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Thursday
Mar132008

Chuck Colson's The Faith Blog Tour

0310276039.jpgToday’s the day the blog tour for Chuck Colson’s book The Faith comes here. The question I asked Mr. Colson was this one:

On page 117 you write this: “True faith means putting the cause of Christ and the needs of others ahead of self and doing the gospel.” Can you explain what you mean by the phrase “doing the gospel”? What is included in doing the gospel?

Here’s how he answered:

Having reread the sentence you refer to, I can understand why you would have questions about it.  What I meant to say is that true faith means putting the cause of Christ and the needs of others ahead of self.  Period.  It also means doing the gospel.  It is not putting the case of Christ and the needs of others ahead of doing the gospel.  That’s very confusing.  Thank you for raising it.  I will definitely have that edited in the 4th printing.

I wasn’t intending to point out the awkwardness of the sentence I quoted. I really just wanted to know what is meant by “doing the gospel.” It’s a phrase I hear and read frequently, but I’ve never been 100% sure how it is defined.

However, even though Mr. Colson didn’t answer my intended question directly, I think I can, from his answer, put together a pretty good explanation of what he means by “doing the gospel” in this sentence. He seems to be saying that making the cause of Christ and the needs of others primary in importance is in some way “doing the gospel.”

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I’m not very fond of the phrase “doing the gospel.”  I think it conveys a view of the gospel that is, at the very least, focused on things that are not at the center of the gospel. It gives the idea that the gospel is a set of ethical teachings or commandments—in this case, the two great commandments—and that is an idea that quite misses the mark, actually, when it comes to conveying what is the good news we call the gospel.

The gospel is the historical truth of what Christ did for sinners in accordance with God’s saving plan. It is news—good news. People can preach and teach the gospel; they can believe, receive, and confess the gospel; they can advance the cause of the gospel.

But can they “do the gospel”? If by that someone means that the gospel—the good news—proclaimed and confessed, transforms lives, so that those whose lives are changed by the truth of the gospel live in a way that puts the cause of Christ and the needs of others ahead of their own selfish interests, then I’m prepared to give a pass to the use of the phrase. I’d argue that the phrase itself, however, used without careful definition, is much more likely to lead to a distorted view of the gospel than it is to enlighten us about the gospel or advance the cause of the gospel.

Having read all of The Faith, I will say that I do believe that Charles Colson, personally, has this more fully orbed view of the gospel that I outlined in the paragraph above. But I wonder if statements like the one I quoted and the phrase “doing the gospel” might not cause some readers to understand the gospel as merely duty or religiousity, and not something propositional that rightly taught, understood, and believed, changes people from the inside and works outward from there.

What say you all? 

Below is the schedule for The Faith’s blog tour so you can keep up with the rests of the interview questions and answers:

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    The PowerBlog has been selected as one of the host blogs for Chuck Colson’s blog tour, promoting his new book, The Faith. It’s an honor to be included among other luminaries of the blogosphere like The Dawn Treader, Challies.com, and Tall Skin

Reader Comments (9)

I agree with your concerns about the phrase, "Doing the Gospel," and I also agree that Chuck Colson has a more full orbed understanding than this quote might indicate.

Looking at this quotation, I also find myself working through this phrase, "true faith means putting the cause of Christ and others ahead of self. Period."

The "Period" is where I flinch. The idea that the sum of the Gospel is putting others ahead of self, end of story doesn't seem to square with the truth that our chief end is not only to glorify God but also to enjoy Him forever.

Of course, Christians are called to die to self in the first place. But, as Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, this is not as end in itself.

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris Brauns

Maybe he's referring to being missional...finding ways to meet the felt needs of others and trying to create opportunities to share the gospel.

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

I was raised a Protestant and still consider myself a 5-point Calvinist, but I have come to conclude that Luther over-reacted, and that "Justification by Belief" is a misunderstanding of the Christian message, and that "doing the Gospel" is more Biblical.

Perhaps a more strictly Biblical phrase would be "obeying the Gospel" (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; Galatians 5:7; Hebrews 5:9).

Here is a brief summary of what I get from those verses.

Rather than "Justification by Faith," I now prefer "Justification by Allegiance" (link to a more lengthy exposition).

Hebrews 11, often called "The Faith Chapter," turns out on closer inspection to be "the doing chapter," or "the obedience chapter." Hebrews 11:8

I'm sure Colson would agree that we are to "do the Gospel" to the glory of God, just as he probably won't agree with my new heresy, "Justification by Allegiance."

