Systematised propositional statements vs a Gospel story of salvation

When I became a Christian I thought I might be a theologian. My standard Gospel presentation reflects this. It’s a series of systematized answers to leading questions. Who is God? Who is man? Who is Jesus? What must I do to be save? The short answers are God is holy, man is sinful, Christ is the way, repent for the forgiveness of sins.

This past week I spent some time with two very different men at the Baptist Union of Southern Africa Assembly. Bradley Trout from Mountain View Baptist Church and Craig Duval from Pinelands Baptist Church.

Bradley’s a friend. He’s a bookworm. But he’s more than your average bookworm. He remembers stuff, simplifies stuff, and repeats it back in relevant situations. He is an interesting addition to any conversation and I wish I could have more conversations with him in the room. Anyway Bradley has been on my case to get into Biblical Theology this year so that I can give some thought to progressive revelation and a narrative view of Scripture.

Craig’s different. One evening at the Assembly I sat down next to Craig and introduced myself as a Reformed, Dispensational, Cessationalist and asked him a couple of questions. He graciously spent the next 5 hours giving me answers. The Theological can of worms aside, what I got from Craig was a story. He started in the garden and wove through to eternity to come. He talks of the people of the Bible, the places of the Bible and the God of the Bible. Rather than a series of systematise propositional statements about Scripture he tells the story of Scripture. Simple, compelling, replicable. A transfer mechanism for theological concepts to an audience with an attention deficit.

So with Bradley and Craig in mind I’ve been thinking about my own Gospel narrative. The diagram below represents the major events I think need to be highlighted and I’ve given some indication as to why in the key below. But what have I missed? What needs expanding?

1. Creation: Theology proper. Who is God? The Creator. Our Creator. And His creation is very good. He is perfect, eternal, transcendent and immanent.
2. Corruption: Harmatology. Who is man? Corrupted, conceited, cursed. In every faculty of his being. Sinful. Yet, in the midst of the curse you have God pointing to the cross.
3. Abraham: The People of God, elected and loved, despite their stiff-neckedness. And in the covenant promise of God you have a clear point to the Seed, Christ, the cross, and blessing to come.
4. Moses/Law: The 10 Commandments. The impossible standard, blessing on/curse received. The Law which can’t save but can drive to the cross.
5. David/King: The promise of an eternal throne and a righteous King to come.
6. Christ Died: Christology. The person of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The work of Christ, Saviour, God died for us.
7. Christ Rose: Victory. The sacrifice is accepted. Heaven’s gates flung open wide.
8. The Church: The Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the great commission, the bold proclamation. Repent for the forgiveness of sins!

Systematised propositional statements vs a Gospel story of salvation? That’s a ridiculous title. It’s not an either or answer. It’s a both and. Note how I crafted my Estcatology into the diagram. :). Maybe I will grow up to be the Theologian after all.


6 thoughts on “Systematised propositional statements vs a Gospel story of salvation

  1. Actually for St. Paul anyway theology is “Christology”, and with the Resurrection looks back to the Cross and Death of Christ. Here from the present-tense in the Greek! And as Melanchthon put the matter in a classic sentence: “To know Christ is to know His benefits.”

  2. Thanks for passing this on, Mark – I like that you’re prepared to think in different categories. You’re right, it’s not an ‘either/or’ thing. However, in our present postmodern climate the narrative approach may be preferable. Missing from your presentation is the subject (explicitly anyway) of the Kingdom of God. I take this to be the Bible’s overarching theme: God reigns in the world; man thinks he would reign better and everything goes haywire; God begins the process of re-establishing his reign over this world; the program begins with Israel and culminates in Christ; the church age is the proclamation of the message of God’s kingdom come in Jesus Christ; and then there is when the kingdom finally and fully comes: the New Heavens and the New Earth. That is kingdom come – what we all hope for. I take the Kingdom of God to be the main subject of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. One of the weaknesses with systematic approaches historically is that they have tended not to emphasize what is so critical to Jesus himself (in this regard). I’d encourage us to think and discuss this important concept more because I’m convinced that in it lies the synthesis upon which so many are waiting between the strengths of covenant and dispensational theology.

    Also, you should clearly articulate new creation. The gospel isn’t just that God saves us from our sins by dying on the cross; it is also the result: because God saves us we can become partakers in this kingdom and live eternally in a world where God rules, there is no pain and perfect love.

    Great discussion, Mark – thanks for pointing me to it.

    • On this, it is worth seeing Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology – I’ve been loving his perspective as he ties concepts of kingship, temple, creation and church together amazingly well. On a more introductory level Goldsworthy’s “According to Plan” is well worth a read.

      I must say, the narrative approach has really appealed to me in that it has changed my evangelism: having listened to the concerns of whoever I’m speaking to I can tie the story of redemption into their concerns and show that they are not alone in their concerns, God shares them and is working to rectify them (in general) – of course tying this to sin, righteousness and judgement is done with ease because it’s part of the story.

  3. I would not necessarily say that I disagree with the presentation of the gospel. Yet over the years I have come to the personal conclusion that the Gospel is never just a linear story as presented above.

    The potential flaw of the statements above is with point 6 and 7 and is very common to the reformed tradition. “Christ died” and “Christ rose”. What room does this leave for the actual life of Jesus? Why is there point on that. The life of Jesus surprisingly features very little in the Gospel presentation of reformed churches, as if everything besides the passion is secondary. Not many churches for example reflect on the Amen statements of Jesus with which he opens his sermon of the mount (Note: Amen statement are agreeably the most important statements that Jesus ever made). Jesus promises the kingdom to the poor without any condition. They are not told that the kingdom belongs to them if they believe. It is promised to those that society despise and descriminates the most at that time (women, children, sick, poor).

    Second, the view that the Gospel is exclusively about repenting indirctly ignores the fact that the ability to believe is not a credited to our free will but a gift from God. We cannot save ourselves out of our own rational decision. Trusting in God and doing his will is a daily decision. The ability to do so in the first place is given to us. Many people simply cannot believe in God for various reasons that are not known to us. This does not automatically mean that these people are lost nor have decided themselves against God. The Bible says that the only way to the father is through Jesus – but this does not state that this can only happen during this life. What will happen at judgement day and who will eventually “make it” are questions to which we do not hold the answer. But one thing I believe is that God’s love and the good news will continue to be active even after the end of this age. I guess what this all means is that there is still a part of the story to be written. When it comes to presenting the gospel I like some of the thoughts of Rob Bell. Sometimes it is just about somebody having the courage to believe that God is actually for them. Not more, not less.

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