Matthew (Part 22) - Defending the Gospel
As we found last time, the central point to the book of Matthew—which is also central to the Gospel in general, to the New Covenant, and to the very purpose for creation—is to glorify God. Everything about Christianity ultimately points to that focus. But here’s the problem—we are sitting on the divide between two Christian cultures here in America. The old culture seemed to want to protect the fundamental doctrines and so built an iron framework about them and sternly preached for us to hang on to the framework. Of course, those growing up in such a culture, with their attention constantly directed to the framework, were well-versed in the binding, but perhaps couldn’t articulate the importance of the fundamentals within. The resultant new culture cast off the legalistic framework, intent on satisfying purpose—glorifying God. Yet, in leaving the framework behind, those doctrines hidden within were also left. And thus the emergent church was born.
What does this bode for the future of conservative evangelicalism? Many say evangelicalism, that started its strong influence early in the 20th century, has about run its course. In fact, one internet blogger has predicted its demise within the next 10 years. He states as one of the reasons: “Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions on youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure.
“Do not be deceived by conferences or movements that are theological in nature. These are a tiny minority of evangelicalism. A strong core of evangelical beliefs is not present in most of our young people, and will be less present in the future. This loss of “the core” has been at work for some time, and the fruit of this vacancy is about to become obvious.”
How do we maintain influence? Back to basics. We need the doctrines—particularly those that define the Gospel. That’s the good thing about conferences like Together for the Gospel (T4G). Based on Gospel doctrines we can survey the landscape and come to understand what upholds and continues to point to the Gospel and glorifying God and what would tear down the Gospel. Several big ideas are taking hold in the evangelical landscape. Before we move on further through Matthew, we’re going to take a look at some of these to determine whether their rudders are in line with Gospel truth.
The first is the idea called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP)—a relatively new concept that got its name back in the mid 1980s. Some notable names promoting the NPP are N.T. (Tom) Wright, E.P. Sanders, and James Dunn (Dunn coined the term). The NPP argues against the traditional view promoted by the Reformers concerning certain aspects of justification and the righteousness of God and Christ, particularly in the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Of those resisting the ideas of the NPP, John Piper is most notable. His The Future of Justification was written in direct response to Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said and other NPP writings. Wright subsequently answered Piper (and other critics) in his book Justification.
Of the reformers, Luther most championed the idea that in salvation our guilt was placed on Christ while his righteousness was placed on us. Thus, God sees us through Christ’s works of righteousness and not through our sin. But proponents of the NPP wonder what kind of a “thing” righteousness is that can be taken from one person to be placed on another person. Rather they argue that when Christ paid for our sin, guilt was removed leaving us righteous—not taking on Christ’s righteousness.
The second aspect of the NPP has to do with justification. Actually, this should rather be called the primary aspect with the consideration of righteousness secondary. How exactly justification is regarded and its influence on righteousness will be discussed in much more detail in our next meeting.
(Please go to the Miscellaneous category under Bible Study Summaries to find the next two summaries dealing with this topic.)