Getting the Gospel Right: Interacting with a Post at Scot McKnight’s Blog

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Getting the Gospel Right
Interacting with Scot McKnight’s Post

So, today, I encourage you to go to Scot McKnight’s blog, find Matthew Bates’s post and read it carefully: “Good News? Are T4G/TGC Leaders Starting To Change Their Gospel?”. Then, let’s use this and my comments below as the basis of discussion today.

Here are a few of Bates’s points (these are direct quotes):

• What John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, and others associated with T4G (“Together for the Gospel”) and TGC (“The Gospel Coalition”) have been asserting to be the heart of the gospel is not even part of the gospel in Scripture.

• The true biblical gospel climaxes with the proclamation that Jesus has become the Christ, Lord of all, the king (Acts 2:36; 3:20-23; 10:36). On the path to kingship, the Son was sent by the Father in fulfillment of OT promises, took on human flesh in the line of David, died a substitutionary atoning death for our sins on the cross, was buried, raised, witnessed, enthroned at the right hand, and then the Spirit was sent (Rom 1:2-4; 1 Cor 15:3-5; 2 Tim 2:8). All of which is the good news that God’s kingdom, heralded by Jesus, has now arrived (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43). Because the enthroned king now rules, the gospel can be summarized: Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3). Subsequently, the Spirit applies the benefits of the gospel to those who respond with pistis, that is, allegiance (bodily loyalty inclusive of trust). The gospel proper is what the king has done for us apart from whether you or I have responded—a point both Piper (The Future of Justification, p. 86-88) and Gilbert misunderstand. (See Bates, Gospel Allegiance, p. 104-7, for discussion).

Scripture never says our justification by faith is part of the gospel. Righteousness is revealed to be among the gospel’s benefits (Rom 1:17). Meanwhile “faith” (pistis) is how we respond to the gospel of Jesus’s kingship, so its saving benefits are actualized. Getting this right has huge practical payoffs for disciple-making and ecumenism.

• T4G / TGC leaders have been misidentifying the true center and framework of the gospel for years. They have put something that the Bible does not even say is part of the gospel at its center instead. It remains to be seen whether MacArthur, Piper, Mohler, Gilbert, and others who have placed justification by faith at the center of the gospel, largely at the expense of Jesus’s kingship, will admit their mistakes. Regardless, if Gilbert’s sermon is an indicator, then a shift is already beginning. Thankfully the gospel of Jesus’s victorious kingship is being fronted by T4G in a way that it wasn’t in the past.

• • •

Trying to understand the true nature of the good news Jesus brings has been a primary part of our effort here at Internet Monk from the beginning. Along the way, we have come to appreciate the “new perspective” of people like N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, among others. For too long, in my view, western theology has focused on soteriology at the expense of christology, eschatology, and ecclesiology. The gospel as delineated by Bates here at McKnight’s blog is much more full-bodied, much less schismatic, and much less focused on the inner workings of doctrinal mechanics.

It is Jesus-centered and Jesus-shaped. Indeed, the gospel per se is all about Jesus — it is the announcement that he has taken his throne and inaugurated God’s rule. (christology)

It focuses on God’s ultimate end game — not merely personal salvation but the establishment of God’s rule and the apokatástasis, the restoration of all creation in Christ. (eschatology)

It links the creation of the new people of God with the original vocation of humankind given at creation — which I desribe as tikkun olam, “repair of the world,” in anticipation of the apokatástasis. (ecclesiology)

It puts the reconciliation of individuals into this context, not only offering forgiveness of sins, but also participation in the project of restoring shalom to all the world. Having peace with God, we become peacemakers. Faith works through love. Salvation that is a gift and not of ourselves leads to people made new, buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life and good works. (soteriology)

65 thoughts on “Getting the Gospel Right: Interacting with a Post at Scot McKnight’s Blog

  1. Robert, I don’t see the “conflict” so much as between spiritual vs mundane, as between sacrificial vs non-sacrificial.

