At Holy Trinity Brompton this morning we prayed for—among other things and somewhat in passing—the “re-evangelization of the nations”. That’s a weighty and portentous phrase. What are we supposed to mean by it?
Holy Trinity Brompton is a church with an expansive vision, but I imagine that most people would have taken this as a prayer for the conversion of large numbers of people from the nations of the world through the preaching of a gospel of personal salvation. That’s all well and good as far as it goes. Missing from it, however, is any real sense of the narrative trajectory that is established in the New Testament and which determines the contextual shape of the gospel argument.
Jesus’ evangel was the announcement to a nation facing destruction that forgiveness and salvation could be found only by following Jesus down a narrow path leading to life. As G.B. Caird wrote, Jesus sent out the disciples as “couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum on a question of national survival”.
Paul’s evangel to the nations was the announcement that what God had done for Israel by raising Jesus from the dead had serious and far-reaching implications—that is, eschatological implications—for the pagan system that for so long had dominated the European continent and that posed such a threat to the people of God.
Both for Jesus and for Paul conversion—whatever its personal significance—meant inclusion in a community that dynamically embodied in itself these different but obviously linked evangelistic agendas.
The first “evangelization of the nations” led to the conversion of the empire and the establishment of European Christendom. Not many would now argue for a re-evangelization of the nations in such terms. But what else might we mean by it? It still has its origins in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which entailed the “resurrection” of the people of God after three days following judgment (cf. Hos. 6:1-2) and anticipated the eventual vindication of the early church against both its Jewish and pagan enemies. In other words, the gospel remains a political and public announcement.
The resurrection, however, was also an event of new creation, and perhaps the post-Christendom narrative trajectory must reshape the evangelization of the nations in such terms. The good news that we have now is that the Creator God renews creation. Conversion, then, whatever it may mean at the personal level, is fundamentally the inclusion of a person in a community that dynamically embodies in itself this extended evangelistic agenda—though I suspect that we are still a long way from grasping fully what that means.
Paul says: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ," Rom. 1:1-6
"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed," Rom 15:18
"Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.." Rom. 16:25-26
Pretty clear what the Gospel was to do through Paul, and through the church, until the Lord returns. I hope He returns soon. I would love to see my Savior, and thank Him, and love Him face to face. I know joy will fill my heart when I see Him, and that same joy will swell with greater joy when I see His wrists and feet, and side.
What a Savior, to die, and then three days later come back to life, and stay on this earth for 40 days more. What a truth to change the world!
Lost souls need to hear it for sure.
Don, you are right to emphasize the fact that Paul’s gospel called for a personal response from Gentiles in the form of an “obedience of faith”. But I would still insist that this phrase presupposes an eschatological narrative and that we need to bring this narrative into focus if we are going to answer the question of why this “obedience of faith” (or of “faithfulness”) was necessary. It cannot be answered simply at the level of personal salvation.
My contention in The Future of the People of God is that Paul’s argument in Romans at every point presupposes a narrative about an impending judgment on the pagan world. The demand for an “obedience of faith for the sake of his name among the nations” is a direct outworking of this argument: it will be not least through the faithful witness of Gentile believers that eschatological transformation will take place. The New Testament does not present us with an undifferentiated, generic understanding of salvation. Salvation happens under particular eschatological conditions and for particular ends.
Andrew you said regarding a prayer for the "re-evangelization of the nations” that you'd, "...imagine that most people would have taken this as a prayer for the conversion of large numbers of people from the nations of the world through the preaching of a gospel of personal salvation. That’s all well and good as far as it goes". What do you mean, "As far as it goes?" You went on to say that "Missing from it is any real sense of the narrative trajectory that is established in the New Testament and which determines the contextual shape of the gospel argument". So would you suggest that the preaching of the gospel of personal salvation in OUR context is valid? Or is there another "contextual shape"? What do you think determines that contextual shape of the gospel in our time? You said to Don, for instance, that "Salvation happens under particular eschatological conditions and for particular ends".
Maybe you hinted at it when you said "the gospel remains a political and public announcement". Oh wait, I see more here, you say, "The good news that we have now is that the Creator God renews creation. Conversion, then, whatever it may mean at the personal level, is fundamentally the inclusion of a person in a community that dynamically embodies in itself this extended evangelistic agenda—though I suspect that we are still a long way from grasping fully what that means." I believe that's part of my answer. Though now I'm curious as to what you mean by an "extended evangelistic agenda". By the way, one incredible post after another... I'm taking notes.
"The good news that we have now is that the Creator God renews creation."
The good news, the gospel, "my gospel" as Paul says, is Christ. Jesus is the good news for a cursed world. First and foremost for the glory of His Father. And, the first and foremost "new creation", are sinners, who when they repent, Jesus said this: "I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This is the foremost joy for our Father, when His child comes home. Infact He runs to us, doesn't He:--
"..while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." Luke 15:20
Don, if you’re interested, I’ve put down some thoughts on the parable of the prodigal son in this post. I would be interested to know what you think of the argument.