Friday, April 11, 2008

Kingdom Sightings: A Multifaceted Gospel

My column for the April 2008 issue of Christianity Today is now available online. It has already received a number of comments, both pro and con. And the back-and-forth between commenters is also very interesting, as it highlights how people have very different perspectives on this.

I chose to write on this topic as something of an unofficial tie-in to this year's Christian Vision Project theme on the gospel, which poses the simple question, "Is our gospel too small?" The project has already generated some thoughtful reflections from Richard Mouw, Scot McKnight and others. Check them out. At any rate, here's part of my article:

A Multifaceted Gospel

Why evangelicals shouldn't be threatened by new tellings of the Good News.

At the 2006 Ancient Evangelical Future conference, historian Martin Marty commented briefly on the Atonement theories proposed by the early church. Did the church fathers hold to penal substitution, Christus Victor, or Anselm's view of the Atonement? Yes. All of the above.

Panelists pressed Marty to declare one view or another the "right" one. Whatever one thinks, he responded, the reality is that the church held to multiple versions.

The same is true today, in evangelical thinking about the nature of the gospel. . . . Some focus on a change of heart, mind, or direction; others major on judgment or conviction of sin. Some speak about the promise of new life, now and eternally; others stress individual transformation or societal and cosmic renewal. We need all of the above.

[The full article is available here. And by the way, I blogged some time ago about the Martin Marty talk that I reference in the column; that post is available here, and it unpacks further what Marty said at the conference and my own take and application of it.]


Anonymous said...

I really appreciated this column. It reminded me a bit of Scott McKnight's A Community Called Atonement. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Congrats on published column #2! I'm adding my own positive comments to affirm the CT editors in their letting writers say controversial things. ;o)

Al Hsu said...

Thanks, David - I really appreciated McKnight's Community Called Atonement as well. (I blogged about it a few months back.)

And thanks, Ashleigh - I saw your comment at CT! Nicely said. I think it's interesting that I'm perceived as controversial. So much depends on where people are at - to conservatives I seem liberal, to liberals I seem conservative ... oh, well! I was at the Wheaton Theology Conference yesterday and was encouraged by several theologians and publishing professionals who had seen my article and told me that I was entirely correct. That made my day!

Unknown said...

It's always fun to have theologians back you up.

Dianne said...

I too appreciated your column. Thanks for posting the link. Good thoughts.

Anonymous said...

fantastic article. it's great to see things like this in CT. Keep it up!

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for highlighting your article which I read. I didn't agree with some of what you expressed or perhaps the words you used but I respect your right to hold your perspective.

I do not believe that Jesus spoke many messages but one essential message with core components. The fact that he used multiple metaphors does not negate that. Multiple metaphors can be applied over a lifetime of a ministry with a singular purpose and message.

Well written article though..thanks for taking the time to write it ;-)

Al Hsu said...

Thanks for commenting, folks! (And assuming that it's the same Dianne and Curtis that posted at CT's site - thanks for commenting there as well!)

every square inch - you say "I do not believe that Jesus spoke many messages but one essential message with core components." I hear what you're saying, but this is itself an example of the complexity of language. Did Jesus have one essential message? Sure. What was it? The kingdom of God? Eternal life? Well, the synoptics use kingdom of God or kingdom of the heavens, but John doesn't - he uses eternal life, among other images. And then Paul and the others use plenty of other terminology. No matter how you unpack the NT accounts, we have "many messages" about that one gospel.

I like I. Howard Marshall's subtitle to his book New Testament Theology - "Many Witnesses, One Gospel." There is most certainly just one gospel - Jesus died and rose to save us. But there are, as you say, multiple metaphors and expressions for that one gospel. I actually suggested to CT an alternate title for the article of something like "One Gospel, Infinite Expressions" to make more clear that I'm not saying that there are multiple gospels, but rather multiple ways of communicating the one gospel. As Roger Olson says in The Mosaic of Christian Belief, we affirm both unity and diversity simultaneously.

Other more nuanced folks might argue for a multiplicity of actual gospels, or even multiple Christianities, but I don't go there. I'm not relativizing the gospel or casting postmodern doubt on whether we can ever know what the gospel actually is. I'm conservative enough to say that there's one essential gospel, but I'm flexible enough to say that there are lots of ways to get at it.