Some time ago I wrote a post (on the Aquila Report here) entitled “Is living the gospel an acceptable term?” I wrote that original post with two concerns in mind:
(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.
I’ve been reading D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. It’s been very encouraging, and at the end of chapter 2, he says this:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, at the heart of all our praying must be a biblical vision. That vision embraces who God is, what he has done, who we are, where we are going, what we must value and cherish. That vision drives us toward increasing conformity with Jesus, toward lives lived in the light of eternity, toward hearty echoing of the church’s ongoing cry, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ That vision must shape our prayers, so that the things that most concern us in prayer are those that concern the heart of God. Then we will persevere in our praying, until we reach the goal God himself has set for us.
In my own cultural and theological background, dreams are not given much thought. That is, we don’t consider dreams to ever be God communicating with us or really having much to do with our lives other than simply reflecting what’s happening in our lives. There are good theological reasons for this.
But given that background, the reasons for it are not ones that I’ve given much thought in quite some time. But one of the beautiful (and sometimes difficult and stretching) things about living cross-culturally is that you are often exposed to perspectives quite outside your own tradition. Learning to think through these things and respond with grace, humility, and yet confidence in God’s word is not learned overnight.
In our current context, the presence of dreams and visions being sent from God to his people in the OT (and to a lesser extent in the early pages of the NT) indicates that we should expect similar things today. My thoughts immediately go to Hebrews 1:1-2 in such a discussion:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
These verses indicate that there is some sort of climactic change with the coming of Christ. But of course it doesn’t mention dreams specifically and doesn’t elaborate specifically on the topic. But I was reading Acts 2 in my own devotions today, and I came across specifically Peter’s use of Joel 2 in his sermon:
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.[b]16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants[c] and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
On first glance, this may not seem to add much clarity to this discussion. And I admit that I need to study this out further. But here is my current line of thinking.
The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled in the events of Acts 2 with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.
The fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in “the last days.”
The fulfillment of the prophecy includes visions, prophecies, and dreams.
Apocalyptic imagery is used to describe this period of the “last days” which culminate in the “day of the Lord.”
Now a key point is what that last point refers to. If one assumes that it is talking about the physical return of Jesus to consummate history, then it would seem that the prophecies, dreams, and visions should continue until that point.
But if you take Matthew 24:1-34 to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and if you correlate the very similar apocalyptic imagery in the two passages, then it seems quite possible that the day of the Lord quoted in Acts 2 refers to the coming of the Lord in judgment on the people who had rejected him, a judgment which was consummated in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Now why is that correlation helpful? Because what roughly (I say roughly because of the disagreement over the dating of Revelation) coincides with the destruction of Jerusalem? The death of the last of the apostles. In other words, the ones through whom Jesus by the Spirit did signs, miracles, sent visions, and more importantly, inspired to record his written word, died near the “day of the Lord” or coming in judgment on Jerusalem.
So in other words, the destruction of Jerusalem marked the end roughly of the period of the completion of the canon, the written record of Jesus. When that record was completed, the dreams, visions, and prophecies that were present in that period ceased.
Clearly this is not an exegetically in-depth look at this issue or these passages, but this is simply a line of thinking that I need to consider more so as to hopefully provide biblical–rather than simply cultural–thoughts on the issue of dreams and visions.
It’s been just about one year since I finished my ordination exams. The year since then has seen quite a few changes for us, as we’ve traveled, moved several times, and begun to study another language in earnest. I’m sure my own thoughts on the ordination process will change and so on the more years I serve, there’s one thing that has come back to me several times: gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong. There were some aspects of the ordination process that were somewhat less than awesome.
E.g., whether I know the name of Jeremiah’s scribe or not seems to have little or no connection to life, ministry, theology, etc.
But one of the things that ordination forced me to do was to memorize where to find Scripture references that deal with a number of topics. With some of them, I had to memorize the content of the verses themselves, but for many, I just had to be able to summarize the content.
Even in this one, abnormal year of my life since finishing my exams, I have found the incredible value of knowing where to find those Scripture references.
Someone asked me just this past week some tough questions about spiritual warfare, wanting advice from Scripture, not experience, and so thankfully I was forced to know that Ephesians 6 speaks clearly and directly, as does 1 Peter 5, and we have Jesus’ example of resisting the devil with the word of God in Matthew 4. And similar examples regarding other topics have happened many times in the past year.