    Recognizing that Scripture is polyvalent or speaks with multiple voices is one of the most difficult things for Protestants to accept. The entire Protestant Orthodox edifice, and it step children Puritanism, Revivalism, Evangelicalism and all manner of Fundamentalisms depends on a theory of the Bible that is univocal, it is all God’s Word, lock, stock and barrel, iota, tittle and omicron. If it says “God says” then by golly that means God said it, dag nab it.

    This is the sacred view of scripture. This is scripture caught in a theology that cannot see that it is no different from that of a theology of Molech or Ba’al. Jewish scholar Sandor Goodhart in his book Sacrificing Commentary speaks of the absolute significance of ‘the law of anti-idoltary’ at the heart and soul of the Jewish texts and the Jewish faith. Israel not only worshipped idols and had very poor understandings of God at times, she also wrote texts from those perspectives as well. Think of the literary activity happening among the elite and educated upper class that had been carted off to Babylon, especially among the priests. It is astonishing how two very different tradents in second Temple Judaism begin to open up after the Exile. Prophet versus Priest.

    It is the bible itself that introduces us to this inner theological critique, here already in the literature emerging from Exile. This critique can be hopeful, like that of second Isaiah, it may be eschatological like that of the first creation narrative in Genesis. It also might be oriented to the establishment of the wealthy elite who returned and were financing the rebuilding of the Temple, like we see in Ezra and Nehemiah. This critique may be so critical that even the formation of Torah comes under attack, as when Jeremiah reports God as saying that God had nothing to do with Leviticus (Jeremiah 7:20ff). Or there may be just be enough difference in time from when the sacred Torah was given until the present that Torah needed to be re-written (Deuteronomy) and also some of her history about how she got where she got also had to be re-written (As the Chronicler does for Samuel-Kings).

    In The Jesus Driven Life I gave you a glimpse of how Jesus read scripture and sought to make a case that his hermeneutic had two sides, one the naming and eradication of theology oriented to sacred violence and two, that of love for every human person and honor for every human life. Like the prophets before him, Jesus too read his biblical texts learning to distinguish the voice of his Abba from the descriptions of the God that are obviously texts written for the justification of sacred violence.

    This accounts for Jesus splitting from the Baptist. John actually speaks with both voices, sacrificial and non-sacrificial at the same time. He is so close to getting it. But close isn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus has to get this God thing 100% correct. And. He. Does.

    God gave us a clear voice to hear, that of Jesus (“Listen to him”). And technically speaking while the [so called] historical Jesus might lie at the bottom of a very big historical pile (Aramaic sayings, translated into Greek, complied in oral tradition, ‘fiddled with’ sometimes by the community that passes the saying on or by the author, sayings and narrative structures created, and finally four different portraits emerging), that Jesus still has the football!

    And we have so much to learn from him as found in these stories. So much…

    Michael Hardin, March 17, 2015

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  2. We can sum up Barth’s critique of the existentialist theologians [ American Protestant Christianity] in the following way: anthropotheology begins with the believing ‘I,’ and it seeks to understand the relationship to God from that anthropocentric (even egocentric) starting point. The result according to Barth, is a philosophical understanding of the human person and a pietistic understanding of that person’s relationship to God. From Barth’s vantage point, such a theology places law before gospel; consequently, as a science, it can neither be free nor happy. Barth thus aims to reverse this approach: theology first clarifies the God-human relationship and only then speaks about what it means to be human. These are the elements of Barth’s theoanthropological response.

