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!