Definitions of the Gospel by Trevin Wax

For several years Trevin Wax says that he has been collecting definitions of the “gospel.”  He has managed to collect over 60 such.  But he then gives his take:

The Gospel Proper (The Announcement)

The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).

The Gospel’s Context (The Story of Scripture)

The Bible tells us about God’s creation of a good world which was subjected to futility because of human sin. God gave the Law to reveal His holiness and our need for a perfect sacrifice, which is provided by the death of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus will one day return to this earth to judge the living and the dead and thus renew all things. The gospel story is the Scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and resurrection of Jesus at the center.

The Gospel’s Purpose (The Community)

The gospel births the church. We are shaped by the gospel into the kind of people who herald the grace of God and spread the news of Jesus Christ. God has commissioned the church to be the community that embodies the message of the gospel. Through our corporate life together, we “obey the gospel” by living according to the truth of the message that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of the world.  (read the entire entry here)

I’m very much in agreement with this movement: announcement, narrative, and community.  However, application to this gospel remains that hole in the witness of the Church.

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17 Responses to Definitions of the Gospel by Trevin Wax

  1. Jon Hughes says:

    It sounds like he’s retained a traditional Reformed understanding while at the same time learning from N.T. Wright.

    Not a bad place to be.

    • TC says:

      Jon, when guys likes Wright comes along, we are forced to rethink and even are compelled to make adjustments. Not bad at all. I quite agree.

  2. Simon says:

    What the “Gospel” is not is the abstract thing that the Reformed and Lutherans have thought it for centuries. I remember that Wright said once in response to the question “What is the Gospel” that he would have to read out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John out loud, which is, of course, the correct answer. That is the Gospel according to Christians for centuries. That is why they are called “The Gospel according to….”

    The whole life of Christ, from his incarnation, to his life and teachings, his death, resurrection and asscension (which the Western Chruch celebrates this week) is the Gospel. It’s not that reductionist thing that Luther tried to turn it into. Christ’s life and teaching are no merely good morals or nice stories like the Reformed treat them as. His whole life is salvific.

    • TC says:

      Then you’re essentially in agreement with Trevin Wax above? But what if you have to sum up the matter like Wax? What then?

  3. Simon says:

    TC, i’d sum it up like Paul does in Romans 1 “Paul, a servant[a] of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit[b] of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”

    That’s a pretty good summary. But all summaries are necessarily reductions. So better to go to Church hear the whole Gospel read each week ;) It is a good thing that the Reformed are starting to see things this way. TC, what do you think about RC Sproul and others going around saying that Sola Fide is the Gospel?

    • TC says:

      Simon, sola fide is not the gospel and neither did, for example, Calvin say such a thing. This is both misleading and dangerous.

      Now if I had to sum up the gospel succinctly, I’d simply repeat NT Wright, “The Gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord.” ;-)

  4. Simon says:

    TC, why then the push back from a lot of Reformed folk when they criticize NT Wright on that definition? They claim that the announcement that Jesus is Lord can actually be bad news not good news

  5. Jon Hughes says:

    Simon,

    I’d be interested to know where you stand regarding the Atonement. Trevin Wax emphasises the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. Are you more ‘Christus Victor’ than penal substitution? I’d be interested to know, as I’ve been reading outside the (Reformed) box lately.

    Yes, I like the emphasis on the Incarnation.

    As for Sproul, he’s defending a tradition rather than Scripture – whether he realizes it or not! Ironic that the Reformed, of all people, should do that, isn’t it? This is something else that N.T. Wright has pulled them up on.

  6. Simon says:

    Jon,
    Yes, I’m strongly for Christus Victor, ransom or the classic view of the atonement. This is simply because this is how the Scriptures and the Church have understood the atonement. The Eastern Orthodox sing at Easter “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” St John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily ends as follows:

    “O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

    I think it’s rather clear how the early Church perceived the atonement. After Aulen’s epic book, I think the argument is just about over now. At least it should be. Penal substitution is just not an understanding that was common in the first 1000 years of the Church. Penal sub certainly wasn’t elevated to the level of dogma as it is for the Reformed.

    As for Sproul and co, they are just not orthodox when it comes to the atonement in my opinion. Whilst the Church has never made a dogmatic statement about the atonement, we can grasp (incompletely) what the atonement means through the prayers, hymns and liturgy. What the Reformation did was crystalize a medieval Western idea of the atonement – and they have become dogmatic about this. Sinclair Ferguson says that, whilst there are many pictures of the atonement given in Scripture, the controlling image is that of penal substitution. But no where has a dogmatic statement been made to this effect. And the overwhelming understanding in the early Church supports ransom/Christus Victor etc. There is simply no basis for Ferguson’s statement apart from his own very recent tradition and his own understanding of Scripture.

