After we published "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration," certain questions kept arising. Here we ask Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School and a theological adviser to the CT staff, to address those questions.
As a member of the drafting committee, can you tell us how this statement came about and what it was intended to accomplish?
This statement was born out of a desire to move beyond the bickering and intra-evangelical feuds which distract so much from our witness and mission. At the dawn of a new millennium, we wanted to set forth a unitive statement based on core commitments around which all evangelicals could rally and stand.
What has been the response to the statement and how will it be used in the future?
The response to the statement has been fantastic. More than 200 evangelical leaders have endorsed it, including Dr. Billy Graham. It has been translated into various languages around the world and is beginning to have something of a global impact. The statement will be explicated in two books to be released later this year, one from Zondervan Publishing Company and one from Moody Press. There will also be a special service of worship extolling the gospel during the Christian Booksellers Association meeting this summer in New Orleans. These are all encouraging signs for which we are grateful.
Over the past several decades, evangelicals have produced various theological statements, including the Lausanne Covenant and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. How does this new statement relate to these earlier affirmations?
This statement builds on but does not merely repeat earlier evangelical declarations. From my perspective, it would be hard to improve on the Lausanne Covenant as a general summary of evangelical theology. Our statement is more a manifesto than an outline of systematic theology. We did not want to rehearse the inerrancy debates of the past, but there is no backing away from the biblical basis of the gospel message: The good news we preach, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, is "according to the Scriptures."
How does this statement relate to the documents produced by Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT)? Could a Roman Catholic sign "The Gospel of Jesus Christ"?
This statement has no direct connection with the ECT process, except for the fact that both ECT supporters and ECT critics have collaborated in crafting it. We still have differing strategies on how we should reach out to others. This statement was intended to be more of an "Evangelicals and Evangelicals Together" kind of document. But the invitation to endorse is open to everyone regardless of denominational pedigree.
Some evangelical critics of the statement have found it too narrow at several points. Do you really want to say that "saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the gospel"?
We certainly have no intention of disallowing the possible salvation of those the Westminster Confession refers to as "incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word." We simply affirm the cognitive content of the gospel. The gospel has a propositional as well as an incarnational dimension, and to deny either is to preach less than the full biblical message.
Others have questioned the claim that "the Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved." How can you be so dogmatic about such a debatable topic?
We recognize a diversity of opinion here, even among some evangelicals. But notice what the statement says: We are not limiting the sovereign freedom of God. That would be presumptuous, if not blasphemous. We are simply reporting what the Scriptures teach. In the Bible, sincere worshipers of Molech, Dagon, and Artemis are called on to repent and come to the biblical God. We believe the evangelical message today should be congruent with the apostolic witness, which presents Jesus Christ as the sole and sufficient Savior for all persons everywhere, and tells us that there is no other name—that is, no other person—by whom we must be saved.
The statement focuses so strongly on justification that sanctification and life in the Spirit seem truncated. Why is this?
This is a valid point. We need to say more about sanctification and perhaps can do so in some future document. In his Galatians commentary, Calvin observed that while we are justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies is never alone. But, as Jim Packer has reminded us, there are moments in the history of the church when the primacy of God's grace must be emphasized against elements that would dilute or qualify it. In our present culture of postmodernity, we must not neglect a leading word about justification.
What would you say to the evangelical critics of this statement?
I hope they may reconsider their reservations and join others in affirming the gospel in this way. No one claims that this statement is an infallible artifact of revelation. We recognize that some things may be differently and better said. The gospel must be articulated and lived out with integrity by every Christian, and we encourage others to write their own statements of the gospel. I am glad that CT is publishing several short statements of the gospel we have received from a variety of believers across the evangelical spectrum. "The Gospel of Jesus Christ" is not a church confession or a test of fellowship. It is a summons to affirm and stand together with other believers. Jesus calls us all to unity in the truth, to be of one mind in things of first importance. This is one effort to be faithful to that calling.
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New Initiative | "The Gift of Salvation" is a remarkable statement on what we mean by the gospel (July 8, 1997)
If I'm an Evangelical, What Am I? (Aug. 9, 1999)
Why We Still Need Moody | A look at the man who invented modern evangelicalism. (Dec. 22, 1999)
Why We Still Need Luther | Four hundred fifty years after his death, Martin Luther can still inspire and guide us. (Oct. 28, 1996)
A Theology to Die For | Theologians are not freelance scholars of religion, but trustees of the deposit of faith. (Feb. 9, 1998)
What I'd Like to Tell the Pope About the Church | Responding to the main criticism Catholics have against evangelicals: that we have no doctrine of the church. (June 15, 1998)
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