A Public Gospel

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I have offered some criticisms of N.T. Wright’s understanding of the conversion of Saul, and other issues related to the gospel. Given those criticisms, some of my friends on the TR side of things may want to ask me why I think his contributions on questions surrounding the gospel have any value. The following quote provides a good example.

“Once we grasp the historical setting of Paul’s gospel, therefore, we discover something for which the abstract categories of traditional history-of-religions research has not prepared us. The more Jewish we make Paul’s ‘gospel’, the more it confronts directly the pretensions of the imperial cult, and indeed all other paganisms whether ‘religious’ or ‘secular’. It is because of Jewish monotheism that there can be ‘no king but God’. In the history of ideas, and in lexicography, derivation is important; but so is confrontation. The all-embracing royal and religious claims of Caesar (or Babylon, or Persia, or Egypt, or Syria, or whoever) were directly challenged by the equally all-embracing claim of Israel’s God. To announce that YHWH was king was to announce that Caesar is not. This was the ‘good news’ that Isaiah’s herald was called upon to proclaim” (What St. Paul Really Said, p. 44. Emphasis his.).

Wright has a wonderful grasp of the cosmic implications of the gospel, and has a wonderful grasp of how the early church thought of the gospel in this way. This form of gospel presentation challenges political idolatries in a way that the religious right has only dabbled with. Picture the biblical gospel as a massive spear aimed at all the idolatries and pretensions of men. Some individualistic approaches to the gospel have cut off the point of this spear, and have filed it down to a razor sharpness. They can get it sharper than anyone else can, but the little bright piece of metal in their hand no longer has any throw weight. Because we have limited the gospel to the salvation of individual souls, we need not risk our persons in any public confrontation with the idols of public life. And consequently, we have denied one of the chief functions of the gospel, which is to make us troublesome iconoclasts. We avoid that because iconoclasm might get us in trouble.

But having said this, precisely because Wright has been so good on the public nature of the gospel, it will be very important for us to note how he responds to the very public crisis that homosexual jihadists have brought upon his Church. Precisely because I agree with Wright on this issue of what constitutes the gospel (the redemptive lordship of Christ over everything, including poofter bishops), the actions of the Church of England over the next few weeks will amount to a denial of the gospel or not. And the Bishop of Durham is not an isolated scholar with opinions one might take or leave. He is a bishop, and he will have to decide — and he does not have the luxury of being faithful to a personal evangelical gospel while leaving the principalities of anal intercourse unchallenged.

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