February 28, 2012
Ur Video: Dever Worries "Gospel" Isn't Individual Enough
Does a cosmic gospel diminish the call to personal evangelism?
This interview by Ed Stetzer with Mark Dever caught me by surprise. They're talking about the renewed interest among evangelicals in a "larger gospel" that captures a kingdom theology. Dever sees it as exceedingly dangerous because a focus on doing good may take away from evangelism. Check out this clip.
What surprised me was Dever's honesty. Consider his remarks:
1. He admits that the word gospel is used in Scripture to mean more than "God-man-Christ-response." He recognizes that it refers to the "restoration of all things." In this regard he is in agreement with scholars like Scot McKnight who have challenged the narrow definition of gospel in the evangelical tradition.
2. But Dever worries that focusing on this biblical definition of gospel will diminish our focus on individual salvation and evangelism. So,
3. He wants us to rely on a "systematic" idea of what gospel means based on a "long tradition of reflection" that emphasizes the individual redemption of people rather than the cosmic restoration of all things.
Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?
Going further, Dever then negatively cites John Stott, one of the most celebrated evangelical scholars of the 20th century. Stott, a close friend of Billy Graham, and a founder of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization, also penned one of the most widely affirmed doctrinal statements of the modern age- The Lausanne Covenant which states in part:
We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society. In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.... The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, understand, and to receive the good news.
One would hardly call John Stott soft on personal evangelism. But Dever says we should do the opposite of what Stott instructs in his book Christian Mission in the Modern World pages 26-28. I looked up the reference but did not find Stott calling for a de-emphasis of personal evangelism at all. Rather, Stott reveals how both traditional models of mission (proclamation only) and the ecumenical model (social renewal only) both fail to adhere to Scripture. Instead he calls for Christians to see in the Great Commission a call to make disciples (evangelism), and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded which includes social responsibility (page 37).
In fact, Stott believes a solitary focus on social change is wrong. He writes: "The church's first priority...remains the millions and millions...who (as Christ and his apostles tell us again and again) being without Christ are perishing" (page 32).
What Stott does say, however, and what I'm assuming worries Dever, is that Christians are called into different service and not all are to give first priority to evangelization. He writes, "If we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man. The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render" (page 49).
And: "Then too there is a diversity of Christian callings, and every Christian should be faithful to his own calling. The doctor must not neglect the practice of medicine for evangelism, nor should the evangelist be distracted from the ministry of the word by the ministry of tables, as the apostles quickly discovered (Acts 6)" (page 45).
Stott goes on to discuss the importance of Christian vocation within the culture. But to twist this into meaning Stott does not think we should emphasize personal evangelism is crazy given the context in which he writes and his own comments about the priority of personal salvation both in the Lausanne Covenant and in the very pages Dever cites.
This segment of the interview with Dever and Stetzer wraps up by their shared view that a "kingdom of God" and "missio dei" theology killed missions and evangelism in the mainline churches. They fear we are doomed to repeat that history.
So, what do you make of Dever's view? Does the biblical definition of gospel lack individual application? Should we rely more on theological tradition on this matter? And does a cosmic view of the Good News necessarily result in the abandonment of personal evangelism? We welcome your responses.