Skip to content

The Gospel is not a good idea

I've just come back from a prayer meeting focussed on mission events we're holding next year.  The woman I was praying with earnestly asked the Father,

Lord, we don't want to persuade people that the Gospel is a good idea.  We want them to meet the living Lord Jesus and be born again.

My Amen was hearty indeed!

We all love the phrase: 'The Gospel is not good advice, it's good news.'   Or at least, we should love it.  It's an essential reminder that we don't preach a moral ladder to Jesus.  Instead we announce that He has come down.

But I am worried about a similar error in our evangelism.  It's thinking that the Gospel is a good idea - even the best idea.  The crowning 'world view' among 'world views'. 

In reality this is precisely the  'good advice' problem transposed to epistemology.  Where 'good advice' preaching proclaims a moral ladder to Jesus, 'good idea' preaching proclaims a reasoned ladder to Jesus. 

Both approaches are just as opposed to the good news as each other.  One is moral pelagianism, the other is intellectual pelagianism.

But for people who believe in Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone - let's please preach the gospel alone.  That is evangelism to the glory of God alone.





107 thoughts on “The Gospel is not a good idea

  1. Heather

    Don't have a clue what pelagianism is but I agree with your conclusion.

    It is interesting, though to note how tempting it is to forget that God's power is revealed through the "foolishness of preaching" as believers allow ourselves to be redirected to meet critics on THEIR terms. How tempting it is to try to convince someone that it really is reasonable (ie the best life choice) to be a Christian!

  2. Glen

    Heather - pelagianism is basically 'works'. But as someone wisely said "We need to be saved from our own wisdom every bit as much as we need to be saved from our own righteousness."

    OldAdam - thought you might like this one.

    Little Mo - Glad to be stirring the blog pot

    Paul - good question. 1 Corinthians 1&2? You knew I was going to go there, didn't you!

    I don't mind proclamation that touches on the issues of life - sex, money, power etc. The sermon on the mount is like that. But first Christ calls people to repent and believe (Matt 4:17,23). He tells them the nature of the kingdom as one that is thoroughly upside-down (Matt 5:1-12) and then unfolds the life of this kingdom in completely counter-intuitive and *new* ways.

    Which, if you ask me, is the very reverse of starting with a worldview and ending up in the kingdom.

  3. theoldadam

    Preaching the gospel ALONE means leaving out OUR efforts at making ourselves acceptable before God.

    The only time the law (God's demands of us) should be used is to show us our unrighteousness and need of a Savior.

    If the law is used as a effort to clean us up and make us look good (or better) before God, then the gospel is NOT being preached ALONE.

    Christ's forgiveness for us (ALONE) is enough.

  4. Little Mo

    It's strange Glen, because in the Christianity Explored talk you posted I see you doing the opposite of what you describe.

    Starting with "you might have experienced this" or "I have experienced this" and saying "that's like the Gospel".

    What's that if its not apologetics?

  5. Paul Huxley

    theoldadam wrote: "The only time the law (God’s demands of us) should be used is to show us our unrighteousness and need of a Savior.

    If the law is used as a effort to clean us up and make us look good (or better) before God, then the gospel is NOT being preached ALONE."

    There are uses of the law that don't involve telling people to look good (or better) before God, or to show us our unrighteousness. The Bible regularly exhorts Christians to do things other than rest on Christ. Never to improve on what Christ has already done, but there are demands made on believers. This particular distinction of Lutheran theology I find well-intentioned but far from Biblical.

    I don't think that's what Glen's saying either.

    I like what little mo has blogged, in that God uses ordinary means (including rational persuasion) to preach Christ crucified.

    The apostle Paul may preach Christ, which is folly to gentiles, but it's not folly because it's logically unsound or incoherent. It is folly because the unbelieving world has turned everything upside down, except for real basics like "a cannot equal not a". Although they're trying to repeal that one too.

    What I like about Glen's post is that it reminds me that you simply cannot argue someone into the kingdom, any more than you can clean them up for salvation.

  6. Glen

    little Mo - show me where I do this and I'll repent. Seriously.

    The outline of my talk is basically:

    "Everyone talks about God - the big question is 'which God??' because they're all different. We need a starting point - it's Jesus. Christianity is Christ - answer all your questions in Him. And, by the way, He's going to contradict you, be ready for that."

    Where do I ever say "You might have experienced this... it's just like the gospel"?

  7. Heather

    Thanks for the definition, Glen.

    You know, the tension between "I can't DO anything to get saved" and "Jesus said that those who love Him would *obey* Him" really has messed me up at times. I constantly fight with myself over my motivation. Am I doing this because I love God or because I think it will make me more acceptable to Him?

    So often, I forget that I am motivated to please God because He loved me first. The obedience is the result of His work in my heart and an assurance that He is changing me into the likeness of Christ. It is not the mechanism by which I am saved.

    Little Mo, Even after reading your post, I'm confused about where you disagree with Glen. While the post title might get some Christians riled about whether we should "be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks", I don't see that as his point.

    Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

    " For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.
    For the Jews ask for a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom;
    but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.
    But to them, the called-out ones, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    Because the foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and the weak thing of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:21-25

    I think, what Paul means is that it is Jesus Christ in the Gospel message which trips people up.

    His person, work and the reason we need Him must remain central to any message of salvation--or Christian living, for that matter. And, although Paul wrote the above, he spent plenty of time instructing others about how to live as a Christian. Surely, you can see how a believer. It also appears that he was willing to engage in intellectual discussion.

    True Christianity is not just a list of rules that a person elects to abide by. It isn't a checklist of "to do's" that can be marked off in order to be accepted by God.

    And it isn't only a humanly well-reasoned argument that causes critical listeners to say "I GET IT NOW!"

    It seems that some apologists tend to like to use 1Peter 3:15 as support for their work in debating the logic of the Christian faith. If they have been called to defend God's word in that way, it's not my business. But I think it is interesting to note the context of that verse.

    " But if you also suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. And do not fear their fear, nor be troubled,
    but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope in you, with meekness and fear;
    having a good conscience, that while they speak against you as evildoers they may be shamed, those falsely accusing your good behavior in Christ.
    For it is better, if the will of God wills it, to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing." 1 Peter 3:14-17

    The answer that Peter is telling readers to be ready to have is the one that will be given while believers are suffering in persecution. As my husband put it, it is the answer that believers will give from prison cells, or while being beaten or having all their stuff taken away etc. And it appears that the sanctification of the Lord in one's heart is the way we are to study for that exam.

    Jesus said:

    "And when they bring you into the synagogues, and to rulers and authorities, take no thought as to how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say.
    For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say. "Luke 12:11-12

    I am certain our Lord did not mean "don't bother to learn more about me or study scripture". But it does appear that He is referencing the same sort of situation as Peter.

    In the face of torture and death, a well thought out intellectual argument won't matter. Knowing Jesus personally and having faith in His finished work will be the only thing to which we can hold.

    I'm thinking that the main point of the post is "Start with Christ, Center on Christ, Remain in Christ". Don't get distracted with peripheral issues and present the Gospel in a distorted way.

    Perhaps a better way to have phrased the post title is "The Gospel is not 'simply' a good idea". But then, it might not have been controversial enough to prompt others to read and reflect ;)

  8. Little Mo


    The bit, for example, where you use the description of your name as the way we think of God.

    Or your use of the Stepford wives as an illustration of how the doctrine of sin effects us.

    It's all pointing at things in the world and saying - this helps us understand Jesus.

    Heather, thanks for your long post, but I'm really not sure why you are assuming all these things about me. I'm quite aware that the Gospel is not a list of to dos to be accepted by God.

    The Gospel is Jesus is Lord. Proclaiming the Gospel means proclaiming that. But as that describes reality, its not too much to expect that people can observe things which demonstrate or show Jesus Lordship as we point them out in the world.

  9. Heather

    Little Mo, I apologize for appearing to attack you personally. That was not my intention at all. I do ramble and it is a fault that I'm working on.

    You mentioned on your site that Glen's post was a "rather thinly veiled attack on apologetics and I got stuck there.

    What I really meant to say directly to you was in the last two paragraphs of my post.

    And after I published I saw that Glen had already answered and that I had rambled far afield of your main concern. But I don't know how to remove a comment--which is why I asked for my statement to be removed if it seen to be distracting.

    Make sense?

  10. Little Mo

    Hi Heather,

    Thanks for your explanation. Sorry if I seemed annoyed!

    I guess, in your last 2 paragraphs, I'm not convinced you need to start with Christ. I mean, by all means do, if someone wants to know.

    But most people I know won't let you. As all of creation is Jesus's and reflects God's glory, then why not start there?

  11. Daniel

    Mo said: "The Gospel is Jesus is Lord. Proclaiming the Gospel means proclaiming that. But as that describes reality, its not too much to expect that people can observe things which demonstrate or show Jesus Lordship as we point them out in the world."

    We've had a bit of this chat at Ledbury, Mo, but I think this could be the hinge of the disagreement. I agree with Glen (I think) rather than you, and I think the reason is that I don't think the gospel is 'Jesus is Lord'. I think the gospel is the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Not an idea or a concept, but a narrative, and specifically a narrative about a person - a story which introduces us to a person. Therefore, I don't expect to be able to demonstrate that from the world. It happened once, in history.

    On the other hand, I would want to say that the gospel story both presupposes and entails a philosophy/worldview which, it turns out, has great explanatory power and coheres with what we would see in the world if we weren't sin-blinded. It's useful to talk about that with unbelievers, and it can provide ways in to the gospel and (circumstantial) support for the gospel. But I wouldn't consider talking about the worldview to be evangelism, not properly. Not unless I'm telling the story (proclaiming the gospel!) of Jesus...

  12. pgjackson

    Isn't 'Jesus Christ is Lord' a good way of describing the story? The gospel writers seemed to think so (Mark 1:1, John 20:31). I wouldn't want to simply make that an abstracted idea/ concept (though of course it isn't less than that) implication or entailment of the gospel. It's who and what the story is about.

    And it's that Jesus Christ the Lord who is the wisdom of God, and in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and if we have his mind then we are able to judge/ discern/ critically assess all things.

