When is the Gospel not the Gospel?

BY:  JOHN R. GAVAZZONI

2016

 

Or what is it that makes the gospel the gospel? So very pertinent to our subject is Paul's declaration, "My preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in the demonstration of spirit and power." Karl Barth's insightful and courageous comment that the Bible is only the word of God, when God speaks it to our hearts is worthy also of serious consideration. I had puzzled long about just what was it about, for instance, Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost that so captivated his audience, and turned their hearts to the Lord? One might understandingly answer, "Well, he was preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit," but just what does that mean?

 

It doesn't mean that the Spirit merely empowered him to lay out the facts re: who Jesus really was, what He'd done among them, and that they, by wicked hands, had crucified the Lord of glory, and that God had raised Him from the dead. It is not the Spirit's intention to merely move listeners to give mental assent to historical facts. That's not saving faith; that's not being granted participation in the kind of believing that is the faith OF Christ. Response to the heralding of the gospel is not a matter of God merely presenting historical facts, albeit including their theological implications, for that would be a matter of a sort of quid pro quo. From God: "If you'll assent intellectually to certain facts about my sending my Son to save you, I, in return, will save you in response to your obedience." From the hearer: "OK, Lord, I assent, I affirm that those things are true, thus, you owe me salvation on the basis you've just laid down. I claim my reward for my "obedience of faith."

 

No, that was hardly the dynamic at work in that first archetypical new covenant sermon. What was at work was that the Man and the message were one united dynamic. The Word went forth into the hearts of men: the Word, that is, not merely quotations from Messianic scriptures, but Christ, Himself, with all the elements of His human experience from incarnation, living, suffering, death, burial, ascension, exaltation, enthronement, and glorification. He, including all those elements, was dynamically intrinsic within Peter's preaching.

 

The hearers were not set on a path of merely cognitively associating Jesus' resurrection, for instance, with the assurance of their own. What "hit" them at their very spirit-level was "the power of His resurrection." In a word, they experienced resurrection in the preaching of the Living Word. They experienced it without working it out in some form of an early cohesive theology. It is the same with Christ's Lordship: they were experiencing the ultimate proof of Jesus' Lordship over the most prevailing enemy of mankind---death. It was not a matter of merely cognitively connecting dots. They were caused, by the Word, to experience the first fruits of resurrection and of being returned to the true Owner of their souls - which is the experience of redemption.

 

When this dynamic is at work, folks are regenerated, born from above, returned to their "above" identity as being the children of God in the timeless dimension of the Timeless God. Too much of today's preaching simply seeks to convince folks about "gospel"-related facts. What is needed is for the entrance of the Word to GIVE light which is the CAUSE of the obedience of faith. That's why Paul's deepest yearning was to know "Him, and the power of His resurrection." Objective presentation is instrumental, of course, when this dynamic is at work, but objective presentation is not, itself, the dynamic.

 

Subject to the sovereignty of God, of course, preaching that may contain substantively flawed theology, might still have the content of Christ within the proclamation, though we ought to expect the objectivity of the message---as God continues to work in our hearts---to be a worthy complement to the subjective conveyance of Christ to the hearer. Peter's preaching that day was objectively flawless, but down through church history, even in great revivals, the objective element has been very flawed, and so, much ruin followed the initial impact of the gospel. These aspects are presently being addressed by the ongoing work of the Spirit of Truth.

 

So it was with a man whose ministry I've studied carefully from the records: The revivalist, Charles G. Finney. Great was the Christ-conveyance within Finney's preaching, that often resulted in community-wide transformation, but there was within that preaching, the elements of legalism and the supposed importance of the contribution of the power of the human will, that in time, spoiled much of the initial results. Both the true dynamic of the gospel, and the injection of man-centeredness, lasted a long time, and in fact, can be seen in conventional evangelism to this day.

 

The Man must be in the message, for new covenant preaching and witness to be normative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN is the GOSPEL not the GOSPEL [John R. Gavazzoni] 2016          2

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