    David Congdon

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  3. It really isn’t that God will reconcile every human being to himself, but that God has done so, past tense. One of our classic Pauline text states that reality;

    1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

    (*quoting from Robert Capon*)

    What our author has done here (Eph. 2:1-10) is to take one of Paul’s greatest insights and give it cosmic dimensions. In Romans 5:8, Paul had written, “But God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Now, in Ephesians, that passing reference to the Messiah’s embrace of the world in it sins (not after it gets rid of them) becomes a hymn to the completed work of the Messiah acting quite on his own. And the hymn is about our joy, because we were saved by grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses. We’ve always been alive together with him; we’ve always been raised together with him; and we’re already sitting in the heavenly places with him now—all because in every now, we’ve always been in the Messiah Jesus. We’re not there because we managed to reform our lives and make ourselves deserving of such a privilege; we’re there because it’s all his doing: we’re his handiwork, not our own. And last bet best, we’ve never been anywhere else; because, as the writer of Ephesians said at the very beginning in 1:3-5: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Even before we were born—even when we were nothing whatsoever—we were home in him forever.

    Moreover, contrary to much of the church’s preaching for two thousand years, neither Ephesians nor Paul seriously means to say that we will be made alive after the second nothingness of either our death in sin or our actual, physical death. They insist that we’ve been alive in him all along, no matter what. Death is not a prelude to our life; it’s the very sacrament, the real presence of the life of Jesus in us. Death is the Messiah’s chosen place for his eternal rendezvous with us, not a disaster he has to overcome. Everything can go wrong for us; but he never fails to show up for his assignation. In the words of the Lady Julian of Norwich, the great English mystic, “Sin is behovely [sin does indeed fit into the picture], but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Our life in Jesus is a grace irrevocably given and a gift fully received by all. Like it or not, respond to it or not, believe it or not, everybody has it, and nobody will ever lose it.

    …(Paul’s) insistence (is) that the redemption of the world is a gift to be trusted, not a deal yet to be closed.
    [*end quote*]

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  4. Exactly Robert.

    For instance, each of the gospel accounts represent an an interpretation of Jesus and his mission/work.
    Overall, Paul’s Christology is closer to John’s gospel story than the other three, though there is over-lap with Luke. Thus the adage of the gospels being commentary on Paul.

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  5. I’m talking apokatastasis, certainly, if not necessarily universalism (though I am a universalist). What I an referring to is what is said in Revelation: “the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor shall there be any more pain.”
    That’s the good news.

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  6. There is no way they (T4G) will admit mistakes. Did they ever apologise for the ESS heresy some of them were teaching in order to bolster everlasting submission of women?

    They have made their name on being ‘completely right’ about everything, & everyone else needing to conform to them. I can’t imagine that changing now.

    They’ll write long involved papers or books that say why they’re still the rightest, which will be peer reviewed by their chums & ticked as correct because that’s the only possible answer that can exist.

    Do any of these guys ever grow?Mostly it looks like they just entrench. I suppose if you do grow, in those circles, you end up like Pete Enns.

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  7. Please, no.

    I love pre-schism Western Orthodoxy, and what remains of it in Rome and her recalcitrant children.

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  8. Iain, I agree, too. And I think the concepts of personal salvation, justification, penal substitutionary atonement can all be a mighty distraction from the gospel. They are all about law, not grace. Same reason so many people object to the harvesters getting a full day’s wage for varying amounts of labor. Humans want human justice, rather than God’s grace. And the gospel has been repeatedly distorted that way.

    We are all worthy. After all, Christ was willing to walk into hell to save our buns. All we have to do is to choose love (God) and love each other in every moment that we can. Perhaps theology can be a defense against the feelings aroused by the gospel and right living.

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  9. but doesn’t fundamentalist-flavored TULIP Calvinism just suit the present goals of vulture capitalism?

    no kindness needed, social Darwinism (survival of the fittest), culling of the sick and the weak, contempt for the poor, and always, always TAX CUTS for the rich!!!!!!

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  10. it makes ‘personal’ seem self-centered when Christ the Kyrios is renewing all Creation

    the personal focus on ‘I, Me, My’ – the self-centered are ripe for getting caught up by those who can manipulate the fears of such people rather than their hopes, so you get a lot of versions of hubris AND truimphalism, but not a lot of need for repentance or a need to ask for mercy

    the hubris of the ‘saved’ looking down on ‘the lost’ is NOT the right side of the parable of the pharisee and the publican in the temple, no way; the ‘justification’ folk sure have got the wrong role model there

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  11. When God is nothing but a big, angry Dad who’s ready to bash his kids when he gets home from work because they’re nothing but lousy, nogoodniks… well, Yeah, maybe it’s a good thing Jesus came to save us from His Dad, eh? 😉

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  12. The smaller and more manageable God becomes, the faster I’m running in the opposite direction.

