(1) “Living the gospel” seemed like a potentially confusing phrase, given that the gospel is the good news of what God has done for us, not something we do or are.
(2) Some who agreed with point (1) seemed to be inspiring just a little too much in the way of attacks on those who used terminology like “living the gospel” (which is not to say that they intended for that to happen). It seemed to me that most people (at least within my circles, I can’t say outside of that) seemed to be using the phrase to mean simply “live in light of the gospel,” or something to that effect, but we’re being accused—quite unsuspectingly—of perverting the gospel or introducing works into justification.
So my concerns were essentially both theological—speaking correctly—but also pastoral—let’s make sure we understand what people are saying and make sure not to jump all over them when they mean something we totally agree with.
Summarizing the Original Post
Arising from those two concerns, I thought it would be interesting to look at the biblical verbs associated with euaggelion in the New Testament. That is, what guidance might we receive from the way Scripture puts verbs in front of “gospel”?
I encourage you to look at my analysis of the data in the earlier post, but basically, I found that the Scriptures don’t really use phrases like “live the gospel,” and that such a phrase could potentially be confusing. However, I also noted that it uses two verbs (disobey, obey in English) which seem to suggest something like “live the gospel” on the surface. On closer examination in context, they basically mean “believe/disbelieve the gospel.”
And of course, there is Paul’s rebuke of Peter’s behavior in Galatians, in which he says that Peter was living out of step with the gospel. But most of the verbs used in relation to “gospel” had to do with verbal proclamation or belief.
From the data, I basically suggested that yes, we should be careful about the term, as it could potentially be confusing, but that secondly, we shouldn’t necessarily jump all over people who use it, particularly when we can tell that all they mean is “live in light of the gospel.”
One other note about the original post: I wish that I had never referenced Frank Turk’s open letter to Mike Horton on the question (in which he questions the rigidity of the law-gospel distinction in light of the subjunctive mood). It didn’t really aid my point, though I had found it interesting at the time. The whole law-gospel distinction discussion was supposed to be beyond the scope of my post (there’s plenty to be said about it), and that little insertion didn’t do much to help me.
Dr. Clark’s Response and a Brief Reply
Yesterday, I left a comment on a blog post over at the Heidelblog on this topic. I wish that I had worded it differently, as I see my conclusions as basically affirming the substance of Dr. Clark’s issue with the terminology, while yet perhaps wishing for a little bit less stridency on those who use the term without meaning all that he thinks they may mean.
His response (which was much longer than I anticipated, which I appreciate, and to which I replied in the comments), I think misunderstood where I was coming from, as he primarily took me to task for “biblicism.” For those of you who are unaware, the concern is that we would interpret Scripture without a healthy dose of respect for how God has worked through the church in the past. That is, creeds and confessions are important, and we ought to be shaped and guided by them as we interpret Scripture, since by their very nature, we confess that they are faithful summaries of Scripture (well, at least those of us ordained in denominations who have them as doctrinal standards).
I was somewhat surprised, as I would typically describe myself as one who wishes there was a recovery more and more of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (and other good Reformed confessions). E.g., see my glowing posts on Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative, which was one of the better books I read in 2012.
He saw my post as saying that there’s nothing wrong with “living the gospel,” and that we ought to just jettison how the Reformed have used theological vocabulary because of a quick word study. That was not my point at all.
I just don’t think it’s very helpful in conversations with those who perhaps have not accepted my confessional commitments to tell them that my Reformed heroes from several centuries ago already figured this out so they just need to deal with it. Rather, it’s more helpful to show them how Scripture speaks about these things.
I don’t think that’s biblicism, particularly since I think the Reformed tradition and the brief study I did agree on the basic point. But despite my love for the Reformed tradition and our creeds and confessions, I think it is generally more helpful (within our churches and in broader evangelicalism) if we explain Scripture (of course, in a way that is consonant with what we confess in our confessional documents Scripture to teach, contra the FV crowd) to people rather than explaining others’ explanations of Scripture to them.
When we do that, we can pray that they will see from Scripture the truths that the Reformation recovered for us in such beauty.Read More