Category Archives: Christ & The Gospel

Articles on Christ, evangelism, and the gospel

I Know We Are Right!

Margaret and I were in a department store to buy some extra-warm undershirts for Dad Jespersen several years ago when he was 92.

A sale was going on so the store was crowded. As we stood in line to pay, we chatted with an elderly couple, their daughter and granddaughter. Our conversation soon turned to the topic of large families and they proudly informed us that they were Mormons.

The man jokingly said, “I would like to have more wives, but I have only one.”

His wife laughed, but suddenly her demeanor changed as she said, “I don’t care what anyone says about Mormons, I know we are right!”

Even though I am often intimidated by strangers, fearful of arguments and not gifted in evangelism, I replied, “You say you think you are right, but only One is perfectly right, and that is God. He sent His Son, Jesus, in the flesh to this earth, and Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’ ” (John 14:6, nasb).

At that moment, the store clerk said to me, “Next.”

I hoped Jesus’ words lingered in the ears of those around us. Jesus said clearly that He is the only way to heaven.

Dear Abused, Remember Jesus …

by Paul Tautges

Dear Abused,

In your times of deepest hurt and greatest need, remember Jesus. He understands abuse like no other. He is your soul’s refuge. Remember…

Jesus was verbally abused.
At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. – Matthew 27:38-44

Jesus was physically abused.
Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. – Mark 15:15-19

They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him… – John 19:17-18

Jesus received strength by trusting God to bring justice.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23

Jesus empathizes with your abuse and is, therefore, the perfect Savior.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16

Jesus invites you to come to Him.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Hermeneutics and Christ

by Graeme Goldsworthy

HERMENEUTICS has been one of the big topics of the last 25 years. A seemingly endless series of books has been produced and academic papers written.

However, ‘hermeneutics’ is not only the preserve of academia. The Christian who says “I’m just a simple Bible-believer” can be just as adept at imposing an interpretation on the text as the most sophisticated theologian. Nor is ‘hermeneutics’ an entirely modern question. Christians have always struggled with how to read and apply the Bible, and have adopted various ways of doing so.

In fact, the history of how Chris­tians have read and applied the Bible is most instructive, especially if we take note of what was really happen­ing in the various historical develop­ments. What we find repeatedly is that when people were asking ‘What do we think about the Scriptures?’ they were really asking ‘What do we think about Christ?’. This is because what we think about the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, will run parallel with what we think about the inscripturated Word of God, the Bible.

1. Apostolic hermeneutics

The apostolic answer to the herme­neutical question is the correct one: Jesus Christ is the God-man, saviour and Lord, to whom the apostles and all the Scriptures testify. This means that the objective historical Jesus is in fact the content of the gospel message and the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). The apos­tle’s answer comes from taking seri­ously the fact that Jesus claims to be the truth. There is a sense in which the apostles understood the Old Tes­tament as providing the substructure of the gospel – and so the Old Testa­ment helps us understand the New Testament. But the main thrust of the New Testament is on the person of Jesus as the one who makes clear what the Old Testament is all about. So the apostle’s hermeneutical posi­tion is that the gospel is the power of God for interpreting the Bible.

2. Early Christian hermeneutics

The early church was characterised by two streams, one from Alexan­dria and one from Antioch.

Christians at Alexandria followed Hellenistic Jews in adopting Greek ideas. Gnostic influences, which dis­counted the material world as inher­ently evil, led to a spirituality which moved God away from his historical acts. The historical events were seen as just allegorical stories and that inevitably led to the gospel being eclipsed as an historical event.

Antioch, on the other hand, emphasised the historical meaning of the Bible and so preserved the gospel as an historical event in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Out of this grew the historical method of typology which saw the Old Testament events as foreshadowing the gospel without dissolving the Old Testament’s nat­ural, historical meaning. The Anti­och strand’s weakness was its ten­dency towards the subtle heresy of Nestorius, which split Jesus’ divine nature from his human nature and declared him to be not only of two natures, but also to be two persons.

A third development in the early church was interpreting the Bible in the light of ecclesiastical authority and dogma. This is a subtle problem because we all do it and, to some degree it’s right that we do. We all interpret the Bible from inside our own adopted tradition and climb on the shoulders of the believers who have gone before us. The problem is when an ecclesiastical creed or con­fession of faith becomes the external authority by which Scripture is tested and understood. This became a bigger problem in medieval hermeneutics.