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  13. That was what Sproul was teaching back when I listened to him — What does the salvation worked by Christ save us from? It saves us from God’s righteous wrath against us born sinners.

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  14. I have always been amused by the penchant of this bunch (Reformed, Calvinist leaning all) for Statements and Declarations and Conferences and acronyms for all situations.

    Like tinhorn bureaucrats everywhere, the more meetings/conferences you call, the more paperwork and regulations and statements and acronyms and manifestos you crank out, the more Important you must be

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  15. So that means Calvin is Mohammed, the Final Prophet of God?
    And Luther/Calvin/Westminster Divines wrote THE Final Inerrant SCRIPTURE?

    Never mind “Calvin Islamized the Reformation”, these guys have ISISed it.

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  16. Some of the writers are somewhat internally consistent — although not always or altogether — but the canon itself exhibits extraordinary inconsistencies between the authors of the different books, inconsistencies that, in the case of the New Testament, the authors would not have been aware of when writing, since the canonical New Testament did not exist. The assembly of the canon had something of bricolage about it in that regard, fragments of textual garments being patched together that did not necessarily fit together or harmonize in color or design.

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  17. Yes. Piper makes that argument pretty much word for word in his ‘Future of Justification’ book, which was written to confront N. T. Wright and the ‘New Perspective’.

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  18. Michael Z, I disagree. Though in this article Scot is focusing on “the heart” of the gospel, as he sees it, I think his book and the other studies he references have opened up a much wider vista for me about the gospel and its implications. I hope this is represented by what I said in my post today.

    Before, I thought the gospel was about soteriology (How a person gets saved). Now I know it is about God’s installation of Jesus as King, inaugurating his rule in the world, with all that means and with the restoration of all creation in view. And you mentioned a few other specific aspects in your comment.

    Scot’s point, I think, is that the STARTING POINT for talking about overcoming sin, death, and the devil, or creating a new humanity, etc., is the gospel message that Jesus has been installed as King and has inaugurated God’s rule in the world.

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  19. Mule, I’m sure this is not what you have in mind but I can see Christianity dying in the West and becoming a purely Eastern phenomenon. (As it began?)

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  20. Then history of Christian theology is in large part various attempts to tie up loose ends that the authors of the Bible seem content to allow to flutter in the wind.

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  21. This. What I am sure if is that the gospel is NOT a defense of my(or your) favorite theological system.

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  22. whatever or whoever turned the EUANGELION
    into a high-pressure sales gimmick of ‘do as we say
    or you will go to hell’

    they have created a different gospel and a
    very small god they can control and it has been
    financially and politically rewarding for them

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  23. Evangelicalism: SALVATION BY FEAR ALONE.
    Fear of Divine Wrath, Fear of Punishment, Fear of Destruction, Fear of Armageddon du Jour, Fear of being Left Behind(TM), Fear of Judgment Day, Fear of being Spewed Out Of His Mouth for Lukewarmness, Fear of Insufficient Faith, Far of Not Really Meaning The Sinner’s Prayer, Fear of Eternal Hell, Fear, Fear, Fear, Fear, Fear, Fear.

    And this is called “The Good News”?

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  24. Maybe it’s not just a mistake that the New Testament — and actually the entire Bible itself — is not a work of systematic theology.

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  25. Yes. One powerful expression of the “good news” is given in the Magnificat. God’s done it, it’s a done deal, you don’t have to convert anybody to save them, you just announce the presence — which is not ultimately different from the coming, because both are Jesus himself — of the Kingdom.

