I mentioned a while back that the equation of justification by faith with “the gospel” by resurgent neo-Calvinists and folks associated with the Gospel Coalition was a sign of ignorance of the biblical gospel among evangelicals. Such limiting of the gospel to this singular Pauline metaphor is inappropriate.
Yesterday’s post is another reason for my claim. Associating “the gospel” with justification by faith starts in the wrong place and makes gospel preaching in the New Testament strange.
The biblical gospel is a rehearsal of God fulfilling his saving purposes for all of creation in the story of Jesus and Jesus’ summing up and extending the story of Israel. The biblical gospel situates individuals in God’s larger story of redemption in Jesus Christ.
Equating “the gospel” with justification by faith inappropriately reverses the biblical logic. “The gospel” is now about individuals and the order in which they receive salvific benefits.
As Scot McKnight argues in The King Jesus Gospel, the Reformation initiated this turn to the individual. While there were very good reasons for this focus during the Reformation period, over time the larger narrative of Scripture has been obscured by an individualized gospel.
It’s a bit ironic that those rightly seeking to recover a God-ward orientation are prevented from doing so by their theological method.
This move also renders gospel preaching in the New Testament strange. Jesus and his disciples proclaimed “the gospel of the Kingdom” and the arrival of Israel’s Messiah. The dominant topic of gospel preaching in Acts is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his installation as Lord over all. Based on these big moves of God, the apostles called people to enter this Kingdom reality animated by God’s Spirit. Repentance and entry into the Kingdom unleashed the many benefits of God’s salvation.
The apostolic gospel, therefore, is larger and more robust than justification by faith. Its starting point is God and his purposes for creation and not how sinful humans can receive salvation.
The mechanics of justification and the place of individuals in God’s saving purposes are absolutely crucial topics. But they find their proper place only within the larger purposes of God and a faithful vision of the biblical gospel.