As many have pointed out, the big question to answer is “What is the gospel?” Many of the debates going on are relatively secondary compared to this one. I’ve had a few discussions lately that have made me realize that it’s not easy to get agreement on the answer to this question.
On one hand, we have those who quote 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 and think that the issue is settled. They’re right, of course, but you still have to unpack what these verses express in shorthand. It’s there that we run into problems.
On the other hand, we have many who rightly react against individualistic expressions of the gospel that are mainly about how to go to heaven. They long for a gospel that is expansive, that creates a new community of people and is concerned for creation and issues of justice.
At times it seems like the discussion gets polarized around these two very different understandings of the gospel.
I’m not going to solve this one here, except to say that I’ve found some really helpful resources lately that I wish I had found long ago. The trail started at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, which emphasizes both individual salvation (personal transformation) and social change, all centered on the gospel. Tim Keller explains this approach in The Centrality of the Gospel (PDF) and in many of his sermons. This approach is also reflected in the Foundational Documents of The Gospel Coalition.
Gospel Transformation is a 36-lesson inductive study focusing on what matters most—our need for the transforming power of the gospel. For small groups or personal study—it goes straight to the heart, exploring such issues as: repentance, forgiveness, the flesh, compassion, believing our justification, and much more.
Just got my copy yesterday.
I also discovered two excellent books: How People Change, which helps people understand “the biblical pattern for change in a clear, practical way,” and Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, which “is a comprehensive treatment of how God uses people as tools of change in the lives of others, people who themselves are in need of change.” Both books unpack how the gospel changes us.
I’m working my way through these and they look really helpful. Some good stuff here on what the gospel is and how it affects the way that we live.