Ur Video: Dever Worries "Gospel" Isn't Individual Enough
Does a cosmic gospel diminish the call to personal evangelism?

This interview by Ed Stetzer with Mark Dever caught me by surprise. They're talking about the renewed interest among evangelicals in a "larger gospel" that captures a kingdom theology. Dever sees it as exceedingly dangerous because a focus on doing good may take away from evangelism. Check out this clip.

What surprised me was Dever's honesty. Consider his remarks:

1. He admits that the word gospel is used in Scripture to mean more than "God-man-Christ-response." He recognizes that it refers to the "restoration of all things." In this regard he is in agreement with scholars like Scot McKnight who have challenged the narrow definition of gospel in the evangelical tradition.

2. But Dever worries that focusing on this biblical definition of gospel will diminish our focus on individual salvation and evangelism. So,

3. He wants us to rely on a "systematic" idea of what gospel means based on a "long tradition of reflection" that emphasizes the individual redemption of people rather than the cosmic restoration of all things.

Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?

Going further, Dever then negatively cites John Stott, one of the most celebrated evangelical scholars of the 20th century. Stott, a close friend of Billy Graham, and a founder of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization, also penned one of the most widely affirmed doctrinal statements of the modern age- The Lausanne Covenant which states in part:

We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society. In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.... The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, understand, and to receive the good news.

One would hardly call John Stott soft on personal evangelism. But Dever says we should do the opposite of what Stott instructs in his book Christian Mission in the Modern World pages 26-28. I looked up the reference but did not find Stott calling for a de-emphasis of personal evangelism at all. Rather, Stott reveals how both traditional models of mission (proclamation only) and the ecumenical model (social renewal only) both fail to adhere to Scripture. Instead he calls for Christians to see in the Great Commission a call to make disciples (evangelism), and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded which includes social responsibility (page 37).

Displaying 1–10 of 36 comments

sheerahkahn

March 05, 2012  11:02pm

"but perhaps I have misunderstood you.". I think you have too. Of course, upon rereading my posts I can see why you would draw the conclusion you have...the medium of conveyance, though wonderful, is severely hamstrung by the inability to further delve with questions and answers that would be spontaneous in a face to face inquiry. Alas, the limitations of the internet...my apologies as I bear the burden of blame for your misunderstanding. _____________________________________________ One of the basic questions we all want to know, a curiosity piqued by an inner need to know and understand is where and how we got here. My ancestory is mix European, and knowing the specific regions of my ancestory has allowed me to understand how I got to be where I am, and who I am. My personality, my family's dynamic quirks, and of course, my ancestral and familial culture which, amazingly, has survived five generations here in the U.S. I think G-d follows the same framework, and thus supplies us with information about who we are as a species, how we got to be where we are, and how it all happened...i.e. Genesis 1, 2, 3. Of course, that supplies a few bits of information that in and of themselves, is quite limited, but throw in the rest of the texts of laws, histories and prophets, and suddenly a whole lot opens up. However, if I wanted to narrow it all down further, Ephesians 1 tells us who we are, and what we were suppose to be like, and how G-d is going to bring that about...so, in just four chapters of the bible...Gen 1, 2, 3, and Ephesians 1 we are given a whole ton of information about who we are as a species and WHAT we were intended all along to be, AND how G-d is going to do it. Which leaves us with what will it be like for us in the future as a species, and Revelations 19, 20, 21, and 22 both answers that question, closes the past...and hints at what the future after that will be. And what brought me to all this, Karen, is that little absent "good" that G-d did not put after the making of mankind....questions led to other questions...and the answers I got led to other questions...interesting trail I have followed, and to be perfectly honest...even what I've come up with begs further questions... HOWEVER... As of right now...I want to process what I've discovered and see if it passes the stink test through review...but I can see up the trail a lil and the direction it leads goes...but I can tell as I looked up that trail that I'm not ready to traverse it yet. Maybe another day.

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Nestle

March 05, 2012  6:56pm

TY for explaining Karen. Yes, Lutherans (Missouri and Wisconsin synods at least) accept the Nicene, Apostle, and Athanasian Creeds, and view non-Trinitarian, and other plainly unorthodox teachings as false and heretical, so we're in agreement there.

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Karen

March 05, 2012  4:08pm

Nestle, I think you misunderstand. In mentioning a Protestant version of "apostolic succession" I wan't talking about a specific succession of bishops as in the Catholic Church. The "apostolic succession" in this sense refers to a basic doctrinal framework for the interpretation of Scripture that is of Apostolic origin that is accepted and passed on and in which the Scriptures are interpreted and understood. Any Christian who accepts the early Creedal formulae (e.g, the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed) as reflecting a true and proper understanding of Scripture over and against plainly unorthodox Christological or Trinitarian readings, has accepted a form of "apostolic succession."

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nestle

March 05, 2012  3:45pm

Martin Luther drastically changed his views of the Catholic Church. He went from being a monk to later calling the church the Whore of Babylon as described in Revelation. So, he did not support apostolic succession in any form once his views were changed by the Holy Spirit when reading Scripture.

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Karen

March 05, 2012  3:31pm

Sheer, all I was intending to communicate to you is that it appears you want to say that God disapproved of humankind from the get-go in some way and that He was not pleased with His human creation in its original unfallen state. This I find to be unblblical and "not the way the Bible has always been understood by Christians," but perhaps I have misunderstood you.