3. The struggle for an orthodox hermeneutic

The two big theological questions over which Christians struggled in the first four centuries were about the nature of God and about the person of Christ. How could God become man? And how could a man be both God and man?

By moving away from the apos­tolic hermeneutic of an historical Jesus, the biblical perspective on the relationship between the divine and the human, and between the eternal and the historical, was lost – both in relation to the Bible and Jesus. With­out this perspective, people came up with all sorts of heresies about the nature of God and Christ, fusing or separating Jesus’ divine and human natures. Ebionism (Jesus is only human), Docetism (Jesus is only divine), Apollinarianism (Jesus is divine but not fully human), and Nestorianism (Jesus is two persons, two natures), were all trying to solve the mystery by dissolving one reality to make room for another. The same happened in heresies about God. The unity of God was preserved by reducing the Son and the Spirit to beings who were less than fully God.

Eventually, in 451 AD, the Coun­cil of Chalcedon set things straight by formulating a way of speaking about Christ which didn’t try to solve the mystery of how God could become man, but instead preserved it by setting the bounds of true state­ments. The Council decided that to keep an orthodox view you should believe that: a. Jesus is true God; b. Jesus is true man; c. the two natures are united in one person, but not fused; d. the two natures remain dis­tinct, but are not separated. This struc­ture of unity and distinction charac­terised the relationships in the Trinity. It also kept the true relationship between the divine and the human, and between the eternal and the historical, both in relation to the Bible (the hermeneutical question) and Jesus (the Christological question).

4. Medieval hermeneutics

Hermeneutics was very complex in the medieval period (500 AD-1500 AD). The influences of Antioch and Alexandria were both struggling for ascendancy and, although the search for the natural and historical signifi­cance of the Bible was never aban­doned, Alexandria won over Antioch.

This lead to a complex method of interpretation being developed which didn’t ignore the natural meaning, but said that the text could be read in a four-fold way – the literal sense, the moral sense, the allegori­cal sense and the anagogical sense (which derived heavenly meanings from the earthly text). Allegorical meaning was at the heart of this approach. Allegory comes out of fus­ing the historical and the eternal, and the divine and the human. They are not kept distinct, and so the basic historical meaning of the text is lost.

Related to this was the idea of the rule of faith – the accumulation of biblical doctrine – which developed into the idea that only the clergy could interpret the Bible correctly. This was really fusing the Christ of history with the body of Christ, the church, so that there was no distinc­tion between Jesus’ authority and the on-going authority of the church through its clergy. It eventually led to the doctrine of papal infallibility.

The other great hermeneutical problem is best seen in the work of Thomas Aquinas. A theological trend that had begun in the second century with Irenaeus, led to the sep­aration of the natural and supernat­ural on the one hand and the fusion of the historical and the divine on the other. Catholicism, as it developed from this through to the late medieval period, came to fuse the ‘Christ who is without’ (the Jesus of history) with the ‘Christ who is within’ (that is, by the presence of his Spirit). The gospel event was redefined more and more in terms of what God does in us rather than as what God has done for us in the historic Jesus. Justification and sanctification were reversed so that a changed life became the basis of acceptance with God. Grace was redefined. It ceased to be God’s atti­tude which makes for the justification of the ungodly, and became the spiri­tual influence which flows (mainly through sacraments) into the soul making it good and, eventually, acceptable to God.

5. The hermeneutics of the Reformation

Luther, and then Calvin along with the other Reformers, abandoned allegorical interpretation and went back to looking for the natural his­torical meaning of the Old Testa­ment. As they did so they also recov­ered the historical gospel, restored justification as the basis of sanctifica­tion, and moved grace from the heart of the believer back into the heart of God.

The Reformation’s hermeneuti­cal principles came out of what the Bible said, and so the gospel returned to being the key to proper interpretation. The unity and distinc­tion of the Old and New Testaments were clearly recognised. Exegesis became a matter of understanding the divine word as it comes to us in human dress. The Christological question “What do you think of Christ?” once more dominated in the interpretation of the Bible. If Jesus was the divine-human word incarnate, the Bible was seen as the divine-human word inscripturate. So, once again, there is unity and distinction. Even though the Bible and Jesus are distinct, they are also the same – they’re both manifesta­tions of the one Word of God.

