The Gospel Coalition gets the gospel back to front

Read time: 8 minutes

A while back Daniel asked me what I thought of a Gospel Coalition video called "Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?" The question which John Piper, Tim Keller, and Don Carson address is basically this: Is Paul's gospel of justification by faith on the basis of Jesus' atoning death for the sins of the world to be found in the Gospels? They appear to be reacting against theological developments which have driven a wedge between the Reformed emphasis on personal salvation, supposedly as Paul understood it, and the "emerging" idea—though it's not stated as such—that Jesus preached kingdom and that kingdom means social transformation.

In my view this is a classic example of reading backwards rather than forwards. The question may have some polemical point to it, but it immediately gets us moving in the wrong direction. It's what happens when our worldview has been determined by theologians. A narrative-historical approach would instinctively ask the opposite question: "Did Paul preach Jesus' gospel?"

In a stimulating talk that is partly a response to the Gospel Coalition argument, Scot McKnight quotes a line from Nietzsche: "the text has disappeared under the interpretation". McKnight thinks that this is what has happened to the word "gospel": the text has disappeared under the interpretation. Reading backwards is a way of keeping the text buried under layers of interpretive tradition.

So we start out in the wrong direction and we continue in the wrong direction. Piper explains his hermeneutic: he wants to read the Gospels in the shadow of the cross. When Jesus lifts up the cup and says, "This is the new covenant in my blood", he means, "I purchase all the benefits of the new covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, by dying. And that's the gospel." Everything else is merely preamble. [pullquote]Piper is quite open about what he is doing, shamelessly so: "I read the Gospels backwards."[/pullquote] But why? The Gospels weren't written backwards. History doesn't move backwards.

Basically, what Piper, Keller and Carson are doing is reading Paul in the light of the Reformers, the crucifixion of Jesus in the light of their Reformed reading of Paul, and the prior content of the Gospels in the light of this Reformed-Pauline reading of the crucifixion.

I would argue the reverse. We should understand the crucifixion in the light of what has gone before—not only Jesus' preaching about the kingdom and everything that went along with it, but also the story about Israel which Jesus presupposes. Then we should ask how this narrative is taken up by Paul and proclaimed in the Gentile world. Then we should ask whether there's much point left to the Reformed reading.

The gospel of Jesus

Let's consider first, then, how the story unfolds in Luke, which is the text that Piper, Keller and Carson focus their attention on.

The angel proclaims good news (euangelizomai) to the shepherds that "a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" has been born in the city of David (Lk. 2:10). In the context of the early chapters of Luke it is evident that what is at issue is not the salvation of the individual but the salvation of Israel from the hands of their enemies (Lk. 1:71, 74). This salvation includes the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 1:77), but the connection is not made here with Jesus' death. It will have an impact on the Gentiles only in that they will see that God has saved his people Israel (2:32; 3:6).

The "good news" which John preached (euēngelizeto) was that the coming messiah would judge Israel, gathering for himself a righteous people, and destroying the unrighteous (Lk. 3:16-18). Jesus believed that he had been anointed by the Spirit of God to proclaim the same good news (euangelisasthai) that Isaiah had described, which was that Israel would be set free from captivity and restored, and that YHWH would punish his enemies (Lk. 4:18; cf. 7:22). It is the good news of the coming kingdom of God (Lk. 8:1; 16:16).

Luke's account of the last supper, which is where Piper begins, is oriented towards the fulfilment of a narrative in which the Son of Man must suffer before the kingdom of God comes. The suffering is for the sake of the disciples ("my body, which is given for you"), and Jesus understands his blood to be the means by which a new covenant with Israel is ratified. Matthew adds to this the thought that Jesus' blood is "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28), but this is still the forgiveness of Israel's sins as part of the story of the coming kingdom of God, understood as impending judgement and restoration.

Finally, in dispute at the trial, which is as much part of the climactic event as the crucifixion, is not whether Jesus will save Israel from its sins but whether he is Israel's king. The high priest asks him if he is the Christ. Jesus replies that "from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God". He combines two Old Testament narratives: suffering Israel, represented by the Son of Man, will be vindicated and given kingdom and dominion over the nations (Dan. 7:13-27); and Israel's king will be given authority to judge and rule at the right hand of YHWH (cf. Ps. 110:1). He is executed in the end as one who thought himself to be king of the Jews.

So it appears that the "gospel" in the Gospels—the gospel of Jesus—is simply the public and prophetic announcement to Israel that, in keeping with the promise made to Abraham (cf. Lk. 1:72), YHWH was about to act in history to judge, deliver and restore his people. The claim is then made, secondarily, that this eschatological transformation would come about through the suffering of the Son of Man, who would "give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45), who would be vindicated, and who would be seated at the right hand of God and given authority to rule in the midst of his enemies. But that is not the gospel. That is not what is announced.

