Tim Keller has a helpful article in the Spring 2008 issue of Leadership Journal called “The Gospel in All Its Forms.” Keller argues that there is one gospel, a single body of gospel content. But this one gospel message can be expressed in many forms.
Keller offers a tripod, or three points contained within this one gospel:
- Incarnation – Jesus, the promised Messianic King and Son of God, came to earth in human form.
- Atonement – By his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin and secured our justification by grace, not by our works.
- Restoration – At his return he will complete the renewal of the entire material creation and the resurrection of our bodies.
Keller summarizes these points like this:
Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores his creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.
An full understanding of the gospel, therefore, includes all three points. We can make two mistakes if we ignore one or more of these points:
- The liberal, social gospel mistake – Some try to focus on cultural renewal and justice, but do not see life change because of a lack of focus on the atonement. This emphasis tends to focus on works.
- The evangelical, eternal life only approach – On the other hand, some of us ignore restoration and leave the impression that “nothing much about this world matters.” We largely focus on the first two points and largely ignore the eschatological implications of the gospel here and now.
Not everyone will agree with this. A week ago at T4G I heard Mark Dever warn against making the gospel too big. (You can download the audio, or read a summary of the message by Marshall Shelley.) According to Dever, Christians should work for justice, but this isn’t part of the gospel message. Some feel more comfortable talking about the third point as an implication of the gospel, but not part of the gospel message.
Keller’s description makes sense to me. It emphasizes the unity of the gospel message, centers it on grace and not works, and is focused on the work of God in Christ. It encompasses kingdom and eternal life, and brings out the personal and cosmic implications of the gospel.
What do you think? Does Keller’s tripod make sense to you?