Thinking About Coalitions and the Gospel

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Over my time in College, one of my favourite blogs was the Gospel Coalition blog. The Gospel Coalition in particular has been interesting because it is a different way of thinking about what the Church looks like and what unifies us as a Church. Begun by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, it was intended to be a gospel-centered project for North America. Since then, I’ve read a handful of critiques which were worth giving, but overall I am still excited about the Gospel Coalition.

Paul describes the gospel or the good news in his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1: 16-17) It is the power of God, it is salvation, it is for all who believe. It is the righteousness of God, it is revealed from faith for faith, it is for those who live by faith. John the Baptist cried out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

In the last 20 years, North American evangelicals have really seen the need to emphasize ‘the gospel. This has been a good turn in evangelicalism as it continues to turn the eyes of North American Churches back to Jesus, the One who really changes everything. The Gospel Coalition in particular has taken the reigns in heading up this movement. The Gospel Coalition network is a network of churches who believe in the gospel and see the need to announce this gospel declaration. In the “About” section, they describe themselves this way: “As a broadly Reformed network of Churches, the Gospel Coalition encourages and educates current and next-generation Christian leaders by advocating gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior and do good to those for whom He shed His life’s blood…” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/about/overview) You can find their confessional statements here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/about/foundation-documents.

As I mentioned, I have really enjoyed the Gospel Coalition blog especially during my time at college. But I also have been thinking more about what the ‘Gospel’ is lately. I have more questions than critiques. Have we tended to reduce things to our idea of ‘the gospel’ in the last 20 years? Is this ‘Gospel’ a ‘core’ of beliefs in Scripture? What is it defined by? How does it intersect with the institutional church which is sorely divided in North America?

Recently I have done some work on Luke 24 and Acts 1, and I have been really impressed by what the writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are doing in these passages. Jesus comes and announces a core gospel message in Luke 24: 46,47 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…” The Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit – are distinctly present at the end of the Book of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the opening to the Book of Acts. Biblically, our Triune God is at the center of any gospel enterprise. Matthew very specifically commands the Apostles to baptize and disciple, Mark commands them to fight the devil, and Luke commands them to announce and witness.

The Apostles were representative of the church going out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Part of the gospel proclamation was the advance of the church. Part of its proclamation was the upbuilding of the church, and may I dare to say: the institutional church. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 2: 19-20 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” The Church is built on this gospel proclamation which is extended into the writings of Paul. But this gospel proclamation also extends back into the Old Testament. Both Peter and Paul preach from the Old Testament Scriptures in the Book of Acts, and Paul’s work is chock full of Old Testament Scripture. Jesus Himself says in Luke 24:44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Earlier, Luke says about Jesus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

As you can see, getting at what the gospel says is a massive project, it encompasses the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is an announcement of repentance and forgiveness of sins, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is baptizing and discipling; it is bringing the church to a fuller unity. It is Word-centered and therefore truth centered. It is deeply entrenched and rooted in the message of the Old Testament Scriptures. We still believe that all the Scriptures are inspired and are central to this gospel proclamation. Of course, Scripture reveals our Triune God, the center of reality. The Canon of Scripture is complete, but the work of the Church continues, as the Spirit leads us in all truth.

The history of the Church bears witness to this as the Apologists and Church Fathers from the first centuries continued in the tradition of the Apostles, fighting for this unity of the Church, fighting for the truth of the gospel, building on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The writings of those first pastors and leaders and elders are full of references to both the New Testament and the Old Testament. It is largely a positive formation of doctrines built on the Apostles and Prophets, but it is also full of polemics or fighting words as false teachers sought to pull the church away from the truth. This “gospel project” of the last 20 years should be aimed at uncovering 2000 years of Church history, where different men from all ages have contended for the gospel.

I would not say that Keller or Carson would disagree with this. I would definitely say I learn a lot from Keller and Carson and the Gospel Coalition. But in some ways I have been seeking a better, more Biblically defined manner of speaking about a gospel coalition or a gospel network. It’s best to keep asking questions, hopefully they are good questions.

In the end, we should not be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God to salvation. We should not be ashamed of projects such as the Gospel Coalition. But we should also take care not to underestimate the extent of this project. This is about generations (including babies) praising God. This is about the entirety of Scripture that we must wrestle through, and 2000 years of Church history that we should not push aside. It is distinctly Trinitarian: The Father knowing the times and seasons, the Church witnessing to the Name of Christ, and the Holy Spirit giving us power (Acts 1:7-11). The Church is the New Temple (Eph. 2). It is built on the witness of the apostles and prophets in the Scriptures. And remember: Jesus Christ is the cornerstone.

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