6. Enlightenment hermeneutics

The Enlightenment of the late sev­enteenth and eighteenth centuries began more as a tendency to the Ebionite heresy in down-playing God’s influence on humanity. Even­tually it rejected God altogether. Instead of the divine and human being both united and distinct in both writing the Bible and reading the text, they were separated. So, even if the Holy Spirit existed, he had no part in writing the texts and the inspiration of Scripture became a meaningless concept. Nor could the Bible-reading believer count on the Spirit to help them understand what they were reading.

The Enlightenment led to vari­ous developments in the business of interpreting the Bible. Once the the­ory of interpretation was divorced from divine revelation in the Bible, working out what the Bible said came to be thought of as a matter of human scientific advances. Different philosophical perspectives, which had always dogged the question of hermeneutics, took over from bibli­cal views of reality and knowledge (metaphysics and epistemology). Theological hermeneutics gave way to philosophical hermeneutics. Rev­elation by God was replaced by nat­ural processes and independent human thought declared God to be irrelevant.

Even though the structure of unity and distinction was held in the­ory, in practice it was constantly attacked by a tendency to turn dis­tinction into separation. In biblical criticism, the Enlightenment led firstly to a concentration on the his­tory of religious thought and the his­tory of the biblical texts. These are both legitimate dimensions of the Bible to study, but concentrating on them separated them from the Bible’s theological and literary dimensions. When the new hermeneutic turned to consider the nature of the Bible texts, their theology was down-played and the author’s inten­tion ignored.

7. An evangelical approach

As evangelicals we believe in the Bible as God’s word to us, but what does this mean?
a. Unlike the Alexandrian strand, we recognise the Bible as both divine and human. The great diversity of texts in the Bible find unity in their common role of testifying to Christ. We reject all tendencies to a docetic or Gnostic Bible which ignores the human context of the divine word.
b.Like the apostles, we recognise that the Old Testament finds its fullest significance in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. The rela­tionship of the two Testaments is unity and distinction.
c. Unlike the medievalists, we avoid fusing the historic Christ with the Church as the body of Christ. So we recognise that the Church, far from being the Lord of Scripture, is created by the word and must submit to its authority.
d. While welcoming many of the insights of the Enlightenment, we reject its separation of the divine and human. We see Jesus’ incarnation to be the theological reason for all proper critical study of the text and its background. Much modern liter­ary and historical criticism assumes God has nothing to do with the text, but evangelicals refuse to separate the historical and literary dimen­sions of the Bible from its theological dimension. All critical procedures must be tested by the authority of Christ in his gospel.

This is only the beginning of the story, but at least we can recognize that we can’t think about hermeneutics with­out thinking about Christ.

Christ in the Old Testament

by Dr. Horace Hummel

“Search the Scriptures and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Our Lord’s own words could not be clearer. And note that when He speaks of “the Scriptures,” He is referring to the Old Testament (as is also the case in the Nicene Creed where it states, “And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures”). Later, of course, the term was extended to include the New Testament as well.

There were skeptics and heretics already in the early church. Most (infamous was Marcion, who taught that the Old Testament represented a different god and threw out the whole Old Testament and some of the New Testament. On the whole, though, in the main catholic confession of the church there never was any serious debate about it until relatively modern times beginning with the eighteenth century and the so-called “Enlightenment”. Martin Luther and most of the Reformation were also certainly no exception!

The ordinary believer certainly makes the same confession today, but is sometimes hard put to apply the confession in detail. Let us start with something that I think most Christians do almost automatically. When we read of “God”, “the Lord”, etc. in the Old Testament, we simply assume, as we should, that this is our God or Lord, the same God who in the fullness of time became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and who still manifests Himself to us through the Holy Spirit.

Let me call your attention to our liturgical usage. Especially when used in public worship, every psalm is to be concluded with the “Gloria Patri” (Glory be to the Father…). While not commanded, this should not be dismissed as simply a pious, but inert custom. It confesses that we do not “Christianize” the psalms by changing their texts, but that we confess their prolongation or extension into the time of the Holy Spirit, that is, our time and until the end of time.

Sometimes the word “typology” is used to describe the predictive meaning of topics in the Old Testament itself without the illumination of the New Testament (sacrifice and priesthood are two major examples). But the deeper meaning of typology is the recognition that the faith of the Old Testament is essentially of the same type as ours, regardless of surface differences. That is, salvation was not available by works or human merit, but was a free gift of God’s undeserved grace evident in His election of an unworthy people and in His promise of a Savior to come.