    So, to do the kind of apologetics where you point out how the alternatives to this Lord Jesus Christ lead to futility of mind, foolishness, death, idiocy etc., whereas it is only when we understand ourselves and history and the world around us in relation to him that things even begin to make sense/ have meaning/ flourish, is surely a pretty gospelly thing to do?

    It's not intellectual pelagianism, because it isn't something we've figured out for ourselves, it's come by way of revelation and illumination. No-one has repaired their own eyesight, or is telling/ expecting others to do so.

  13. Heather

    Little Mo said:
    Thanks for your explanation. Sorry if I seemed annoyed!

    But most people I know won’t let you. As all of creation is Jesus’s and reflects God’s glory, then why not start there?

    I can be annoying. Will try to refrain.

    You make a good point (I love Psalms 8 and 19, BTW). I think Romans 1 supports the perspective that we can indeed be introduced to Jesus by way of the generalized revelation that is inherent in His Creation. If not, then why would rejection of that revelation be considered by God to be an offense?

    I honestly don't see where your thoughts necessarily contradict what I understand Glen to be saying. Maybe I don't understand.....

    My thought about Christ's centrality to the apologetic argument was not so much the verbal progression of the topic (start with Christ's physical appearance and go from there) but rather the internal focus of the believer while he is discussing .

    It is possible to start at Creation, get derailed in a debate over whether there is evidence of intelligent design--and never get the train back on track, yes? That definitely could happen when the focus on Jesus as the Author of Life is blurred into a need to defend the idea that we didn't all evolve from pond scum.

    My husband recalls knowing a man who always seemed to bring every conversation back to Christ. It wasn't as though he was looking for opportunities to evangelize or that he was trying to win a debate or convince anyone of anything. He just couldn't seem to help himself and the discussion came naturally because he was all about Jesus Christ.

    I want to be that kind of person who has such a vibrant relationship with the Lord that His love permeates my speech regardless of whether I'm talking about stars or the printed words of Scripture. Sadly, I'm not there yet.

  14. timothycairns

    Glen you say "He tells them the nature of the kingdom as one that is thoroughly upside-down"

    I think in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us this world is up-side-down and to live right-side-up is to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, thus tearing up any idea of the gospel as just the worldview of worldviews.

  15. Glen

    Glad to generate some discussion.

    Perhaps it would help to define what it is I'm opposing:

    I'm opposing the kind of apologetics that says:

    * Everyone naturally knows (or should know) X
    * X leads to Y (according to laws of logic that are also naturally known, self-evident and binding upon all)
    * Y is a bit like Jesus
    * You should believe in Jesus

    While I'm at it, I'm also against a kind of worldview survey that says:

    * Worldview A self-contradicts here (according to laws of logic that are naturally known, self-evident and binding upon all)

    * Worldview B self-contradicts here (according to laws of logic that are naturally known, self-evident and binding upon all)

    * You should try Worldview C (Christianity!!) - it's self consistent (according to laws of logic that are naturally known, self-evident and binding upon all). Please don't ask too much about that cross stuff - I know it's not consistent with the aforementioned logic, but... cough... look over there!

    Now if someone "trusted in Jesus (or - shudder! - Christianity)" at one of these meetings, I'd be very interested to stop them on the way out of the lecture hall (for where else would such a meeting be held?) and ask them on what basis they now "trusted Jesus."

    What would they say?

    That's my problem.

    I think we should proclaim Jesus Christ from the outset. And of course in proclaiming Him we will touch on all of life - all of creation even. But we do so with Christ and Him crucified setting the agenda from the outset. The direction of travel is from Him downwards - it's revelation. The direction is not a slowly ascending ramp. That is pelagianism.

    Now Mo - you might well be able to find examples of this kind of apologetics in my talks if you dug around enough. (In the same way that you'd find examples of moralistic evangelism too). And in that case I'd have to stick my hand up and say 'fair cop, I need to be more consistent.'

    But the two examples you raise are not examples of what I'm opposing.

    The first is me saying 'God-talk means nothing. It doesn't mean you're talking about the living God at all.' And then I say 'Therefore we need God to speak because we're clueless, and here's Jesus who is the revelation of God.' If you can find a less apologetic CE week 1 tell me and I'll steal it.

    The second is at the end of my talk once I've already proclaimed Jesus. And it's a reminder that this Jesus will contradict even your cherished 'worldviews'.

    (btw I'm not against illustrations! How could anyone be against illustrations? But in using them no-one has to say that there's an inherent God-ward orientation to 'The Stepford Wives' that is evident to the unregenerate. All I'm doing is commandeering an item of shared experience which, by itself, could give rise to nothing even approaching a Christian understanding. (Or in Paul's words, what I'm doing is taking every thought captive to Christ).)

    I agree with Daniel about the gospel being a story and that this is significant. But I'd also say that creation preaches this story (e.g. Psalm 19 is a dynamic presentation of the Champion, Bridegroom, Light of the World moving from east (estrangement from God), to west (presence of God).) The trouble is that people are blind. (Solomon just sees meaningless repetition (Ecc 1)).

    So if we want to be truly into creation and its gospel proclamation, we just need to get out there and talk about Jesus. That's what creation is doing. Let's not waste time on 'general truths', let's start with Jesus and then unfold the whole of life to people in the downward flow of *revelation*.

    Also - Tim C's comments are awesome. Everyone should just listen to Tim.

  16. Heather

    If my belief only goes as deep as an intellectual acknowledgment, then I could also be persuaded to disbelieve.

    Trusting in a logical argument is not the same as saving faith, for sure.

    "Also – Tim C’s comments are awesome. Everyone should just listen to Tim."

    I recently read a book about Jesus' "upside down kingdom", and how kingdom Christians should live a certain way in relation to the world. The author even based it on the Sermon on the Mount, but the presentation left me writhing in agony over whether "my" righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees.

    I think that caused me to not even consider Tim's comment.

    My understanding of the Sermon on the Mount focus is to bring listeners to the recognition of how desperately we need Christ's righteousness to be applied to our accounts (as opposed to a "raising the bar of righteousness so we have to work harder in order to be admitted" sort of message).

    Am I wrong?

    Could someone please clarify what Jesus was actually saying?

    Please let me know if I'm becoming a nuisance and I'll go play somewhere else.

  17. Will

    Yes I didn't really understand Tim's comment either!

    I have puzzled much over the sermon on the Mount. It's curious that it seems to start with Jesus speaking to his disciples, but ends with whole crowds listening.

    I wonder if at some point Jesus switched from giving commands to those who, through faith, had already received a righteous surpassing that of the pharisees, to preaching evangelistically to the crowd.

    Or perhaps he knew that everything he was saying would do its work no matter who was listening. Either the saved would be spurred on to be more godly, or the unsaved would come to despair of their own righteousness and call upon him alone for salvation.

    It's interesting that Matthew follows up the sermon with a story of salvation through faith, and not a story of someone "resolving" to begin following all the various commands.

    I may well be puzzling over this sermon for the rest of my life!


  18. Little Mo


    A number of things:

    1) I see in the Sermon on the Mount a description of the beauty of a justified life and an appeal at the end to trust Jesus words. Now, inasmuch as the Sermon on the Mount can be used as an evangelistic model I think that's a good one. Although I have to confess to not always thinking that Jesus sermons are there to give us models of evangelism.

    2) Glen, I think your rather unfair caricature of the apologetics you are opposing does overlook the doctrine of creation. It is our blindness that makes the Gospel illogical, it is not inherently illogical: and so I think you should be able to preach a coherent and convincing explanation of the Gospel that includes the cross. It's the cross that makes sense of the world, (as the Spirit opens our eyes) so when I'm doing apologetics I'm definitely not avoiding it. I can't actually think of an apologist who is to be honest.

    3) I'm glad you are not against illustrations, but if you use any illustration except one from the Bible I think you are being inconsistent here. What is an illustration except saying - here's a way you can see what I am saying in action somewhere outside of the Gospel?

    4) Finally, I don't think preaching the Gospel as a worldview, necessarily involves saying there is an inherent Godward orientation that is inherent in the unregenerate. It does involve saying that God is committed to and works through this creation, not in some super spiritual way separate to it.

  19. Little Mo

    Sorry to double-comment.

    On reflection the issue is not "talk about Jesus or not."

    Rather, for me, the issue is are there "magic things" about Jesus you need to say to break the circle of people's blindness, or can we say about Jesus "he explains the world you inhabit"?

  20. Daniel

    Just a brief comment - would humbly suggest that talk about 'super spiritual' and 'magic words' skews the discussion somewhat. Doesn't Paul talk, after all, about spiritual wisdom only received by the spiritual, and about the message of the cross as the (only) message which opens blind eyes? Presumably he's not being super-spiritual or advocating magic...

    Have summarised some of my other thoughts at my place:

  21. Little Mo

    Sorry Daniel, I'm not trying to skew.

    But I'm not sure how else to describe it. Are their particular things we have to be saying about Jesus for it to "qualify" as evangelism? Are there particular words or messages that break into the darkness of our sinful minds?

    If so, what are they?

  22. Paul Huxley

    Surely the basic point of the 1 Corinthians passage is that Paul preaches Christ; not some, but all of his message is Christ and him crucified. So when we see Paul preaching about an altar to an unknown God, this is included in "preaching Christ". Yes?

  23. Glen


    In the interests of clarity I wrote "Here's what I'm opposing." I did not write it with you in mind at all. If you do not hold this position - wonderful. Let's join forces against it and defeat the powers of darkness.

    But if you don't think such positions exist in the world of apologetics I think you're very much mistaken.

    On the other hand, here's how you've characterized my position:

    "rather like magic words... One wonders why it is necessary to use sentences people can understand at all - may as well just insert the words "Jesus is Lord" anywhere into the following collection: pig, sheep, house, car, McDonalds."

    Do you think I'm saying this? Do you think anyone is saying this?

    And you cry foul about my unfair caricature??