Let me suggest an analogy. The angel tells Mary that she will bear a son, who will be given the throne of his father David and will "reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk. 1:31-33). That is an announcement to Mary of good news, and significantly, it has to do with kingdom.

Mary then asks, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?", and the angel has to explain that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, etc.—presumably, that she will conceive miraculously. That part of the story is important—indeed, essential. But it is not itself the good news. The good news is that her son will be given the throne of his father David, which will have massive implications for Israel, as Mary will later acknowledge (Lk. 1:46-55).

What Paul does with the gospel of Jesus

What Paul will later do with Jesus' gospel has been hinted at already. Simeon prophesies that the historical salvation of Israel will be a "light of revelation to the Gentiles"—that is, it will open the eyes of the Gentiles to the power of Israel's God to intervene in history and save his people from their enemies (Lk. 2:29-32). Similarly, Luke quotes Isaiah in connection with the ministry of John the Baptist: "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk. 3:6; cf. Is. 40:3 LXX).

We see how this works most clearly in Romans 15:8-21. Christ "became a servant to the circumcised" for the sake of the truthfulness of God—on the one hand, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs; on the other, so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy towards his people, Israel. The Gentiles will come to hope in Christ, and eventually he will rule over them. Paul's role as a minister "of the gospel of Christ" is to ensure that the response of the Gentiles to what God has done for his people through his servant Jesus is acceptable.

The difference between Jesus and Paul, therefore, is not that Jesus preached the kingdom and Paul preached the justification of the individual by faith. It is that Jesus preached the restoration of Israel to Israel whereas Paul preached the restoration of Israel to the nations. Specifically, [pullquote]Paul found in the resurrection of Jesus reason to believe that YHWH would judge not only his own people but also the pagan world.[/pullquote]

This, I think, is Paul's "gospel"—an announcement both to diaspora Judaism and to the nations concerning Jesus, who "was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). Part of the argument, certainly, is that Jesus died for the sins of his people "in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:1-3); and in his disputes with the Jews Paul insisted that at this time of eschatological crisis God's people would be justified only by "his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Rom 3:24–25). But these details cannot be separated from the story about Israel. They are not to be viewed through the narrow, isolating keyhole of the Reformed obsession with justification by faith.

I agree with the Gospel Coalition triumvirate that there is no contradiction between Jesus' gospel and Paul's gospel, and I agree that the use of Jesus' teaching to prioritize a social transformation agenda is misguided. But it seems to me that by beginning with the reductionist modern-Reformed premise that "gospel" is all about the justification of the individual and working backwards from there they have seriously misconstrued—or at least, misrepresented—the New Testament narrative. If we start, as the New Testament does, from the large premise of the political-religious crisis facing Israel and work forwards, we will gain a much clearer understanding not only of the relationship between Jesus and Paul but also of the nature of the individual's engagement with the narrative.

Larry Chouinard | Thu, 06/13/2013 - 17:26 | Permalink

Paul’s language of new creation and new Adam connect with Jesus’ proclamation of the the Kingdom of the heavens (Matthew), as God in Jesus initiates a reclamation project where all creation is reclaimed and subordinated to the Reign of God.  A very natural expression of that reclamation is the renewal of all things, including social structures, politics, engaging human brokenness, and in general, enabling people to dream once again.  It is certainly the case that it is God who ultimately restores the natural and cosmic order, but in the interim the church should be providing Kingdom glimpses of God’s ultimate intent.  To shift the emphasis to an individualistic Gospel focused upon personal salvation with the ultimate hope of “going to heaven” simply does not capture the dynamics between election and mission.  To downplay the social implications of Kingdom renewal fails to take seriously the importance of the signs that signal that a renewal has started (cf., e.g., Jesus’ rolling back old world distortions and brokenness through a ministry that challenged old world assumptions, shattered the tyranny of evil, brought wholeness and cleasing to lives marginalized by the “principalities and powers”).  Thanks for challenging the faulty assumptions and hermeneutical fallacies characterizing the Gospel Coalition.

@Larry Chouinard:

Larry, I agree with the general thrust of the argument—I certainly think that the church should embody social transformation. I just don’t think that’s what kingdom is all about in the New Testament. I argued in this piece that kingdom and new creation are not the same thing.

What I think makes this backwards looking reading of scripture so insidious is it starts with man’s understanding and read’s God’s word through it. It makes no allowances for the idea that people often misunderstand things. That we need to be corrected regularly. Piper et al seem to start with “my theology is correct” and move to “can the bible be read to support my theology?” Of course, the bible can be read to support just about anything if one is so inclined. Reading the bible this way does nothing to reveal truth. It really is just using the bible rather than allowing yourself (and your theology) to be shaped by the bible. 

