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The podcast that Tony Kummer and I did with Derek Webb over at SaidatSouthern is making some waves in the blogosphere. Shortly after it was released, several people took issue with Derek’s off-the-cuff definition of “the gospel.”

“What a great question. I guess I’d probably…my instinct is to say that it’s Jesus coming, living, dying, and being resurrected and his inaugurating the already and the not yet of all things being restored to himself…and that happening by way of himself…the being made right of all things…that process both beginning and being a reality in the lives and hearts of believers and yet a day coming when it will be more fully realized. But the good news, the gospel, the speaking of the good news, I would say is the news of his kingdom coming the inaugurating of his kingdom coming…that’s my instinct.”

Granted, I would define the “gospel” somewhat differently than Derek. Sitting next to him in the interview room, I knew immediately that some people were not going to find his answer satisfactory. Not enough “penal substitution.” Not enough “wrath of God.” Not enough “grace versus good works.” In short, not Reformed enough.

After reading some of the comments on blogs about Derek’s definition, I am now concerned that Peter, Paul, and even Jesus himself might not answer the question well enough for some of these guys.

Mark tells us very clearly that the “gospel of God” that Jesus proclaimed was, in summary: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in this good news!”

Of course, some could rightly say that Jesus’ message was and should be different, now that we are living post-resurrection. And I would agree with that assessment, except that the apostles’ gospel proclamation still remains kingdom-focused and resurrection-centered.

Let’s leave aside our own gospel formulations and go back to the text.

Peter, at Pentecost, preaches a gospel that tells of Jesus’ life, spends one verse on Jesus’ crucifixion and then takes 13 verses expounding Christ’s resurrection and subsequent exaltation as Lord of the world. Three chapters later, in Acts 5, Peter again centers on the resurrection.

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things…”

Again in Acts 10, Peter centers on the resurrection and on Christ’s lordship. Of course, the cross is present and crucial, but the resurrection is at the forefront.

It’s not just Peter. The “gospel” that Paul is not ashamed of in Romans 1:16 is the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection in verses 1-6. The gospel that he passes on to others in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is a sermon/creed about Christ’s resurrection. The gospel in Ephesians 1 is about the uniting of all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. This is accentuated in Ephesians 3, as Paul seems to equate the “gospel” with the uniting of Gentiles and Jews under one Lord of all. (Not to be neglected, of course, are the implications of the gospel found in Ephesians 2 for individual sinners.)

Derek Webb may not have defined the gospel in the most theologically precise or satisfying way. Yes, there are important aspects that he did not touch on in his brief summary statement. But if you’re going to criticize Derek for his presentation, you might as well level your charges against Paul as well, who in one gospel presentation skips the cross completely and heads right to the resurrection (Acts 17).

Now, I’m not recommending we skip the cross in our gospel presentation. Christ’s substituitionary death is what purchases our salvation. But, surely we evangelicals emphasize the cross as our “gospel,” while treating the resurrection as something closer to a footnote. How many gospel presentations fail to mention the resurrection at all?

Instead of challenging other gospel presentations, let’s spend more time in the Word with Peter, Paul, and Jesus. Maybe… just maybe, we’ll find our own gospel presentations challenged.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

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15 thoughts on “Derek Webb and the Gospel of the Kingdom”

  1. Tony Kummer says:

    Trevin,
    Good post. I’m glad people are having this conversation but sorry that some are ready to discredit Derek for a 50 second sound bite. I think you’ve answered well with this post.

  2. Scott says:

    You said: “Granted, I would define the “gospel” somewhat differently than Derek. Sitting next to him in the interview room, I knew immediately that some people were not going to find his answer satisfactory. Not enough “penal substitution.” Not enough “wrath of God.” Not enough “grace versus good works.” In short, not Reformed enough.”

    Curious to note…how is an answer straight from scripture (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) not enough? Putting aside my perception of overall shallowness (“professional autobiographer”) at least he got this right!

  3. trevinwax says:

    I didn’t say it was “not enough.” Instead, I said that some people were going to think it wasn’t good enough.

    Look over the rest of my post… I spend the rest of the post defending Webb’s right to articulate a Christ-centered, Kingdom-focused gospel… because it’s scriptural.

