Category Archives: Gospel

The Gospel versus Jesus: A critique of Tim Keller’s reductive view

I feel like I’ve been trying to make some of these points for a long time…. From David Fitch, as excerpted on Jesus Creed: Yet two questions emerge for me from Keller’s reading of the gospel and church. 1.) Is this really contextualizing the gospel? Or is it interpreting/translating all of life experience through a singular understanding of the gospel learned in the German [sic, Swiss] Reformation? And 2.) Should the gospel be the center of the church or should it be Jesus, the Living Christ? Regarding question no. 1.) I suggest that Tim Keller is really translating the singular Reformed understanding of salvation into various experiences we have in the West. This is good and helpful, especially for those of us who are culturally (or sinfully) conditioned to think we have to “earn” merit in the world and with God, and who sense our own guilt, inadequacies and failures to approach God on our own. This too is a human condition and the Reformed version of salvation is marvelous in response to this. But it is not all of salvation. Indeed, “the gospel that I have proclaimed to you,” as Paul said in 1 Cor 15:1, is that God has fulfilled his promises to Israel in Christ to rule the world and make the world right. In Christ, God has become King, and He has reconciled the whole world to Himself  in Christ (2 Cor 5:19) so that now “if you confess with your lips Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9). The gospel begins and is “Jesus the Messiah has been made Lord” and in and thru Him all things are being made right. Certainly the gospel of justification by faith falls under the Lordship of Christ, but we enter in through submitting to His reign and rule over our lives from which all things are made right in our relationship with God and in the whole world. To the extent we limit the gospel to justification by faith, we limit all the rest of what God is doing individually and in the world and into which we are called to participate.

My question then for the reader is, is Tim Keller really showing us how to contextualize the gospel? or is he narrowing it?  What say you? Fair question eh?

Regarding question no. 2.) I believe Jesus the Incarnate Lord, is the center of the church. He is the one around whose presence and redeeming work we gather. The church that centers itself around the gospel (as pastor Keller articulates it) becomes focused around the preaching and application of this gospel from a pulpit. The church becomes individualized in the appropriating of this gospel individually. We lose the sense that the church is called into being as a people before His reign and that we are the extension of His presence in the world in everyday life. This aspect of the gospel I argue tends to become secondary instead of an integral outworking of what it means to be in Christ’s Kingdom, submitting to His Lordship in our lives and in the world. I argue for a different vision of the church (with Holsclaw in Prodigal Christianity). I suggest the church gathers around the presence of the living Christ. This happens at the Eucharist, the proclaiming of the gospel (notice I hold onto the this tightly), reconciliation, being with the least of these, being with the children, the gifts of the Spirit, praying together submitting to His Kingdom. In each of these practices, His presence is birthed in us socially in a special way (I am “with” you). His rule/authority is made manifest over the powers of sin, death and evil, and so as we leave and go out into the world, we extend this very presence by doing the same things (table fellowship, proclaiming gospel, reconciling, being with the least of these/children, giftings and prayer) in our neighborhoods where He is already at work as living King over heaven and earth (Matt 28:20). As such, I argue, we do not gather around the proclaiming of the gospel, we gather around the Incarnate living presence and rule of Christ extended into our midst. Also see “Tim Keller argued off point…

Replying to a critique from ‘The Grand Book’ blog

Back in April, I posted “Why Factual Discrepencies in the Bible are a Barrier to Faith.”

Today, I received a reply that  responded to several points I made.

And, now, here’s my reply to the reply:

Thanks for your reply. I approved your comment on my blog (I have it set up so I have to approve all comments because I was getting a lot of junk in my comments sections).

Your lengthy reply deserves an adequate response.

In the first section, I quote things you’ve said and made replies. After that, I give examples of factual discrepencies.

“And on what basis is rationality unassailable?”

My argument was not that rationality is unassailable, but rather that rational arguments based on non-rational grounds don’t make sense.

“…nowhere in New Testament literature do I see the preeminence of Reason” Oddly enough, here you are making a rational or reason-based argument based on a lack of evidence in the New Testament texts.

“Isn’t it really just a reaction to the Enlightenent where humanity, in it’s arrogance (for it issued in the bloodiest Century EVER when it deified Reason) decides it has the right to place “God in the Dock” (on trial).”

Maybe I can just say that Thomas Aquinas would probably not make reason the bad guy, but rather the people who use it. Actually, I’m more likely to agree with you in one sense: David Hume said reason is and ought to be slave to the passions. So it always has been a tool of convictions and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that one can just say “the Enlightenment and 20th Century were bad therefore reason is to blame.”

On lower-order and higher-order concerns, let me give a brief illustration: If my wife, children and I are traveling, and our car breaks down in a rural area, I will certainly talk to the first person who stops to help. However, if that person does quirky things and says unusual things and acts strangely (lower-order concerns) then I’m going to be wary of his offer to take all of us to a safe location (higher-order concern).

“And how does one get better information than these eyewitnesses (or those who received information from them) as an English-speaking American postmodern skeptic 2,000 years after the fact? Why would I accept the culture-bound skepticism of my generation over the testimony of 1st Century Middle Eastern eyewitnesses who both spoke the language (Aramaic) and were able to write in the “lingua Franca” of het day?”

I like most of this point, and especially agree about culture-bound skepticism. However, I’m pretty sure the Gospels were written in Greek. You’re right to say the disciples spoke Aramaic. Considering their class and education, they most likely couldn’t write in Greek. So who wrote the Gospels?

“If some facts do not line up as reported by different sources from different cities for different audiences with different intents that does not equal a lack of truthfulness. The author of this article may have been a journalist as I was myself, but the authors of the N.T. books (for example) are under now such social contract to deliver the daily news.”