But hooray for "doing the Gospel" (Matthew 7:26; Matthew 25:45; Luke 6:46).

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Craig

"Justification by Belief" is a misunderstanding of the Christian message, and that "doing the Gospel" is more Biblical.
The problem with this is that "doing the gospel" is a phrase that is never used in scripture. The phrase "obey the gospel" is indeed a biblical one, but look at the three passages that actually use the phrase "obey the gospel." Contextually, "obey the gospel" is used synonymously with "believing our testimony" or "believing what is heard from us." In other words, if we use the phrase as it is used biblically, the gospel is propositional. It contains information that can be testified to, or told to someone, and heard from someone. Obeying the gospel is believing the propositions testified to or told to us.

Hebrews 11, often called "The Faith Chapter," turns out on closer inspection to be "the doing chapter," or "the obedience chapter." Hebrews 11:8

Hebrews 11 is off-topic. Hebrews 11 isn't specifically defining the gospel. And I'm not arguing that true faith doesn't lead to obedience, anyway.

I'm simply arguing that the gospel, as the word is used biblically (and why would we want to use it other than how it is used biblically?), is about what God has done in Christ: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and was raised...." That's a historical statement. Those who understand the significance of that historical statement and earnestly trust in the truths contained in it are "obeying the gospel".

That sort of earnest trust in this propositional truth of the gospel—the good news about what Christ has done—always leads to obedient works, since trust in the gospel saves, and being saved is transformative. Believing the gospel transforms lives.

But I think it's confusing language (and frankly, a little muddleheaded) to speak of "doing the gospel", since the gospel, as defined biblically, is historical and propositional. "Doing the gospel" makes it sound like the gospel is a set of commands and it isn't.

(Which is not to say there are no commands for us to obey. But those commands are never called the gospel.)


March 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

The word "gospel" in Galatians 3:8 is not historical:

And the Scripture preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, "In thee shall all nations be blessed."

"Blessing" -- as Abraham knew very well -- comes as a result of obedience (Deut. 28, Lev 26, etc.). The Gospel is the good news that God will make the whole world obedient (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12).

"Doing the Gospel" means obeying God's Commandments, so that God's blessings can be poured out. "Believing the Gospel," that is, giving mental assent to a proposition about history, truncates the Biblical Gospel and short-circuits its fulfillment.

"Easy believism" has given rise to the cultural evils Chuck Colson writes about so passionately.

More conversation here: http://VFTonline.com/rebecca.htm

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Craig

The word "gospel" in Galatians 3:8 is not historical:

And the Scripture preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, "In thee shall all nations be blessed."

What do you mean, it's not historical? It's the promise of a future historical event and a future historical person. Who is the fulfillment of that promise? It's the historical person Jesus. "In thee all the nations shall be blessed" points forward to a historical event: the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ.

With the death and resurrection of Christ, people of all nations can be Abraham's offspring, heirs of promise, through faith. Same chapter you quoted, keep reading.

God preached the gospel to Abraham and as a result, Abraham looked forward to a historical event: Abraham "saw Christ's day and was glad."

"Blessing" -- as Abraham knew very well -- comes as a result of obedience (Deut. 28, Lev 26, etc.).

But we're defining the gospel. How do those passages help define the gospel?

The Gospel is the good news that God will make the whole world obedient (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12)

Once again, none of those passages speak directly to the definition of the gospel. Those passages are speaking of the coming of the New Covenant, and the New Covenant to which they refer was instituted by the historical death and resurrection of Christ and comes to those who are united with Christ by faith. The obedience of those under the New Covenant comes because of God's inner work: He gives new hearts and puts his Spirit within them and in that way causes them to be obedient. But nowhere is this obedience called "the gospel." (Read the whole of the passages you've given and on into Hebews 9 and 10.)

"Doing the Gospel" means obeying God's Commandments, so that God's blessings can be poured out.

What you've done with this statement is prove the original posts point about the phrase "doing the gospel": it gives the impression that the gospel is a set of commandments. I doubt that Chuck Colson believes that the gospel is a set of commandments to be obeyed, and therefore, it was probably an unwise choice of wording since there are indeed people (you, for one) who believe the gospel is a set of commandments, and who might misinterpret him.

And, btw, can you find me one place where scripture equates the gospel with a set of commandments (except, of course, the command to repent and believe)?

