Devastatingly Evangelical

“There is, then, an evangelical way to preach the Gospel and an unevangelical way to preach it.

The Gospel is preached in an unevangelical way, as happens so often in modern evangelism, when the preacher announces:

This is what Jesus Christ has done for you, but you will not be saved unless you make a personal decision for Christ as your Savior.

Or:

Jesus Christ loved you and gave his life for you on the Cross, but you will be saved only if you give your heart to him.

In that event, what is actually coming across to people is not a Gospel of unconditional grace but some other Gospel of conditional grace which belies the essential nature and content of the Gospel as it is in Jesus. It was that subtle legalist twist to the Gospel which worried St Paul so much in his Epistle to the Galatians.

To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them.

How, then, is the Gospel to be preached in a genuinely evangelical way?

Surely in such a way that full and central place is given to the vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response to the saving love of God which he has freely and unconditionally provided for us.

We preach and teach the Gospel evangelically, then, in such a way as this:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself.

Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

Our theology of the gospel is essential to our understanding of evangelism and mission.

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28 thoughts on “Devastatingly Evangelical

  1. Wait a minute, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by Me!”

    You better confess your sins and believe or you will not be saved.

  2. Ken,
    I absolutely agree about Jesus, and from what I can see, everything about this quote points to Jesus as our salvation.

    So what’s the disconnect?

  3. I got saved when I was 22. I was in a whole lot of hurt and one night I cried out to the Lord with three words: “Jesus help me”. About a year and a half later, all by myself in my living room – the Lord came upon me – I was born again – I fell to my knees – I cried, I laughed – my whole life changed.
    I had never heard of being “born again” but the second it happened – I knew what it was. I went home to tell my parents. Their reaction: “We’ll believe it when we see it”. (It didn’t take too long before they believed it) I told my girlfriend. Her reaction: “Why would God save you?”

    I didn’t “repent” of any sins, I didn’t make a “decision” for Christ – but He defintely brought me to a place where I really and truely believed. People would sometimes attack me over my experience – but all I could say to them was – “I once was blind – but now I see”. It’s hard to dissuade a person with an experience.

    John 1:12-13 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    You see – I’ve never believed that being saved is someone making a DECISION for Jesus Christ – it says so right there in John – NOT OF HUMAN DECISION. I also don’t believe that saying I’m sorry for the wrongs I’ve done saves me. Many people are sorry for what they’ve done. No – only the faith that God put in my heart and through that faith – somehow He led me to believe that Jesus Christ IS my salvation – my hope – my eternity – and that thru Him and Him alone – I am saved. It’s GRACE THRU FAITH – NOT OF WORKS SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST. AND WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.

    So am I a true evangelical or not?

    1. Jerry,
      Thanks for sharing your story. I think most of us can look back to significant moments when God made His love real to us and perhaps less clear moments when we can see the Spirit was drawing us to Him. When His love finally breaks through our darkness, knowing Him becomes reality.

      Honestly, I’m not sure what an evangelical is. But if it is carrying the message of God’s love and embrace, I’ll bet you are one.

  4. Torrance is basically arguing that you have to be of the Reformed persuasion in order to be evangelical and he’s enlisted St. Paul as a witness: but he’s not letting him speak. In any event, I don’t understand half of what he’s saying. What does “vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response” mean? Its hard enough to understand the NT at times. Is God’s love really all that complicated? Do we really have to spend our lives reading between the lines of the NT in order to live fully as followers of Jesus? Wasn’t the whole point of the incarnation to move us from dependence on written word to intimate relationship with the Trinity (as in Jerry’s story)?

    1. David,
      I’m fine with “Jesus loves you.” Personally, I found the language of this quote beautiful, so I shared it. I think it is difficult to participate in an intimate relationship with the Trinity with a distorted image of the Father and the message of alienation that is so often a part of the “gospel” today.