@Rebecca Trotter:

Sharply put, Rebecca. I am conscious of the fact, however, that someone may retort to both of us that no none reads the texts without a theology. Traditionalists can be very postmodern when it suits them. It’s important, therefore, that we set out clearly the hermeneutical basis for reading the texts historically or forwards. There’s no point in replacing a naive theological traditionalism with a naive confidence in the uninterpreted text. So I will take this opportunity to draw attention to some rough and ready rules for narrative-historical interpretation

@Rebecca Trotter:


Turn your smoking gun on yourself. Everything you say about these men can be said about Andrew, you, and the rest of these emergents. Your own reading of Scripture begins with your own understanding and includes your own biases. The Bible can in fact be read to support any view. What you need to do is interact with the conversation of these men rather than making such broad generalities which is what Andrew does. The truth is that you read the Bible to support your view. The notion that orthodoxy somehow reads its theology BACK into Scripture ignores 2,000 of demonstratble history of how current theological points of view were in fact the product of ancient exegesis that is traceable to modern times. The notion posited by Andrew, you, and others that interpretation is purged or can be purged of theology is nonsensical and hopelessly misgudied. Moreover, the way your circles ignore the long, rich history of orthodoxy is not only irresponsible, it is unethical, unscholarly, and even reprehensible. It reflects the worse sort of irresponsible thought in biblical studies.

I think this behavior, or way of handling these issues rises, in many cases, to a quite devious hermeneutic. It is anything but honest, anything but genuine, anything but based on a thoughtful well-read understanding of the history of the Christian Church. Rob Bell has used the same language for years now, along with the rest of the emergent minions. What they wish to do is destroy biblical Christianity by giving it a radical new redefinition. That definition is in fact not Christian at all, but something far different. 

I will respond to Andrew’s comments at reformed reasons this weekend.

Rob Hutton | Thu, 06/13/2013 - 20:11 | Permalink

Hi Andrew, I’m cautious about entering this debate with such learned people and I must admit that I have anything but a thorough grasp of the narrative historical approach… Nonetheless I would like to comment on your (in my view some what reductionist) concerns with “reading the text backwards”. Doesn’t scripture do that … Surely there are aspects of the OT narrative that we only truly understand or understand the true implications of, in light of the NT revelation eg the sacrificial system, even God’s promise to David about always having a son on the throne. And if that is so, why (considering that Paul’s letters are God breathed, part of the bible) is it wrong to look to Paul’s explanation to bring clarity to the implications of the gospel accounts of Jesus life, death and resurrection?

Lastly, Rebecca, I’m not sure insidious would be the right word to describe what Piper and the others are doing. Maybe Andrew’s comment that your comment was sharply put, might temper your future responses. We can disagree graciously, in fact if we don’t the value of the debate is lost immediately.

@Rob Hutton:

Rob, thanks, I value your perspective. Just a few quick thoughts in response…

The texts overtly presuppose what has gone before rather than what will come after. It is remarkable that the Synoptic Gospels show so little awareness of the theological and practical interests of the Christian communities for which they written—the problems of Jewish-Gentile relations, for example, or the controversy over circumcision. Jesus does not ask to be understood in the light of Paul. He asks to be understood in the light of the Old Testament.

Is it really the case that we see the true implications of the sacrificial system only in the light of the New Testament? Jesus’ death was not formally a sacrificial event, but in order to account for its significance Jewish Christians made sense of it in the light of the Old Testament and actual temple practice. They were not arguing that the Old Testament needed to be read differently. They were arguing that Jesus’ death needed to be understood differently.

Similarly, I’m not sure that we have to read the Old Testament texts about kingship differently just because we believe that God gave Jesus authority to reign by raising him from the dead. Surely the argument in the Gospels is that his death and resurrection needed to be understood in the light of such texts as Psalm 110 or Daniel 7. When Jesus says to Caiaphas that he will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God, he is not telling him that he has misunderstood the Old Testament texts alluded to. He is telling him that he has misunderstood the person standing in front of him.

The question is not whether it’s wrong to look at Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The question is how do we determine what Paul is trying to say. I am arguing for what seems to me to be a common sense hermeneutic—that we read Paul in the light of what has gone before rather than in the light of the peculiar interests of the Reformation or of modern evangelicalism. This is not to say that the peculiar interests of the later church are “wrong”, rather that we should not assume that they provide a historically fitting grid for reading Paul.

So my sense is that we think we have to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament only because we have come to understand the New Testament within the restrictive frame of some later tradition or other. It’s not just the Calvinists. The same could be said for Lutheran or Methodist or Catholic or Orthodox tradition.

@Andrew Perriman:

That fact of divine authorship certainly demands that we understand Jesus in the light of Paul. To set up any sort of dichotomy between the gospels and the writings is an illigitmate practice that can only lead to egregious error or worse.

The principle that we understand the OT by understanding the NT stands on its own two feet. The idea of progressive revelation seems to be utterly ignored in your approach.