OK, as long as we’re admitting that we’re divorcing factual accuracy from truthfulness. Maybe I am too “Greek” in my thinking but I smell relativism here. Then again, I love poetry so I’m actually quite cool with metaphors and the idea of getting to the “essence” of an experience rather than just the facts. Maybe I should read the Bible in more of a poetic way. Seriously, maybe I should and will.

“This is patently poor thinking. Having undermined scripture (without a single example) he now wants to base the Nicene Creed on it? Then he says that a Bible-study industry cannot reasonably supported by these same documents? What Bible-study industry?”

Well, you may have gotten the facts right, but you sure missed my intentions (which ironically is what you say I’m doing with the Bible). I transitioned from my previous points by saying, “Of course, it’s not that simple,” which is my way of admitting that there is fault in what I have said previously, and I’ve only given a simplistic overview. THEN, I proceed to make a point that you made earlier, which is that multiple witnesses provide good evidence in the areas in which they agree. To answer your question about the Bible study industry, I use your own words: “Christian bookstores now stay open not by selling serious theological or exegetical works…” Yes, very true, but many of those books are still labeled as Bible studies, and wherever I go, I can’t get away from books by Beth Moore and Kay Arthur and others. Maybe I should have said, “alleged Bible studies.”

“Okay. Cherry-picking.”

No, the exact opposite — looking for broad thematic unity within the canon. The opposite of cherry-picking.

Now, before I give examples factual discrepencies (which I had before in earlier blog posts because I consider all the posts to be part of one work), I will say that I’ve been watching video clips of Ben Witherington, D.A. Carson, and others making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. And this actually goes to your last point: specialists CAN explain differences between, for example, the geneologies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. I’m not sure how someone could take the plain sense of the text and make the two geneologies work  together, but specialists in other fields can. But as I give these examples of discrepencies, I am acknowledging that some scholars might be able to shed genuine light on the related subjects. However, very few people I grew up with — both in the non-denominational charismatic churches and in the Independent Misisonary Baptist schools — even KNEW the phrase “ancient near East literature.”

But I am acknowledging that “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” isn’t necessarily always the “right” way to read the ancient near East texts.

In what follows, I show examples of discrepencies in the “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” reading of Scripture, the way my Christian schools and churches all approached the Scriptures.

To be concise, I’ll begin by quoting Michael J. Christensen, who at the beginning of his book “C.S. Lewis on Scripture” tries to give the background for why he is writing the book.

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch’s note: he couldn’t have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas’ death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'”

Now, some other observations:

Genesis 1:1-2:4 presents a much different order of creation than Genesis 2:5-2:25.

Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3, supposedly parallel accounts, differ on whether Jesus sent the disciples out with a walking stick or told them not to take one.

My Oxford edition of The New English Study Bible says, in its intro to 1 Thesalonians, that the account of Paul’s travels in Acts 17:1-18:5 does not seem to match up with the presuppositions of 1 Thes. 2:7-9 and Philippians 4:16. Admittedly, I’m not sure I fully understand this one, but I assume the folks behind the Oxford edition of a study Bible are sharp enough to consider.


Why would a group of guys within an oppressed people group invent a story about a God who gets himself killed and, while dying, forgives his executioners?

There is nothing empowering about that story.

Especially considering the imprisonment, torture and public executions that group of guys — and several generations after them — would face for professing to believe in that executed, forgiving God?

Somehow, their belief was more than a culturally enforced, convenient decision. They believed despite knowing they could be killed for doing so.

How you got to know your self — or, Christianity’s contribution to the Western understanding of personhood

This somewhat dense passage contains a cultural, social and psychological storyline:

“It is in a theological form, and at the peak of the most abstract conceptualization, that the notions of person and personality were first explicitly offered to the human mind: namely, in the dogmatic formulas concerned with Christian faith in the divine Trinity — one Nature in three Persons — and in the Incarnation of the Word — a divine Person assuming human nature. At the same time the human mind was confronted with a new idea of man — the Gospels and St. Paul disclosed to it the prevalence of the internal man over the external man, of the inner life of the soul over legal or exterior forms — and it could contemplate in the Son of Man crowned with thorns the abysmal depth of the most living and mysterious Self.” — Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry

John Stackhouse: ‘When preaching the gospel goes way too far’

Author John Stackhouse, theologian at Regent College, makes some good points here.

The Gospel and The Submarines

Love can free us from all excess
From our deepest debts
Cause when our hearts are full we need much less

– “You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie” by The Submarines, from Honeysuckle Weeks (2008)

Interview: Pushcart Prize-winning writer uses dogs to explain the Christian Gospel

The extraordinary fiction writer Pinckney Benedict was recently interviewed by Image; here’s an interesting excerpt:

Image: You have a novel titled Dogs of God, and in this story a feral dog is one of the two main characters. What do dogs have to teach us?

Pinckney Benedict: Dogs give us an excellent metaphor for our own relationship to God: We can see, from our human perspective, how limited their understanding is. And sometimes they make terrible blunders—which we could prevent them from making, if they would listen to us—because they have relatively short horizons. And sometimes they do astonishingly well, by our lights, on very little information and with no moral boundaries.

We’re something like that—magnified to the nth degree, of course—in relation to God. The way I love my dog, even though he’s a spastic moron who eats things that no one or nothing should eat, and then he comes home and vomits on my carpet: that, multiplied infinitely, is how God sees me and also how he loves me. So I can be aware of how limited and shameful I am, and not want to simply burst into flames with humiliation. What I want for my dog is what God wants for me, times one billion.

Continue with the interview here.

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