We enjoyed a break of almost an hour and then gathered together again to sing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” and to hear Mark Dever’s session. He discussed the temptation to improve upon the gospel. His talk was built upon five “calls” that are dangerous to the gospel—five ways churches may be tempted to adapt or shrink or expand the gospel message in order to make it more palatable.
The First Call – Make the gospel public. The question here is: what is the gospel about? This call is all about our mission. These people believe the gospel is to save not individuals but the structure of our society (and here Dever suggested N.T. Wright as an example of a person who does this). They ask How much of the kingdom will we see before Christ returns? But we will never by our actions bring in the culmination of the kingdom of God because this waits for the return of Christ. To get the church to focus on repairing passing structures in a world under the curse of God, is to cause churches discouragement and to distract us from the work of bringing God glory by preaching the gospel and seeing people converted and reconciled to God. As Christians we need to preach the gospel and preach it as we’ve received it.
The Second Call – Make the gospel larger. The question here is: did Jesus come only to save our souls? What is at stake here is the core of the gospel. People here think through a Christian worldview, which is great. But implications of the gospel are sometimes referred to as part of the gospel. This is not so great! These are people who would affirm what we mean by the gospel but they would want to say more. Dever mentioned Chuck Colson as a person who is an example of this. We must always be clear to distinguish between the core of the gospel and its results.
The Third Call – Make the gospel relevant. The question here is: how will people be saved? This affects our outreach and what it will be like. It’s an issue of contextualization. Many people begin with the idea that the gospel appears irrelevant to people. But the gospel already is relevant to every person on earth. We do not need to make it any more relevant than it is! Our call is to give the message faithfully trusting that it is relevant.
The Fourth Call – Make the gospel personal. This is an individualism that ignores the role of the local church. This is true of people from Harold Camping to George Barna. Our participation in a local congregation normally validates or falsifies our claim to trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What message allows you to think you’ve accepted it if you don’t in a committed and Christ-like way love your brother? Many people today ignore the fundamental congregational centeredness that is so critical to the biblical understanding of church. A wrongly personalized gospel leads to a wrongly personalized church. Being vague about the church can hurt our understanding of the gospel. There is a personal component to the gospel, of course, but it is not a call to radical individualism.
The Fifth Call – Make the gospel kinder. Here the question is Why does God save us? It has long been assumed that the purpose of the gospel is to save the greatest number of people from hell. The follow-on to this is that we should do whatever we can do to save whoever we can, but where we go wrong is not just in ensuring people hear the gospel but trying to make sure that they make a visible response to it. But our responsibility is for faithfulness in preaching the message, not in ensuring that others accept it.
The long and the short is simple. We need to preach the gospel as it has been given to us. We do not change it, modify it, grow it, shrink it or do anything to make it better. Our task is simply to take it the way it has been given to us and to believe in its power to affect lives.