Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Don't Improve the Gospel: Mark Dever on the Social Gospel

In his published chapter first given as a lecture delivered at Together For the Gospel 2008, Mark Dever addresses the tendency common today to improve the gospel. The first effort is to "Make the Gospel Social." Regarding this tendency, Dever helpfully writes in the book Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology:

Certainly there is no New Testament example of the church spending time directly instructing the Roman emperor or directly shaping the pagans' view of culture. That may of course be the effect of our preaching the gospel and teaching Christians the Word, but we will never by our preaching - or by any of our actions - bring in the culmination of the kingdom of God. That will happen only with the return of Christ. He will, as Revelation shows us so wonderfully, cause his bride to appear. A time will come when all tears are wiped away, but Revelation 21:4 tells us that that is God's action. Thus, to tell the church to focus primarily on repairing passing structures in a fallen world - a world under the curse of God - would not only cause churches discouragement through the frustration of building sand castles at low tide, but it would, even more horrendously, distract us from the work of bringing God eternal glory by preaching the gospel and seeing people converted and eternally reconciled to God. (102)

He goes on later:

In Acts 8, Philip preaches "the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (v. 12). The immediate response of his hearers was not to change the structure of the government of their city but to be baptized. Luke reports that from this, the apostles "heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God" (Acts 8:14). It is clear that even using the expression "the good news of the kingdom" does not mean that God's reign has now come in the fullness we will know it in Christ's return. Rather, it means that the king is willing to pardon rebels and hat we should personally submit ourselves to his rule. Yes, then we will begin to work out the implications of this message, but those implications aren't the gospel itself. If you say such implication are part of the gospel, confusion will result. The message of God's fully sufficient work in Christ will be mixed with our own works. There is no entrance into the kingdom apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ. (105)

He concludes with this:

Never substitute doing good works for sharing the gospel. Don't try to improve the gospel by making it social; you'll end up losing it. We must preach the gospel we have received. (106)

Perhaps we can summarize this discussion this way; the gospel preached is powerful enough. The pure gospel of Jesus Christ which regenerates the believer naturally transforms the community (beginning with God's people congregated in the church), and ultimately renews the cosmos. Those who embrace and preach the social gospel are, in the end, limiting its power. When God sanctifies the heart He will, in Christ, impact the broader culture. The lover of God will naturally be a lover of others and never a lover of Himself.

For more, see the entire address from T4G 2008 from Dever:

For more:
Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel Yesterday and Today: An Interview With Christopher Evans
Repost Friday | How To Change the World: The Advantage and Power of the Gospel and the Limits of the Social Gospel
What Would Jesus Vote?:  Jesus, Health Care, and the Gospel
Have We Forgotten the Gospel?  Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Gospel
Who Isn't One?:  Brian McLaren and Social Christians
Repost | What Did the Cross Accomplish?: External Hope or Internal Reformation
Have We Forgotten the Gospel?:  Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Crossing the Wall of Separation: The Danger of the State Wooing the Church
Weekly Recommendation - "Generous Justice" by Timothy Keller
Repent for Health Care is At Hand: Did Obama Just Legislate the Gospel?
The Postmodern Social Gospel: Brian McLaren Proves My Point 
The Bible and Poverty: The Gospel as the Remedy 
What Does It Mean to be  Christian?
"Jesus Wants to Save Christians
"The Justice Project
"The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns
"The Gospel According to Jesus" by Chris Seay  
"Outlive Your Life" by Max Lucado 
"When Helping Hurts
"Everything Must Change
"The Great Awakening" Part 1
"The Great Awakening" Part 2
Glenn Beck and Social Justice
The Power of the Gospel in Bringing Social Change:  Perhaps We Need to Reconsider Our Efforts
Is Wallis a Marxist?  A New Video Surfaces 

Farewell Old Friend: Saying Goodbye to the Emergent Church
Thesis | Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology: From Cultural Accomodation to the Kindgom of God - Full Series 
Is Brian McLaren a Univeralists? That's Not the Real Issue
Repost | Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like

For more on Walter Rauschenbusch:
You can read Waltar Raushenbush's groundbreaking book, "A Theology for the Social Gospel" online here.
"A Theology for the Social Gospel" - Part 1
"A Theology for the Social Gospel" - Sin
"A Theology for the Social Gospel" - Atonement  
Orthodoxy vs. Unorthodoxy: A Look at Rauschenbush's "A Theology for the Social Gospel"
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