The Whole Gospel

At the very heart of the gospel is the fact that Jesus Christ died on a cross in our place for our sins, so that those who come to him in repentance and faith can be reconciled to God and find newness of life. That is certainly the minimum account that we find in Scripture.

But God’s work of redemption is more than just getting individual souls into heaven. It is about making the whole world right. It is about restoring God’s rightful rule on his earth. Of course that must always be incomplete and imperfect in a fallen world, but that is what his people should strive for: the Lordship of Christ in every area of life.

That is, believers should be taking seriously all aspects of life: the political, the social, the intellectual, the aesthetic, and so on. We are to be having an impact in all these areas. We are to be reclaiming planet earth for Christ and his kingdom. We are to be extending his lordship into every realm.

And this is not the old social gospel, where gospel proclamation to individuals was ignored for working in social areas, like prison reform or factory conditions improvement. Sure, those things would be the fruit of a holistic gospel message, but they do not replace the message of sin and salvation.

Both go together in other words. We both tell people that they are sinners in need of repentance, and we work to bring kingdom realities into a sinful world. And of course balanced Christians have always done this throughout church history: they have proclaimed the message, but they also demonstrated its reality in a very practical manner.

Christian missionaries always told people about what Jesus had done for them, and what this looks like in actual application. Thus they built clinics and schools and hospitals. Thus they helped women and children. Thus they worked to abolishing slavery and dealt with social ills like alcoholism and prostitution, and so on.

It was a whole gospel preached to the whole person, in other words. We evangelical Christians tend to miss this, and concentrate solely on getting souls saved – as important as that is. But we tend to neglect the fuller dimensions to the gospel.

Of course these thoughts certainly are not unique to me. A number of recent statements along these lines can be mentioned here. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says this in his book on biblical eschatology, Surprised by Hope: “The work of ‘salvation’ in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely ‘souls’; (2) about the present, not merely the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

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We can easily become too heavenly minded, and forget all about our earthly mission. As Wright says in his brand-new volume How God Became King, the four gospels “are telling the story of the rescue of creation, not its abolition or abandonment.”

The kingdom of heaven is not just about “people going to heaven. It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth. When Matthew has Jesus talking about heaven’s kingdom, he means that heaven – in other words, the God of heaven – is establishing his sovereign rule not just in heaven, but on earth as well.”

Biblical Christians rightly take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, but we also need to take seriously an earlier and equally important commission: the Cultural Commission of Genesis 1:27-28. As the late Charles Colson correctly put it:

“Understanding Christianity as a worldview is important not only for fulfilling the great commission but also for fulfilling the cultural commission – the call to create a culture under the lordship of Christ. God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.

“Evangelism and cultural renewal are both divinely ordained duties. God exercises his sovereignty in two ways: through saving grace and common grace. . . . As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”

Such thinking not only goes back to the opening chapters of Genesis, but extends to the closing chapters of Revelation as well. There is an intimate connection between the original earth which God created, and the new earth which he promises to bring about. As Anthony Hoekema wrote in his 1979 volume, The Bible and the Future:

“The doctrine of the new earth is important for a proper grasp of the full dimensions of God’s redemptive program. In the beginning, so we read in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. Because of man’s fall into sin, a curse was pronounced over this creation. God now sent his Son into this world to redeem that creation from the results of sin. The work of Christ, therefore, is not just to save certain individuals, not even to save an innumerable throng of blood-bought people. The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin. That purpose will not be accomplished until God has ushered in the new earth, until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. We need a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth, therefore, in order to see God’s redemptive program in cosmic dimensions. We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.”

If all this sounds rather familiar, well it should. As Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:20, Christ seeks to “reconcile to himself all things”. All of creation is affected by the fall, and all of creation is meant to be reclaimed in Christ. As Marianne Meye Thompson notes in her commentary on Colossians: “Through the cross God does not simply deal with the situation of the individual, but undertakes to bring wholeness to the whole world. The predicament of humanity and that of the cosmos are intertwined: both are in need of being rightly reordered by God, and neither will be so in isolation from each other.”

