not attempt to truncate or supersimplify the good news of Christ into a short sound byte or blurb; in fact, his audience even invites him to return to speak to them again despite his would-be verbosity.

So perhaps in the future it would be good to remind people--specifically Christians--of various things and to later teach the same thing to unbelievers.  For example, in Mark 2.10 we are told that while the Son of Man walked this earth he had authority to forgive sins.  We are also told in Matthew 28.18-20 that all authority in heaven and earth was given to him.  If God as the authority to forgive sins, and if all authority has been given to Christ, does Christ not have the authority to forgive people’s sins?  And if Christ has this authority, is this not a good reason for sinners to trust Jesus Christ if they call upon his name?

Any comments on the matter, sir?

1 comment:

D.B. said...

I think you make some good points. In terms of clarity, though, I do think that Sproul makes some better connections to more than just a "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life" type of message.

That said, I think your post illustrates the importance of being clear and defining terms, even when it seems like we should all "know" what they mean.