Friday, February 11, 2005
'Simple Gospel' - The Discussion Continues
Adrian has been very kind in acknowledging my support of the Simple Gospel. I have tried to steer clear of a big discussion of what really is the simple gospel because I think it misses the real point. Now that Adrian has widened the conversation some in his summary post, I shall widen mine.
There are two important reasons I have been so supportive of Adrian's wife's presentation. 1) I think everyone should have a version of the simple gospel and they should spend more time there than they do with, shall we say, "more advanced," versions. 2) Within reason, the details of one's simple gospel aren't that important.
As to the first point, a simple gospel will change the world, Calvin's Institutes, or any other large systematic tome, will not. Most of the points that I have seen discussed about Adrian's wife's distillation are graduate school level stuff. Most people, most Christians, are never going to get there. Most people will, for their lifetimes, simply lack the education and disposition to debate such issues. My own pastor feels the need every couple of years to preach in justification of infant baptism which my denomination practices. The congregation yawns in one accord, every time. To them, baptism matters, but a debate of infant versus adult baptism does not, and a discussion of rebaptism absolutely puts them to sleep.
In order to fulfill the Great Commission we must be able to describe the gospel in a manner accessible and appealing to all. Also, as I posted a couple of days ago Jesus calls us to Himself not as learned scholars, but as children.
As to the second point, the precise formulation of the simple gospel is, within limits - and limits I think far broader than any of us want to believe, a minor issue. If it did matter so much, would the church have grown as much as it has to date? Are we really willing to go so far as to think that those of other theological bent are not going to make it through the final judgment? I posted yesterday on some of my experiences with Christians that some might consider heretical, and therefore unChristian.
Let's bottom line this -- God, His ways and His judgment, is so far beyond our comprehension, that it is an act of pure hubris to think that we can distill all this into some sort of systematic truth. That does not mean I do not think the effort is worthwhile, it just means that in the effort we have got to remain sufficiently humble, and in this instance, sufficiently means EXTREMELY humble.
Maybe I get this from my science background. In science we have said to the point of cliche' that, "The more we learn, the more questions we have." This is not just something we say to justify applying for another grant.
The same thing applies to God, the more I try to figure Him out, the more he immediately breaks out of whatever intellectual box I have built for Him and then smiles at me benevolently as if to say, "Not on your life."
The Wittenberg Gate has a very good recent post on the dangers of putting too much into our own specific formulations of a simple gospel.
As I said, there are limits to how far I am willing to stretch this argument that the formulation of the simple gospel is not that important. I said in my original post on this topic that I think many churches are currently skating on very thin ice when it comes to the our own human role in the story of salvation. This, by the way, was one of the things I most liked about Adrian's wife's formulation, its emphasis of and distinction between confession and repentance.
But I will repeat that I think the limits are far, far broader than I am comfortable with. As much as I want solid answers and concrete boundaries, God is not providing them. I think He wants to remind us of who He is, and how insignificant we are by comparison. THAT may be the most important lesson for all for all of us that are wondering what the simple gospel is.