    You say:

    "It’s the cross that makes sense of the world, (as the Spirit opens our eyes)"

    Amen. The cross makes sense of the world. The world cannot make sense of the cross. So proclaim your gospel that way around - Christ to world, not world to Christ. If you want to call 'Christ to world' "apologetics", I won't quibble over words (I never oppose the term in my post). Fantastic - if that's the 'apologetics' you want to do, go for your life.

    If you have no interest in reasoning from 'assured truths' that are 'self-evident' and 'binding' upon the consciences of men in an ascent towards the truth that is in Jesus (i.e. if you also reject a natural theology), then I have no beef with you. Remember Mo, you have taken umbrage with me, I have not taken umbrage with you.

    But if you find yourself in my so-called 'caricature' well then tell me how it isn't pelagianism. Tell me how it isn't one more instance of natural man approaching God according to his own capacities.

    And how can I use illustrations? Like I say, by commandeering Christ's world and putting it back into His service. That's what 'taking every thought captive' means. While seen through unregenerate eyes, these illustrations and relations lie in the hands of the enemy, but we wrest them from his control and return them to their rightful Owner. What we don't do is leave them in their natural setting thinking that they will naturally serve Christ. No we have to take them and explicitly re-orient them to Truth.

    I'm not saying that 'Jesus is Lord' is a magic phrase. I am saying that every evangelist must be aware of the total opposition that exists between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the cross. The one cannot lead to the other, it can only lead away from and pervert it. To the unbeliever, the approach of the message of redemption should feel like redemption itself - i.e. it judges and then reconciles; it confronts and then comforts; it says no and then yes.

  24. Glen

    Hi Paul,

    Yes I think my CE week 1 talk was Paul in Athens. You get up and say 'You guys are utterly ignorant. You're so ignorant you've even enshrined a monument to your spiritual confusion. What you've proved you've got no clue about I'm going to declare to you straight up.'

    And then he tells them a very alien narrative in which he gives them an Adam christology, finishes on the resurrection and calls for a response.

  25. Little Mo


    Maybe we are on the same page.

    In answer to your points:

    1) I'm not sure if you are saying the "magic words" thing. Are you saying that talking about Jesus without persuading people that the things we are saying are true using their own experiences, is the only acceptable evangelism? I'm not sure, and your caricature seemed to be saying that is what you are against, although your evangelistic talk actually does that. So I am confused. What does need to be said for it to be "good news" not "good ideas"? I'm not being facetious. What really do you mean?

    2) Are we quibbling about order? So you say, start with Christ and explain the world through him? What's so different about starting with something in the world and explaining how Christ makes the most sense of it? (cf Acts 17)

    3) I think we are actually at risk of using "wisdom" in a way Paul does not mean it. I think in 1 Corinthians it means something much more akin to "humility towards God" rather than "cleverness". The truth is that "humility towards God" does, I think, make much more sense of the world we live in, but we don't like being humble. I don't think he means, "nothing about the Gospel can be understood". Maybe I'm wrong.

    4) Finally, you say I have caricatured. But I do think what I have said is the natural progression of what you are saying? Isn't using sentences, trying to make what you are saying about Jesus fit into logical order, just another example of pandering to the wisdom of the world? If not, why not?

  26. Heather

    Thank you for your thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount. I think I'm with Will in that it is something I'm not ever likely to say "Whew, got that one figured out!"

    May I make a couple (possibly irrelevant) observations?

    ~~~Your point 2 is interesting to me because I have noted that worldview tends to be colored according to whatever preconceived idea a person has. We either worship as supreme the true God or a false one of our own making.

    I read the world through my understanding of Who God is. As a Christian, I have realized that my own understanding is incomplete (at best)--or just plain wrong in some areas. Because I want to know God, I am (in addition to prayer and reading of scripture) driven to seek out other believers with whom I may reason (on a logical level) about this understanding. Daniel made a good point about the spiritual things only being able to be received by the spiritual...We have Christ (and the Holy Spirit's revealing work) as a reference point.

    With unbelievers, we do not have a common ground upon which to stand while discussing such things. I think it makes a lot of sense to first level the "playing field" so that the logical argument will make more sense to the listener.

    ~~~~Surely there is nothing wrong with using "real life" illustrations to try to relay truth about Who Jesus is. He did that Himself when He said such things as "The kingdom of Heaven is like...". When I began reading the OT with the realization that God is desiring to tell us something about *Himself* in the account, it changed the way I look at a previously familiar and somewhat dry narrative.

    He is a master at taking that to which we can already relate and likening a spiritual truth to it so that we can better grasp hold of that which we cannot see. Of course, those who did not have spiritually opened "ears to hear" didn't understand. And it seems that even Jesus' close friends needed further explanation at times. But they knew Who to ask :o)

    If a person is Christ-centered, he cannot help but see the world in relation to Christ. His view of such things as nature, music, society, politics, food is formed by his view of Christ . It isn't a contrived thing for him to be saying "Christ is like this" because it is how he now (super)naturally thinks and relates to the world around Him.

    And the world looks at him as though he's an idiot because it doesn't comprehend the all-consuming passion to know God as we are known by Him--even if that cannot happen in this life.

  27. theoldadam

    My 2 cents worth:

    As the gospel id done to us (hitting our ears or our hearts from OUTSIDE of ourselves) is the law DONE to us.

    The SErmon on the Mount was the re-presenttaion of the Moses 1st presented the Law given to him on the mountain top.

    Only this time, Jesus leaves us no wiggle room.

    He re-presents the Law much harder.

    "If you even look at a woman (in that way) you are guilty of adultery."

    "If you are angry with you brother, you are a murderer."

    "Your righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees."

    "You must be perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect."

    This is pure law. Not meant to spur us on to reach these standards...but rather purposed to kill us off to any idea that we could ever attain holiness, or the required righteousness on our our own striving.

    Jesus was putting us to death, using the law, spoken to us by him (God).

    Then, when that Word of Law has done it's work and we realize that we are toast, done, without a prayer...then the gospel Word comes to us (again, from outside of us) in the preached Word,in the Bible, in the water and Word of baptism, and in the visable Word (promise) of the Lord's Supper.

    That's the Law...and the Gospel, in a nutshell.

    Thanks, much.

  28. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The Gospel is not a good idea « Christ the Truth [] on

  29. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The Gospel is not a good idea « Christ the Truth [] on

  30. Chris Oldfield

    Goodness me, Glen, you certainly are vocal on this! I take it as a measure of the obvious respect for you that I've found a number of gospel friends have been provoked/intrigued by what you say.

    1. Re: Creation
    I'm astonished to hear you say that “creation preaches the gospel story”. To me that'd be a surprising return to a prereformation allegorical reading of the world, exchanging the glory of scripture alone, for the folly of Bonaventure "my Jesus, my Pelican".

    God calls creation to witness against idolatry, and creation is the arena for the saving events and application of the gospel, but creation can't change you. I'd even say creation reveals the glory of God but not his name (if that wont get me into trouble again!). Surely that's the point in Psalm 19 (scripture), which contrasts the word of creation (non scripture), which needs no contextualisation, but which cannot change you...with the word of redemption (torah), which "revives the soul"? Not surprising that Israel boasted in torah, but even torah couldn't bring life (Gal 3) - Messiah died, but he died for all - not to hide the law in gentile hearts (Ps 119) but to rescue both jews/gentiles from death and hide Christ in hearts by faith for the future renewal of all things. That's the gospel.

    2. Re: wisdom:
    Glen: I thoroughly disagree with your reading of Solomon's blindness in Ecclesiastes. It sounds very much like you're against both Greidanus & Goldsworthy on Wisdom. I'll just flag that up - it's not clear who's got idiosyncratic views here.

    Dan: fair enough, 1 Cor 1-2 is hard, but I think Mo's spot on - foolishness is all about boasting (Dan 4:28-29), wisdom is all about humility (Dan 4:26-27). The "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise" in 1 Cor 1 is not a quote against academic/gentile/worldview thinking, but jewish sages (cf Jer 8-9). In 1 Kings & Isaiah 29, God saved them not with a bigger army, but in a way that made it obvious that the surpassing power came from God & not them. It wasnt that they couldnt understand what had happened, it's that they could never have seen it coming (my best guess at what 1 Cor 2:8 is about), nor done it themselves & would have died without it. The message of the cross is foolishness precisely when they DO understand what is being said. The power and wisdom are not in the foolishness of preaching but the foolishness of what was preached namely, the cross true wisdom/humility comes from boasting in Jesus. 1 Cor 1:30-31, or to put it another way, "where then is boasting? it is excluded..." (Rom 3)..."may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal 6).

    Glen: I can almost hear you replying that I can boast in intellect. I certainly can - but I certainly don't have to (again, it's the reformation's majesterial/ministerial use of reason) - I'd commend Pascal's apologetics - using reason to humble reason and call us to hear from our maker "our true condition of which we are unaware". I actually think you were doing something similar, but note he doesn't say reason is blind, useless, incoherent, etc. He uses it persuasively, and so, wonderfully, can you.

    3. re: worldview/ethics/christianity:
    there's a lot of conflated terms. For what it's worth, and Dan - you may be interested, here's a first attempt at securing some of them. Christianity is not basically a worldview, but a worldview can be Christian or not. A worldview isn't an encyclopaedic catalogue of (coherent or incoherent) answers, but an existential framework through which one lives. So while I agree with Westphal that the biblical meganarrative is kerygma, not apologetics, I think still apologetics, worldview & ethics all find their place in Schaeffer's terms of can I LIVE with this? What I've learnt from the continental philosophers is that truth is about encountering reality, not merely analytic statements (by the way, I think Mike Reeves' constant conflation of logic with logos comes from its use in continental theology rather than in analytical philosophy - Dan I mention that because I think you may know what I mean) Anyway, I think liveability is much closer to the category of biblical wisdom, and that's what we must present to people if repentance is going to make sense (cf Daniel 4 HUGE echoes of Psalms 2 & 8, "therefore, o king, be wise..."then my sanity was restored...and my kingdom was returned to me"). People need a plausible vision of what a change of allegiance will mean, what it will look like, to worship God, and that’s worked out in community, in ethics, in worldview. Schaeffer would use apologetics to not just say look, you can’t go on living there, but look, you can really live here.

    ps forgive all the Daniel references, It's just where I am at the moment.

