"The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration"

(Christianity Today June 14, 1999 pp.51-56). A critical review posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association discussion list June 25 & 27, 1999

By Robert Brow - June 1999 (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

Apart from quoting the Biblical texts which we all believe, the main purpose of this document is to make a particular theory of the atonement absolutely essential for evangelicals. That excludes me, and Clark Pinnock, C.S.Lewis, all the evangelicals in the Greek Orthodox churches, and the Roman Catholics, the Holiness denominations, most Charismatics, Anglicans, and a huge number of people who obviously love our Lord Jesus Christ and are committed to the good news as recorded for us in the Gospels.

Here is the Evangelical Celebration's theory of penal substitution and imputed righteousness that is required to avoid their excommunication:

"Jesus paid our penalty in our place on his cross, satisfying the retributive demands of divine justice."  I am glad that wasn't included in the Nicene Creed.

"As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christ's righteousness is reckoned to us. This is justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness." That carefully stops us discussing the meaning of -dikaios- and -dikaiosune- as uniformly understood by Greek Orthodox theologians (who still speak Greek as their mother tongue!).

"We learn from the Gospel, that as all have sinned, so all who do not receive Christ will be judged according to their deserts as measured by God's holy law, and face eternal retributive punishment."  This reads more like a quote taken from the Muslim Brotherhood or the Watchtower. And I can find no hint of retributive justice in the Gospels (e.g. John 3:17, 19).

The writers of this document quote John 14:6, Acts 4:12, and 1 Timothy 2:2:5 which we all believe. But they seem oblivious to the huge discussion among evangelical scholars of how Jesus the Messiah can and does save all sorts of people. We all agree that no one, but no one, can be saved apart from the Son of God, but we don't have to add that no one will be saved apart from understanding exactly how He does the saving.

Surely it is permissible for evangelicals to believe the good news that Jesus Christ can save Abraham (and many others in the Old Testament period), infants, the retarded, the ignorant, the misinformed through no fault of their own. Even C.S.Lewis had Aslan welcoming the fellow who had ignorantly served Tash all his life.  Wheaton C.S.Lewis library beware. Better flee from the wrath to come !

Then we have the most astonishing interpretation of 1 John 4:2-3. "We deny that anyone who rejects the humanity of Christ, his incarnation, or his sinlessness, or who maintains that these truths are not essential to the Gospel, will be saved." In its context 1 John 4:2-3 is about false teachers, who abounded in the early churches. The NT is very severe with those who teach false doctrine, but anyone who teaches children, or a Bible class, will know that people who come to learn have all sorts of ideas which will need to corrected. We are all learners (disciples). Are we all sent to eternal damnation if we die before getting it right?

This sectarian document rightly quotes the ancient dictum "Unity in primary things, with liberty in secondary things, and charity in all things." But the Evangelical Celebration ends by twisting this to read "In things necessary there must be unity, in things less than necessary there must be liberty, and in all things there must be charity. We see all these Gospel truths as necessary."

I am glad I can say the Nicene Creed. But this document reads to me like the old Athanasian Creed "Whosoever would be saved needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled without doubt he will perish eternally." And that Creed ends "This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man do faithfully believe, he cannot be saved."

People say I should not rock the boat. My problem was that I felt I had been tipped right out of the evangelical boat and then beaten on the head with the oars to keep me quiet. It seemed to me this was done deliberately because the penal substitutionary theory was spelled out seven times in the document. And that theory was made "an essential element of the Gospel" (Affirmation and Denials 8).

How do I get back into the evangelical boat, let alone be allowed to argue my case from the Bible ? The case against me is settled already (not from Scripture, but by one model based on a few verses of the Epistles rather than from the Gospels) "We deny that any view of the Atonement that rejects the substitutionary satisfaction of divine justice, accomplished vicariously for a believer, is compatible with the teaching of the Gospel" (Affirmations and Denials 8).

Even more disturbing was that some outstanding evangelical leaders whom I have known as friends carelessly included the suggestion that unless I believed exactly as they do, I wasn't even a believer. Having specified exactly what the essential penal substitutionary model of the atonement and justification by faith is, I then read "We deny that any person can believe the biblical Gospel and at the same time reject the apostolic teaching of justification by faith  in Christ alone". (Affirmations and Denials 12).

Put in Bob Brow for "any person" and see what that means. "We affirm that saving faith includes mental assent to the content of the Gospel" (Affirmations and Denials 16). In the context that means that Bob Brow is not only excluded from the evangelical lifeboat, but he isn't even saved.

If the wording is careless, the signers should not have signed this Evangelical Celebration. If the wording is what the signers intended, this is a pernicious divisive document.

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