I have had a growing awareness over the past number of years of the beauty and harmony of Christian truth as it is revealed in divine Scripture. God’s truth is not expressed to us in modern, Western, text-book fashion, with an index in the back so you can skip past the stuff you don’t care about, read a few paragraphs, and be good to go. Divine truth is a tapestry, woven in the mind of God, expressed over time through His dealings with His people, the Incarnation, the Cross, the building of Christ’s Body. The echoes and reverberations of the great themes of Scripture are to be heard in even the most obscure corners of the Scriptural revelation, at least, for those with ears to hear.
Sometimes my own work in apologetics gets in the way of my hearing those divine echoes. Constant is the temptation to find “the” answer to every objection, “the” reply that will shut the mouth of the skeptic. But the fact is, there are elements of divine truth that are shut off from the haughty rebel. God does not grant entrance into the inner sanctum of His truth and fellowship to those who hate Him. And it is truly an example of casting pearls before swine to attempt to express the Spirit-borne confidence one has of divine truth to the railing atheist or the self-righteous religionist. While the task of giving a reason for the inward hope does lead one to see this beauty, it is more often in the quietness of contemplation of the truths you have learned in that defense that you are taken aback by the generation-spanning harmony and consistency of the Word.
Nowhere is it more important to see the harmony of the woven fabric of God’s revelation than when speaking of the gospel. Modern Western minds, prone to analysis and separation of facts into disconnected categories, far too often misses the forest due to over-attention to the individual trees, or limbs, or even leaves. Seeing one’s belief in God, the Trinity, the Church, the gospel, all in one panoramic view, is a rare experience for many in the West. Some find it very uncomfortable to have the various elements of their belief system brought into close proximity with one another, for the obvious reason that issues of inconsistency and contradiction are often seen as a result.
The gospel, while identifiable and definable, is likewise complex, in the sense that there are a number of divine acts that together comprise the gospel. The gospel, for example, is Triune, in that it finds its origin and source in the divine decree, love, and mercy of the Father, is accomplished in the perfect work of the Incarnate Son, and brought to fruition in the life of the elect believer by the Spirit. Likewise, the gospel brings into focus the moral law of God, His wrath against sin, the necessity of punishment. This leads to the categories of atonement, substitution, and forgiveness. Add to this regeneration, adoption, sanctification, glorification, and you can see how the gospel, while simple in its call for repentance and faith, is complex as well.
I am reflecting on this topic due to the recent Manhattan Declaration discussions. I am very concerned about the “Mere Christianity”/Least Common Denominator style of “Christianity” that has become so very prevalent amongst Evangelicals in our nation. The abandonment of the gospel as a definitional aspect of the faith is not just troubling, it is disastrous. But part of the reason for this move seems to be the chicken coop theology that plagues so many today. Let me explain.
When you listen to the modern ecumenists and LCD proponents speak, they do all in their power to bend Rome’s theology toward Geneva/Wittenberg/Canterbury or wherever, emphasizing similarities, especially in the area of justification. A well-read proponent of Rome’s theology can cherry-pick the CCC and other Roman writings to present a view that is, at the very least, less objectionable than might be expected. And given the range of “views” being propounded today by ostensibly Protestant writers (New Perspectivism, Federal Vision, etc.), it is easy to start seeing Rome’s view as just one amongst others, and hence at least no more objectionable than the rest.
But justification does not stand alone in a chicken coop of theology, either biblically or in Rome’s own teachings. Biblically, justification is intimately and definitionally connected to the rest of the fabric of divine revelation. You cannot have a sound doctrine of justification without a sound doctrine of God’s holiness, man’s sin, atonement, punishment, faith, etc. Likewise, Rome’s doctrine of justification is directly connected to its over-all sacramentalism, to the concept of the priesthood, penances, merit, purgatory, and especially the Sacrifice of the Mass. To separate Rome’s view of justification from her insistence upon the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice that does not perfect anyone for whom it is made is a gross error on many levels. Yet, is this not exactly what is being done constantly by those promoting ecumenism? By refusing to see Rome’s doctrine of justification as part of an over-all scheme that emphasizes the centrality of the free will of man “cooperating” with the grace of God a distorted picture results, one that does not in any way serve to promote the interests of truth.
Likewise, on the positive side, recognizing the soul-thrilling perfection of the Triune God’s work in all areas of redemption, from the fount of grace in the decrees of the Triune God in eternity past, through the Incarnation, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, through the individual experience of the work of the Spirit in regeneration, faith, repentance, forgiveness, adoption, and sanctification, all the way through glorification and entrance into the eternal state, cannot but ground the spiritual man or woman in his or her faith. I believe this is one reason why God allows conflicts to enter into our experience as the redeemed Body of Christ: it is when we are forced by such things to consider the gospel in its fulness that we see it in a new light and appreciate even more its glory.
So make sure you avoid the chicken coop mentality of theology. Step back often and wonder at the grandeur of God’s work, the harmony of His works, and the grace by which you stand, secure, in Him.