  31. Heather


    More Sermon insight...Thank you! :o)


    Do not answer a fool according to his foolishness, lest you also be like him.
    Answer a fool according to his foolishness, so that he may not be wise in his own eyes. Prov. 26:4-5

    Grounds and guidelines for the "logical apologetic" argument?

  32. theoldadam


    Thanks for the encouragement!

    I just re-read what I wrote. Sorry for all the spelling mistakes.

    I didn't mean for you to have to be a codebreaker!

  33. pgjackson

    '(according to laws of logic that are naturally known, self-evident and binding upon all)'

    Yeah, I'm against those too. There's no 'natural law' that forms neutral ground for apologetics or anything else to occur on/ in

    I'd just add that certain observations we can make about life that unbelievers share with us (because God in his kindness holds them back from being utterly consistent in their rejection of him), that belong rightfully to Jesus Christ, can be usefully employed in preaching the gospel, especially in pointing out how unbelievers' own idolatrous accounts of reality and inconsistent with themselves and therefore self-defeating and futile, whereas these observations really do make sense when hooked up with the crucified Jesus Christ being the risen Lord of everything.

    In some situations, that kind of thing might sound like a kind of neutrality/ 'we're all reasonable people here' sort of approach that you're against Glen, and yet in reality not really be such. Is this where some of the Mo-Glen confusion is coming from, or am I treeing up the wrong bark?

  34. pgjackson

    Btw, I want anyone who knows me to note how I am not getting involved in the whole law-gospel thing that's going on in these comments. Note it, and remember it with compassion the next time I'm unable to control myself.


  35. timothycairns

    Sorry if my comments were confusing to some. I was just providing a twist on what Glen had said. The Sermon on the Mount is the creator of the universe telling us what it is to be human in the universe he created. So rather than turning things up-side-down, he preaches the gospel, which turns us right-side-up.

    So to Matthew 5:20. John Stott, in his outstanding commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (if you don’t have it get it and can anyone please tell me why they changed the name from “Christian Counter-Culture to The Message of the Sermon on the Mount? Change it back I say!) argues that Matthew 5:20 is indeed the centre of the sermon. If we find this idea of righteousness difficult we can only wonder what gasps came from the crowd as Jesus first uttered these words. So the question is:

    How, in our spiritual bankruptcy, can we ever measure up to the righteousness of the most righteous in society, let alone exceed it?

    So Jesus prompts us to answer, “we can’t!” thereby we are taken to the gospel. The righteousness of the Pharisees was a great righteousness, in which they placed themselves at the centre of it all. A righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, is a righteousness that belongs only to Christ, but it’s a righteousness he gives through the cross. So unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law should provoke us to shout – impossible! No way Jesus!

    Then Jesus comes and says, of course that sort of righteousness is impossible for you, but when you are turned right-side-up, move from darkness to light, come to faith in Christ alone, place him at the centre of it all, however we want to phrase it. We suddenly see. It’s not about me! It’s about him. Righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees and teachers of the law is not a “better idea” it’s living in Christ and to live in Christ is to be fully human.

    Matthew 5:20 is a verse that causes us to tremble, but in Christ it’s a verse that brings us to the cross. It’s all about him. Matthew’s just all about Jesus. What a freeing thought. We can’t do it! Amen!!

  36. theoldadam

    Great comments, Timothy!

    You have hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Notice, that immediately after Jesus paints us into the corner (with that hard(er) re-presentation of the Law) then he (in the begining of the next chapter(8) he is approached by a leper (supposedly the most sinful of humanity) and the leper asks Jesus, " Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus says, "I will; be clean."

    So you have the hard Word of Law, and then immediately following, the free gift of healing (pure gospel).

    Good stuff!

  37. Heather


    I'm nervous now. What is missing from the convo which is causing you to gnaw on your keyboard?

    I'm going to stick out my neck here and say that it seems to me that the Gospel message is already spelled out in the Law.

    John 5:39-40 "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And they are the ones witnessing of Me, and you will not come to Me that you might have life. "

    My thought: Jesus was clearly unhappy with the Jewish leaders because they pored over their written texts (turning the Law into a framework of works righteousness) yet refused to see the picture of their Messiah that was being painted.

    Am I wrong? (please don't chop off my head)

  38. pgjackson

    Hi Heather,

    No head-chopping, I promise. Seriously, I don't believe in it. Even with a cyber-guillotine.

    I'm resolved not to directly enter the law-gospel discussion here. Not for any harrowing reason, but just because I've been there before on the internet and it has gone on and on and on. So I'm resisting the urge to add my two cents. Which is a good discipline every now and then, especially when it's not the deity of Christ or the doctrine of justification that's on the line.

    If you really really want to know where I'm coming from then you can follow the link to my blog and look up 'law' then you'll get an idea at least.

    Likewise you can visit my old blog ( where I posted one or two things there under 'law' or something too.

  39. Heather

    Okay, thanks.

    Not trying to start just seems as though I've entered a phase of constantly questioning whether what I believe about God is true.


  40. Glen


    As to 1) I really don't know what talking about Jesus 'unpersuasively' would look like (unless the evangelist was living in total contradiction to the gospel they preached). The gospel IS the power of God for salvation. What other 'persuasion' do we need?

    2) Order is not a 'quibble'. Works then faith is not a quibble. Neither is reason then revelation.

    Do you see the parallel between salvation by works and salvation by reason? Do you therefore appreciate the vital importance of having reason *follow* revelation?

    And Acts 17 does not begin with what the Athenians know. It begins with the fact they don't know.

    3) a) I'm not hanging everything I say on 1 Corinthians. Paul has lots more to say on the blindness of the unregenerate and the futility of the fleshly mind (Rom 1:21-22; Rom 8:6-8; Col 1:21; Eph 4:17ff; 2 Cor 3-4).

    b) 'humility towards God' is certainly the path to wisdom (the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom) but it's not the definition of wisdom. And if Paul was saying that the trouble with Greeks was that they sought wisdom *proudly* his advice remains that the humble way to knowledge is through preaching the foolishness of the cross. So let's get on and do that.

    4) I just don't get the association you're making between preaching the gospel without the 'buttresses' of worldly wisdom on the one hand and a nonsensical jumble of words with the magic formula 'Jesus is Lord' on the other. Is the idea of beginning with Jesus really so foreign to you that it sounds like gobble-di-gook?

    The gospel is not gobble-di-gook. Keep reading 1 Corinthians! Chapter 2 especially!

  41. pgjackson


    No worries. I posted a slightly ambiguous comment, you asked a legitimate question. Seems fair to me. :)

    On your questioning things - I find it helpful (though it never excuses us from the continual quest to shape and source all our thoughts and words about God by his self-revelation) to remember that, since we're saved by grace and not works then that includes the intellectual works of having dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's theologically speaking. As I say, doesn't reduce the responsibility to worship the true God and not an idol, but it allows us to do all our asking of questions/ examining whether we've got thing right, from within the safety and security of grace. Don't know whether that speaks into your situation, but I've found it helpful so thought I'd share.

  42. Glen


    I do indeed admire your restraint. Perhaps you could post a little tangent to the discussion on your blog?

    On God's preserving grace - I think that needs to be held together with total depravity. Even the stuff an unbeliever affirms that sounds like gospel truth is, at root, at odds with the gospel. The Muslim sounds like they're a big fan of God's sovereignty. In fact they are idolatrous fatalists - and transferring that kind of 'sovereignty' from Allah to the Father is just going to cause more headaches down the track than it's worth.

    It also raises the question of warrant. If we build on 'what they know already', to what extent are they trusting Christ and to what extent are they trusting themselves?

  43. Glen


    Chris, I've been writing on apologetics for a while now.

    I'm surprised that *this* post has caused a stir though.

    On Creation

    Creation definitely preaches the gospel.

    See here:

    The unregenerate suppress this truth but nonetheless it renders them excuseless.

    There's nothing in this that's even slightly medieval. In fact it's a radical affirmation of our total depravity alongside an evangelical confession that the gospel is at the heart of all things.

    On Wisdom

    I don't buy this reading of 1 Cor - Paul's explicitly opposing the debater/scholar/philosopher of the age. He opposes the Greek seeking for wisdom - he doesn't just wish they sought it humbly. But all of this is completely by the by. Even if you want to read it as endorsing a *humble* seeking after wisdom - fine. You don't need to go to Pascal to tell you how to do this. Paul will tell you the humble route to wisdom - proclaim the foolishness of the cross and proclaim it alone. Refuse to go in for wise and persuasive words but make sure people's faith rests on God's power and not man's wisdom.

    And to say "The power and wisdom are not in the foolishness of preaching but the foolishness of what was preached namely, the cross itself" is to divorce what Paul keeps very much united. The foolish cross must be preached foolishly.

    On worldviews etc

    Maybe Mike doesn't 'conflate' Logos and logic - maybe he just reckons that the truth is in Jesus (Eph 4:21).

    And if you want to show people the 'liveability' of Christ's kingdom - wonderful. Preach Jesus - that'll show em. And if it helps at points to contrast that with the ways of death espoused by the wisdom of this world, fine. And if, on the basis of 'Thus sayeth the LORD' you want to condemn the wickedness and foolishness of the kingdoms of this world - go for it.

    But make sure it's revelation coming from on high.

  44. Paul Huxley

    It *is* surprising that a post that neither features John Piper or Mark Driscoll would make it past 50 comments.

    Since my initial, brief, remarks on law and gospel I've had to chew my fingers and stop myself typing, rather like Pete, and looking at Pete's old blog, with similar kind of content.

    As for the Glen/Mo stuff. Firstly, "Hi Mo", hope you're doing well, happiness and niceness to you and Anna etc. I feel that it's rather rude of me to interact after a long time without saying as much.

    Secondly, I'm trying to figure out just where the two of you disagree. Glen, you say to preach Jesus, preach the gospel alone, preach Christ alone, etc. which is smashing. However, I'm failing to understand what, in practical terms that means.

