Dr. Timothy Tennent: Remembering the Gospel
We are all experiencing a major cultural crisis where it is becoming increasingly evident that the dominant cultural voices are no longer embracing a Christian world-view. In the ancient world, there were three things which were “culturally impossible” when the church was in its infancy. First, it was “impossible” to imagine that the world was created ‘out of nothing.’ The ancient world believed in the eternality of matter and could not imagine that God created the world ex nihilo. They could not imagine anything beyond the material world we see with our senses. Second, it was impossible to believe that a wicked person could be justified and made whole. The ancient world believed that a person’s moral character was fixed and could not be changed. Finally, the ancient world did not believe anyone could rise from the dead. The gospel directly challenged these cultural assumptions through the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel declares that God created the world “out of nothing” thus establishing God’s supremacy and Lordship over the entire created world. Even the gods of ancient times were “created” or were some kind of ephemeral demiurge which could not be known. The gospel declares that God is personal and that he created a good world with divine purposes and a historical trajectory which leads, in the end, to the triumph of righteousness. Hebrews 11:3 declares that “by faith we understand that the world was formed at God’s command so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.” We also declare, to the world’s astonishment, that everyone will someday “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). The gospel also declares that the “categories” of the wicked and righteous have collapsed such that “none are righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Jesus Christ in the only truly Righteous One. The Jewish nation originally saw the world as divided between the “righteous” (Israel) and the “wicked” (all the other nations). Gradually, they saw that only a “remnant” of Israel was righteous. In the end, they realized that we all need redemption. Jesus Christ came as the One True Israelite and He alone embodies righteousness. We are all in the category of the “wicked” and the entire world is in need of the redemption which comes through Jesus Christ. Finally, the core gospel message is that we can all “be justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
In our own time, our culture has lost its Christian moorings and these same three cultural impossibilities reign. Our contemporary world has lost its faith in the living God who “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; Isaiah 42:5; Acts 4:24, Hebrews 1:10). The culture embraces some version of materialism which has no proper place for God as the living God who created us with divine purposes. History in the contemporary world has no divine trajectory, no final judgement, no reconciliation of the nations, etc. History, in the modern view, is shaped by political and social forces alone. Second, our contemporary world has no vision for reconciliation. Historical figures are vilified. Races are in a perpetual power conflict and cannot be reconciled one to another. There is no place for forgiveness and reconciliation, only perpetual conflict, division and hatred. Finally, the contemporary sees Jesus as just another ethical teacher, not as one who triumphed over the grave. But, it is deeper than that. The world has no vision that our bodies are sacred icons of God and will someday be raised from the dead. Instead, our bodies (in the contemporary view) can be subjected to the autonomous will. We can declare that we are “male” or “female” or neither. We can dispose of an unborn child in our womb. We can vilify the immigrant at our border as a collective “evil,” etc.
It is vital that every pastor understand that this is the time to boldly proclaim the gospel. This is not the time to find countless ways to accommodate the culture in the hope that they will embrace an increasingly domesticated gospel which has been moved so far from the actual glories of the New Testament it has become “another gospel.” Paul would say to our generation of Christians the same thing he said to the early Galatian Christians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-8). So, brother and sisters, stand unwavering in the power and glory of the Christian gospel. Proclaim it boldly. As the culture continues to descend into darkness let us remember the admonition of the Apostle Paul that we be found in the righteousness of Christ “in a crooked and perverted generation among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life” (Phil. 2:15, 16).