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  26. > Just check out the message titles and tell me which ones sound appealing to you)

    “Serving the church in Europe” sounds like it might have something practical to say… if it wasn’t sandwiched by so much nonsense.

    The session title “Pressing Theological Issues” made me spit my coffee.

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  27. “Remember James Dobson? Before fear of Homosexuals drove him off a cliff with most of his followers in the car?”
    — Chaplain Mike re Dobson’s antics in the 2008 elections.

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  28. Good comment, Robert. I think it’s the “avoidance of tension” and most people’s distaste of ambiguity that leads people to “cut and dried” answers aka theology. I readily admit: There are boatloads of scripture that support Calvinistic theology. But Calvinism isn’t the answer. I can live with that. Calvinist can’t.

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  29. I’d say “close(r) but no cigar”: McKnight has switched the “good news” from “saving souls from hell” to the kingship of Jesus, but the actual good news bit is what Jesus’s elevation accomplishes, not the elevation itself: the good news the Bible focuses on is the destruction of death and the end of the suffering mankind is currently experiencing due to sin that has resulted from Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the ultimate restoration of all things in God. He still seems to be stuck to a certain extent with a model of personal salvation where the good news is the availability of the offer or availability of salvation for those who will take it, rather than the much more radical assertion in the Bible that the salvation of mankind absolutely will be and has been achieved.

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  30. That is, for the reader, there is real cognitive dissonance in the New Testament that can only be overcome by imposing a unifying theological framework that does not do fit well over all the textual voices. Better to leave it alone, and live with the tension and ambiguity. It makes one less likely to try and impose ones theological preferences on others.

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  31. –> “I have always been amused by the penchant of this bunch (Reformed, Calvinist leaning all) for Statements and Declarations and Conferences and acronyms for all situations.”

    I’ve had some friends try to get me to attend a Ligonier conference for YEARS. I would look at the list of topics and just shake my head. No thanks. Nothing seemed the least bit appealing.

    (Here’s an example, from the 2019 “He is Holy” conference. Just check out the message titles and tell me which ones sound appealing to you)

    https://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/he-is-holy-2019-national-conference/

    –> “I’ve always taken the Good News to be the announcement of the Kingdom of God.”

    Agreed. And we can argue all day long what exactly that is, but bottom line is: it is GOOD news, not bad. It’s the kind of news people that make people flock to hear it, that delight them and bring them joy, that make them suddenly recognize that they’ve been living under BAD religion and UNHEALTHY religion. And much of what I hear from my friends who’ve wanted me to attend a Ligonier conference with them never sounds like Good News, doesn’t really make me want to flock to hear it, doesn’t delight me or bring me joy, etc.

    (I do fully recognize that their news brings THEM joy…. so there’s that. To them, it IS Good News. But is it attractive to those who are seeking? Not sure.)

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  32. The fact is, the Bible presents us with many different, overlapping frameworks for understanding what Jesus accomplished.

    Yes. Sometimes they lap quite vigorously against each other, with tension and even conflict; at other times, the different perspective can seem like they are not even aware of each others existence.

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  33. –> “I feel like McKnight is making the same mistake that he’s criticizing: trying to reduce the Gospel to a simple formula.”

    This thought creeped into my mind, also. I see an inkling here that he is becoming like that which he is fighting. His “reaction” to Gilbert’s reaction seems to be the beginning of a tennis volley that both of them hope to win but neither of them will. Thus, this makes him no different than those he’s playing against. And like you said, Mike Z, it feels like a reduction of the Gospel in order to try to win a point, a point which really can’t be won.

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  34. Rather concentrate on Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals and Anglicans who are closer in spirit to Orthodoxy than anybody who clings to imputed righteousness as ‘the core of the [Nominalist] Gospel’ and the ‘TRVE message of Paul’.

    I am praying that what is left of Christianity in the West will give a massive shrug and shuffle off the last thousand years of man-hating anthropology like a tattered and rotting leather jacket, then look back at it and say ‘so, that was the problem all along’.

    A Mule can dream, cain’t he?