    The blog is called Christ the Truth. I know your emphasis is that Christ defines the content and nature of truth, rather than vice versa. Again, great. But it also means that preaching truth is always going to be preaching Christ. I (and I suspect Mo) don't want "preaching Christ" to be limited to an explanation of the mechanics of substitutionary atonement. Nor do I think that preaching Christ on every occasion and in every case requires explicit mention of the fact.

    Is this where there's friction between you both?

    That having been said, my first evangelistic talk (on Relay) was basically an explanation of the substitutionary atonement. I think Glen would be proud of me; I mumbled my way through it looking very awkward and, I'm sure, looking very foolish. But the few non-believers who were there were absolutely incensed at the truth that God would punish his Son in our place. We prayed that eyes would be opened, but at least the light was there, brightly displayed for them to see.

  45. pgjackson

    Hi Glen (man it's late, but I've just finished preparing for my lecture on Revelation tomorrow, so here goes),

    I hear you big time on 'totus depravitus' as the latins would say (I know no latin) and the need not to load the preserving kindness of God with significance and ability it does not have.

    "If we build on ‘what they know already’, to what extent are they trusting Christ and to what extent are they trusting themselves?"

    I think I'd want to say 'yes, but..' to this. And I think this is maybe where Mo's point about using intelligible sentences is coming from, if I might presume to suggest I know what he's on about (Mo if I'm way off, just tell me!).

    Intelligible grammar (sentences that make sense) is something that belongs to Christ, and thus, were they to be consistent in their rejection of him, the unregenerate would simply stop talking altogether (they'd also commit suicide or, if they could, stop existing too).

    Thus, to use intelligible sentences is to use what (by God's preserving kindness) unbelievers 'know already' - i.e. grammar, meaningful communication, human speech. Of course, they know it as unregenerate, and therefore they don't relate it to Christ and therefore even their own 'meaningful' use of grammar is at odds with the gospel, is idolatrous, and in that sense a 'lie.' And in that way when you use the grammar to proclaim 'Jesus is Lord' to them, you're not using what they know already, since they only 'know' that grammar idolatrously and falsely, as part of a way of life and thought that is rebellious to Christ. But then, that would also be true of anything we use from what unbelievers already 'know' - whether maths, the existence of rocks, or

    This means we can use something an unbeliever already knows to point to Christ, and so show them that the stuff they (think they) know is really only believable and truly knowable when you know Christ. This isn't laying another foundation for them, but showing them that Christ is the only foundation, and they've been foolishly trying to build something made of stuff that belongs to him on another false foundation.

    Does that even make sense or has Revelation really got to me?

  46. Little Mo

    Basically, what Pete said.

    Using logical sentences is just as much a concession to "what people already know" as appealing to their sense of morality, or their observations of the effects of sin in the world.

    On Glen's points

    1) It is perfectly possible to preach the Gospel unpersuasively. That is, to say the truth in such a way that it is a total set of abstracts unrelated to what people are already thinking. And your point on lifestyle a red herring: most non-Christians don't know the first thing about us; we still need to preach to them.

    2) Order is a quibble when you are talking about presentation, I think. So is there really a difference between saying "Jesus is Lord - hence he can solve our problem" and "look, we have a problem, Jesus is Lord and can solve it"?

    3) a) I agree with your doctrine of depravity. My ongoing question, still unanswered, is how is the circle of our blindness and depravity broken into? "preaching Christ" Fine. But if you use sentences and language you have already conceded that what people have already worked out, outside Christ, has some part to play.

    b) agreed. I think our potential disagreement is about what this means

    c) what Pete said. And in Acts 17 Paul quotes one of their own poets as saying something that is true.

    I am gone now, real life calls and all that. I'll try to call in at some point over the next few days.

    PS Hello Paul!

  47. Chris Oldfield

    I'll leave the 1 cor (i may well be wrong) & logos/logic stuff (it's a technical side point). But that creation preaches the gospel, that "the universe declares Jesus is Lord" goes against everything I understand about the reformation, the gospel, and indeed science. I admit I may well be wrong, but who has the idiosyncratic view here?

    Do you really think the news that God died is written in the stars? Do you really think that God being Father, Son & Spirit, or that the Son was born of a virgin and suffered death under Pilate, was raised 3 days later and is now reigning for his people is revealed in tables and chairs? It certainly gives meaning to creation but isn't declared by the cosmos.

    Faithful apologetics shows that the gospel is credible, but not guessable. And the problem isnt just with the guesser - there is stuff we should know instinctively, but it's not the gospel. Ironically, it's your view that makes the gospel out to be an idea (one you really should have worked out by observation & deduction and you're culpable for having a mind so twisted that it doesnt do so) - rather than news (that we're more loved than we could ever have dreamed).

    This is a return to premodern & prereformation priesthood. So Bonaventure, for instance, wrote ‘The creature of the world is like a book in which the creative Trinity is reflected, represented, and written’ (II.12). Do you really think that? Of course, prior to the reformation, you needed priestly insight to read, discern & understand the spiritual allegorical meaning of e.g. a pelican, says Hugh of St Victor (d.1142),

    ‘in the same way that some illiterate, if he saw an open book, would notice the figures, but would not comprehend the letters, so also the stupid and ‘animal man’ who ‘does not perceive the things of God’, may see the outward appearance of these visible creatures, but does not understand the reason within.’

    Spiritual allegorical readings were in vogue - both of the world and of scripture. Peter Harrison has shown that it was precisely the Protestant Reformation doctrine of scripture alone and their elevation of plain literal meaning over Origen's higher allegorical meanings which led to the foundation of modern science, and the end of Bestiaries (aka Aesop's fables).

    '[There are] ‘two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first the scriptures, revealing the will of God, and then the creatures expressing his power; whereof the latter is a key unto the former. ...The works of God [show] the omnipotency and wisdom of the maker, but not his image.’ (Bacon, Advancement of Learning)

    With the utmost respect, "you are bringing some strange things to my ears" - I'm completely aware that I and a whole tradition may be wrong on this, but I don't feel bound to announce that I am holding an idiosyncratic evangelical view to say that creation does not proclaim the gospel message, nor the name, or image, of God. As far as I've read, I'm following Stott, Goldsworthy, Piper, Carson, Greidanus on this one.

  48. Chris Oldfield

    in short, what I'm concerned about is a view that extends "the folly of what was preached", from the foolishness of the cross to the foolishness of preaching (taken to legitimate any old doctrine Christians may hold to and the world rejects)- I've honestly heard people use 1 Corinthians 1 to defend creationism, intelligent design (whatever we think of them, I'm not being pejorative), the rapture, republicanism

    ...all on the basis that it's "foolishness to the world" in antithesis to Christian thought. It's not. Sometimes, what Christians are preaching is foolishness because it's stupid.

    The Cross itself is the foolishness.

  49. Pingback: The Truth that is in Jesus [Thawed out Thursday] « Christ the Truth

  50. Glen

    Friends and brothers in Christ. I give thanks to God for all of you and your passion to make Jesus known.

    God bless you in all your efforts.

    I'd like to make something very clear - I have not taken umbrage with Mo or Chris or any other named apologist. I have no idea what your approach to evangelism is. I did not have you guys in mind when I wrote a simple 200 word post prompted by the prayer of a lovely old saint.

    The fact though that I'm receiving a lot of resistance tells me I've hit a nerve. Well, ok, let's see what the nerve is. But it's not *me* that's saying I do things completely differently to Mo or Chris. I might do things exactly the same as Mo and Chris - I've never heard them evangelize!

    I'm accused of 'thinly veiled attacks' that are apparently at one and the same time mere 'quibbles' over order. I have 'magical' views of revelation but, most concerning of all, I have apparently rejected core reformation teachings and find myself alienated from a whole pantheon of evangelical luminaries. Well I never.

    I am not aware of my approach being Scrivener contra mundum! I really just thought I was riffing on 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.

    I'm fascinated that this provokes such a reaction. But let me repeat - *I* am not advocating an approach to evangelism that is at odds with Mo's or anyones. I've just laid out a simple (and I think Scriptural) concern about a kind of apologetics that is definitely out there. If Mo and others think of this as an attack on their kind of apologetics well that doesn't mean *I'm* opposing their way of evangelism at all! I might agree 100% with it, I dunno. I might do things just like Mo and Chris, I dunno.

    I do not have Mo and Chris or Pete or Paul or anyone in my cross-hairs. I've laid out what I'm opposing in the comments with those bullet points. If you find yourself in my cross-hairs, well let's talk about what you disagree with from those bullet points (Pete has pursued this, and it's been a fruitful line of enquiry). But, as I've said before - if you find those bullet points to be errors too - let's take them down together. Otherwise, I have absolutely no beef with you whatsoever.

  51. Glen

    Paul, I've just thawed out an old post on this with a link at the bottom to a worked example:

    What I do may indeed sound very similar to what Mo or Chris does. Or what you do. I hope that's a good thing. I'm not claiming to be radically reforming the world of evangelism - I hope I'm just saying very ordinary and obvious gospel things.

    For instance, last Saturday I preached a wedding sermon and began it by reading out a series of 'happy endings' from famous fairytales. They all ended on a wedding. And I said that this was a distorted echo of the gospel - the ultimate happy ending is a wedding. But I warned that in the distortion, we have worshipped the created thing rather that its Creator. (And interestingly all the fairytales are Princess (rather than Prince) - centric - I didn't mention it at the time but I think it's interesting).

    Now I imagine loads of apologists saying "But that's what *I* do!" Well, great, let's rejoice in that. But if you do this the way I do this you're upholding a number of important points. You're proclaiming the non-Christian's experience as a distortion of a Truth that they do not know and must be told about. And you're saying that following their experience does not lead to that truth - the radical distortion of it means it will only lead them towards falsehood if they follow it. Even the so-called 'truth' that they've laid hold of (e.g. that a wedding is a good ending) must be redeemed by the gospel in order for it to be of use to them.

    Even if we begin with 'shared experience' we must redeem that 'truth' by the gospel before we can proceed with it. See what I mean?