That is, we do not “read into” the Old Testament meanings that are not there (although, of course, this is possible). Rather we “read out” of it its full meaning as revealed by Christ in the New Testament. There is no one fully adequate way of expressing this truth but one of my favorites goes back to the church father, St. Augustine, “The New Testament is latent in the Old; the Old Testament becomes patent in the New.”

A common picture or metaphor for visualizing such a confession is the bud and the blossom. Anyone who knows the flower will see in its bud what he knows will eventually open into a beautiful flower. Everything is really in the bud, but what is there will only be revealed in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Any attempt to “read” the bud in another way would simply be mistaken.

The Creator has established a genetic connection so that the bud can only become what it is “programmed” to become. We are reminded of Jesus’ frequent use of the word “must” to describe His necessity to fulfill the Scriptures, not only in suffering and dying, but also in rising again (e.g. Mark 8:31; Luke 24:44).

Christians have long spoken of the “pre-existence” of Christ from eternity to eternity (so our Lord Himself in John 8:58; cf., Colossians 1:15ff). But there is no Gospel or Good News in His pre-existence, as such. More to the point is that long before the incarnation, God would sometimes reveal Himself to His people in an “incarnational” way. Among the most obvious are various passages where “angel of the Lord” is used interchangeably with “Lord” or “God” alone (e.g. Genesis 22:15-16; Exodus 3:2).

An incarnational motif is especially prominent in connection with the tabernacle/temple. In various ways God is described as “dwelling” there. The Hebrew word used can refer to anyone’s “dwelling” or “living” in a house or city. In order to distinguish ordinary “dwelling” from God’s “incarnational” presence in the tabernacle, sometimes the rather artificial word “indwell” is used. The Bible, of course, is very aware that God is omnipresent or that His dwelling is in heaven. The paradox of that same God’s “indwelling” on earth is pondered by Solomon in his prayer at the consecration of the temple (I Kings 8:27ff.). In fact, God’s tabernacle presence on earth is localized as between the two cherubim above the lid or “mercy seat” of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Hollies (Exodus 25:22).

When the incarnation itself occurred in Jesus’ birth the tabernacle found its fulfillment there. One of the key passages in making the connection is John 1:14, “The Word (Christ) was made flesh and dwelt among us …” We might also translate “tabernacled among us” to make the connection even more obvious. St. John uses the usual Greek translation for the Hebrew for “indwell” and by a happy coincidence the words in the two languages even happen to sound somewhat alike.

We could trace many other ways where the New Testament shows us how to recognize Christ in the Old Testament. Let us continually pray that the Holy Spirit would take the veil of incomprehension or even unbelief away from our faces when we read the Scriptures (cf. II Corinthians 3:14-18) and that, as with His disciples after the resurrection, He would become known to us in the Lord’s Supper (Luke 24:30-47).

The Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel is a retired professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

Hospitality and the Great Commission

by David Mathis

The twelve of us sat in silence, on the edge of our seats. You could have heard a pin drop.

I had pilgrimaged from Minnesota to muggy Orlando, and her stifling August humidity, for a weeklong intensive course on evangelism with Steve Childers. Fortunately, Reformed Theological Seminary is as air-conditioned as it is Reformed.

With only a dozen students on board for five 9-hour days with one of the country’s top church-planting strategists, it was a rich week, to say the least. During these precious hours, the Beijing Olympics were playing second fiddle to learning about the advance of the gospel around the world and in personal conversation.

Time and again Childers had thrown us curveballs. He knew how to keep us on our toes. But now he had us nothing short of captivated.

The Key to 21st-Century Evangelism

“You know what the key to evangelism in the 21st-century will be, don’t you?”

He wasn’t talking Global South, but the Western hemisphere — and America in particular.

I’m sure he could see on our faces how eager we were for his answer. Wow, the key, we were thinking. This is huge.

He paused and smiled that memorable Steve Childers world-evangelism grin. He waited. Still waiting. Still paused. Still nothing. Hold it . . . hold it. I was almost ready to burst with, “Just c’mon already!”

Finally he lifted the curtain.


Then another long pause to let it sink it.

Hospitality and Post-Christendom

In a progressively post-Christian society, the importance of hospitality as an evangelistic asset is growing rapidly. Increasingly, the most strategic turf on which to engage the unbelieving with the good news of Jesus may be the turf of our own homes.