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Karen

March 05, 2012  3:25pm

elegance, you're jumping to some conclusions that don't necessarily follow from what I wrote. Once several years ago in my pastor's office when I was misinterpreting some Scripture, my Evangelical pastor very tactfully and kindly told me (he wasn't even Reformed–he was coming from a Baptist tradition) that I wasn't understanding the Bible "as Christians down through the centuries had always understood it." What he was alluding to is the belief I was taught even at my Evangelical College in studying Church history–in effect, we were taught a Protestant version of "apostolic succession." Read a little more about Luther and Calvin, etc. They were not intending to throw out the true apostolic interpretive tradition of the Church in their embrace of "Sola Scriptura" contra the claims regarding its teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church of the time. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never withheld Bible reading from the laity (unlike the Roman Catholic Church). On the contrary, we are encouraged to read it every day–but we read it with and in the Church, not as solo rationalists. There is a quote from one of the Saints/Fathers, who said, "There is only one thing more dangerous than reading the Scriptures; that is not reading the Scriptures!" :-) What you interpret as "thinly disguised contempt" is not a contempt for those who love and want to follow the Scriptures, but it is, I have to admit, a lack of patience with the attitude that fails to recognize what even the Scriptures say about themselves (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2 esp. vs. 14, Acts 8:30-35, 2 Peter 3:16) and that fails to appreciate how indebted all modern Christians are to the interpretive tradition of the Church of the first several centuries for our capacity to understand the message of the Scriptures (when we understand that aright). I find the belief that a person could come to the Scriptures with no prior training and all the assumptions of modern culture and find them meaningful on their face value in the way that Christians, raised in the faith, taught in churches and Bible studies do both unScriptural and unconvincing. That this sometimes happens with someone with a seeking heart is the result of a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit illumining their heart and not because the Scriptures can be easily understood just via "common sense" and our unassisted rational minds. That belief is both naive and unScriptural. I hope what I'm intending to communicate is clearer now. I also hope you will forgive me where I have offended you.

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sheerahkahn

March 05, 2012  11:08am

I don't know Wayne...I don't see any indication that we're going back to the Garden...I've pretty much scoured the texts, but I suppose...if we were liberal with the definition of "garden" then I guess we could call the New Jerusalem a garden...other than that...yeah, I don't see much support for that viewpoint.

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sheerahkahn

March 05, 2012  11:03am

"I totally disagree that in total (and especially in its spiritual depth) "the Bible is straight-forward and quite understandable," though, indeed, inmuch of its most simple moral instruction it is just that." This statement of yours truly saddens me more than the rest of your post...perhaps I assumed too much...well, so be it...if you think it's really that hard to understand Karen...I don't know what to say to that...but do feel free to LoL at me anytime. You won't be the first, and I can guarantee you won't be the last.

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Bill Williams

March 04, 2012  9:53pm

elegance, also, I'm having a hard time seeing how Jesus is being reductionist in his own message as he presented it in John 3. Perhaps you could elaborate some more on what you're seeing there. I suppose if you took John 3 as the only thing Jesus had to say about the Gospel, it would come off as reductionist; although I would say that is a problem more of the interpreter rather than of Jesus! But limiting Jesus' message only to what he said in John 3 ignores the fact that there are 20 more chapters in John, as well as 88 more chapters in all four Gospels and, for that matter, 1188 more chapters in the entire Bible. All of these chapters taken as a whole would, I believe, reveal a presentation of the Gospel similar to the one I have outlined above.

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Bill Williams

March 04, 2012  9:41pm

elegance, I would gladly love to clarify my terms. I don't know if this is what others mean by the phrase, "God is going to restore the whole world," but this is how I understand it. In Genesis 1-3, there are three relationships that were formed at creation that are broken as a result of sin. There is the relationship between mankind and God, the relationship between individual human beings, and the relationship between mankind and the earth. We are under God, created in his image; we are equal among each other; and we are over the earth as responsible stewards of its resources. Each of these relationships was broken when mankind decided to disobey God. We put ourselves above God, creating him in our image. We put ourselves and our desires above those of our neighbor. And we struggle with the earth, as well as abuse its resources. The point of the Gospel is to restore each of these three relationships, as is demonstrated in the life of Christ. He humbly submitted himself to the Father, even unto death. He served the needs of others and put those needs above his own. And he even exercised authority over the earth, calming the winds and the waves, and causing fish to appear where he willed. Jesus was what Adam was supposed to be, and failed to be because of sin. Unfortunately, too often typical evangelical presentations of the Gospel focus exclusively on the first relationship–Man and God–and say either very little or nothing at all about the other two relationships–Man and Man, and Man and Earth. Examples that come to mind are Gospel presentations such as the Roman Road or the Four Spiritual Laws, or even the diagnostic questions we are told to ask to unbelievers: "If you died today, do you have the assurance that you would go to heaven?" or "If God asked you, 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what would you say?" All of these are focused on the individual. Any mention of a restoration of relationships between people (and even races and societies) or a restoration of the earth is treated as merely implications of the Gospel, rather than the heart of the Gospel itself. So, when I am referring an individualistic Gospel, I am referring to one that focuses solely on the Man and God relationship. When I am referring to the restoration of the whole world, I am referring primarily to every relationship being restored to God–individually, socially, and even environmentally. I hope this helps. Feel free to let me know if more clarification is needed.

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