      Just my opinion. :)

      1. Linda, Torrance believes (I think) that Jesus died for only those he foreknew and the rest are alienated from God eternally with no choice in the matter. God selected some to love and some to hate. When Jesus says that “God so loved the world”, he means, according to Reformed theology, that he only loves those who were predestined to be loved. Therefore, having determined to love a select few, God will persevere in loving and bring them into his kingdom.
        Conversely, God has already determined that the remainder will go to eternal and everlasting hell. Don’t confuse this theology with something warm and fuzzy. Its like being chosen by some psychopath stalker who kidnaps you and forces you to join his family and bear his children: “We’ll soon be one happy loving family”. Where’s the good news in all of that? Sorry to all you Reformers out there, but this is how some of us see your God.

        Yes, Grace, our theology of the gospel is essential to evangelism and mission.

      2. David,
        If that’s what Torrance believes (I don’t know) then I don’t agree with him. However, there is nothing in this particular quote that says that.

        My understanding is that before the foundation of the world God chose that we would be included in His love and fellowship. I’m not worried about what Reformers think, but I think it’s tragic to create artificial limits and barriers about God’s love for every person.

  5. Linda, sometimes grace is too amazing!

    It is also amazing to me how theologically-uncomfortable people become at any hint of compromising the universally condemning impact of Adam’s choice (Pelagianism!) and yet become deeply agitated and attack at any suggestion about the universal impact of the Second Adam (Universalism!). What a paradox in light of Romans 5, etc.

    Many seem to despise the idea that God in Christ may have made a decision for us without our having a say in the matter. The resistance seems to reflect an essential narcissism in a theological model built on the premise of sin “separating” humanity from God in spite of the “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” of Col 1:15-20.

    It seems the common advice “Don’t get between an addict and their addiction without expecting to get run through” applies in theological discussions as well.

    1. Paul,
      So true. It really is amazing how easily universal fallenness through Adam is accepted and yet how often the full impact of Christ’s reconciliation is minimized. I think it is good to ask why we would want to create barriers that may not exist or at least consider the possibility that maybe we have.

  6. Ah … now I see the source of the twitter conversation last evening.

    The Good News is not nearly good enough these days and Grace should be utterly amazing, not tepid, warmed over mashed potatoes. I’m with you on this … Linda!!! :D

  7. “Wait a minute, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by Me!”

    You better confess your sins and believe or you will not be saved.”

    You just proof-texted that verse. understand a little of Jewish culture, and you’ll quickly see that John 14:6 does not mean what you just posited it to mean.

  8. With all due respect, the only decision that matters is the one Christ Jesus has made for us, and continues to make. His decision that we are his. The only question is whether we hear his call. The word goes forth. Even now. Always now.

    Wes

    P.S. Torrance got it right. He got so much right

  9. And more radical, and scandalous…but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Whether you believe or not…does not change this profound mysterious truth.It’s happening ” now “, but think about it. If the spirit moves you re-boot the hard drive of your life’s operating system…and enter into this new reality.

  10. Linda,

    I appreciate Torrance’s emphasis, I really do. I’ve heard way too many times: Of course God will forgive us – but only if we believe! That’s turning the Gospel upside down. Salvation lies in God’s love, self-sacrifice and embrace of unworthy rebels and enemies like you and me, completely independent of our response. No argument there.

    At the same time the whole purpose of that unconditional acceptance is to walk consciously and gratefully in that new reality. That’s how I understand Torrence’s last sentence (the call to faith and repentance). I can be offered life and freedom and still choose to reject it or not walk in it. Would it still be meaningful to call a person like that “saved”? You’d have to wonder: saved from WHAT? It couldn’t be: saved from God’s wrath. His love towards us finds its expression in the cross but it has always been the same from the beginning. Saved from separation? Not really, if we continue to live separate lives. Saved from an empty way of self-centered living? Yes, but again only potentially.

    I think we need to point out BOTH aspects of salvation: the whole world is already reconciled to God and that is our salvation message (2 Corinthians 5:19) and everyone can EXPERIENCE its truth and live saved as we respond to God’s offer and place our trust in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20; John 3:16; Acts 16:31).

    1. Josh,
      I agree with you that responding to God’s unconditional grace changes everything for us. My concern is that we’ve made the response our message, not the good news of God’s love and embrace.

