Mark Dever on Unbiblical Theology: Questioning 5 Common Deceits
Adapted from Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
New challenges to the clarity and sufficiency of the gospel arise in each generation. Today some people, even within evangelicalism, are acting and speaking as if Jesus Christ alone is not fully sufficient and as if faith in him and his promises alone is a reduction of the full gospel. They are effectively modifying, or expanding, the gospel we have received.
There are several different ways that people are trying to supplement or add to the gospel. Let’s consider some of the threats that we face, some of the mistaken notions that threaten to carry us away.
1. “Make the Gospel Social!” I don’t mean by this to communicate any indifference about issues of this life. Are both evangelism and compassionate service to be part of our individual discipleship? Yes. Are they both to typify our lives as Christians? Yes. Are they equally part of the gospel? No. Never substitute doing good works for sharing the gospel. Don’t try to improve the gospel by making it social; you’ll end up losing it. We must preach the gospel we have received.
2. “Make the Gospel Larger!” There is a problem of confusing an action of ours with the gospel itself, even if that action can be said to reflect the gospel or to be consistent with it, perhaps even be an implication of it. When someone says that the gospel includes opposition to abortion or working to end unjust laws, then I have a few questions: does it also include nationalized health care or the war in Iraq? To require us to include what we take to be implications of the gospel as part of the gospel itself can too easily confuse our message and cause us to lose the radical and gracious sufficiency of faith in Christ alone. We want a Christian worldview and we don’t want to confuse that with the gospel. Don’t try to improve the gospel by making it larger; you’ll end up losing it. We must preach the gospel we have received.
3. “Make the Gospel Relevant!” We should reject any kind of “relevance” that sacrifices the very distinctiveness that Scripture tells us will a part of our life-saving witness to the gospel among those we would reach. We should illustrate the gospel before them by our lives of Christlike love. The gospel’s relevance appears precisely in our being distinct. Don’t try to improve the gospel by making it more relevant; you’ll end up losing it. We must preach the gospel we have received.
4. “Make the Gospel Personal!” Some people seem to understand the gospel only in reference to themselves as individuals with no idea of the local church. This individualism, which ignores the local church, ends up distorting our discipleship and even our gospel. The local church is a glorious testimony to the gospel, which is greater than the sum of its visible parts. The local church is not simply a collection of individual lights; it is a furnace that rages against the dark that God uses to create more lights. Don’t try to improve the gospel by decoupling it from the church; you’ll end up losing it. We must preach the gospel we have received.
5. “Make the Gospel Kinder!” Many people have assumed that the ultimate purpose of the gospel is the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Therefore, we should do whatever we can to reach whomever we can (which in and of itself, of course, is good). But here, “reaching them” is not seen as merely making sure they hear and understand the gospel, but making sure that they accept the gospel. God is in this for our salvation—and even our glory, as Paul says in 1 Cor 2:7—but also, and more fundamentally, he is in it to please himself, to demonstrate himself to the universe. He has a larger end in mind—the display of his character in creation, the theater of his splendor. Don’t try to improve the gospel by making it appear kinder at first glance. If you do, you’ll end up losing the gospel. We must preach the gospel we have received.
*You can also read chapter 5 on The Curse Motif of the Atonement by RC Sproul here.