To understand the Christ event, we begin, not with the prophets, but with Genesis 3. We do NOT begin with STJ nor do we make appeal to non-canonical, uninspired writings of men who may or may not have even known God. Jesus referred to the anithesis of His kingdom and mission repeatedly in His earthly ministry. He continually told us that second temple Judaism was blind and ignorant, that it had distorted the word of God, and that it turns proselytes into children of hell because of their hermeneutic and their tradition. One of the supposedly very best students of STJ had to be knocked off his horse in a miraculous encounter in order to see the light. The approach endorsed here is an overly naturalistic one that ignores much of what Scripture says about the epistemic qualities that go into biblical hermeneutics.

A more formal response will be given to this post over the weekend, pointing out the obvious fallacies and biases that emerge in the article.

While I enjoyed the article, I think this and what I understand from GC panel being commented on both miss the Grand Narrative of Scripture. Both positions only speak to a story within the Story.  To begin, the Gospel of the Kingdom is best seen in Matthew 24:14 as a message to all ethne, people groups, nations that will come to know the one true and living God. To limit the “gospel” to being all about the justification of the individual tragically misses the mark. But to limit Jesus’ Gospel to the restoration of Israel is to limit the scope of what Jesu came to do and the mission He knew He was on. Why so many fail to make this connection I do think has much to do with the entrenched Reformed view of personal justification as the basis of the Gospel, but it shows up in other narrow views as well.

The Gospel is truly cosmic in scope and really begins in Genesis 1:28 where God says to newly minted mankind to multiply and take dominion over the whole world — every realm. In Habakkuk 2:14 we see that God’s desire, and his mission, is to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory. This harkens back to this creation mandate and informs of God’s origjnal intent. How will it be accomplished? We see in Genesis 12:1-3 that God will bless a people who will bless the nations. God was going to chose a people who will bear witness to his blessings. He had in mind the lineage of Abraham to serve this function, as his missionary force, and through Abraham’s seed the nation of Israel would serve God’s mission. In Exodus 19:5 we read:  “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession….will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Why? To make God and his blessing plan known but, alas, as we know Israel failed but the mission of God continued.

Then Jesus came to launch the Father’s missionary enterprise. When Jesus was presented in the temple we see this understanding of God to bless the nations perservered and was understood in the 1st Century by Simeon (see Luke 2:31). Jesus had come as a “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” God’s plan would now go forward for his glory to fill the earth. Before his cruxificion, Jesus told his disciples the reason he had come: He told them, “This is what is written: “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47). God’s plan of restoration would now be completed, by making disicples of all peoples (ethne), in Christ’s authority and power (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus wasn’t introducing new ideas, but as the fulfillment of the Law, came to make the task finishable (again see Matthew 24:14). That is the Good News that all “nations” would now know of God’s salvation in Christ, which had been hidden (Romans 16:25) but not because God didn’t want to make it known. It was the task Jesus gave to a people who would now live by faith (Acts 1:8).

Paul, also under the mission of God to the nations. The message Paul delivered to the Athenians makes this clear: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27). Paul understood the blessings of the nation through the Abrahamic covenant as we see repeated reference of Abraham by Paul, which need to be understood through this Grand Narrative. When we understand God’s mission to the nations we can read Paul through that lens.

What then is the Gospel message? As Jesus clearly understood it, it was the redemption of the nations, as a promised being fulfilled from before the Fall, so that God’s would glory would fill the earth — and then the “end” — God’s purposed plan — would come (Revelation 21). As Paul understood, there was no new idea at work, but the long awaited fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham as “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:8). The Gospel is the promise of God to do what He alone promised to do to restore all of creation to His very good design before the Fall. Our salvation serves God’s purpose so that every nation, tribe and tongue will know his glory (Revelation 7:9). Our personal salvation is only a part of the Good News meant for the “healing of the nations.” (Revelations 22:2). God has a plan and He is working it out.  That is the Great News!

Sorry this is so long :-) Shalom!

@Brian Considine:

Brian, I resonate with much of what you are trying to do here but I struggle with the details.

The way I read Matthew 24:14, the “gospel of the kingdom” is the same gospel of the kingdom that we have throughout the Synoptics. It doesn’t change just because it is proclaimed to the nations. What I think Jesus is saying is that the nations of the oikoumenē will “come to know the one true and living God” who has judged and redeemed his people—in fact, because he has judged and redeemed his people. This is reinforced by the fact that the preaching of the gospel is confined to the period of the war with Rome—it is part of the narrative of the “close of the age” of second temple Judaism.

The Gospel is truly cosmic in scope and really begins in Genesis 1:28 where God says to newly minted mankind to multiply and take dominion over the whole world - every realm.

Our modern gospel might be cosmic in scope, but I don’t think that’s how the term is used in the New Testament. I made the point to Larry above that kingdom and the renewal of creation are not the same thing, and I would argue that “gospel” belongs with the kingdom narrative.

