Two Halves of the Whole Gospel


Goin' nowhere fastDo you sometimes feel like we’re not hearing the whole Gospel? Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and you get the eerie feeling that no one truly knows what the whole Gospel entails.

And it’s not just the Godblogosphere. I suspect that many of our churches can’t articulate the entirety of the Gospel.

As I see it, we’ve made this mistake of viewing the whole Gospel as two halves. The mistake—one of typical human nature— is to wrap the entirety of our brains around the one half that resonates with us the most, then act as if the other half doesn’t exist.

If we must delineate the error of the two halves, it’s best to look at the one passage of Scripture that defines those halves. We find both in Ephesians 2:8-10.

Half A:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

Half B:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Those who cling to Half A are the folks I’ll call the Elect. They obsess about doctrine, detest even a whiff of works righteousness, and are enormously concerned with getting people saved. They got their marching orders at the Reformation and consider it the high point in modern history. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

Those who adhere to Half B are the folks I’ll call the Fieldworkers. They obsess about  helping those in need, detest the hypocrisy of not walking the talk, and are enormously concerned with bettering the lives of everyone around them. They can’t point to any one point in time for their marching orders,  but earnestly believe that we need a new Reformation. And heaven help anyone who’s not in total agreement with them.

The problem with the Elect and the Fieldworkers is that they are so focused on their half of the whole Gospel, they simply can’t bring themselves to understand the other half. The blinders are on so tight that neither group  can even acknowledge the other side’s main propositions are just as Scriptural as theirs.

The Elect easily trash the loose theology of the Fieldworkers. The Fieldworkers quickly note the clean, uncalloused hands of the Elect. To the Elect, the Fieldworkers are false teachers and heretics. To the Fieldworkers, the Elect are uncaring, self-absorbed Pharisees. Both sides point to the other and claim, “You’re not living the Gospel. I doubt you’re truly saved!”

And you know what? On that claim, both sides may actually be right!

Worrying about how you come to Christ is great, but Elect, what are you supposed to do with the sixty or so years of discipleship you have staring you in the face afterwards? Worrying about the needy is great, but Fieldworkers, how do you receive the heart of God to do so if you can’t articulate how to know God at all?

The whole Gospel contains both the power to raise the dead in spirit to spiritual life in the name of Jesus AND the power to tenderize the human heart toward the service of others in the name of Jesus.

What baffles me is why this is so hard to understand.

Why do we slice the Gospel in half then whine about the half we don’t like? Why the venom between the Elect and the Fieldworkers? Why?

The whole Gospel is the whole Gospel. If we’re not concerned with seeing people saved through hearing the message of salvation, maintaining the integrity of our doctrine, and preaching that we can’t earn our way to heaven, then we’re blowing it. If we’re not concerned about taking care of those in need, living out the love of Christ in practical ways, and fighting for the betterment of everyone we meet, then we’re blowing it.

Please Church, it’s time to believe and live the whole Gospel!

22 thoughts on “Two Halves of the Whole Gospel

  1. Good post…..

    The constant waring between these two halves of this same body, has driven me away from reading much on blogs lately.

    “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” Romans 12

    God bless…

  2. You are so right. We do practice this spiritual dichotomy all the time. I guess the early church had the same problem, though, or James wouldn’t have written “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves…But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
    And Paul had to say, “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and they he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
    Funny how, in an age of multi-tasking, we just can’t seem to believe and do at the same time. They are really two sides of the same coin…In God We Trust and Man We Serve. Might help if we quit looking at ourselves and looked at ourselves and others through Jesus’ eyes.

    • Kat,

      Whenever Jesus’ Fieldworker nature is emphasized, the Elect run to Paul. That’s too bad because it splinters the New Testament. I hate to see that happen.

      Knowing Jesus means adopting His compassion for the underclass. Knowing Jesus means clinging to His truth in a world of lies.

      That doesn’t seem so impossible to reconcile, yet we do it so awkwardly in this country, if at all.

  3. Dan,

    Thank you for this post. I appreciate the fact that you did not identify yourself in the post. I think that all of us can identify more with either the “Elect” or with the “Fieldworkers”. When we identify with one or the other, our natural tendencies are to group together, defend our view, and condemn anything that is different. Thus we have groups of “Elects” and groups of “Fieldworkers” and never the twain shall meet. Yet, in your post, the two have met, and if we are honest with one another and with Scripture we will admit that, as you stated, both sides are missing something.

