May 5, 2011Missiology

Musings on the Manifesto, Part 2: Gospel

On Monday, we looked at the first affirmation of the Missional Manifesto regarding the authority of Scripture. In the weeks to come, we are going to take some time to look at each of the affirmations in greater detail in the weeks to come here on the blog. Today, we scan the second affirmation on the gospel.

Here is how the second affirmation reads in the manifesto:

Gospel: We affirm that God, who is more holy than we can imagine, looked with compassion upon humanity made up of people who are more sinful than we will admit and sent Jesus into history to establish His kingdom and reconcile people and the world to Himself. Jesus, whose love is more extravagant than we can measure, gave His life as a substitutionary death on the cross and was physically resurrected thereby propitiating the wrath of God. Through the grace of God, when a person repents of their sin, confesses the Messiah as Lord, and believes in His resurrection, they gain what the Bible defines as new and eternal life. All believers are then joined together into the church, a covenant community working as "agents of reconciliation" to proclaim and live out the gospel. 

In the last post on the authority of Scripture, I said that the framers looked to the Bible first to guide the thinking and the affirmations of the document. In a sense, all of the affirmations build on one another. This is no exception.

In a word, the Scriptures are about the gospel. Every verse, every passage, every book, in both the Old and New Testaments, is leading the reader to see the world's need for redemption which is only found in Jesus. The message of God's great rescue of His people fills the entire Bible. It is the story of salvation from the first Eden to Eden renewed in the new heavens and the new earth.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the gospel that he had preached to them and that it was delivered to them "as of first importance." He then goes on to give one of the many Gospel "nutshells" we find in the Bible in verses 3-4, "...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures."

Why did Paul say that this was of "first importance?" Looking at verse 17, Paul says that if Christ was not raised from the dead, we are still in our sins. One of our framers, Tim Keller, says it this way, "It is...important to realize that the gospel is primarily about how our alienation with God is addressed and removed by the work of Christ." Tim is right. The good news of the gospel is, as J.I. Packer says, "God saves sinners."

So when we begin to talk about things like mission, we must be careful to keep the Bible's grand theme of the gospel in view at all times. That is why we used the language of reconciliation in the manifesto.

Here is what is interesting. One's view of salvation-- however it is defined-- will determine the missionary work. To say it another way, being "missional" is inextricable from one's soteriology.

In Transforming Mission, David Bosch states that the Christian missionary movement has been driven throughout its history by the aspiration to mediate salvation to all. And just as there have been paradigm shifts in the understanding of how Scripture informs mission, there have been shifts in the understanding of the nature of the salvation the church mediates in its mission. Now, I do not intend in these posts to say "this is what we all thought as framers," but I think these shifts explain why it was important to convey of an understanding of the gospel in the manifesto.

Many evangelicals would be surprised that anyone would want to make the gospel into something more than being "reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). But if you've watched the missional conversation over the past few years, many have expressed concern that this approach to the gospel has the potential to thwart mission. Why?

The discomfort that some have about a definition of the gospel that stops at redemption is that it has a tendency to minimize the gospel. In other words, if the gospel is only about salvation, what about the imperatives in the Bible that seem to connect the gospel with caring for the poor, visiting the captive, ministering to the marginalized, and engaging in social action (Ps. 14:6; Deut. 10:18; 24:17; Mal. 3:5; Mt. 6:2; James 2:2-6; 1 Jn. 3:17-18)?

I think it is important to remember that there is a difference between the gospel and the implications of the gospel. The gospel is the good news of the gracious work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection that restores our relationship with God when we, as the manifesto says, repent of our sin, confess the Messiah as Lord, and trust in him. Some have called this the "God-Man-Christ-Response" understanding of the gospel. A gospel-centered mission will always include a call to the individual to place their faith and trust in Jesus. This is why evangelism is an indispensable part of mission.

But others prefer to describe the story-arc of the Bible as "Creation-Sin-Redemption-Restoration." The addition of restoration emphasizes that God 's end game is to restore His creation back to its original order. God's purpose is to redeem individuals, gathered as one people who will dwell securely forever in a restored creation (Revelation 21).

In his booklet, The Restoration of All Things, Sam Storms says it this way:

The efficacy and finality of Christ's redemptive work, together with his resurrection and exaltation as Lord to the right hand of the Father, alone accounts for the anticipation all Christians have of the return of Christ and the consummate fulfillment of God's eternal purpose in the new heavens and new earth. [1]

The emphasis on restoration also includes the idea that God is not merely saving individuals but a people who will join Him, as the manifesto says, as "agents of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5). The gospel of "first importance" removes our primary alienation from God (sin) but it also sends us out to join God in His restoration movement. to bring healing to culture's physical, emotional, psychological, relational and societal brokenness. This is why acts of mercy and justice through the church is also a fundamental facet of mission. Our work as agents of reconciliation is primarily carried out through our calling to make disciples of all nations, but is also connected to obeying the commands of God in seeking the good of others.

I believe the addition of restoration to the story-arc of the gospel is helpful and something I teach and preach, but let me caution us here. When you look at mission history, an emphasis on social awareness and world transformation has led to problems. Any Christian with a history book and a willingness to learn can see that, as missionary Stephen Neill said, "if everything is mission, nothing is mission."

I have pointed out before that the last two times that Christians "discovered" social justice, it did not end well. I think that evangelical Christians must focus more acts of mercy and justice but they need to know and avoid the errors of those who came before us that shared the same concern.

The Manifesto takes a "both-and" approach to the gospel and its implications. It is both "God-Man-Christ-Response" and "Creation-Sin-Redemption-Restoration." God's plan is to save individuals but in saving individuals he gathers them together as one people, and sends them out into the world on one mission.

Jared Wilson calls this the "two-fisted gospel" when he says, "One fist to take out the prince of the power of the air with the revolutionary news that the risen Christ is Lord, and one fist to bring justice to the captives with the embodied news that God is love." [2] So yes, we've been saved from sin but for a greater purpose, as the manifesto says, to "proclaim and live out the gospel."

Next, we will look at the third affirmation regarding the kingdom. You will see how today's discussion dovetails right into the kingdom affirmation. Be sure to read the preamble and affirmations here, and then come back and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

(Please be mindful of the comment policy at the blog as you post your comments)


[1] Sam Storms, The Restoration of All Things, The Gospel Coalition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011), 7.

[2] Jared Wilson, "The Two-Fisted Gospel: A Manifesto for Kingdom Militancy"

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Musings on the Manifesto, Part 2: Gospel