    There are two ways of defining the term “gospel” and this is where the confusion lies. Some people see “gospel” as the Christ-focused announcement of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Others see the “gospel” as the implications that come from Christ’s death and resurrection. Many today seem to equate “gospel” with the second view (“how to get saved”), whereas in Scripture, the apostles seem more inclined to define “gospel” as the first.

  4. Scott says:

    You said: “I didn’t say it was “not enough.” Instead, I said that some people were going to think it wasn’t good enough.”

    I was trying to be in agreement with you.

  5. trevinwax says:

    Sorry man. Easy to misunderstand in the blogworld.

  6. Scott says:

    LOL!! No offense taken.

  7. Blackhaw says:

    Is the reformed tradition so stuck on penal substitutionary atonement that they can’t see that most of the great theologians of church history never spoke of salvation in those terms? Are they okay with Athanasius and the Cappadocians and Cyril of Alexandria? none of these to my knowledge argued for penal substitutionary atonement ( PSA ). They believed in deification. PSA is a metaphor for salvation it is not salvation at its core.

    BH- CARL PETERSON

  8. Ron says:

    WONDERFUL POST!

    As I read the comments on Said At Southern and on the 3 posts pertaining to D.Webb and the Gospel on NineMarks’ blog I was asking myself the same question you asked, “Would these guys let Paul’s definition stand if he werre interviewed?”

    When I read most of the reformed blogs I frequent, I generally don’t read posts and find that there is a fundamental misunderstanding and un-contextualized criticism However, I think that that is exactly what people are doing when they criticize Webb’s definition.

    Some of the criticism I’ve read, connecting him to Brian Maclaren, N.T. Wright, Blue Like Jazz, as well as calling his music ‘inmature’ because he dares to point out tension in the notion of ‘just war’ and an uneasiness to support it, shows the height of soap-box ‘nit-pickery’ and, as I said above, fundamental misunderstanding and unwillingness to put his words in the context of his many many many songs and statements both public and recorded that he believes that the Death and Ressurection of Christ is the means of our atonement through faith by God’s grace.

    Many have criticized Derek for taking stances on many issues, such as war, being a republican, poverty and the ‘american dream’ that may differ from the typical evangelical churchgoer. I have been made uncomfortable many times while listening to his song on ‘mockingbird’ where he contemplates war, often times arguing against him to my wife in the car line by line! I say this to draw attention to his comments about what he understands to be his ‘prophetic’ task. He pointed out that he sees his role as an artist to shine light on things that don’t get pointed to or examined by many of us. I have been a Republican since I became 18 and I support our troops and their mission, and have since day one. I have stood behind the President and defended his actions in invasion since day one. The sad truth, which makes me shameful, is that I never examined my stance thoughtfully or prayerfully till I heard that song. He did his job in drawing my complacency to light. I had to think it through and I can answer his song to my own conscience. Derek’s mission was accomplished!

    Concerning this as well, he stated in the interview that he is often at the end of his critiques as well: that when he speaks through his music, he is not left out of the criticism. (He showed this also in his comments about the ccm industry also!) Many who criticize some of the more ‘contraversial’ things he says fail to ever take this into account. They assume he’s on a soapbox ripping the average church-going republican (much like Don Miller’s comments about Big haired preacher men and modern evangelicals) BUT Derek explains that this is not his modus operandi.

    I wish the people who heard his explaination of the gospel and used this as an opportunity to rip the guy over all the other things they don’t like about him, would have carefully listened to his statements in that portion of the interview.

    I am not even a die-hard fan of derek webb. A friend of mine only recently introduced me to him. I just find the hub-bub to be overboard and excessively ungracious.

    That is, except for your post here. Thank you for pointing out the context of the Gospel in many passages from many of our inspired biblical authors. I appreciate you being part of the interview and I have enjoyed many of your posts in the past. Keep it up.

    God Bless,
    Ron

  9. trevinwax says:

    Thanks, Ron.

    I disagree with Derek on a lot of things too, and several times as Tony was doing the interview, I would have liked to start debating him about something or other. But overall, the reason I like him is because he makes me think. For some people, provoking thought is no good because it’s assumed that provocative answers question biblical assumptions. But it seems that the more we wrestle with each other’s different biblical interpretations, the Holy Spirit can work in and through us to bring us closer to the Bible’s intent.

