Besides the blessing of seeing a number of old friends today, I am grateful for two particular sessions that challenged my thinking and fed the fire of my love for God’s Word and his gospel.
David Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the day with a consideration of “Our Unique Gospel.” Explaining the first six verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Doran warned us that the greatest threat to the purity of the gospel does not come from the easy targets within broader evangelicalism. Instead, it is the unexpected ones from our own midst that can do the most damage. Believers therefore must continually return to the gospel, submit our hearts to it, and maintain our allegiance to it.
(1) The Priority of the Gospel (vv. 1-2). It is a message with essential content (“the gospel I preached”) and eternal consequences (“by which you are saved”). The point of the end of the second verse is that those who abandon the faith are in danger of eternal judgment. Thus the responsibility of pastors to maintain the apostolic message is essential.
(2) The Priority of the Gospel (vv. 3-6). Paul is not defining the gospel exclusively here, else Christ’s appearance to the twelve, etc. would be as essential to the definition as his death, burial, and resurrection. Rather, the apostle is emphasizing the point of the gospel that the Corinthians were in danger of rejecting, namely, the resurrection. To define the gospel, we must understand the NT teaching of the gospel, and the terms used in vv. 3-4 must be defined according to the NT (e.g., Christ, died, sins, etc.). (a) The character of the gospel is apostolic, scriptural, and historical. (b) The context of the gospel is man’s alienation from the True and Living God, our Creator. Paul always started where his audience departed from God. To the Jews, he began with the covenant, but to the Gentiles, he began with the Creator. We must state the bad news so clearly that there is an understanding of why the gospel is such good news (e.g., Romans). (c) The center of the gospel is Christ. Note the interchangeability of the gospel and Christ in Philippians 1.12ff. In Acts, those two are also connected with the Word.
We must not take a reductionist view of the gospel. We must never reduce the gospel down to a sound bite. When we preach the gospel, we must not assume that people know anything. And we must not stop contending for it. We must strive to make the gospel the center of fellowship. And we must give the gospel freely.
The afternoon session featured Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. His topic, “Our Unique Authority,” led him to a discussion of three reasons from 2 Timothy 3.16-17 that we must submit ourselves to God’s Word.
(1) Because God breathed it (“God-breathed”). (a) Explanation. These are the words of God, carrying his authority. You cannot be loyal to God without being loyal to his word. (b) Implication. All that Scripture teaches must be true (the doctrine of inerrancy). The Bible is not just the stream-bed for the stream of revelation; it is the stream itself. There is no division of authority within the words of God. (c) Qualification. The OT is no less authoritative than the NT, but there are differences in relevance. In the unfolding of God’s plan, the cross stands as the great turning-point. There are questions that the OT simply doesn’t answer.
(2) Because God’s Word has the power to change us (“profitable”). (a) Explanation. The Bible is a spiritual power tool to tell us what to believe (“teaching”), where we are wrong (“reproof”), how to get things right (“correction”), and how to live for God (“training in righteousness”). (b) Implication. The power comes from understanding what it means, not merely reading or memorizing it. The Spirit is within us, so we do not need an authoritative tradition, pope, or council to tell us what it means. This is the doctrine of perspecuity. (c) Qualification. We are all equally qualified to interpret Scripture, but we are not all equally skilled interpreters (He 5.12-14). Since we employ a grammatical-historical interpretational method, it follows that those who know grammar or history better are better interpreters. We need people to help us understand the Word. We must be careful to say what God says.
(3) Because God’s Word gives us all we need (“competent”). (a) Explanation. To be “equipped” is to be fully decked out. What I need to be fully equipped is the Bible. (b) Implication. People turn to all kinds of authorities besides the Bible. But Scripture is sufficient. “The sufficiency of Scripture comes really close to being a fundamental of the faith.” (c) Qualification. Scripture is our sole authority in faith and practice, but it is not our sole source of information about reality. There are many areas of life in which we have hampered ourselves by thinking we are being loyal to Scripture when we are really doing stupid stuff.
In the end, we must submit ourselves to the Scriptures simply because it is what God says.
Praise God for the unique gospel and the unique authority of the Word! There is none like our Lord, and there is nothing like his word.