      The world is already convinced of their sin; it is what keeps them from responding to God’s love. They aren’t convinced of the depths of His grace and love for them. Our role is to be messengers of reconciliation. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the response. He is usually doing more than we are aware of in the lives of others.

      I think generally we’ve given way too much focus to the response at the expense of not really communicating the message of God’s love.

      1. Great point, Linda! Not everything that could be said regarding the matter should be said in the light of the situation of those who hear it. That’s probably one of the greatest pitfalls of wanting to be orthodox – you can be so focussed on the soundness of your theology (trying to avoid any kind of imbalance in order not to appear as a heretic) that in the process the actual purpose of communicating love and grace is defeated.

  11. “Our theology of the gospel is essential to our understanding of evangelism and mission.”

    Absolutely! Which is why I think God has led so many of us into seasons of re-examination, even if He caught us by surprise and it wasn’t the kind of season, or the kind of journey we were expecting.

    I’m so glad. :) He continues to surprise me…

  12. I think that sometimes we spend way too much time trying to figure out the things we don’t understand (there are mysteries of our faith), and way too little time doing the things we do understand.

    We cannot fathom the effects of eternity with our finite understanding, yet we try to make formulas of God’s transcendant being based on our time-space continuum way of understanding the universe. Silly us.

    Here’s something we can all understand; “Love the Lord your God with all of you heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I say let the church practice getting that one right before they attempt to unravel the deeper mysteries of our faith.

    The good news is that God loved us while we were yet sinners – it is He that made peace with us through Christ Jesus. He is a pursing God, not a God looking for appeasement. This has been His work from the beginning (John 5:17), and was culminated in His Son Jesus. God’s work now is to have those He pursues believe into Jesus (6:29). Once we respond to His call, He invites us to participate in the family business … the business of loving our neighbors even while they are yet sinners. Loving is our task. Saving is His. He has millions of ways of doing this, my experience was only one way.

  13. The basic non-theological issue I have with the examples is:

    In the “unevangelical way” there is a simple, understandable declaration and imperative. Even a child can visualize what is being said.

    In the “evangelical way” there is so much happening grammatically and the vocabulary is so deep, it reads like a legal document. You have to be very highly educated to even be able to swallow that without reading it 10 times.

    Simplify… for the love of God.

  14. I cannot answer that question – am I’m glad I don’t have to. I totally trust God with the answer. Some people (think they) need to know the answer to that in order to know if they can really trust God.

    I know we were created with a deep curiousity, and with the gift to process information and to make decisions based on our conclusions. What bearing does the answer to that question have on the conclusion of whether or not to trust God ?

    Let me pose an analogy: You are trapped on one of the top floors of a burning building, a ladder is placed at your window and a fireman beckoned you to climb out so he can help you down to saftey. Would you then ask, “I’m not sure about this. Are you going to rescue everyone in the building?” I submit that you have enough information to escape the flames – isn’t that enough information to make a conclusive decision as to whether or not you’re going to trust the fireman and climb out?

    To futher the analogy, I am confident that once I am safely down, I will be given the opportunity to assist the rescue units in getting others out. And then … the analogy breaks down because it moves into the mysterious shadows of the end of all time as we know it – and I cannot be responsible for the final outcome there. I simply trust the One who is.

  15. “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9

    You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided. There is a board room in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting. Constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we’re this way because we’re so busy with so many responsibilities. The truth is, we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, unfree.

    That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication. The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. Please run my whole life for me.” That is not complication; that is salvation.

    “Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols.

    – Dr. Ray Ortland Jr.

  16. “There is, then, an evangelical way to preach the Gospel and an unevangelical way to preach it.”

    I’m wondering that if there is an evangelical and an unevangelical way to LIVE the Gospel?

    You ask – How, then, is the Gospel to be preached in a genuinely evangelical way?

    Could our best preaching be done with our hands? Our Feet? Our bank accounts? So that some may say – here is water what prevents me from being baptised?

    1. Definitely Mark. We live our message, whether we are aware of it or not and whether it agrees with the words we say or not.

      I’ll miss your blog. Your kingdom perspective is always an encouragement to me. Keeping you in my reader so if you ever have a whim to write…

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