This we believe. The good news of Jesus Christ for the worldWritten by John N. Akers, John H. Armstrong and John D. Woodbridge (Gen. Eds) Reviewed By Bob Horn
Sensing the need for a fresh articulation of the gospel, several prominent evangelicals determined to draft a wide-ranging statement. That appeared in Christianity Today magazine in June 1999 as ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration’. It was also reprinted in the last but one Themelios.
This symposium opens up, illustrates and applies that statement. The contributors include Ravi Zacharias, J.I. Packer, Kevin Vanhoozer, Scott Hafemann, Ajith Fernando, Joni Earickson Tada, Joseph M. Stowell and Timothy George. Their collective stature and expertise are impressive, but this volume is accessible to any thoughtful Christian. Its usefulness is enhanced by questions for discussion after each chapter.
Some serious challenges to gospel proclamation today were one reason behind the statement. These include religious tolerance (where gospel work is forbidden), pluralism (no need to present the gospel to other faiths) and inclusivism (salvation only by Christ, but others do not need to hear of him). Another challenge is Christians’ lack of gospel knowledge: ‘When it comes to setting forth just how Jesus saves, most of us flounder’.
The last wide-ranging gospel statement was probably The Fundamentals: a testimony for truth in 1910–15. The Lausanne Covenant came, but in the 1980s and ‘90s broad evangelicalism had uncertainties over justification that ‘revealed a pressing need for a fresh statement’. So this emerged, based on ‘the infallible scriptures’ and with ‘the doctrine of justification by faith alone’ central.
The book’s 12 chapters move naturally from ‘Is there any purpose to life?’ to ‘Does God have a plan for the world?’ Intervening chapters look at the bad news about us; who Jesus is; why he died; his resurrection; the Holy Spirit; the nature and destiny of the Christian life; practical help in witness; and unity, love and truth. Crucial chapters are written by an African, a Sri Lankan—and, movingly, Joni on heaven.
The statement clearly sets out the gospel as ‘the only way to know God’. It is fully in line with the historic creeds and confessions. At its heart it sees Christ’s ‘mighty substitutionary transaction as the achieving of ransom, reconciliation, redemption, propitiation, and conquest of evil powers’. It denies ‘that any view of the atonement that rejects the substitutionary satisfaction of divine justice, accomplished vicariously for believers, is compatible with the teaching of the Gospel’.
When some elsewhere argue against substitution, or view it as merely one ‘model’ among several, this statement is particularly welcome. Moreover, the eighteen concluding ‘affirmations and denials’ give a clarity and vigour to the statement that are rare in broad evangelical circles. (When were evangelicals last unafraid to define terms both positively and negatively?)
Scott Hafemann’s chapter on ‘Why Jesus had to die for my sins’ is particularly timely. It faces the reality of God’s wrath and shows that ‘the real barrier to our forgiveness’ is God, since ‘on what basis can God forgive any sin without compromising his own justice and integrity?’. The book is equally clear on many other crucial issues. For example, the lost are ‘facing eternal retributive punishment’. Or: ‘we deny that the witness of personal testimony, godly living and acts of mercy and charity to our neighbours constitutes evangelism apart from the proclamation of the gospel’. Or this: ‘Truth is not only more important than unity, but is in fact the basis of unity’.
The statement and book deserve to be widely read and followed. Here is the authentic, unadulterated biblical message; hence, here is evangelicalism. If there are valid concerns that ‘evangelical’ is being stretched beyond recognition, here is a welcome and needed recall to its biblical breadth and narrowness.