    Regarding the gospel… I’m more concerned about lining up with the apostles than I am with Webb, 9Marks or anyone else.

  10. I believe “justification by faith alone” is one of the central and most important teachings of Christianity. It’s our declaration of independence from controlling leaders, our most important defense against spiritual tyranny. However, there are a small group of very loud Christian leaders who ironically twist this teaching, that we are justified—made right with God—by faith alone, so that they can control people with fear. They say that real faith necessarily includes cognitive understanding of this very teaching about justification by faith alone, and intellectual assent to one of the ways the Bible describes how we are justified, through the penal substitution of Jesus Christ on the cross. Christians who are confused on the subject, who don’t get faith, good works, and salvation in just the right order and proportion, Christians who may trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation but can’t explain exactly how it makes them right with God—these people just aren’t real Christians, they say.

    Instead of being justified by faith alone, these leaders effectively say that we’re made right with God by being theologically articulate and precise, and by knowing the right definitions of theological buzz words. They take a teaching that’s designed to throw open the doors of salvation and use it to slam the door in people’s faces. They use it to exclude believing Roman Catholics, the uneducated, the very young, seminary students with deep questions, and those who are most concerned about Jesus’ teaching on poverty.

    When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he called them “foolish” for getting confused about salvation by these false teachers, but his curse fell on the teachers who heaped up burdens for being saved, not on the Galatians who got confused about salvation. Paul’s point was that since they already had faith in Jesus, they were already right with God, even though they didn’t yet understand justification by faith alone. People can have real saving faith and not understand “justification by faith.” If they’ve been confused by bad teaching, they might even think they disagree with the phrase, and yet still be right with God by faith. We’re saved by Jesus alone through faith alone, but we’re not saved by the purity or articulateness of our faith.

    This small group of Christian leaders who recklessly throw around the word “heresy,” who claim that people must use their language and agree with their way of explaining justification in order to be saved, are piling up unnecessary requirements the same way Paul’s opponents did. They’re increasing their own wealth and power while making others live in fear. They’re cutting whole groups of people off from the church and off from the fellowship and financial assistance that Christian churches deserve from one another. Recklessly crying heretic might be worse than crying wolf; if it gets too bad, it could even be the wolf crying wolf.

  11. Amen – good to see not everyone is rushing to judgment on a brother in Christ who deserves better. We wonder why we in the reformed crowd have the negative reputation that we do…

  12. Trevin, I hope you’ll check the link I left for you.

    David Bryant is a classic evangelical whose latest work puts the issues that this fellow and Wright have you thinking about in a wonderful – and accessible to lay people – format. I commend it to you.

  13. jim says:

    I absolutely loved Derek’s first two albums–great ecclesiology. The issue I have is the wholesale adoption of a Soujourners/Democrat party agenda. The criticism of the Republican party is long overdue but I see with Wallis/McLaren/Webb etc. is the pendulum swinging the other way. Neither the evangelical left or right really posseses workable and biblical solutions to the our social justice problems.

    this is natural though. When one starts to critique something that desparately needs critique–the religious right–the natural step is just go to the religious left. There really is a third way and it’s less reliant on the efficacy of our big central government to fix our problems.

  14. Maim says:

    Hello,

    I just wanted to say that this was a really good post and I encourage you to keep putting out stuff that challenges us like this. Especially with the frankly prevalent yet un-Biblical emphasis on the cross over the empty tomb in most Gospel representations I’ve seen and heard. As you stated, this is not to take anything away from the cross, but nonetheless a well-needed and appropriate word to evangelicals. Thank you.

  15. Taylor says:

    since it got a bump via Randy Alcorn’s website, I do have question.

    In post resurrection terms, it seems to me that we ought to define the Gospel as either only who Christ is, or we should make it all that Christ has achieved. Even 1 Corinthians 15, on reading the whole chapter includes salvation from sins and union with Christ. I’m inclined to say that the best Gospel message is Jesus and all that He achieves, but I’m also ok with just Jesus and then going on to define what He accomplishes.

    I guess my only qualifier with Derek’s answer would be that since we have a full Gospel presented in Scripture, doesn’t Jesus + anything become a reductionist Gospel unless it is Jesus + everything? Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Thanks for leading me back to the extreme Jesusness of the Gospel via your Piper/Wright commentary.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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