Of course, ordination also shows you how little you really know about so many topics, but it forces us to have a foundation of knowledge in Scripture. The main thing for those of us who have gone through the process is to continue to grow in our knowledge of Scripture, and more importantly, in our knowledge of our Savior.
But though the process was hard, I am grateful that our denomination deems it important for us to really know the Bible.
I have for quite some time help that Matthew 24:1-34 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Some refer to this position as the “partial preterist” understanding of that text. Basically, since Jesus says in verse 34 that all the things he has just said would take place within “this generation,” I find it pretty clear that it would all happen before about 40 years expired.
If we look at history, Jesus was speaking approximately AD 30, and if you ad 40 years, you get AD 70, which is exactly when the temple was destroyed. It seems to me to be the simplest, clearest reading of the text. And since there is a shift from “those days” to “that day” once we get to verse 36, it seems that the rest of the chapter then talks about his physical second coming.
Frankly, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this in quite some time. But I was reminded of it today when watching a debate between James White and a Muslim apologist. The Muslim apologist set up his argument like this:
- Jesus said he would come back before the end of “this generation”
- He examined all uses of “this generation” in Matthew, and it was clear that every time it referred to the generation of people alive at the time in which Jesus was speaking
- Jesus did not come back within one generation
- Ergo, the NT cannot be inspired and true
Now while of course futurists (with reference to Matthew 24) have other explanations for the term, etc., the apologist actually had a decent point, if you assume that Jesus was speaking about his 2nd coming in vv. 1-34.
But of course if you reject that assumption, and see instead that Jesus was speaking about his coming in judgment on Jerusalem in verses 1-34, then the apologetic point is actually reversed. Jesus–and the record of his words in the NT–actually predicted incredibly accurately what would happen to Jerusalem and the Temple, attesting to the record’s integrity.
Having recently finished reading Kingdom through Covenant (a review to come later), I have been thinking about Jeremiah 31 (the promise of the new covenant) in relation to the debate between paedobaptists and credobaptists. Jeremiah 31 is a critical peg in the credobaptist argument for only baptizing believers, at least for those who have gone farther in the debate than simply saying, “But there’s no example of baptizing babies in the NT.” In particular, those who identify themselves as Reformed Baptists tend to rely heavily on Jeremiah 31:31-34:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (ESV)
The central argument for credobaptism made by Gentry and Wellum in Kingdom through Covenant is that this passage (and others, though this one clearly holds a key place in their thinking) indicates that in the new covenant, all of the covenant members will be saved. That is, they argue that there is no mixed membership (believers and unbelievers) in the new covenant as there was in the post-Fall covenants in the Old Testament.
They argue that the New Covenant in the time between Christ’s first and second comings therefore consists only of believers. Accordingly, only believers should be baptized (though in reality, this works out to mean that only those who profess belief are baptized, since one does not the hearts of people).
While there is a certain prima facie strength to this argument, I believe that it is quite weak on further scrutiny. The reason is really quite simple: as with the fulfillment of so much OT prophecy regarding the coming of Christ and his kingdom, there is a sense in which this prophecy has already been fulfilled, and also a sense in which it has not yet been fulfilled.
As Richard Pratt explains in his excellent article on this passage, the promise of the new covenant fits in with the promise of the new creation. In other words, when will the promise of the new covenant be fully and completed realized? In the new creation.
In this current time, the new covenant has been inaugurated, but it has not yet been consummated. There are prophecies saying that the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas (Hab. 2:14; Is. 11:9), and these are beginning to be fulfilled through the expansion of the gospel, but will only be fully realized in the new earth. Similarly, the membership of the new covenant will indeed only consist of believers in the new heavens and new earth, but in the meantime, the church provisionally embodies the kingdom of God.
So in this in-between time, we are part of the new covenant community that is meant to reflect what will be one. But it’s not a perfect community. And thus there are serious warnings in the book of Hebrews for those who are in the community and yet do not truly know the Lord (see ch. 6 in particular).
Should you want to read a fuller explanation of this passage from a Reformed perspective, do check out Dr. Pratt’s article.