What is the Gospel? according to Mark Dever

Hey guys,

I know we had some interesting conversations regarding the nature and implications of the gospel.  What do you all think of Dever’s answer to the question, “What is the gospel?”

Click here (JT).

Also, I have found Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism to be a pretty good read and resource.  You can check out a review I did for the book here.

(Video taken from The Gospel Coalition website).

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About Chris Gensheer

Husband and father of four, living in Mansfield, TX, serving as Lead Pastor of Christ Church Mansfield. Connect with us at www.christchurchmansfield.com I also provide research and social media consulting work for other pastors, churches, and ministry leaders. Contact me at gensheer@mac.com for more.

2 thoughts on “What is the Gospel? according to Mark Dever

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for pointing out the clip by Dever; Dever’s presentation was clear, winsome, and powerful. Perhaps I’ll jot down some thoughts here for the sake of further dialogue/reflection:

    – Dever sets forth what is more or less the traditional Protestant conception of the ‘gospel’ in its usual beautiful substitutionary terms: Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should’ve died. The following questions are worth asking: how is Dever’s presentation/summary of the gospel influenced / informed by his/our particular historical/cultural situation–for good or for bad, helpfully or not-so-helpfully? That is, why are certain phrases, categories, and concepts used and/or why are certain things emphasized/underscored? E.g., why might a certain emphasis be made (and rightly so, perhaps) given our particular historical/cultural situation and theological heritage (and, I’m sure, Dever’s keen pastoral senses)? But also how might certain aspects be marginalized, set aside (or their value left unappreciated), accidently of course, given that same historical/cultural situation (and theological heritage)? And then, of course, we come to an even more exciting question: how is the way in which Dever is employing the word ‘gospel’ similar to and/or different/distinct from the way in which Jesus or Paul employed the term ‘gospel’? Could we take Dever’s clip and more or less insert it (so to speak) into the text in place of the word ‘gospel’, when found in either/both the Gospels or Paul (or, perhaps even more interestingly, Isaiah)? It is worth saying that, should the answer to this last question be something like ‘Hmmm… not really’ or ‘Well, kind of but not entirely’, this would in no way necessarily negate or make suspect Dever’s use of the word. Indeed, within Dever’s tradition there is frequent and, arguably, quite helpful employment of biblical words and phrases in ways intentionally different from (i.e., having distinctly different or varied semantic value than) the way in which Scripture itself uses them (a classic example being the word ‘sanctification’ or ‘to sanctify’); it is worth considering the cost/benefit of employing ‘biblical’ words (or, more precisely, their English renderings) in ways different from their meaning in the text. Now where controversy arises (it has to arise somewhere, right? 🙂 ) is when the claim is made that the one’s use of the word ‘gospel’ (like that of Dever’s) is more or less identical to Jesus’ or Paul’s use of the term. This is, I suggest, particularly a temptation for those steeped in an intensely theological tradition, whose familiarity with their tradition’s theology can surpass their familiarity with Scripture (and can make a theological eisegesis of sorts all the more likely); the situation is made all the more perilous if we recognize that often in the conservative Protestant tradition biblical interpretation is less historically grounded/informed than it might be; the result can be a reading/interpretation that is more reader-centered in practice than imagined–even when the interpreter might explictly distance him/herself from such a hermeneutic …

    – a second, perhaps more controversial (or maybe, to some, a no less controversial!) thought: Dever begins wonderfully with the words to the effect of: ‘the gospel is the good news that God has not left the world in the mess that it is in; rather, he is making all things new’; he then immediately qualifies this: it is not good news in and of itself; one needs to hear a different message, one that says: God is holy; we are not; Jesus died for our sins; repent; and then we can share in the new creation. My sense is that Dever’s implicit concern, which necessitates his immediate qualification, could be stated as a question: does the original statement (‘God is making all things new’) really address/speak to the individual nonbeliever as a sinner? To state it differently: Is such a statement ‘good news’ to the nonbeliever? A case could be made that this is a most important question for the church today. And what is key in the discussion (and what is often, most unfortuately, the source of much confusion) is the following (often unasked) question: in the above question ‘Is the statement “God is making all things new” good news (i.e., ‘gospel’)?’, are we emplying the term ‘gospel’ in the way Dever does or in the way Jesus and/or Paul does–OR are Dever’s and Jesus’ / Paul’s use more or less identical? I want to suggest that there is an implicit ecclesiology (the nature of which I will not pursue here) that necessitates Dever’s opening qualification; that aside, implicit is the idea that there are some truths that constitute ‘good news’ for the believer but not for the nonbeliever; for Dever, the Johannine message ‘God is making all things new’ simply isn’t good news (or good enough news?) for the nonbeliever (quite possiby in the same way that the Pauline message ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is, for John Piper, not good news for the nonbeliever). But we ought to ask: is not the ability to hear that something is ‘good news’ the same for both believer and nonbeliever? Both require Spirit-enabled ears to hear and believe. It is difficult to see the helpfulness of Dever’s implicit (and Piper’s explicit) distinction between believer and nonbeliever in this regard. On the contrary, should we not somehow account for the numerous passages in Scripture that baldly state that the Gentiles (whom we can safely conclude are nonbelievers) will find the news of YHWH’s lordship/reign (i.e., his re-establishment of his righteous rule upon the earth and the re-creation that it effects) to be quite good indeed (maybe even ‘gospel’); one verse that comes to mind begins ‘Let the nations be glad’; but why ought they be glad? Well, the verse continues, because YHWH, the righteous king, will judge (i.e., rule/reign over) the peoples with uprightness and ‘guide the nations of the earth’ (Ps. 67.4); or all the more inexplicably is the following verse: “YWHW reigns [that is, He is King!], let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad” (Ps. 97.1; it would be a bold exegete who suggested that ‘earth’ and ‘coastlands’ here refers exclusively to the non-human created order); and one final one: in Rom. 15 Paul quotes Isaiah 11: “The root of Jesse will come, one who is arising to rule/reign over the Gentiles; [these Gentiles are undoubtedly ‘nonbelievers’; and how will some/many of these unbelieving Gentiles/nations respond to the reality of this rule/reign/lordship of David’s son? Isaiah answers:] in him shall the Gentiles hope”; how are we to understand that the Gentiles find the reign/lordship of David’s Son hopeful?

    – a final thought that I’ll just throw out there: at least a part of the reason for all the controversy over ‘what is the Gospel?’ today is twofold: first is the extent to which a modernist epistemology still remains in the church (it is difficult to admit to any provisionality in our theology; the suggestion that in fact all knowledge is provisional is heard as cloaked relativism and an attack on the very concept of ‘truth’; second (and related to the above) is the fundamentalist/liberalist controversy of the 20th century (are these really the only two options to choose from?)… but these are for another day; I’ve written too much already… my apologies.

    Blessings,

    Bruce

    Bruce

    Like

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