What’s included in the “whole” Gospel?
The Meaning, Implications, and Significance of the Good News of Jesus Christ
Last edited: Aug 13, 2008 8:35am EST
Ken Bellous, Executive Minister of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec (BCOQ), writes:
The whole gospel includes both spiritual and practical elements. The gospel certainly is all about our spiritual response to Jesus and the salvation that he came to bring. But the gospel is also about our response to one another, as Jesus directs us to “offer a cup of cold water in my name…” or see that those in need are clothed, visited, cared for. God’s spiritual provision of love needs our caring response toward others. The Baptist community that is represented in this web site has long expressed a holistic concern for both spiritual and compassionate aspects of the gospel message.
After reading this “executive message” from the leader of one of the largest Baptist convention in Canada, I am now confused as to what the whole gospel “includes”. It seems that from this quote, the gospel includes more than just the atoning work that Jesus Christ accomplished through his life, death and resurrection from the cross.
So the question that I will address over the next week in this 3 part blog series is this:
Is the gospel really “about” our response to one another, and not just about our response of faith to our Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice?
It seems that a reasonable person reading this quote would come out more uncertain about this traditional view of the gospel than more certain that the redemption accomplished and applied by Christ’s blood to the believer is the gospel. The line of thinking in the above quote seems to imply that the Gospel is not an issue of “either or” (namely, what it includes — spiritual or practical elements), but that the gospel entails a “both and” (spiritual and practical elements). With all due respect, I would assert that such vocabulary used in this explanation of the gospel undermines what Scripture says the gospel truly is, and contradicts what these practical elements actually are. I respectfully disagree with Bellous — “the gospel” in all its purity as revealed in the Holy Bible does not include our response to one another.
Meanings of Words: A Word About Meanings
If terminology and words are to have any meaning, I would argue that these so-called practical elements are not included by what we would proclaim to be the “gospel”, but rather that they constitute Gospel implications without which would devalue the gospel’s significance. In this blog series, I am utilizing Robert H. Stein‘s hermeneutical delineation of “meaning”, “implication”, and “significance”, as the issues here are grammatical and hermeneutical in nature (A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Baker: 1994). For hermeneutically speaking, there is only one meaning to a given biblical text, and many implications from which we can draw numerous significant applications for today.
Therefore, I am arguing that the gospel has only one meaning, but many kingdom implications that significantly apply in different ways to us in our own contexts. I hope to show that these practical elements that the whole gospel is said to include are not the gospel itself, but are rather the implications that arrive out of one who has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Christians who have been transformed by and trusted in the gospel, being a true bona fide disciple of Christ is about how we treat one another.
Let us, then, first consider the meaning of “the gospel”:
I. The Meaning of the Gospel
“The meaning of a text is that pattern of meaning the author willed to convey by the words he used.”
(Robert H. Stein, 38)
In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the Apostle explains clearly what the gospel (εὐαγγέλιον – “good news”) is:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)
Paul thus explains that the gospel is “God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes” — and therefore, there is no reason to be ashamed of it.
Consider further Paul’s words to the church at Corinth:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Cor 15:1-4)
The historical authenticity and reliability of the Gospel rests in this four-fold description, and in this is the meaning of the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ most succinctly expounded: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God (1) died, (2) was buried, (3) then raised from death to life, as prophesied and recorded by the Holy Scriptures. To all who trust in the atoning work of Christ, this gospel — the gospel — is the power of God unto salvation.
Where does such meaning of the gospel derive itself from? In no other place, except the Scriptures. And since we have been given the gospel as it is by special revelation, let us not expand or shrink it from what it has actually been said to be. Adding to or taking from the Word of God is not only a sinful act of disobedience, but more than that, it is a outright rejection of God’s word. Therefore, adding to the Gospel of the Bible is not just detrimental to the spiritual health of the Christian, it is damning (Rev 22:18-19). We must not, then, proclaim any other gospel than the one we have been given through the Holy Bible.
Theological and Historical, Practical and Spiritual
Henceforth, the whole gospel includes both theological and historical elements. Christ shed his blood cleansing sinners of their guilt and forgiving them of their inequities (theological) through the historically verifiable event of his death and resurrection (historical). The theological element cannot exist apart from the historical event of the atonement, and the historical event of Christ’s atoning work is meaningless if it is understood without the theological element.
In terms of the practical and spiritual elements, this means that we must confess with our mouths (practical) that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts (spiritual) that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10:5-13). The gospel is all about what Christ did on the cross for us (atonement), and it includes nothing else but that. Like the theological and historical elements, the practical and spiritual elements of the gospel cannot be divorced from each other: failing to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life while confessing that he is the resurrected Savior is utterly futile — the acceptance of a half-gospel is in essence embracing no gospel at all. As J. I. Packer has so pointedly portended: “a half-truth masquerading as the whole-truth becomes a complete untruth.”
To say that the gospel is “our response to one another” is thus to say that the whole gospel means or includes something that the Scriptures does not support. Such a thing that undermines the purity of the gospel, hence, it also denies the fundamentally elements of the gospel. To say something as outlandish as this is not only contrary to the canon of Scripture and the whole counsel of God, but furthermore, it is heretical due to its refutation of the whole, biblical gospel.
Coming soon, Part 2: The Implications of the Gospel.