Habakkuk 2:14 is part of the prophet’s denunciation of the Chaldeans for having plundered many nations. The glory of Israel’s God will be seen when he judges the unjust Babylonian empire. We can’t simply take these texts out of context willy-nilly to suit our modern universalizing perspective.

Simeon puts forward a similar argument: the salvation of Israel has been “prepared in the presence of all peoples”, it will be seen by the nations, it will reveal the “truthfulness” of YHWH (cf. Rom. 15:8) to the Gentiles, and by this the standing of Israel among the nations will be elevated.

Otherwise, I don’t see how we can claim that Jesus understood the gospel to be the “redemption” of the nations. His use of Psalm 110 may suggest that he expect to be made judge and ruler of the nations. The sheep and goats passage (Matt. 25:31-46) describes a judgment of the nations. On the whole, Jesus seems very reluctant to suggest that the Gentiles will benefit from the gospel of the kingdom.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, thanks for your comments. Certainly it is difficult to unpack the Grand Narrative of Scripture in a blog response so I recommend you to Christopher Wright’s tome “The Mission of God — Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.” Wright develops this grand narrative thoroughly. The details I shared not withstanding, when we fail to read Scripute through this Grand Narrative lens we fall into the very reductionism that you are trying to contend against. And regardless of how the ancients may have understood the Gospels, we have the completed revelation that should inform us. But let me speak to some of your points of contention.

You say, “kingdom and the renewal of creation are not the same thing” Andrew that is simply a premillenialist perspective and one that I am not in agreement with.

With respect to Habakkuk 2:14, there is no need to read this simply in the context of “denunciation of the Chaldeans.” In fact, Habakkuk is referencing Numbers 14:21, “Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth.” And, in Isaiah 40:5, the prophet says, “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” When we read through the Grand Narrative lens we understand that the heart of God has always been to see the earth filled with the knowledge of his glory. That is the Lord’s overarching mission from Genesis 1:28.

You says, “the salvation of Israel has been “prepared in the presence of all peoples”, it will be seen by the nations, it will reveal the “truthfulness” of YHWH (cf. Rom. 15:8) to the Gentiles, and by this the standing of Israel among the nations will be elevated.” You are lifting Scripture out of the fuller context here. God is done with Isreal, at least for now — until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25) — as his missionary force to the nations. The task for the nations falls to the Church.

You say, “Otherwise, I don’t see how we can claim that Jesus understood the gospel to be the “redemption” of the nations. His use of Psalm 110 may suggest that he expect to be made judge and ruler of the nations.” I have to disagree with you here. From the time of Abraham and Moses, the Hebrew/Jewish people understood their role to the nations, that God’s blessings were to be good news to the nations. But they failed to live that out which was the reason God filed for divorce. Isreal was elected to mission but God’s plan was never not contingent on any one people. Jesus, as a good teach of the Hebrews belief of his day, certainly understood Psalm 67, as but one example: “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” When we understand the Grand Narrative, we clearly understand that salvation has always been meant for the nations (ethne). I don’t see any reason to minimize what Jesus would have understood.

You say, “The sheep and goats passage (Matt. 25:31-46) describes a judgment of the nations.” This would have to imply the goats are the naitons, which is not my reading. It would insinuate that God’s judgments are not redemptive but that’s not how the story ends (see Revelation 22:2. You say, “On the whole, Jesus seems very reluctant to suggest that the Gentiles will benefit from the gospel of the kingdom.” On what do you base this claim? Jesus told us that “the Gospel of His Kingdom will be preached to every ethne and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). He commissed his followers to go and make disciples of every ethne (Matthew 28:19-20). He defined the task of the Church as “Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the outer most parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8 which harkens back to Numbers 14:21 and Habakkuk 2:14). It’s important not to think of nations in terms of modern geo-political entities but rather as distinct ethnolinguistic people groups. And every nation, tribe and tongue, in a number that cannot be counted, will one day worship before the throne (Revelations 7:9).

The Good News is that in Jesus Christ the task will be completed.

I hope you will explore this subject further. I also recommend the Perspectives Study Program for a greater understanding of this Grand Narrative of Scripture.


@Brian Considine:

Brian, thanks for taking the trouble to set out your points of disagreement. I think what it comes down to basically is that I am pushing for a much more rigorously historical reading of the texts. I think the sort of reading Chris Wright offers is too quick to assert a universal perspective.

You say, “kingdom and the renewal of creation are not the same thing” Andrew that is simply a premillenialist perspective and one that I am not in agreement with.

That’s an odd response. Just because it happens to coincide in some ways with a premillenialist perspective doesn’t make it wrong. But that sort of argument really misses the point. My view is simply that “kingdom” is a historical category: it refers to what God does with, for, against his people in the here and now. Sometimes what God does can be described metaphorically in new creation terms. But it seems to me that new creation ultimately is regarded in scripture as an absolute new beginning, not an event within history.