    When we recognize ourselves in either the “Elect” or the “Fieldworkers”, instead of following our natural tendency, we should follow a supernatural inclination toward listening and learning from brothers and sisters who perceive the gospel from a different perspective. Thus, the “Elect” must humbly learn from the “Fieldworkers” and the “Fieldworkers” must humbly learn from the “Elect”. But, this type of humility requires that we admit that we might be wrong, or at least lacking in our understanding of the gospel.

    As we all know, humility is not natural or easy.


    • Alan,

      Because I understand and see the dichotomy between the two halves, I take extra care to try to reconcile them in my own life. I realize how easy it is to fall into one extreme or another in the American Church. We love our polarization, don’t we?

      However, since the preponderance of Godblogs out there tend to fall more into the Elect camp, I often gravitate to Fieldworker topics on this blog just to balance things.

  4. brent

    Enjoyed your post Dan! I honestly try to shoot for balance in these two – but my ‘natural’ bent seems to be toward the ‘Elect’. I say that, because at time I find myself more motivated to pick up a theological book than to go minister to a someone in need 🙁

    However, I have a great Fieldworker brother who challenges me…. “put the book down, and go love…”. Likewise, I try to challenge him to “first embrace this ‘promise’ (in the book) – then in full reliance, go and serve in the strength that God supplies”. Where we both serve, I think the Lord has gifted us both in different yet complementary ways. Perhaps he is a hand, and I’m a fore-arm? BUT… I look to him, and desire him to challenge me to validate my faith with God-glorifying compassionate works.

    We naturally will surround ourselves with folks who think like us. Perhaps we should prayerfully search out the members of the body that lean in the other direction – and allow them to school us where we are weaker. I’ve found churches with an tenured “Elect/Elite” pastor will have a lot of sheep of the same color, so finding many “Fieldworkers” in the fold may be hard – and the reverse is true.

    Thanks for putting this in front of us today – challenging us to seek the blessing of balance!

  5. Diane Roberts

    Actually there are three parts. I wrote about this on my blog recently.

    The first part is justification (the Reformationists). The second leg is sanctification (the fundamentalists and many evangelicals),. The third leg is evangelism/social gospel (many evangelicals, seeker-sensitives, liberal Protestants and emergents). One cannot get to the second part until the first part is in place and cannot get to the third part until the first two are in place. The problem lies in either not going on to the next part, or jumping one or two parts and going to another part without the proper foundation being laid.

  6. franklin

    Dan, thanks for this post. I was directed here by a friend since I’m thinking through some of these things of late. I hear what you’re saying, but I think I’m missing your point. First, is there not a distinction between justification and sanctification? It sounded to me like you were blurring that line. My understanding of the reformers is that they viewed JUSTIFICATION as monergistic and SANCTIFICATION as synergistic. In their view, works have absolutely NOTHING to do with our JUSTIFICATION, but play a major role in our SANCTIFICATION, although, both justification and sanctification are works of the spirit.

    So, are there two halves to the GOSPEL or is the good news of the Gospel focused upon what CHRIST has done and the response to that good news our doing good works out of a joyful delight in the Savior?

    I see one Gospel that probably moves closer to what you describe as ‘the elect’ view, but that Gospel will result (in good soil) in joyful ‘field workers’.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. God bless.

    • Franklin,

      1. Faith without works is dead. Some of us act as if we don’t believe this. This is not to say that we are justified by works, only that the two are inseparable.

      2. The Elect understand that the Gospel is to us, though they sometimes stumble on the truth that it is also for others, especially those outside the church who are not yet a part of the church. The Fieldworkers understand that the Gospel is for others, but are sometimes hazy on how it is for them. Both are deficient views of the entirety of the Gospel and how it transforms the whole man both at justification and afterwards.

      3. We forget that the Gospel includes sanctification. It’s a deficient understanding of the Gospel that it only justifies; it also conforms us to the image of Christ, so that we become who God intended us to be: “new Adams.” That, too, is the Gospel, and too many of us forget that. That’s what the Fieldworkers get, that by doing we are transformed in our souls. Justification transforms our spirits, while our souls are transformed through sanctification. All that is the WHOLE Gospel, not just the justification part.