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  35. I feel like McKnight is making the same mistake that he’s criticizing: trying to reduce the Gospel to a simple formula. For him, the Gospel all comes down to the proclamation of Jesus as King and Lord and everything else radiates out from that center. But it would be equally valid to say…

    …that the central point of the Gospel is that Jesus overcame sin, death, and the devil on the cross.

    …that the central point of the Gospel is that through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God is creating a new humanity that participates in God’s nature.

    …that the central point of the Gospel is that God is reconciling all people to each other and to God through Christ.

    …etc.

    The fact is, the Bible presents us with many different, overlapping frameworks for understanding what Jesus accomplished. Rather than try to simplify those frameworks or select just one that we prioritize over all the others, maybe we should just recognize that the Gospel is a mystery bigger than anything we can grasp and every single one of those frameworks provides a helpful glimpse of the Gospel mystery in some circumstances.

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  36. I used to listen to Dobson on radio decades ago when he had interesting topics like “A Man Called Norman” but then he started going off into the culture wars.

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  37. I agree that are two viewpoints expressed in the New Testament about this subject, and that they are not in complete agreement, and are in some conflict, in terms of whether the Kingdom is mundane or spiritual. There are places where there is an area of gray overlap between those two viewpoints, but you have to impose one theology or another on the texts to make them agree in as doctrine, and the imposition is not a comfortable fit for one or the other viewpoint. I’m not willing to fight over it either.

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  38. I have always been amused by the penchant of this bunch (Reformed, Calvinist leaning all) for Statements and Declarations and Conferences and acronyms for all situations.

    I’ve always taken the Good News to be the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Now you can interpret this in many ways. That a literal Kingdom is about to spring forth upon the earth, the view of the synoptic gospels, or that the Kingdom is a spiritual state that can be entered into in some manner even as we live today, the view of the gospel of John. Over the centuries various groups within the Church have oscillated between these two views and all points in between.

    It certainly makes for ferocious arguments but I personally am not willing to call for blood over it.

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  39. The biggest problem with T4G/TGC, apart from bring mostly Calvinist in its composition, is that they are very firmly entrenched in the Reformational era of theology. From their POV, what Luther and Calvin started, the Westminster divines completed, and nothing more can be added to it – and heaven help you if they get the impression that you are taking away from it.

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  40. I was an ardent fan of Sproul’s work up until 1999 – when he devoted one of his monthly newsletters to fearmongering about Y2K. I wrote a letter (back in the days, huh?) to Ligonier (Sproul’s umbrella ministry) complaining about it. I received no reply, and of course there was no retraction after Y2K resolved itself. After that, the shine was off any sense I had about Sproul & Co. having any claim to intellectual superiority.

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  41. For too long, in my view, western theology has focused on soteriology at the expense of christology, eschatology, and ecclesiology.

    Is this a fancy way to describe The Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvatrion?

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  42. I know little to nothing about T4G/TGC.

    Other blogs like Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board have been covering T4G/TGC for years. They have a lot of postings and essays on T4G/TGC. NONE OF IT IS GOOD.

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  43. But it is a bad thing to want to avoid people, including over matters of deep theological disagreement. It just may be that King Jesus will throw you together with one of them, in this aeon or the next, and you’ll have to find some way to be with them toward your own and/or their transformation. But besides that, it is only love — according to 1 Corinthians 13 — that will not pass away, when all the rest — including fiercely held theologies on all sides — has gone.

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  44. I know little to nothing about T4G/TGC. I’ve heard some of the names. I was a little familiar with Sproul’s radio broadcasts back in the 90s and the aughts — he sounded more articulate, intelligent, and thoughtful than the run-of-the-mill televangelist, but then I started to hear the underlying harping on what I later learned to recognize as the culture wars, and I lost interest. The little more that I learned from reading McKnight’s post just makes me want to continue my avoidance of this group. I don’t encounter them or their followers in my daily life –especially now! — at least not to my knowledge. They seem like a good group to continue not encountering.

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