Our salvation reunites us with God through Christ, and we all eagerly await our final homecoming. But in the meantime there is much work to be done – not only in evangelism and winning souls, but in reclaiming enemy territory and in seeking to extend Christ’s kingdom throughout the globe.

As James Peterson put it, “The kingdom of God is not primarily a raiding party to capture people and bring them back to the safety of the Christian community. It is a mission to transform the world into the kingdom fit for its king.” Norman Geisler had the same thing in mind when he wrote:

“What sometimes escapes Christians is the fact that the responsibility to love other persons extends to the whole person. That is, man is more than a soul destined for another world; he is also a body living in this world. And as a resident of this time-space continuum man has physical and social needs which cannot be isolated from spiritual needs. Hence, in order to love man as he is – the whole man – one must exercise a concern about his social needs as well as his spiritual needs.”

So let us pursue our Christian calling in a complete fashion, as we present a complete gospel to complete persons. This will take innumerable forms of course, whether working in mercy ministries, helping the poor, rescuing the unborn from slaughter, or a million other things.

But all of this is part of the whole gospel which we need to be both living and proclaiming.

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10 Replies to “The Whole Gospel”

  1. Great article again Bill

    Yes the whole Gospel needs to be proclaimed in this world, and in the church, many I have found who attend church who I have talked with, do not know the Gospel in the first instance or are so focused in the social gospel they neglect sharing or joining in endeavours to share the Gospel of salvation. Many are convinced that just living the Christian life is sufficient to influence people to Christ. Clear presentation in a loving way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all this World is still a work incomplete – (Matthew 24:14).

    Stephen Lewin

  2. Today’s sermon in our church: Col 3:9-17 “Life in Christ in Community”

    All the attitudes Paul commands of the Colossians must be manifested within the body of believers; they can’t be seen in action in the life of a solo Christian.

    John Angelico

  3. Thanks Bill.
    I thank you for this in particular: I now see wherein the difference between us lies, and such difference there is. If all one means by the “cultural commission” (or “cultural mandate”, to use the more normal terminology) is to apply the Lordship of Christ to every department and aspect of one’s life, a la Rom.12:1-2, I would certainly agree. That has much to do with the Christian separation from the world – a theme we hear little about these days. However, to stuff into the verb kibbesh, “subjugate”, all that is argued, implied, and intended by the “cultural mandate” advocates is to me just so much tendentious and overblown claptrap.
    Moreover, I fail to find such a programme advocated in the NT. What I see, e.g. in the Book of Acts, is the apostles establishing churches – composed of disciples of Christ, and urging those disciples to continue in the faith and endure suffering (14:22). Any “culture mandate” is entirely missing, the passages you quote from Colossians et al notwithstanding.