With respect to Habakkuk 2:14, there is no need to read this simply in the context of “denunciation of the Chaldeans.” In fact, Habakkuk is referencing Numbers 14:21, “Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth.” And, in Isaiah 40:5, the prophet says, “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together.

But this is the sort of exegetical complacency that I’m complaining about. There is every need to read Habakkuk 2:14 in context. Why on earth not? It was written in context as part of a letter that addresses the crisis generated by the prospect of foreign invasion. The likely allusion to Numbers 14:21 (or Isaiah 40:5) makes no difference. As far as the narrative goes, God is glorified among the nations under particular historical circumstances: the exodus from Egypt, the overthrow of the Chaldeans, the return from exile. These are the kingdom events in scripture. Isaiah’s “gospel” is that Israel’s God reigns and is about to demonstrate the fact by bring the exiles back to Jerusalem.

You are lifting Scripture out of the fuller context here. God is done with Israel, at least for now - until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25) - as his missionary force to the nations.

My view here is that Paul is still in two minds about the long term role of national Israel. I think he hopes that Israel will repent after the coming judgment on Jerusalem and the temple, but he doesn’t know for certain. That seems to me to be a proper historical perspective. But we can substitute “people of God” or “family of Abraham” for “Israel”—the point would be the same. Paul’s argument is that God will be glorified among the nations because he has saved his people from deserved destruction. That is what he writes in Romans 15.

Jesus, as a good teach of the Hebrews belief of his day, certainly understood Psalm 67, as but one example: “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

That may be correct, but the remarkable fact remains that he makes no reference to the nations in this way.

But even Psalm 67 makes the response of the nations contingent upon what YHWH does for Israel. So Tate: ‘When the peoples of the earth know about God’s (Yahweh’s) ways (or, “power”) and saving-work in Israel, they should respond with gratitude and praise.’ This is exactly the argument of Simeon (Lk. 2:29-32) and of Paul (Rom. 15:8-12).

I have set out my understanding of the sheep and goats passage here. I think Jesus describes the same judgment of the Gentiles that we find in Romans 2 though the focus is on the criterion of how the nations respond to his disciples. Historically I would put this within the frame of a historical judgment of the pagan world.

Jesus told us that “the Gospel of His Kingdom will be preached to every ethne and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

But in Matthew the “gospel of his kingdom” is the good news of what God is doing to judge and restore his people. That is the gospel that is proclaimed to the nations.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, I am afraid you are superimposing an understanding of the Gospel that is the very thing you are accusing the GC panel of and reducing it to something that it is not. An understanding of the Grand Narrative is not complacent exegesis but a reading of the whole story as one. Only by understanding that story then do we see God’s mission is for the nations, a story that is not well understood as I orginally pointed out. Only then do we see Israel properly as a failed missionary force but that God’s plan will go forward regardless of what Israel does because his plan is for all nations. The restoration of Israel is part of the plan, demonstrating God’s continued commitment to his covenant, but to make the story singularly about Israel is narrow exegesis that misses where God is taking all of history. The Gospel of the Kingdom is meant for all nations as an inheritance to Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:8). There is nothing in Psalm 67 that requires a “response of the nations contingent upon what YHWH does for Israel,” because God doesn’t need any people to complete the story. The nation are coming to Christ for 2 thousand years since the birth of the Church and more so in the past 150 year without Israel playing any part and the task will be completed without Israel’s involvement, is in fact hardened to the task and plays no role in its completion. It is God’s mission and he choses the means. The universal perspective is the Story, because we serve a God who is unverisal, so why minimize it to a part of the story.

I highly recommend you read Wright exhaustive exegesis of this story. I have enjoyed our discussion. Take care.


Alan K | Thu, 06/13/2013 - 21:08 | Permalink

Is not the whole New Testament an exercise in “reading backward”?  The whole salvation history of Israel gets re-narrated in light of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ.  Saul’s forward reading of Israel’s narrative leads him to persecute the church.  Only after his audience with the ascended Jesus on the Damascus Road can he really see what is going on.  The forward movement of history is unintelligible without a Christological lens.

@Alan K:

Alan, in his letters Paul makes extensive use of the Old Testament. Where would you say he corrects an erroneous “forward reading” of the scriptures?

@Andrew Perriman:

Well, if you look at the rabbinic tradition that developed alongside Christianity, you’d get a pretty good idea of how radically different a “forward” reading of the Hebrew Bible can be arrived at if you aren’t reading with a Christological lens. Same for the Qumran community, and even later in Muslim interpretations. Simply quoting the OT does not mean the NT authors are doing the narrative-historical reading that you are. It’s for good reason that most mainstream NT scholars see the Gospels as the fruit of decades of post-Easter reflection on Jesus.

