Gospel Firepower

Some say evangelism is like tossing lit matches into upright kegs. Most kegs are filled with water, some are filled with gunpowder. C.S. Lewis was thinking gunpowder when he wrote this (Letters, 3:324–325):

My feeling about people in whose conversion I have been allowed to play a part is always mixed with awe and even fear; such as a boy might feel on first being allowed to fire a rifle. The disproportion between his puny finger on the trigger and the thunder and lightning which follow is alarming. And the seriousness with which the other party takes my words always raises the doubt whether I have taken them seriously enough myself.

“To be laughed at is no great hardship to me”

What does it look like when a preacher implores sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20)? Perhaps it resembles something like this excerpt taken from the conclusion to a sermon by Charles Spurgeon (The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 4, sermon 171):

Preaching, you see, takes away my voice. Ah! it is not that. It is not the preaching, but the sighing over your souls that is the hard work. I could preach for ever: I could stand here day and night to tell my Master’s love and warn poor souls; but ’tis the after-thought that will follow me when I descend these pulpit steps, that many of you, my hearers’ will neglect this warning.

You will go; you will walk into the street; you will joke; you will laugh. …

To be laughed at is no great hardship to me. I can delight in scoffs and jeers; caricatures, lampoons, and slanders, are my glory; of these things I boast, yea, in these I will rejoice. But that you should turn from your own mercy, this is my sorrow.

Spit on me, but oh! repent!

Laugh at me: but oh! believe in my Master!

Make my body as the dirt of the streets, if ye will but damn not your own souls!

Oh! do not despise your own mercies.

Put not away from you the gospel of Christ. There are many other ways of playing fool beside that. Carry coals in your bosom; knock your head against a wall: but do not damn your souls for the mere sake of being a fool, for fools to laugh at.

Oh! be in earnest upon an earnest subject. If there be no hereafter, live as you like; if there be no heaven, if there be no hell, laugh at me!

But if these things be true, and you believe them, I charge you, as I shall face you at the judgment bar of the Lord Jesus in the day of judgment—I charge you, by your own immortal welfare, lay these things to heart.


With Our Arms About Their Knees

These words from Charles Spurgeon were originally preached to Christian parents of unbelieving children and to wives of unbelieving spouses. The quote is from his sermon on Jeremiah 4:20 (sermon #349) delivered on 9 Dec 1860:

Oh my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

Matthew 22:10

John Newton, Memoirs of the Life of the Late Rev. William Grimshaw (London: 1799), page 110:

It was his [Rev. Grimshaw’s] frequent and almost constant custom to leave the church while the psalm before sermon was singing, to see if any were absent from worship and idling their time in the church-yard, the street, or the ale-houses, and many of those whom he so found, he would drive into the church before him. A friend of mine passing a public house [“pub”] in Haworth on a Lord’s Day morning saw several persons making their escape out of it, some jumping out of the lower windows, and some over a low wall; he was at first alarmed, fearing the house was on fire, but upon inquiring what was the cause of the commotion he was told that they saw the parson coming.

Evangelism and Sovereignty (in the OT)

Peppered throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s plan to redeem sinners from every nation. Every knee shall bow and all the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house (Isa. 2:2–3, 45:23). Yet in light of these promises, Israel was not commissioned to fulfill a missionary program or given an OT version of the great commission. Instead, Charles H. H. Scobie writes, the ingathering of the nations was defined by these three distinctives (Scobie 2003: 519–520):

(1) The ingathering fulfillment promises are eschatological, that is, forward looking [see Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17; Mic. 4:1, 7:12; Zech. 2:11, 3:9].

(2) The promised ingathering will be the work of God, not the work of Israel [see Isa. 56:7, 66:18, 25:6; Zeph. 3:9].

(3) The ingathering will happen as the nations pursue Israel, not the other way around [see Isa. 45:14, 60:3, 5, 14, 66:23; Mic. 7:12].

In light of God’s ingathering promises, the book of Jonah is quite startling. This book features a “pouting prophet” called to carry the news of the Living God to a corrupt pagan people. To say that Jonah marks a new missionary program for Israel would be unfair and overstated. However, Jonah’s commission—especially in light of the ingathering promises of God—stands in contrast to the alert OT reader, and in at least one important way. Jonah reveals that God’s sovereign sway over the nations and his eschatological promise to gather a people from every tribe and nation does not impinge upon the mission of God’s people. God’s sovereignty and the call to evangelism coexist within the structure of the OT.

The Kingdom, Gospel Faithfulness, and Evangelism

It’s good for my worldly soul to wait for books. And wait is what I did for 6 weeks as my latest read was rowed here in a pirogue from England. But it was worth the wait. The new book is God’s Power to Save: One Gospel for a Complex World? (Apollos/IVP; Leicester, England; 2006) edited by Chris Green. Today I provide you with one morsel from the book. It’s on the topic of the gospel, the kingdom, and evangelism—

…We have seen that in the Synoptics and Acts, ‘the gospel’ and ‘the kingdom’ are fundamentally related. They are not different messages, as some old-school liberals might once have tried to have us believe. But nor is it adequate to see them as two different ways of describing the same reality but with different vocabularies, which different people might find easier or harder to accept. That thought might seem on the surface to be evangelistically useful, because we could talk using different kinds of language to different groups of people, according to their needs and pastoral appropriateness, but it is actually flawed. If I could explain the gospel to people, fully and without distortion, and do so without leading them to expect forgiveness for sin on the basis of the cross (for instance), then what I have produced is not alternative language but an alternative gospel, because the substance has changed.

Put simply, the gospel of the kingdom as we find it in Acts is the announcement of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit that flow necessarily from the throne of the crucified and risen Saviour-King. We saw above that the appropriate response to hearing the gospel is repentance and faith. To ask people to repent and believe when they have heard a message that does not focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus actually asks for a different reason for repentance and a different message to believe. Do they, then, receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit? Since we have seen that talking about the kingdom requires us to talk about the cross, any such detachment must be theologically, and spiritually, disastrous.

There are many audiences, but only one gospel. To present that one gospel under the language of the kingdom is not necessarily to alter it. But if we use it because we think someone is more likely to respond to the language of the kingdom than that of, say, justification or forgiveness, and that is precisely because we wrongly think the kingdom does not operate in that theological field, then we have altered it by distorting the cross-work of the king.

—Chris Green, God’s Power to Save: One Gospel for a Complex World? (Apollos/IVP; Leicester, England; 2006), pp. 136–137. To date, the book has not been published in the U.S. and is a bit tough to find—hence the wait and the pirogue.