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How Biblical Is the Evangelical Gospel?

Recently I was struck by Paul’s description of conversion.  “… You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who saves us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

We evangelicals claim to be biblical.  Indeed, the very name “evangelical” is derived from the Greek word for “gospel.”  Nevertheless, our gospel proclamation emphasizes the benefits of receiving forgiveness or personal healing.  Now, forgiveness and healing are part of the gospel, but Paul’s preaching centered on challenging people’s idolatry, the need to serve God, and hoping in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Traditionally, evangelicalism has focused upon our guilt before God because of sin and our fruitless attempts to win God’s favor by our own good works.  This is not false, but it is not where Paul starts.  In his letter to the Romans Paul, following the Old Testament prophets, begins with idolatry.  “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18).  They were guilty of the sin of false worship because they rejected God’s revelation of himself, “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (1:21), and foolishly “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles” (1:23).

We should understand that an idol is not primarily a statue.  It is anything that we trust in, obey or love more than or instead of God.  Since, in Calvin’s fine phrase, the heart is a factory of idols, an idol is also a projection of our self and its desires.  Idolatry thus places me at the center of the world instead of God.

What would be some possible consequences of a more biblical gospel?

  • A more confrontational proclamation that calls for a radical repentance from the enslavement of devotion to contemporary idols such as money, power, sex, ideology, family, success and country.
  • Resolution of the near contradiction that some see between individual salvation and societal reformation by recognizing that according to the gospel any aspect of life that is not placed in service to God is an idol.
  • A theocentric worship that places God’s glory at the center and challenges Christians to abandon our syncretistic compromise with contemporary idols and our false sub-biblical views of God.
  • A spirituality that sees discipleship as an essential part of the gospel, since the former is a lifetime of casting away of the idols that keep us from fully serving God.
  • A community that sets its sights on the future hope of Christ’s coming to judge the world and establish his kingdom.

Can you think of more?  Frankly, I’m not even sure what a truly biblical spirituality of hoping in Christ’s future coming would look like.

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