    The whole notion of a “cultural mandate” is so full of holes as to be meaningless:
    1. What does one mean by “culture”? It means different things to different people groups in different eras and places. In a given “culture” some of the practices and mores are Biblically acceptable; other parts not so. What is “Christian culture”? Is there such a thing? I doubt whether the concept can be defined at all. Is it the brand which the Dooyeweerdians and Neo-Kuyperians push for? Or is it what the Theonomists are advocating? Or perhaps it is what Christian Socialism has traditionally pleaded for (remember, they have been around for more than a century now)? Again, if there is such a thing, should it be any sort of pre-occupation? This leads to the next point.
    2. You might give adherence to the Great Commission, but in my own experience of these sorts of circles – which has been considerable over the years – it comes time and again to an either-or. Hence “cultural mandate” (whatever that is conceived to be) lords it over Great Commission, in a way that is utterly foreign to the New Testament, and the Church loses sight of its true mission and mandate.
    I could say a lot more on this theme, but I don’t want to be seen as a spoiler, and I do appreciate your work in alerting the Christian community to what is going on in the world, and the philosophies which lie behind it all. But on this issue I am most certainly not with you. I am not with the Theonomists; I am not with the Christian Socialists (e.g William Jennings Bryan); and I am not with the theosophical Dooyeweerdians.
    And I know, because of this stand I can hear already all the name-calling: “pietist”, “spiritual schizophrenic”, “Christian cake-decorator” (i.e. putting Christian icing on the secular cake), “dualist” (invoking a secular – sacred distinction), and the like. I’ve heard it all before, and such labels are all too often a substitute for in-depth argument – and Biblical exegesis! So if anyone feels inclined to employ them, I am ready and waiting!
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  4. Thanks, Bill, for a timely reminder that the lordship of Christ extends far beyond the salvation of individual sinners and their preparation for the age to come… I often think of the opening verses of Psalm 24, which state that this entire created world and all its people are the rightful property of the Lord, the King of glory. Such a message is bound to collide with all other man-generated visions for conquest of this world and its inhabitants. The Kingdom of Heaven declares that its Sovereign has a right to have His will done “on earth as it is in Heaven”. A “salvation-minus-soup” view of the gospel partly has its roots in the false dichotomy between “spiritual” and “secular” spheres of human activity and experience which came to the Western mind from Greek philosophy via Thomas Aquinas. The complete testimony of Jesus – His Gospel, ought always to have that prophetic voice in the wilderness to the world of men and women who are intent on living in a world of their own – one without God and without any real hope.
    John Wigg

  5. Hi Murray,

    Thank you for your comment. A question if I may. You said you agree with applying the “Lordship of Christ to every department and aspect of one’s life”. I take that (and the following comments stating your various disagreements) to mean that the Lordship of Christ is mostly if not entirely in terms of each person’s ‘personal sphere’. Please clarify if I have not understood you correctly.

    Does this mean then that Christ is not Lord (or at least does not have crown rights) over the areas outside personal matters? It seems to me that that is the inevitable conclusion.

    If the answer is yes, where then do I draw the lines? Is He Lord of my family but not of my business which functions as part of a broader society? If I am a politician – am I not to honour and obey Him in my activities? (including making laws). I think you get my point. Any comment from you on this would be appreciated brother.

    Additionally – coming from a different perspective than you (as indicated by my previous endorsement of Gentry’s book), I would say that the term ‘subjugation’ is not an enlightening one in many respects when discussing the Lordship of Christ over all of life. I say that in the sense that subjugation may draw up a picture of Christians seeking to take over the world in a muslim-like fashion – which I would certainly not endorse. Although, to be sure, ultimately all that is opposed to Christ will be brought into subjugation to Him (1 Cor 15:25).

    In Christian fellowship,
    Isaac Overton, ACT

  6. Thanks, Isaac.
    In response to you queries, let me say this:
    In regard to the Lordship of Christ over every department of my life, this will naturally apply to all matters – and people, who come into my personal sphere: family, business, relationships, any organisations I may being to etc. How can it be otherwise? As to say politics, which is (for me anyway) outside my personal sphere, I can pray, and even agitate for just and righteous laws, but at the end of the day that’s all I – and Bill for that better – can do. We are in this present world, ruled by Gentile powers until the ends comes. See Dan.7:1-14. Within that world we live and work, exercise our influence, and seek the welfare of the city wherein we live, Jer.29:4-7. We are not called to reconstruct, renew, or transform the world, and make all things new. God alone will do that in His good time (Rev.21:5), and according to His plan, when the fulness of time comes, which is inaugurated by the Second Coming of Christ.