  52. Glen

    Hi Pete (btw you are a great commenter - always good to 'spar' with you)

    I've always been resistant to that 'restraining grace' idea (maybe God's not letting me believe it!)

    Is there a separate grace of God whereby God stops people being as bad as they could be. I always think 'bad according to what standard?' If it's according to the gospel then they're bad simply by virtue of not being in on saving grace - which is really where our focus should be. I'm also just not sure that (for eg) killing myself is the worst thing I could do. Maybe living for myself is just as bad? And to take the analogy to the epistemological realm - maybe the madman is not the furthest from the turth. Maybe the seemingly sane and logical man who uses such logic to accuse Jesus of being mad and vicarious redemption as being monstrous - maybe he's the truly mad man. In fact - no, he's the maddest of all.

    I think everyone will agree with me when I say that Christians are the sane ones. We do speak a message of wisdom - among the mature (as 1 Cor 2:5ff continues).

    We are the ones who can speak meaningfully about life. They can't. And at times you might want to talk about how meaningless their talk is. Personally I think just give them the Truth. But we don't have to secure the right to speak logically first! We've got that right in Jesus. He alone has given it to us. *We* don't have to prove that we're speaking rationally - when we speak the gospel we are.

    I just don't understand why we're even worried about whether we can speak rationally. We are the only ones who can - so let's just get on and do that. And the power for the unbeliever to hear us does not lie in any 'inherent rationality' common to believer and unbeliever alike. The power is in the gospel. We just don't need to worry about *first* establishing a common intellectual ground and then running our gospel trucks over it. The gospel creates its own point of contact, the Spirit is well able to give ears to hear and hearts to receive. And we are entirely unable!

    Because we are radically gospel preachers *therefore* we speak in the most rational way possible. God's very life is revealed in death. God's power is revealed in the Victim. God's wisdom is revealed in the One Reviled. God's justice is revealed in the Scapegoat. God's love is revealed in horrific sacrifice. Utterly rational - supremely rational. But foolishness to the unbeliever.

    Never mind - keep painting that picture, keep putting all things up on *this* grand canvas. To those who believe we will be the fragrance of life, to those who disbelieve, the stench of death.

    Now I can imagine many apologists reading this and thinking "But that's what I do" - a) I'm not surprised, I'm not saying anything particularly weird; b) Praise God, let's all get on with it then...

    God bless

  53. Glen

    Hi Mo,

    On 1) I disagree with both your points. I think the gospel creates what the unbeliever needs to be thinking about. And even if the speaker is unknown to the unbeliever (which itself is not ideal - even itinerant Paul kept appealing to how people knew his way of life ) - the community in which this gospel is proclaimed should be open and consistent.

    2) If you begin with a 'problem' - that's absolutely fine. If you begin with a 'semi-solution' and say 'you're heading in the right direction' that's a problem. But yes - I do think you need to engage with the soteriology - epistemology link. Sola gratia in one implies Sola gratia in the other.

    3) a) - see my comments to Pete above. We don't break into the circle. God by His Spirit and through His word does it. He takes care of the point of contact. Which is good because I am *not* up to the job.

    c) I think the poet quote is a good example of commandeering. The Athenians clearly didn't know the truth of what was on their lips. That was the point of Paul's convicting them.

    God bless

  54. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    That's a lot of names and a lot of labels and no Scriptures.

    Here's one for you:

    The gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. (Col 1:23)

    The pre-reformation danger is far greater for the one who thinks creation proclaims a base-line level of information to which is super-added grace. This is Thomism pure and simple.

    A question for you - does marriage proclaim the gospel?

  55. Paul Huxley

    Glen, for sake of clarity, I was never intending to suggest that you were wrong, had me/my heroes in your crosshairs. I was just trying to unpack what it means to preach the gospel alone. Since there were two ways you could take that phrase:

    1) The gospel, defined narrowly as merely "Christ died for sins" is the only thing we should ever talk about in evangelism.

    2) Everything that we talk about in evangelism should be Christian from top to bottom.

    2, which your last comment makes more clear to be your position, is exactly what I agree with, and so I can now say an enormous and hearty Amen. At the risk of importing an "ism", I have to say this sounds pretty much like ye olde presuppositionalism. Which makes me smile. See? :D

  56. Daniel

    My slow brain is gradually detecting a link between this conversation and the chat about the Angel of the Lord...

    Is it something to do with the nature of personal faith (i.e. faith in a person)? Something to do with the nature of revelation?

    I wish I could bring this thought to the surface - feels like it might be useful...

  57. Glen

    Hi Paul,

    yes I think Van Til etc is very much a step in the right direction.

    Hi Daniel,

    Yeah - I like to think there are multiple drums that I beat. But really it's just the one. There is not a slow ascent from more basic truths/beliefs to personal faith in Jesus. That's the drum I beat in biblical theology, it's the drum I beat in apologetics.

  58. Inilah Kebenaran

    Hey Chris,
    You said "creation reveals the glory of God but not his name... Surely that’s the point in Psalm 19..." and "that creation preaches the gospel, that “the universe declares Jesus is Lord” goes against everything I understand about the reformation, the gospel, and indeed science. "
    I know it goes against what you understand, but the apostle Paul also equates the sermon of creation with the "word of Christ":
    Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard [the word of Christ]? Indeed they have, for...
    "Their voice have gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world." (Romans 10:17-18)
    Paul quotes Psalm 19 to show how all have heard the gospel through the sermon of creation. In case we are not clear how the Gospel of Jesus, rather than the general concept of 'god', is preached by creation, Psalm 19 goes on to show how the sun's movement from east to west proclaims the gospel. It is awesome to wake up to this sermon and to have it preached through the day. Of course, this Psalm also challenges all that science and reason tells us about the sun! Apparently, it is the earth that moves around the sun? Am being a bit cheeky, but perhaps it is crucial theologically that it is the sun that moves and not the earth?
    Oh... and Jesus also gives plenty of examples of how His creation preaches Him and His work.

  59. Heather

    Have I mentioned how much I love Psalm 19 :o)

    pgjackson, thank you for the encouragement and suggestion. I've taken it to heart.

    Chris Oldfield said: "Do you really think the news that God died is written in the stars? Do you really think that God being Father, Son & Spirit, or that the Son was born of a virgin and suffered death under Pilate, was raised 3 days later and is now reigning for his people is revealed in tables and chairs? It certainly gives meaning to creation but isn’t declared by the cosmos."

    Actually, there are those who believe (and make an interesting argument for) the entire message of salvation history to be found in the zodiac. While I know that is typically associated with occultic practice, the pro-gospel is literally written into creation--ists" suggest that the faithful ancients used the "gospel that is written in the stars" to remind themselves of the promise of deliverance that God made in the garden....

    It seems a bit radical to my way of thinking but made me wonder whether that was God's original design that has been commandeered and corrupted by fallen man who wishes to worship the created rather than the One who made it.

  60. pgjackson

    Glen, when you say

    "Even if we begin with ’shared experience’ we must redeem that ‘truth’ by the gospel before we can proceed with it. See what I mean?"

    then I'm right with you. That's what I liked about your bullet points way up above too. 2+2=4 is not the same for the believer and the unbeliever.

    I see your points about 'restraining grace.' [I'm not best pleased with calling it grace anyway, but that's a whole other debate (sort of).] I think there is some restraint going on though, in the sense that unbelievers are not yet plunged into hell. God doesn't remove all his gifts. This doesn't create common ground between believer and unbeliever, but it is something God avails himself of in proclaiming the gospel - he uses our ears, for example.

    I have a feeling Turretin does some riffing on all this in his Elenctic doo-dah. Must go look it up and see if there's anything helpful.

    I'm in complete agreement on not needing to find intellectual common ground, or come over to the unbelief side of the fence and build up a case founded on their own thought. But, there are points of contact (which are simultaneously points of conflict) because we live in the same universe as the unbeliever. The illustration fro your wedding sermon and the fairy stories is a great example of this methinks.

    And, ditto with Paul on the 'not suggesting you had me or anyone else in yr cross hairs' thing.

    There are some accusations flying around here and we'd all do well to remember that
    a. this Glen's cyber-space, we're guests
    b. He's a brother in Christ
    c. the 'angry young man' syndrome is a gigantic danger for literate blokes in their 20s and 30s
    d. We should assume the best until proven otherwise.
    e. Questions and discussion are fequently a good way of proceeding. Accusations are usually bad.

  61. Glen

    Thanks Heather and Inilah.

    I don't think we need to go into geo-centrism or Christian astrology to make the point. The Scriptures that you raise do all the work we need! :)

    But interesting issues - thanks!

  62. Heather

    Sorry Glen,

    I go on a lot of rabbit trails. I'm still spinning through your visit which resulted in the "glory of God" discussion...

    Probably I should just go hash through that some more.

  63. pgjackson

    Just to say, this question of how much creation has to say is actually a big deal. Not in a 'if you get this wrong you're OUT!' big deal sort of way. More in a "huh, that requires answering questions about this and this and that, and it has implications for that and that, and of course, this and this and that thing over there skulking in the corner mumbling something about those who've never heard the gospel" big deal sort of way.

    All as a prelude to pondering some things.

    I think we'd all agree that

    a. (because of the noetic effect of sin and the epist... etc., total depravity and all that) whatever creation is saying we don't want to hear it/ hear it and suppress it.

    b. only gospel preaching and the Spirit's work overcomes this (i.e. creation speaking to us alone won't do it, whatever we think about the content of what creation is saying).

    I wonder also whether

    c. our simple finitude plays a role too. Even regardless of being sinners, we wouldn't 'figure out' the gospel message just from creation because we're finite.

    This doesn't have to mean creation isn't saying very much, just that God never intended us to have just creation talking to us, he always intended us to interact with creation from the vantage point of having him speak to us as covenant LORD. After all, God starts human history by speaking to us about the world and our place in it and our marching orders.

    God gives us a painting and a commentary on the painting. They say the same thing, but he never intended us to just sit and look at the painting without having read the commentary because, by being finite, we'd never have read all that is there to read in the painting left to ourselves. Our fallen-ness piles blindness and willful ignorance on top of our finitude, vamping up the need for the commentary.