    Of course, Christus Victor also reflects a different image of God than does penal sub. And this is where the rubber hits the road. Being so dogmatic about penal sub should give rise to the question: Are we worshipping a different God? It almost gets to this stage if you listen to certain Reformed preachers talk about penal substitution. Are we really worshipping the same God? It has almost come to this. Ditto for their understanding of hell. This is why I think that being Reformed will eventually mean being outside (small “o”) orthodoxy. And this will be rather ironic as they see themselves as beacons of orthodoxy. They just have no basis for ecumenical discussions if they continue to hold dogmatically to TULIP, hell as a torture chamber and penal sub atonement etc.

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Thanks, Simon. It’s fascinating to get your perspective (and that of Eastern Orthodoxy). I’m intrigued now as to your view of hell. Do you view it as restorative and not merely punitive?

      Thanks to you and TC for indulging my questions :)

      • Simon says:

        Have a read of Timothy Ware’s introductory books on Orthodoxy.

        I think hell, for the Orthodox, is not a necessarily a physical place. It is the experience of those who reject God’s love. God’s love is literally unbearable to those who hate what is true, good and lovely. When God is finally all in all, his very presence is what lights the fires of hell. But for the faithful, his love is paradise. This is similar to where guys like CS Lewis and NT Wright get to. CS Lewis says that the doors of hell are locked from the inside. I think this is a very Orthdox view of hell. So hell is less God punishing us, than us closing ourselves from God’s love. The Apostle John says “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”

        I notice Roman Catholics like the late JPII have adopted a, more or less, Orthodox approach to hell. Here is an article from Al Mohler chastising the Pope for taking an essentially orthodox view of hell. http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/07/16/should-we-lose-the-fear-of-hell-the-pope-redefines-the-doctrine/

        He thinks the Pope was denying “the traditional Christian understanding of hell”. What he in fact was doing was rediscovering what a significant part of the Church had taught, particularly the Eastern Church, on hell before the medieval period. Mohler then makes the seeming mistake of lumping the Pope in the category of modern liberals who shy away from the doctrine of hell because it is unpalatable to modern people. He also makes a bigger mistake in assuming that hell is a literal place. This is not what the Bible teaches. It may use spatial metaphors to talk about hell as in Matt 25, but this is not to be taken literally. Honestly, where does Mohler think hell actually is? If he believes it is a physical place, then this is a serious question. Saying that hell is not a physical place in no way denies an embodied life in eternity. Mohler also quotes JPII disapprovingly in the above blog: “Hell is not a punishment imposed externally by God, but the condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life,” he said. “So eternal damnation is not God’s work but is actually our own doing.” This is actually a very Orthodox statement on hell – and not disimiliar to Lewis and Wright and even Barth. Mohler can’t seem to get Dante’s images of hell out of his psyche. But most importantly his view of hell is not only dumb, but also cruel. This medieval notion of hell he and other conservative evangelicals holds to cannot in any way said to be dogma of the Church. What we are seeing now is an intelligent approach to hell across all branches of Christendom, apart from the conservative evangelical – acknowledging that the Scriptures do not provide concrete descriptions of the afterlife and rediscovering what the early Church taught about hell.

  7. Jon Hughes says:

    Thanks, Simon, for taking the time. On this topic, Dan Brown’s latest novel came out today called “Inferno” (which I’ve purchased on my Kindle) and I believe he makes the same point about Christians subsequently taking their view of hell from Dante.

    It does seem ironic that a conservative evangelical would go to pains to defend an essentially medieval Roman Catholic concept of hell.

    • Jon Hughes says:

      I’ve got both of Timothy ware’s books on my shelf, but haven’t got around to reading them yet. At some point, God willing, I shall.

      All the best.

  8. TC says:

    Simon, the following from you sums it up well:

    What we are seeing now is an intelligent approach to hell across all branches of Christendom, apart from the conservative evangelical – acknowledging that the Scriptures do not provide concrete descriptions of the afterlife and rediscovering what the early Church taught about hell.

    Yes, I’m with Lewis and Wright on the matter – avoiding the danger of taken things too literal.

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Glad to hear that, TC. But that’s because you’re a thinking evangelical. In my experience, most (conservative evangelical) churches simply can’t handle any kind of thinking outside the ‘bunker’ that smacks (to them) of compromise.

      There’s no freedom of thought within the confines of these churches on the subject.

      • TC says:

        Jon, where we’ve failed is not allowing each new generation of believers to rethink these matters, which is actually a mandate.

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