  7. franklin

    Hey Dan, thanks for the reply.

    1. Agreed. Saving faith WORKS and faith that doesn’t produce good works is DEAD.

    2. Agreed. I’ve seen this happen as I’m sure you have.

    3. Agreed…I think. Justification always leads to sanctification. The Spirit doesn’t do one w/out the other…although justification comes first. It IS good news to realize that I am being renewed into the image of the Creator (“new adams”), and yes, this is sorely missing in our preaching today. God is RESTORING us, not just saving us from hell.

    However, the means by which that happens is the work of Christ for me (active and passive obedience). Technically speaking, it seems to me that the word Gospel is used in Scripture to describe the work of Christ on our behalf, and not used in discussing our Sanctification. Am I right about that?!?!

    Also, I’m not clear that Scripture teaches that we are transformed “in our souls” by doing and in our “spirit” by the work of the spirit in justification. I’ve never heard that distinction and it isn’t ringing clear to me that I’ve seen it used that way in Scripture.

    Okay, thanks again for your interaction. Peace.

  8. Franklin,

    The work of God on our behalf is His using us to fulfill our destinies and His fitting us for heaven. That includes our sanctification.

    I believe that much of Evangelicalism has a faulty view of sanctification. They divorce it from justification so completely that it leads to error. Justification is the beginning of a process. We must understand this! That process does not end until we die. The Gospel addresses that process, too, that we are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. We must not forget this, but Evangelicalism often does.

    This explains why so many Evangelicals are happy to be saved and then it stops there. They climb onto a shelf and they’re done for the rest of their lives. It also explains how they fall into the Elect camp and never once venture out into Fieldworker territory. That’s an enormous error that, to me at least, calls into question the reality of their salvation.

    The Gospel speaks to the whole man at all times throughout life. The Gospel says that it is not enough to be merely justified, but that Christ died so that we may become like Him also!

    I think the flawed view that divorces justification and sanctification also leads to a diminished theology of the gifts of the Spirit. The empowering for service gets thrown away as a result.

    Think of it this way. A person dead in sin is like a broken tool that has been tossed into the trash. At justification, the tool is rescued from the trash. Sanctification cleans up that tool, fixes it, enables its specific functions, and puts it to work doing what it was made to do.

    So the beauty of the Gospel is that it encompasses that entire process, not just retrieving the tool from the trash. It doesn’t just give you a pass out of the trash, but equips you to become all you were intended to be.

    We forget this to our peril. The fact that too few churches teach this is a major oversight.

  9. George

    Dan and Franklin — This exchange was simply beautiful. Yours has to rank among the best I’ve read, demonstrating the implications of theology for practical Christian life. Thanks!

  10. franklin

    Thanks George. Blessings.

    Dan, I don’t know if I should continue commenting here because I don’t want to co-opt your blog for things I’m working through. So, this will be my last comment on this thread (I heard your sigh of relief). Thank you for indulging me.

    I appreciate what you are aiming at, but I don’t think I’m agreed with you on the whole. I agree 100$% that it is GRAND NEWS (Gospel!) that God is restoring me into his image (new Adams & Eve’s). I love that emphasis and believe it is SORELY missed in almost all evangelical preaching that I hear. The Good News though, is not that I cooperate with God’s work to become a new Adam. HE MAKES ME ONE. He gives me a new heart. I am restord at the moment of justification.

    Sanctification is the working out of that reality from the time I am justified to the time I am glorified. They are inseperable in process but sequential in order. Does that make sense? Don’t we disagree on that one point?

    On a personal note…I am biased about this (shocker, huh?). As I have reveled in the good news of what Jesus did for me in taking my place and enduring the wrath that was mine and as I have embraced who I am in him (good heart, new man in his image)…I have found tremendous power to live a life of holiness – not by trying, and yet, this isn’t a “let go and let God” thing.

    It’s simply this: I am so moved by the Gospel as I preach it to myself every day, that I am energized to live for him.

    Okay, enough already.

    Thanks for the interaction. Blessings.

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