    This would be quite different to saying that the painting isn't saying very much, or that the painting has a different message to the commentary or anything like that.


  64. pgjackson

    And, another thought.

    If I'm right in c. above, this has some knock-on implications about us being created for a gracious dependent relationship with our Triune Creator and some massive kicks in the teeth for the most merity-worksy versions of understanding the setup in the garden.

    Which is nice.

    That's an 'if' though.

  65. Glen

    Yes indeed Pete.

    I spell out some of those sorts of things here:

    and here:

    As Athanasius says about unfallen humanity:

    "So it was open to them, by looking into the height of heaven, and perceiving the harmony of creation, to know its Ruler, the Word of the Father, Who, by His own providence over all things makes known the Father to all, and to this end moves all things, that through Him all may know God." (Incarnation, 12.3)

    But sin utterly and radically distorts our vision. Blinds us even.

    It's important that in the same breath that Paul says Psalm 19 is the word of Christ he also asks how will they hear unless preachers are sent to them (Rom 10).

    But think of it like this: We know that the sermon of creation is a maximal thing - "What may be known about God." (Rom 1:19) *Lots* of stuff may be known about God! And this sermon of creation takes away any excuse humanity may have (v20). Seems pretty obvious to me that on judgement day no-one will be nudging their neighbour and asking them "Who's that guy at the front judging everyone?" (Col 1:23) He is the One who has been confronting them in every aspect of their existence and the One they have been ignoring.

  66. Heather


    I do believe that the way any of us "read" scripture or even the world around us is directly related to the spiritual "lens" through which we view things.

    Your last comment oddly connects with something else I've been thinking about concerning what we are all called to repent of.

    But that's another subject and I don't want to be rude.

    Interesting, though how God uses "random" comments to keep me thinking on certain things.

  67. Glen

    Pete - just seen your 'another thought'. Yeah, whether 'finitude' is a big issue in our reception of revelation or not, it's always a good idea to question worksy set-ups in the garden! (Even Piper rejects a covenant of works in the garden classically framed. Or so I understand. There you go Paul - I had to mention him!)

    Heather - I find myself saying the same thing no matter what the conversation. Sometimes it sounds like I'm connecting up theological truths in Christ. Probably it's autism.


  68. pgjackson

    Thanks Glen. I think your two posts are a good read on this. The six thoughts especially.

    On the Athanasius quote, which I like, I guess I'm also wondering whether, even pre-lapsarian man was 'supposed' to "look into the height of heaven" through the lens provided by special revelation (such as Yahweh's words and self-revelation in Genesis 1-2). We always needed special revelation, we always needed Yahweh's personal covenantal self-disclosure in words.

    Heather, you're bang on about lenses. We all have them. We can't not have them. They impact everything.

  69. Paul Huxley

    But Glen, you were agreeing with Piper... that just won't do!

    I'm OK with a covenant of works as long as they are not understood as meritorious works.

    But who cares what I think?

  70. Glen

    Now you're fishing Paul!!

    And Pete - yes to pre-lapsarian man interpreting the highest heaven with the Word of Yahweh.

    After all the Voice of the LORD was there with them (Gen 3:8).

    See what I mean about only one drum to beat?

    PS Paul, I care.


  71. pgjackson

    "I’m OK with a covenant of works as long as they are not understood as meritorious works."

    Me too, in that Adam's obedience was key in a way in which ours isn't. But then, that makes me wonder whether 'works' is the best word for it, given how 'loaded' that term is. I notice WCF talks about it as a covenant of life sometimes as well as a covenant of works.

    And, I care what you think. ;0)

  72. Paul Huxley

    I'm sorry guys, I genuinely wasn't trying to fish. I'm just being serious, and you guys will have thought about this way more than me. Looking at the covenant of works as a maturity issue rather than one of merit a) makes more sense with the Biblical data as I understand it and b) fits better with my understanding of God from elsewhere in the Bible. But both of these are very limited and I'm sure I haven't given the other view enough of a chance.

  73. pgjackson


    I did an essay on maturity-merit stuff, but to be honest it didn't require me to come to definitive position on the whole issue. I found myself liking lots of what was being said under a maturity model, but not wanting to lose some of the insights of the old school, like the importance of Christ's obedience and the differences between the covenant of life and the covenant of grace.

    I think I'm happy to talk about 'merit' in very carefully defined ways, and like when it's used of Christ, but wonder whether it's really the best term at all to describe the concepts that are being aimed at.

    I definitely think that, basically understood, God never has asked, or pretended to ask, his children to play the merit game and 'earn it.' But that's different from being instructed, as Adam was, to not forfeit or de-merit it, if you see the distinction?

  74. Heather

    This thread has reminded me of something I've been wondering. My husband does not know the answer so I thought maybe someone here could enlighten.

    Is there Biblical evidence that Adam (before he disobeyed God) was "perfect", or inherently righteous--in a positive sense?

    Or was he "neutral" in orientation and therefor simply innocent of wrongdoing?

  75. Heather

    I just realized that my previous question could be considered a huge (and impolite) swing away from the topic at hand.

    Um. If anyone here might be interested in sharing insight, maybe the answer could be deposited on the most recent entry on my site? I don't care if it doesn't fit the subject. Or, my husband was kind enough to ask aloud for me on his blog, which is

    Sorry Glen for derailing again....

  76. Chris Oldfield

    hi there.

    honestly, Col 1:23 really confuses me - I've often asked myself what it means, because Paul still seems to need to preach the mystery of Christ, but then in ephesians "all things" on earth (under heaven) seems to be jews & gentiles, and heavenly places seems to be where christ is and where in christ the church is the new creation. That's as far as I've got.

    again, Romans 10 is the obvious text and was much on my mind when I wrote, so it's the right one to be talking about but again, dont know. Context seems to suggest that whole passage is about the jews, not the gentiles. I've wonder if "ends of the earth" could be "ends of the land", much as Jesus' "they will inherit the earth" I think should be read "they will inherit the land". But that would be idiosyncratic - if I pushed that consistently, it would suggest Genesis 1 was much more jewish - about God creating a land for his people - "in the beginning God created the sky and the land", and called people to "fill the land and subdue it". Now that is an idiosyncratic view. Honestly, dont know.

    I raised the theological points because I think what is clear historically is that the de-allegorisation of the world (and the onset of Bacon/modern science) came through the reformation's opening up of the two books metaphor. I cited the names only because I find this view to be the idiosyncrasy, not the view that creation doesn't preach the gospel (ie the incarnate christ, which is what the gospel(s) do - Greidanus). If what you're saying really is so prevalent, I'm just surprised I've not heard it before, that's all (except bits and bobs from Barth).

    Many thanks again, I certainly appreciate your stimulation.

  77. Chris Oldfield

    ps - great practical question on marriage. I have an idiosyncratic view on ephesians (I've not heard anyone else talking about ephesians like this, but I've found that closely observing the "we/you" through ephesians as saints(jews)/gentiles, and following the thread of "mystery, hidden in darkness" v "now revealed, in light" brings loads out that I'd not connected before). So I'll give it a shot:

    I think when in Ephesians 5-6 Paul is telling not to go on living in the dark, but in the light of Christ (5:14), he's picking up that whole thread: now that Christ has been revealed, we don't pray that torah would dwell in our hearts ("how can a young man keep his way pure?" Ps 119), but that the word of Christ would dwell in us richly as we sing other words the point is not to keep on being gentile (there's no such thing any more), nor to start being jewish (there's no such thing any more), but to live in Christ (now that the gospel has come). So now we arrange our relationships by the gospel, full of the spirit, we don't go back to the deep dark mystery of torah for marriage guidance, but to Christ who fulfilled it. Likewise, we don't go back to torah on slave-ownership, but we serve with one master, Christ.

    So does marriage proclaim the gospel? maybe I'd say that's a bit confused. Is marriage a mystery which the gospel reveals as Christ fulfills? more like it.

  78. Glen

    Hey - anything that pushes comments into triple figures! I've never broken the hundred mark, so...

    Pre-fall, all things were 'very good'. Apart from Adam's aloneness of course. But then a bride was formed for him out of a death-like sleep and a pierced side and he was raised up again to be consummated with 'flesh of his flesh'. All this is modelling the way true maturity would come to man. Through the death of the true Adam, His resurrection and union with His bride. Through this suffering Jesus is 'made perfect'. (Heb 5:7-9)

    So things were 'very good' in the beginning. But not perfect. There is still a redemption to be wrought.

    As for his innocency - he was definitely innocent before transgressing the one and only law. But he was certainly not mature. Interestingly Irenaeus (writing around 200AD) pictured Adam and Eve as children who obviously needed to grow up. Interesting thought. But I think the true way in which Adam was to be matured/perfected was always through Christ's assuming his humanity and doing it right.

  79. Paul Huxley

    "In the day you eat of it you shall surely die"

    Does that mean that Adam one day would be mature enough to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (had he not sinned)? And that Adam would have died that day to be later raised to a more glorious life (cf. Abraham's expectations that Isaac would be raised).

    Obviously, this is a hypothetical scenario that was never going to happen (The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world). It wasn't God's ultimate plan for that to happen, but it's a useful question to ask because it helps us understand exactly what Jesus did right that Adam failed in.

  80. pgjackson


    Yeah, what Glen said. Adam innocent but not mature.

    It might be helpful to think that he was in one sense justified (he had status and position of being God's son), therefore 'righteous' in that way. So whatever the covenant with him is doing, it isn't teaching Adam justification by works, not strictly speaking.

    But he wasn't glorified/ mature/ 'perfected' in the Hebrews sense.

    And, again with Glen on this, the death-sleep and resurrection he went through to get his bride was the pattern for how his maturation would come about.

  81. pgjackson

    I think you might be right Paul. Jim Jordan's interesting and controversial essay on this issue suggests so.

    [Though death maybe isn't the right word for it since with the creation of Eve it specifically avoids calling what Adam went through as actually being death. Deep sleep that leads to resurrection glory perhaps a better term? Perhaps there was both threat and promise in Genesis 2:17? I also wonder if, in actual fact, it wasn't the eating of the tree of kogae that Adam was supposed to do to become glorified, but the tree of life. When Satan cam along tempting he should've gone straight to the tree of life for the transformation he needed to defeat him????]

