Friday, April 26, 2013

7 Reasons Evangelicals Must Return to the Gospels

by nmcdonal

Evangelicals are a didactic, analytical crowd. We love it when our preacher cuts up an epistle into bite-sized chunks, extracts the flavor, and serves it a la carte on a platter each Sunday. Logic, reason, argument; we readily bite the bit for these appetizing delights.

But in his book “Reading the Gospels Wisely” Dr. Jonathon T. Pennington argues that Evangelicals, in their obsession with the Epistles, have missed the meat of the Word of God. The gospels, he argues, are the main course of the Bible, and if we miss preaching through the gospels regularly, we haven’t given our congregants a balanced diet. Here are Pennington’s reasons – he originally gives nine, but I’ll reduce them to 7:

1. The Gospels Take Center Stage in Church History. From the earliest accounts we have of the church, it is clear that these ancient disciples prized the four gospels so highly that they were read in every church service. This is still tradition in Catholic circles. While this isn’t an exegetical argument, it ought to make us raise our eyebrows – why did the earliest disciples value the four gospels so highly, but we modern Evangelicals only get around to them once in a while?

2. The Gospels Fill in the Epistle’s Blanks. The fact that Paul does not repeat much of the gospels (though clearly alludes to them throughout every letter) has been perplexing for some. Why doesn’t Paul seem to be saying the same things as Jesus? The answer is this: Paul assumed that the knowledge of the gospels were already deeply ingrained into the lifeblood of the churches. The lack of repetition and many clear allusions tell us that Paul’s epistles, in reality, don’t make sense without the gospels, for they assume a deep, clear knowledge of them already in his writing.

3. The Gospels Were the Language of the Early Church. Although the gospels were written after the Epistles, the gospels were spoken and carried throughout the ends of the earth before the Epistles. In other words, the four gospels were the first New Testament Scriptures; these words, memorized by the apostles and handed down, were what would have been on their lips as they taught in Philippi, Ephesus, Rome, Etc. The oral tradition of the gospels built the foundation for the written epistles.

4. The Gospels Clearly Plug the New Testament into the Old. Simply put, the Gospels are the clearest bookends of the Old Testament. They most clearly connect the redemptive themes and purposes of the Old Testament with the life of Jesus. While this knowledge is assumed and built upon the Epistles, nowhere is it more obvious and up front than in the teachings of Jesus, as he comes to explicitly fulfill the role of the coming Messiah in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If we would understand our Old Testament, we must unlock them with the keys of the gospels.

5. The Gospels Paint a Picture of the Kingdom. The theme of the kingdom is crucial to understanding the full scope of the gospel. The coming kingdom is fleshed out in full between the four gospel witnesses, and is largely assumed in the Epistles. Without the foundational knowledge of Jesus’ coming fulfillment of the kingdom, we tend to end up with a gospel stripped of its story – “We are sinners, Jesus died for us, we can now have eternal life.” This is such a bare-bones sketch of the true nature of Jesus’ ministry, it’s more like a half-gospel. If we want to understand the true nature of Jesus’ redemptive work, we must get back to the gospels.

6. The Gospels Clothe the Epistle’s Truths. While the Epistles have many solid, bare-boned, practical tips for daily living, these admonitions only assume and reference the more full-bodied teaching of Jesus. There is a difference between “we are justified in Christ” and the parable of the justified tax-collector. There is a difference between “love one another” and Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet. The gospels put clothes on the teachings of the Epistles, and help us to understand the teachings of the Apostles in all their fullness and richness. The gospels most fully address us as human beings – our imaginations, sensations, emotions, and eyes – in a way the Epistles do not attempt. Rather, the Epistles constantly point us back to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith, to fully grasp what it means to be a disciple.

7. The Gospels Allow Us to Experience Jesus. Finally, the gospels help us experience Jesus. We can learn much about Jesus from the Epistles and the Old Testament. But we cannot know Jesus through these two mediums in the same way as through his life. Disciples are imitators, followers, intimate allies. If we do not know the Jesus of the gospels, then we do not know Jesus in the full, rich, life-giving way God intended for us through the precious, four-fold gift He’s given us through these four witnesses.

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