For the other parts in this series, see the end of this post.
9. The Gospel – Defined by D.A. Carson
I listened to a message by Dr. Carson on the gospel and what follows is what I got out of it. He based his preaching on 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, so if in any place it says “the text,” that is the text it is referring to. However, before I move on, I must thank Rebecca Stark, Rob Mitchell, and Justin Taylor for providing additional notes on their websites to supplement mine.
First, Dr. Carson defines the gospel in eight summarizing words:
1. Christological (Christ Centered) – The gospel is not a bland theism. It is Christ-centered. The gospel embraces not just Christ’s person, but also his death and resurrection: Christ died for our sins. It’s not enough to emphasize Christmas and downplay Good Friday and Easter. Jesus is the promised Messiah who died and rose again. In the words of John Stott: “The gospel is not preached if Christ is not preached.”
2. Theological – God raised Christ Jesus from the dead; God sent the Son into the world. The text asserts that Christ died for our sins; the cross and resurrection are historical events with deep theological weight. It makes no sense to pit the mission of the Son against the mission of the Father. Some surveys of redemptive history depersonalize the wrath of God. From the beginning sin has been an offense against God. When we sin in any way, God is invariably the most offended party (cf. Ps. 51:4). God gets most angry at idolatry, the de-Godding of God (That is the first time that I have heard that term, yet how true it is). First, God sent the Son; the Son did the Father’s will; God raised the Son. Second, the cross is a historical event with theological weight. God is full of wrath against sin, and sinners stand under God’s judgment. Christ’s death propitiates that wrath so we can have peace with God: Christ died for our sins.
3. Biblical – Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; He was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. What scripture Paul has in mind is not told to us. Carson lists several possibilities for what scripture might be in Paul’s mind. Whatever it is, Paul tells us that this gospel is biblical: it is found in the Old Testament. (cf. Luke 24; Ps. 16; Is. 53; Ps. 2).
4. Apostolic – Paul repeatedly draws attention to the apostles; connects the witness and teaching of the apostles with the faith of all subsequent Christians. There were 500+ witnesses, but attention is drawn in particular to the apostles: Peter, the twelve, James, all the apostles, and last, Paul himself. This resurrection gospel is what the apostles preach and what the Corinthians believed. The witness and teaching of the apostles is the gospel that all Christians throughout the ages believe.
5. Historical – But for Christianity, part of the validation of faith is the truthfulness of faith’s object – in this case, Christ’s resurrection.
a. Specifies both Jesus’ death and resurrection – These are tied together in history. It is dateable sequence;
b. The manner in which we have access to historical events is exactly the same by which we have to any historical events; the scripture is a record; Paul enumerates the witnesses. The Bible is the written record of these first witnesses.
c. The central Christian claims are irreducibly historical (1 John 1:1). We have seen it. The Bible never asks us to believe what is not true. The Son entered history and there are historical events in Jesus’ life that are essential to Christianity. Part of the validation of faith is the truthfulness of faith’s object. Paul says, “if Jesus has not risen, your faith is futile” (v.17).
d. The word historical sometimes has slippery meanings. We must know the definition of historical – events that take place in the continuum of space and time. In addition, we must face the fact that in contemporary discussion that the word historical may have different meanings. Some use historical only for events brought about by ordinary causes and by definition this excludes miraculous event.
6. Personal – The death/resurrection is not merely historical and not merely theological (v.1-2). The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sets out the way of individual salvation. This is the gospel, “which you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved…”
7. Universal – Christ is the new Adam (v.22, 47-50); this alludes to a comprehensive vision. It is not universal in the sense that it transforms and saves everyone without exception. However, there is no racism in the gospel. There is a comprehensive vision, drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It does not save every person, but it is gloriously universal in its comprehensive sweep.
8. Eschatological – The end of the age has already been pronounced. We are justified because of what Christ has already done. First, some of the blessings believers receive today are blessings from the last day brought back to our time. Already, for instance, God declares us justified. This final declarative judgment is applied to us today. Second, the gospel includes our final transformation. It is not enough to focus on what Christians receive in this present age.
In addition to those eight summarizing words, Dr. Carson also lists five clarifying sentences
1. This gospel is normally disseminated in proclamation. – Paul says “I preach to you.” Look up every instance of the word gospel – almost always it is connected with one of the “preaching words.” The good news must be explained; God reveals Himself through His word.
2. This gospel is fruitfully received in authentic persevering faith. – See Col. 1.
3. This gospel is properly disclosed in personal self humiliation. – (v.10) When the gospel is received, there is no pride, but a sense of one’s own worthlessness. An example is when Paul says, “for I am the least of the apostles.” John Newton hit it on the head with this, “I am not what I want to be; I am not what I ought to be; I am not what one day what I will be; but I am not what I was, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”
4. This gospel is rightly asserted to be the central confession of the whole church. – See 1 Cor. 4:17, 7:17, 14:33-4. This is what Paul preaches everywhere. Always be suspicious of churches that flaunt how different they are from what has gone before.
5. The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the King. – One day, death will die; God will be all in all (v.58). All of God’s sovereignty is mediated exclusively through King Jesus. Christ must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet (v.25, also Phil. 2). That presupposes that the reign is still contested. But one day the final enemy, death itself, will die, and Jesus’ mediatory kingship will end, and God will be all in all.
Further from Dr. Carson:
“The gospel is cognitive (however, not exclusively) – here is what is to be understood, believed, obeyed; here is what is promised, taught, explained. The gospel works itself out in every aspect of a believer’s life. This is done not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, nor by imposing new levels of rules, nor by focusing on the periphery in the vain effort to sound prophetic, but by preaching and teaching and living out the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer. The gospel is not only God’s wisdom, but God’s power. There is no place for triumph in the place of the blood-bought. Where the gospel triumphs, relationships are transformed.”
– Adam Smith