@Dave G. :

Dave, I’m not saying that there aren’t different ways of doing a forward reading of the Old Testament narrative, only that Paul’s was one of them—and that we make better sense of him on that supposition than by retrofitting him with a Reformation mindset. This is my basic point—that Paul’s theology is to be seen as an outworking of Old Testament thought, via the story of Jesus, rather than as the precursor to Reformation thought.

The narrative-historical part is that Old Testament thought has to do with the story of the historical existence of God’s people. It has in view finally, I suggest, not the salvation of humanity but the rule of YHWH over the nations—the sort of thing envisaged in Psalms 2 and 110, Isaiah 45, and Daniel. Where Pauul differs from other Jews is in his understanding of how this outcome was to be achieved—through the faithfulness of Israel’s messiah.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, thanks for your reply to my comment above. However i find it difficult not to see that the Jews were taking a forward looking view but still misunderstood the text — the Messiah actually wasn’t coming as a temporal/political liberator as they, including sincere and zealous teachers like Paul, thought. Wasn’t the point of Jesus teachings on the kingdom, for example, to help the Jews see that the kingdom is something quite different to what they wanted (and that correction continued to be necessary even up to his ascension). God’s plan hadn’t changed, nor had God previously given faulty disclosure, Instead God is lead his people, allowing revelation to build on revelation. As the later revelation is given now it serves at least in part to clarify the previous revelation. So the narrative is forward moving, but we allow current revelation to inform previous revelation. The revelation doesn’t change but our understanding of it does.

My main issue however (as this thread unfolds) is where is the N-H approach going? It doesn’t feel like it motivating us to be living as ambassadors of Christ through whom God is making His appeal for reconciliation with God. If my goal is some cosmic reconciliation or restoration does my neighbours’ spiritual alienation from God because of unforgiven sin not matter, and if it does matter why?

I love the idea of the faith community (in local congregations and universally) as the people of God. However doesn’t the community grow (from 120 to billions) as individuals come to salvation and are baptised into the body of Christ. The door for each individual is Christ. Looking back from eternity we see that it is us as a people that matters (individuality falls away) but we aren’t reconciled as national groups, or even blood families, but as individuals. A son may be reconciled to God through Christ, while his sister rejects God’s offer.


Wasn’t the point of Jesus teachings on the kingdom, for example, to help the Jews see that the kingdom is something quite different to what they wanted (and that correction continued to be necessary even up to his ascension).

Up to a point, but…

If the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans was a central part of the coming of the kingdom of God, which I think is an inescapable conclusion, we are still in a story in which God uses military power to punish his people.

As for the positive side of the kingdom, I think a narrative-historical reading highlights not so much a change of what kingdom meant as a change of how it was to be achieved. The kingdom envisaged in Psalms 2, 82, 110; Isaiah 45; Daniel 7, and other texts, which is understood ultimately as the rule of YHWH over the nations, is not revised in the New Testament. What changes is the means by which that kingdom is brought about—not through military force, not through revolt against Rome, or through miraculous divine intervention but through the suffering of Jesus, as first fruits, and of his followers. But even this change is not a revision of scripture, as Jesus is at pains to explain to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

My main issue however (as this thread unfolds) is where is the N-H approach going? It doesn’t feel like it motivating us to be living as ambassadors of Christ through whom God is making His appeal for reconciliation with God. If my goal is some cosmic reconciliation or restoration does my neighbours’ spiritual alienation from God because of unforgiven sin not matter, and if it does matter why?

Clearly the narrative-historical approach is a different kind of machine and we have to learn how to make it work. But still, I would say that it motivates us to live as a chosen new creation people, reconciled to the creator God, under the new régime that was instituted with the resurrection, called to witness not only to the present reality of God but also to the narrative reality of God—the story of his mighty deeds.

I don’t think this way of understanding things is driven by the need to save the “lost”. I think it is driven by the responsibility to embody an alternative way of being human—as a mediating priestly community, as a prophetic community, a sign of God’s future, and as a benchmark of righteousness by which the nations are judged. I think salvation is secondary to obedience or righteousness—typically we put that formula the other way round. But the very existence of that alternative constitutes a challenge to all individuals, and it is entirely fitting that we translate that challenge into a call to abandon the old world and become part of God’s new world. In this limited and qualified respect I am a Calvinist—it begins with election.

@Andrew Perriman:

Apologies; my previous comment was in response to yours to Alan K, which was:

Alan, in his letters Paul makes extensive use of the Old Testament. Where would you say he corrects an erroneous “forward reading” of the scriptures?

I know you responded to Dave G’s answer to the question; I was just providing another answer, which was contained in the text Romans 10:3-4. The text presupposes considerable misreading of the OT by the Israel that had rejected Jesus.

With regard to the more general question: Did Jesus preach the gospel? I think in what Piper and his two colleagues have to say, their text is buried under your interpretation. Piper says “I read the gospel backwards”. He then says what he means by this, that in the “gospels”, and he illustrates this from Luke in particular, the cross casts its shadow over the story, especially from Luke 9:51 onwards. The general proposal of the three speakers is unquestionable: that Jesus was encouraging a sea-change in Israel’s attitude to justification, which means their sense of righteousness, which was not to be in works of the law, but by faith — in himself.