"Believing the Gospel," that is, giving mental assent to a proposition about history, truncates the Biblical Gospel and short-circuits its fulfillment.

Who defined believing the gospel as "giving mental assent to a proposition about history"? Certainly not me. I'd define believing the gospel as wholehearted trust in Christ and his work.

"Easy believism" has given rise to the cultural evils Chuck Colson writes about so passionately.

Who said anything about easy-believism? Certainly not me. Are you reading what I've written?

Faith in Christ and his work (to repeat what I've already written) is transformative. Believing the gospel results in transformed lives. No transformed life, no assurance of true faith in Christ and his work; no transformed life, no assurance of true belief in the gospel.

I'm curious as to why you're working so hard to justify a phrase (doing the gospel) that is never used in scripture?

That the gospel is proclaimed, preached, believed, heard, testified to, seen, confessed, distorted, defended, confirmed, declared shows us that the gospel has cognitive content.

The gospel is never said to be "done". It is said to be obeyed, but "obeying the gospel" is defined for us as "believing our testimony" or "believing what is heard from us", which simply reaffirms the cognitive nature of the gospel.

If you want to speak about "obeying God's commands" why not just use that phrase instead of using one that is never used in scripture?

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

By affirming the particle-nature of light, I do not deny the wave-nature of light. I don't deny the cognitive nature of the gospel, but you seem to be denying the imperative nature of the gospel. You seem  to reduce "obey the gospel" to "cognitively assent to the gospel."

Preaching the gospel creates "disciples" (Acts 14:21), which is more than one who affirms a proposition, like a "student" checks "B" on a multiple choice test, but more like an "apprentice" who is busy doing the work of the Master. Just as often as Jesus said "believe on Me" He said "follow Me" (Matthew 19:21; Mark 8:34; 10:21; John 10:27; 12:26), thus indicating that those who do not follow with their feet do not really "believe" cognitively.

This is why I harmonize "justification by faith" ("believing the gospel") and "justification by works" ("doing the gospel") (both taught in the Bible) as "Justification by Allegiance."

Click here for a more detailed response.

March 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Craig

If you put too many links in your comment, it automatically goes to comment moderation, and it seems that that's what happened with your comment.

You seem to reduce "obey the gospel" to "cognitively assent to the gospel."

Nope, because I don't reduce belief to mental assent. It's that and more. It's receiving the gospel, standing in the gospel, holding fast to the gospel.

But I do define the phrase "obeying the gospel" as it is used scripturally. I do that by looking at the context in which that phrase is used. And it's used synonymously with "believing testimony" or "believing what is heard."

Preaching the gospel creates "disciples" (Acts 14:21)

Yes, because as I keep repeating, the gospel transforms lives. God is saving people through the gospel! And by saving people, I don't just mean that he's giving them a pass into heaven. I mean that he forgives their sins, declares them righteous, and by the Spirit begins to make them more and more righteous. Belief in the gospel unites us to Christ and through that union with Christ we are transformed.

which is more than one who affirms a proposition, like a "student" checks "B" on a multiple choice test

As I keep repeating, belief is not only affirming a proposition. It is not checking a letter on a multiple choice test. It's whole-hearted trust; it's receiving, it's standing, it's holding fast. And the answer on a multiple choice test is not a person and a work with power to save by transforming lives.

but more like an "apprentice" who is busy doing the work of the Master.

I agree wholeheartedly that those who are being transformed by the gospel do the work of the Master. But show me, please, where the gospel is defined as or equated with doing the works of the Master.

Just as often as Jesus said "believe on Me" He said "follow Me" (Matthew 19:21; Mark 8:34; 10:21; John 10:27; 12:26), thus indicating that those who do not follow with their feet do not really "believe" cognitively.

I agree that those who believe will become disciples (or follow with their feet.) But this still tells us nothing about the content of the gospel, and whether, given the correct content, it's possible to "do the gospel."

What is the content of the gospel? When Paul, for instance, preached the gospel, what did he preach?

This is why I harmonize "justification by faith" ("believing the gospel") and "justification by works" ("doing the gospel") (both taught in the Bible) as

Before you can say you've proven that "doing the gospel" is taught in the Bible, you'd need to answer the questions above about what the content of the gospel is.

March 17, 2008 | Registered Commenterrebecca

OK, here's my only link:

Response to Rebecca, Round 5

March 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Craig

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