    As an aside, all of this perhaps helps to explain why there is good 'death' in creation from the word go (seeds buried and turned into plants for example).

    Which brings us back to creation itself declaring the gospel doesn't it? (John 12:24)

    Hmm, much more thought needed here.

  82. Heather

    Thank you guys!

    That helps a lot with something I've been trying to work through.

    Glen, If you don't mind my running up your comment meter, I'll go ahead and toss out what I've been kicking around.

    Is it possible that man was created, from the beginning, meant to wear Christ's righteousness as a covering?

    While he was innocent of wrongdoing, it apparently was not a problem for Adam to be in God's presence. But when he decided he wanted to know and judge for himself what was right and wrong (sit on God's throne), he had effectively thrown off Christ's protective covering and tried, on his own (works righteousness?) , to hide what he now recognized as imperfection before a Holy God?

    I realize that may call for speculation but is it a reasonable possibility?

  83. Glen

    Hi Chris - sorry, missed your comments. The one below yours is addressed to Heather, but I'm sure that's obvious.

    Col 1 is a maximally gargantuan passage. Christ is the Creator, Goal, Sustainer, Reconciler of 'all things'. Who else is creation gonna proclaim?

    Wherever you come to on 'earth/land' (and of course it's massively theologically significant that these are synonyms) are you suggesting that even in Psalm 19 it should be translated 'their voice goes out into all the promised land'? A look at the context will show that that's impossible (you might not be saying that of course and I've got the wrong end of the stick). But since this is a universal revelation and since it's straightforwardly called 'the word of Christ' (cf Col 3:16 Ephesians 5:19) (and given it proclaims the sun as the Champion Bridegroom!) - I'm sticking with my interpretation. Creation proclaims Christ.

    On marriage - you say:

    "So does marriage proclaim the gospel? maybe I’d say that’s a bit confused. Is marriage a mystery which the gospel reveals as Christ fulfills? more like it."

    A) I think my version is less confused, but no matter. I'm happy to run with yours...

    B) Will you therefore extend your final sentence to the rest of creation? Because really, that's what this whole post is about. Aren't all created things a mystery which the gospel reveals? I'd say yes. Therefore any proclamation about anything in creation must be interpreted by the gospel. It is not a plain thing that then explains the gospel. It is a mystery which the gospel must explain - but once it does, we see how wonderfully it manifests Christ.

    The two books analogy is not the essence of reformed thinking. When Calvin says that one of the books is a lens through with the other is viewed - that's reformed thinking.

    The proper distinction between the two books is not their basic content. The proper distinction is which 'revives the soul'? And which enables us to interpret which? Calvin's answers to both were that Scripture revives the soul and Scripture interprets the world. Those are the distinctions I'm upholding and I believe they are far nearer the heart of the reformation.

    Pete also raises a good point about seeds - John 12:24. What do I see when I look at a seed? Simply a sign of an intelligent designer? No - I see the fruitful death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course I only see that because the law of the LORD has revived my soul. But those seeds have been preaching to me since the *third day*!

  84. Dave K

    I'll just pop in to say that I think Glen's point B is really crucial. I suspect much of the argument here is how you deal with the two books, and has come from a misunderstanding of Glen's actual position about this (which he maybe partially culpable for - I wouldn't like to say). We always try and interpret what people say by fitting them in categories, but often miscategorise - and there are a number of categories I can think of in this debate.

    People can see them [a] standing side by side with no relevance to each other because they are saying different things (scientific knowledge/spiritual knowledge)

    Or they can [b] see one as incomplete and the other as the full version (creation=there is a 'god'/gospel=there is a god AND he is Trinity, he has sent his son etc).

    Or they can [c] see them both as saying the same thing, so you can do without one or the other (truths of reason = truths of the gospel)

    Or you can see them as ordered one way or the other. I.e. [d] we understand the world in order to believe the gospel OR [e] we believe in order to understand the world - Anselm).

    I think Glen, no doubt influenced by Barth who was influenced by Anselm is saying [e]. And I think that is correct. The trouble is lots of people have seen him as saying either [a] (Magic things) or [c] (Gospel is preached by creation and we don't need spoken word) and so rightly rounded on him.

    Is that correct Glen?

    I'd just add in that creation understood apart from the gospel is 'law' (in the technical Lutheran sense) because that is the only thing we can understand by our reason. Even marriage (possibly the greatest way creation tells the gospel) is interpreted as 'law' by many people.

    But the gospel transforms our understanding of creation. Suddenly we see everything as a gift for our good, a gift which reflects the greatest gift - God's gift of himself to us.

    The gospel is foolishness and cannot be grasped by the reason of creation apart from Christ. But if it is believed then it is wisdom and creation opens up to our understanding.

    That’s my view on things anyway. Perhaps I’m the one misinterpreting and miscategorising things.

  85. Paul Huxley

    How about [c2] - Both say the same things but we need explicit Jesus-scripture-gospel revelation since that is the only way hardened hearts can be softened, dead men made alive and blind men made to see? Or is that the same as e?

  86. Dave K

    Hi Paul,

    Yes that was what I meant by [e], and I suppose that by [c] I had in mind that the gospel in creation was accessible without the "explicit Jesus-scripture-gospel revelation".

    Not very clear of me really.

    It is interesting though that we may want to be clear what we mean by 'the gospel' - the content of the gospel may be in creation, but is the gospel more than that? Can we have 'the gospel' which is not accompanied by the Holy Spirit's power to recreate hearts? Can we have 'the gospel' in creation, which as Chris says, cannot bring life (i.e. like the law)?

    Perhaps creation is more illustrative rather than proclamatory. The gospel uses creation (as it uses reason - written sentences etc).

    I don't know really. I'm trying to work it out.

  87. Dan Hames

    Chris, your very obvious interest in idiosyncrasy as a means of weighting up arguments is... idiosyncratic ;-)

    Seriously: thanks, all for this. I've no time to jump in, but it's stimulating reading (as Chris has said).

  88. pgjackson

    "Perhaps creation is more illustrative rather than proclamatory. The gospel uses creation (as it uses reason – written sentences etc)."

    I wonder whether this simply relates to what sort of a 'medium' creation is. More of a DVD than a book? More of a painting than a book. In this sense it's 'illustrative' perhaps? Rather than the message not being 'there.'

    [It's complicated of course, by the fact that strictly speaking, the bible is within creation, as are all the events of salvation history in which God has acted in self-revelation. But then that's not quite what we mean by 'creation' usually in these discussions]

    Interesting point about a 'gospel' that doesn't bring life though. In that sense it functions as (the theological, not biblical category of) 'law' - can condemn only - not gospel. Although of course, Paul's gospel preaching could be the smell of death too.

    I think this is comment 99.

  89. Glen

    Ah Pete, you've turned the strike over to me on 99 not out. You're a gent. Victory is mine - unless of course right now someone is beating me to the century!

    Dave has me pegged with [e]. I spell it out in that 'Creation's voice proclaims... what?' post I link to above.

    I think conversations about natural theology are possibly the most open to misunderstanding in all theology. But thanks all for persisting. I think it's been a journey towards greater clarity - if only clarity over what we disagree about.

  90. Heather

    Congratulations on hitting the mark :o) I was hoping to see what you would award the 100th commenter.

    Well, perhaps the point of the post has been proved...

    The Gospel is not a "good idea" in that it cannot be measured and weighed by natural man in an attempt to verify it's intrinsic value.

    Even a devoted child of the Father cannot completely wrap the mind around "the Gospel". We can examine it, speculate, compare and appreciate it. But we cannot fully explain it.

    On the other hand--the Gospel is the best idea. It's God's idea, so there's no way it can be bad...even if we humans are incapable of completely wrapping our minds around it.

  91. Little Mo


    So I have been totally left behind, both in theology and in number of comments, so thanks everyone for the discussion! Lots to think about.

    As we have now clarified (at least in my mind) that Glen and I probably don't do much different in evangelism and that I, certainly, would love my non-Christian friends to hear him speak, for me at least excavating the raison d'etre behind it all may be losing its value!

    Some final things this has left me considering:

    - Glen, as you personally are clearly into engaging, interesting, personable evangelism, I think you may need to be careful about how you are heard in asking for "preaching the Gospel alone". Believe me, up and down the country, people are peddling distant uninteresting talks which push away unbelievers and convincing themselves they have been faithful on the basis that they "preached the Gospel alone".

    - I need to calm down. And have a lot of thinking to do about the role of creation in God's witness. Hmmm.

    - I'm still not sure on what basis you say that you can't build at all on people's existing wisdom but still address them in words and sentences - in that sense their existing wisdom is in play from the beginning whether we like it or not.

    - I think you have dodged the question about "breaking the circle". Yes we are agreed that God does it, not us, but the question is, what do we have to say for God to be doing it. In fairness, your Thawed out Thursday post is helping (although I'm not totally clear yet on the consistency of what you do with what you think. However, I'm not sure that I am either!)

    Thanks for the chat, and many apologies for any offence caused!


  92. Glen

    Mo - really good to dialogue. Thanks for a great comment there.

    I can't stand boring preaching! And, you're right, I need to make sure I'm not being heard to justify boring preaching. (Horrible isn't it how 'faithful' has become a synonym for 'boring'?)

    The latest bee in my blogging bonnet is to say 'we don't need better preaching so much as we need to preach a better gospel.' We need to stop being shallow in our own gospel understanding and go very deep with a truly *evangelical* theology (which of course makes sense of all creation). In this way - by being more and more obsessed with the *gospel* - we will speak radically, surprisingly, provocatively.

    If we're not radical, surprising and provocative - we're not just being 'boring', we're probably being 'unfaithful'.

  93. Pingback: Thank you preacher- that was boring, uninspired, obscure and moralistic « Christ the Truth

  94. Pingback: A thousand posts in a thousand words « Christ the Truth

  95. Pingback: Thank you preacher- that was boring, uninspired, obscure and moralistic [repost] « Christ the Truth

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer