Biblical Holism: Gospel of the Kingdom and/or Gospel of Christ Crucified?

by Rick Love

Part three in a series on Biblical Holism

Carl Medearis is an expert on Muslim-Christian Relations and the Middle East. John Piper is a famous evangelical pastor and author. What do Carl and John have in common? Passion about Jesus!

But how they talk about Jesus is radically different. Carl is provocative, John precise. Carl loves to tell stories, while John argues logically. Carl starts with the four gospels. John prefers the apostle Paul’s letters. Carl focuses on the gospel of the kingdom, while John stresses the gospel of Christ crucified. Speaking of Jesus: the Art of Not-Evangelism (Carl’s book) vs. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (one of John’s many books)!

Is there a difference, and what are the issues? (Ok this is a bit of a caricature, but I wanted to get your attention!)

Scot McKnight has dedicated a whole book to this important topic: The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (2011). According to McKnight, evangelicals have inadequately equated the gospel with personal salvation, a view which he says is too narrow. So why is this view of the gospel too narrow?

There are two reasons why the gospel of the kingdom is more comprehensive than the gospel of salvation. First, evangelicals often uproot the gospel of salvation from its Old Testament context. What do I mean? Notice what Jesus says the very first time he proclaims the kingdom:

"Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14,15 NASB).

“The time is fulfilled.” Jesus announces that Old Testament promises about the coming kingdom have been fulfilled. At least thirty times Matthew, Mark, Luke and John mention that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. To the authors of the gospels, putting Jesus in the context of the OT is extremely important. We need to do the same today. Just look at some of these Old Testament promises – which both inform the meaning of the gospel and find fulfillment in Christ.

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14; see Matthew 1:21-23).

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And
he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this"
 (Isaiah 9:6-7; this passage informs the nature of Jesus’ messiahship. See Matthew 4:14-18).

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2; See Matthew 2:6).

"Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped'" (Isaiah 35:4-5; see Luke 7:20-22).

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4; see Matthew 8:16-17).

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7; this verse informs the very meaning of gospel and is either quoted or alluded to many times in the New Testament).

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2a; see Luke 4:18-19).

Second, not only have evangelicals often failed to see the Old Testament promises that help define the gospel, they also tend to separate the meaning of salvation from the ministry of Jesus. To many evangelicals, the four gospels seem to have little relevance for understanding the gospel. Paul’s letters are the key to understanding it --- or so they think. Certainly Paul writes with profound insight into the meaning of the gospel, but this kind of thinking is too narrow and leads to a truncated version of the gospel. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim 3:16). You need the gospels to preach the gospel, and you need the whole Bible to preach the whole gospel!

The kingdom of God is the dominant theological theme in the Gospels. The kingdom is the subject of Jesus’ sermons, the point of his parables, and the meaning of his miracles. In fact, we can only understand the message and mission of Jesus if we understand the kingdom of God. The two are inseparable.

According to many traditional evangelicals, Jesus’ healings, exorcisms, pronouncements of forgiveness, and demonstrations of compassion are usually understood as proofs of His divinity. As acts that define His person. Good stuff, but not part of the gospel.

By contrast, those who affirm the gospel of the kingdom (or a holistic gospel) see Jesus’ mighty deeds and loving acts as actually part of the gospel. They don’t point only to His person (His divinity), but are related to His work of establishing the kingdom, which finds its climax in His death and resurrection. And Jesus’s followers are called to imitate him in these loving and mighty acts: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

The good news IS about forgiveness of sin (the traditional evangelical gospel of salvation), but it is also about so much more. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), which means he came to forgive sin, heal sickness and broken relationships, bind up the brokenhearted, establish justice and peace. He came to restore God’s reign in us and on earth. As I said in a previous blog, Jesus came to reverse the curse.

To detach the good news from the Old Testament promises related to Jesus and the kingdom is to lose the breadth and depth of the gospel. The gospel of the New Testament cannot be reduced to the plan of salvation. Scot McKnight is right. Evangelicals have been promoting the “gospel light”… and this is wrong.

So what does all this have to do with Carl Medearis or John Piper? Check back for my final blog on the topic to find out…