When people don’t gather in droves for stadium crusades, or tarry long enough on the sidewalk to hear your gospel spiel, what will you do? Where will you interact with the unbelieving about the things that matter most?

Invite them to dinner.

For several of us in Childers’s class, the lights went on after his dramatic revelation. Biblical texts on hospitality were springing to mind. A theme we’d previously thought of as a secondary fellowship-type-thing was taking shape as a significant strategy for evangelism in a post-Christian milieu.

Love for Outsiders

The New Testament word for “hospitality” (Greek philozenia) comes from a compound of “love” and “stranger.” Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for outsiders.

One of the more memorable texts is Hebrews 13:1–2: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Yes, love the brothers, says Hebrews, but make sure you don’t forget this. Don’t neglect to love strangers as well.

Love for fellow Christians is important, essential — some call it “the final apologetic,” based on John 13:35 — but there’s a way in which it may not be all that impressive. Loving those who love you — “Do not even unbelievers do the same?” asks Jesus (Matthew 5:47). But showing love to outsiders, now that rings of life-change. That has the fingerprints of your heavenly Father all over it.

Seeking to Show Hospitality

In Romans 12, as the apostle Paul points us to important flashpoints for how our lives should look when claimed by the gospel, he says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:12–13).

It could be that this charge to hospitality is another way of saying “contribute to the needs of the saints,” but it seems more likely to be a summons to demonstrate kindness to outsiders — like the kind Publius showed Paul in Acts 28:7 on the island of Malta: “Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”

Outsiders from Around Town

Keep thinking through the New Testament mentions of hospitality, and see that it’s no peripheral theme. Hospitality even finds its way into such a prominent place as both lists of elder qualifications.

An elder “must be . . . hospitable.” (1 Timothy 3:2)

An elder, “as God’s steward, must be . . . hospitable.” (Titus 1:8)

Are we listening? When was the last time we turned down a man from joining the council because he wasn’t hospitable? It’s important enough in Paul’s mind to mention it to both Timothy and Titus for their elder selection.

It matters tremendously how the elders orient toward “outsiders.” The elders set the tone for how the church will engage with nonbelievers. The church of yore may be taken aback to read that an elder “must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7), but as Christendom crumbles, we begin to see this value in new light. If the elders who are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) don’t themselves show up on the front lines to engage with the city’s unbelieving, it’s unlikely the flock will embrace the mission the shepherds are avoiding.

Inviting in the Believing As Well

Lest we swing the pendulum and think the charge to “hospitality” no longer enjoins us to care for fellow believers, 1 Peter 4:9 and 3 John 5–8 stand ready to balance things out. See 1 Peter 4:9 in context with verses 8–10:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . .

So full Christian hospitality includes inviting in other believers as well, caring for each other, “washing the feet of the saints,” “contributing to the needs of the saints,” and so on. Not just for making converts, but for the Great Commission task of making disciples as well. And there’s more.

Strategic Hospitality

Christian hospitality serves Jesus’s global mission by inviting in traveling missionaries. John’s third epistle commends this kind of care.

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 5–8)

So let your hospitality include not only unbelieving neighbors and co-workers, but also furloughing missionaries sent out for global gospel propagation. John Piper calls it “strategic hospitality.”

Strategic hospitality . . . asks: How can I draw the most people into a deep experience of God’s hospitality by the use of my home . . . ? Who are the people who could be brought together in my home most strategically for the sake of the kingdom? . . .

Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again and again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt all over the world, from the lonely church member right here, to the Gola farmers in Tahn, Liberia. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your living room as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission!

Why We Love Strangers

So Christian hospitality makes room for fellow believers and global gospel carriers, but the note we’re striking here is the evangelistic one — inviting in the outsider, welcoming unbelievers into our space, in hopes of bringing Jesus into theirs.

The reason this is no minor biblical theme is because the streams of hospitality flow deeply from the well of God. Christians love the stranger, because we have been loved by the Father when we ourselves were strangers. Hospitality rises in its purest form when we heed Paul’s counsel, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

In Jesus, we find ourselves now to be the enemy who has been loved, the sinner who is saved, the stranger who is welcomed. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And welcomed strangers should be quick to learn to welcome other strangers.

Our love for outsiders runs deep as it flows from remembering ourselves to be outsiders who have been dearly loved by a lavishly hospitable God.