Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Gospel and its proclamation (part 1)

[continued on from here]

The Gospel is the message of salvation; the Good News that is to be proclaimed to evey creature under heaven. It proclaims to all the way of salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16), such that all who hear and obey the message will be saved; and apart from it no one can ever be saved (Rom. 10:14-17). Therefore, it is imperative that we get the Gospel message correct, as a wrong 'gospel' would damn others instead of saving them (Gal. 1:6-9).

So what exactly is the Gospel? In its broad sense, the Gospel is the entirety of Scripture, because ALL of Scripture is Good News and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting an training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16 -NIV). However, the Gospel most definitely have a narrower and more popular sense, in that it demarcates the basics of the faith that is to be proclaimed and believed in order for people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. It is this sense which is prevalent in the NT Scriptures, whereby it is distilled into a one-sentence message of 'Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2:38); 'if you confess with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved' (Rom. 10:9), or into proto-creeds as can be seen in 1 Cor. 15:3-8. Thus, we can see that the Gospel consists of propositional truth statements that are to be understood and believed in (not merely paying lip service), which results in the salvation of all who will do so. Such biblical passages definitely seems minimalistic; with the Gospel proclamation being reduced to one statement or a collection of statements. Or is that so?

What then does the Gospel consists of? The Gospel proclamation as found in Scripture is actually very simple and can be succintly stated as: calling on all Man to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Lk. 24:47; Acts 20:21). Together with the other passages we have looked at earlier, this seems to suggest that the Gospel message is very simple and easy, and it is. However, Man, due to sin and our own creaturely limitations, complicate matters. God intended the Gospel to be simple, but then it is only able to be effective in communicating its message if it is understood, which mankind fail to do so due to our own sinful, creaturely nature. Our hearts are darkened (Rom. 1:21) due to the rebellion of our depraved nature against God, and we have became blind to spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14) and without understanding (Is. 6:9-10; Eph. 4:18). Therefore, when given a simple Gospel presentation, rebel Man cannot understand it, and if they do, they would attempt to distort it. It is precisely because of this that the context of the various passages and the entire Bible itself is employed for the sake of the Gospel; that the meaning of the simple Gospel message can be made abundantly plain and clear (perspicuous); such that all Man would be able to understand it and be without excuse as to their rejection of the message.

This suggest, therefore, that the Gospel message is a simple message which must be understood in the way of how God wants it to be understood. In other words, the Gospel message is the simple message of repentance of sins and belief in Christ as Lord and Savior; according to the definitions of the terms and concepts as dictated in Scripture. For example, what is 'sin'? Sin must be understood in the biblical sense of a rebellion and crime against God which Man commit against God by breaking His holy Law and thus incurring wrath and punishment. Any other definition like being just 'wrong choices which prove that we are human' would constitute a denial of the Gospel message, even though the word 'sin' may be used. This goes for the other words like 'Jesus Christ', whic must be understood as being the name of the Second person of the Trinity which was incarnated on Earth by being born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, and suffered and died on the Cross for our sins etc, and definitely NOT the New Age 'Jesus Christ'.

Now, such an exercise of the definition of words used could theoretically go on ad infinitum ad nauseum, leading to a semantic 'turtles all the way down' infinite regression scenario (which seems to be the rage within Emerging church circles, I may add). However, the Bible does not lend itself to such skepticism, as God has created Man in His own image (Gen. 1:27) and has even written the work of His Law on the hearts of all Man (Rom. 2:14-15), and has also revealed Himself to them through the work of Creation in what is known as General Revelation, thus Man are all born with a recognition of God but reject Him anyway. Part of the image of God that Man has is the capacity to communicate, and therefore there would not be an infinite regression scenario whereby Man could never understand anything of the Gospel at all, though our sinfulness do mar our understanding. It is because of this General Revelation that the Gospel proclamation, and all communication, is possible. With sufficient clarification, the Gospel could be communicated and understood, and the amount of clarification needed for the Gospel message to be sucessfully communicated would vary between different persons.

The next important question is with regards to how many truths are therefore needed to be communicated in order for the Gospel to be understood exactly as the Scriptures meant is to be? This would definitely depends on the audience. For simple folks, the basic message of repenting of sins and believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior would suffice, as their conscience could aid in the understanding process. However, such is not the case for most people who have bought into the philosophy of the world and have therefore suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18-19) and seared their conscience against the Truth of God. For example, a consistent evolutionist would already have suppress the general revelation given within him/herself regarding the Creation of the world and thus the existence of sins, and therefore cannot understand the Gospel message with regards to sins (which furthermore removes the need for a Savior). Therefore, the Gospel message must include the entire account of the Creation and the Fall in order to 'fill up the gaps' he/she has created through his/her embrace of the evolutionary worldview.

The contents of the Gospel proclamation therefore is a modular one based on the core truth: 'Repentance of sins and belief in Jesus Christ', and explanations which clarify this truth. Typically, most people are not so degenerate as to require detailed understanding of correct doctrine in order to be saved, except for those in cults. What is meant by this is that a typical non-Christian wouldn't be thinking that perhaps the Gospel message is a commitment to a demigod whose name is Jesus Christ, or to Michael the Archangel when he/she hears the Gospel message, unless they are from a cult who teaches that. Occam's razor does apply to our thinking process too, and therefore human beings do not normally unnecessarily multiply ignorance by trying to make a message more complicated than it actually is. The Gospel message thus can normally be commuicated and clarified without trying to do the equivalent of giving the unbeliever a crash course in soteriology in a Gospel presentation.

So what are the truths to be included within a Gospel presentation? The truths to be included within such a presentation would be those which most people do not believe in and would be a stumbling block to their coming to faith. It is for this reason that the reality and awfulness of sin MUST of necessity be proclaimed, since Man typically either disregard or downplay sin. With this in mind, the reality of Creation, the Fall, the Substituionary Atonement of Jesus Christ are the key doctrines which must be covered so that the Gospel could be clarified. (For a reasonable Gospel presentation, check this out) Other doctrines like the Trinity are important too, but they would be important only if the person being witnessed to comes from an anti-Trinitarian cult.

With this in mind, let us look more in-depth into the proclamation of the Gospel.

[to be continued]

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