Carson adopts the stance of one who opposes a supposedly individualistic (he uses the word ‘personal’) gospel, despite the fact that in the previous clip, one of the speakers points out the wide social range of people included in Luke’s gospel as indicative of a gospel which had a wide social spectrum in view and was therefore not narrowly individualistic in its scope. Carson does this as much because he is an anabaptist as a scholar who echoes much that is said by Tom Wright. Anabaptists and Reformed believers have mutual antagonism in their DNA. It’s ironic that Tom Wright comes from a Reformed stable, and the gospel he outlines which is to be proclaimed works in a highly Reformed way.

What then does Carson say? That “Jesus is the point and goal and telos of the narrative”. That “Jesus lived and died and rose and is Lord of both Jews and Gentiles”. I fully agree with and support these statements.

He says that the “plan of salvation is not quite the gospel”, and the gospel is not called that in the New Testament. I agree fully, especially with the qualification not quite.

He criticises a common method of “gospel” rhetoric, which is to begin with the wrath of God, adding that this was not New Testament proclamation. I immediately thought of fleeing “from the wrath to come”, “saving yourselves from this crooked generation”, and frequent mention of the coming wrath, which was already being revealed — Romans 1:18 (which I take to be future for us as well as them).

Carson then goes on to say three things about what “gospel” means.

First, there is Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians 15 — that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised. The gospel was therefore to “tell and declare the story as the climax of Israel’s story”. I agree, except that I would add that Israel’s story was set in the story of all people, and was provided for that wider context (as demonstrated in Matthew, and in fact in all the gospels).

Second, the seven sermons in Acts all present “a narrative climaxing in Jesus Christ”, or the story of Israel climaxing in Jesus Christ. I agree with this, but with the qualification already provided about ‘Israel’s story’.

Third, the first four books of the NT are described as “the gospel according to …”.  Carson asks: Is the gospel justification by faith, or the story of Jesus? This is, of course, a false antithesis. It is not one or the other, but the one contained and presented in the narrative of the other.

Carson then returns to the original question: Did Jesus preach the gospel? He concludes: Jesus preached himself; He is the gospel. I agree completely, but he did come with a message.

I think that a conflict between gospel coalition and narrative historical proponents is a false antithesis, and it’s time this “phoney war” was laid to rest.  As James White demonstrated in conversation with Tom Wright on an excellent podcast from Premier Radio, for which you provided a link some time ago, when ‘new perspective’ and reformed proponents really take the time to listen to each other, there is not a great deal of disagreement between them. All are agreed that Jesus was the good news in himself, and in what he came to provide for those who have faith in him. I also want to add: that is as applicable to us today as it was to those in the 1st century.

This is not what you are saying, however, as your post goes on to illustrate. We need to listen carefully to what you are saying as well. I hope I have been doing that.

@Andrew Perriman:

Apologies again. For some reason, in my previous post, I kept saying ‘Carson’ where I meant ‘Scot McKnight’. This is a peculiar psychotic aberration, as Carson would probably lean more to the gospel coalition than to McKnight. Signs of the early onset?

The most obvious problem with your program, Andrew is that the gospel does NOT begin with the story of Israel. I believe this view contributes greatly your misunderstanding of Christianity, that is, what genuine biblical Christianity actually is.

A simple reading of the Scriptures clearly reveals where the gospel begins, and Israel is not even close to being on the time horizon at that time. A promise is given, not to a nation, but to all men, that there is good news! The Christ event was NEVER intended to redeem one nation among many. It was to redeem a chosen people among many nations. This is the true perspective of Scripture. By ignoring the foundational promise of God to all humanity, you overstate Israel’s role and illigimately make the story of Scripture a story about men, that is, the Church. The Scriptures are given to reveal the amazing attributes of the God that IS. He uses the nation of Israel to show Himself, the Church, and most of the Christ event. All of Scripture points, not to a nation, not even to the Christian community, but to the God-man, the Christ event, whose presence has explained God to us. The Church and Israel are two entities that serve as a reflection of the love, glory, wonder, and slendor of God’s dealings with humanity and they serve to tell us something about our Creator. My advice is that you stop looking horizontally and begin to look vertically if you want to understand the revelation of God in Scripture. 

I provide a brief response to this blog here:

I criticize Andrew’s starting point as well as demonstrate that his accusations against reformed theology pertaining to reading theology back into the text is an outrageous oversimplification. For example, Andrew begins with the promise to Abraham, which oddly enough includes the Gentile redeemption, when he should begin with Gen. 3:15. Andrew’s argument hinges on an artificial and overly narrow understanding of the Christ event, end to end.