    As to “kabash” (qal), “kibbesh” (pi’el), the word does mean “subjugate”, and that is its meaning elsewhere than in Gen.1:28 (the reference to which I inadvertently omitted in my original post), e.g. Num.32:22, 29; 2 Sam.8:11; Jer.34:11; Zech.9:15.
    I think you have touched on part of the nub of thee issue in reference to Muslims. Our programme is not subjugation of peoples a la Islam, and anyway, the mandate in Gen.1:28 is in reference to the earth, not people. Hence my reading of Gen.1:28 is in particular reference to technology and harnessing earth’s resources – something which people do as creatures of God, not as redeemed people. Thus the text has nothing directly to do with ‘culture’ (whatever that is), except derivatively – but only derivatively.

    I realise that I am on an opposite side of the fence here; and yes, I do feel passionately about it, since in years past I have witnessed first hand this “cultural mandate” outlook, and how it can be – and is – a massive diversion in the Church’s mission. But that does not mean we don’t talk to each other, with the Word in front of us.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  7. “But God’s work of redemption is more than just getting individual souls into heaven”

    More after last night’s ACL webcast.

    In discussions after the webcast, I was talking with the research assistant for our Church & Nation Committee (Presbyterian Church of Victoria social and public issues committee).

    We recognised that community is what is missing from the 20th century – it was/is the age of the individual.

    So much of the weakness of the church is because we are all thinking like “lone ranger Christians”. We have lost so much of the strength of community/extended family which earlier generations knew, and which would have been a significant protection to our young people today.

    We finds ourselves wasting a lot of energy winning every single individual to faith, instead of whole households as in Acts. We win a young person, who then has to live out their faith in a family still hostile to the Gospel, and thus needing a lot more pastoral care.

    We are easy targets for opponents of the Truth, because we are so tired and haven’t any more energy to fight an external threat.

    John Angelico

  8. Thanks for your thoughts Murray.

    In a practical sense, I entirely agree with your outline of Christ’s Lordship over every department of our individual lives. As you say, how can it be otherwise? We each must simply submit our lives and pray for the things that are outside our influence. You say we are not called to reconstruct or renew the world – in a sense I agree (in terms of my personal call is to submit my life and sphere of influence), but I also disagree. I would think that the practical living just outlined (submitting to Christ in all things), is in fact the activity of reconstruction. Things are being made new in terms of Christ’s Kingdom in this sense – though not yet of course perfected, which I think we will both agree will not occur until Christ returns.

    Understood that we are not called to take the world as with Islamic doctrine, but it is natural and logical that the world and culture would be transformed if the people were being transformed in the way that we both agree should occur. How can it be otherwise? If you have a town full of Christians, the corporate life of the town must necessarily turn out to be Christian by virtue of it being the sum of the lives of the populace.

    The main difference seems to be an expectation of what is to come. You said we are under gentile rule til Christ comes, so naturally you would not expect widespread cultural change as more people come under Christ’s Lordship. You, I think, would expect a remnant of God’s people to live in the context of an increasing tide of cultural sinfulness? Under a postmillennial perspective however, an increase in the number of people saved until Christ comes naturally means that a culture which recognises Christ’s Lordship will follow – ultimately on a large scale.

    I think we can sit comfortably with our disagreement on this point together (being I think primarily eschatological) but for one question – let me try and phrase it as a hypothetical. If you were the Prime Minister of Australia, then matters of law and politics are within your direct sphere of influence. As a Christian, everything in this sphere is to be submitted to Christ’s Lordship. On that basis, you must necessarily seek to implement laws that God has revealed in His Word – if you are to honour Him in your duties. I would be interested to hear you comment further on the intersect between significant social issues/institutions, and personal submission to Christ’s Lordship. It seems to me, and correct me if i’m mistaken, but under the view you propose, you would in fact have an obligation not to govern-Christianly as it were? (in that my doing so would cause widespread disruption to gentile culture with a more Christian culture – and that is what you are arguing against).

    As I understand it, it is the eschatological increase of sanctification in believers which will and must transform culture, not some legalistically imposed military program (which has unfortunately been a widespread misunderstanding when it comes to Christians with a more reconstructionist position).

    God’s blessings to you and yours, and thank you again for your comments.

    In Christ,
    Isaac Overton

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