How to Preach the Gospel Evangelically

One of the hallmarks of Evangelical Calvinism is that it relentlessly seeks to think and speak about God exclusively in an evangelical way. This does not mean that it derives its thinking and speaking from popular evangelicalism. Rather, it means that it endeavours to repentantly conform all thought and speech about God to how he has revealed himself in torranceportraitthe evangel, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although this holds true for every aspect of our faith and practice, it is especially important for determining the way in which we preach, teach, and share the gospel both in the church and in the world.

In his excellent book The Mediation of Christ, Evangelical Calvinist par excellence T.F. Torrance provides us with the following example of what preaching the gospel evangelically looks like in practice. Although Torrance’s exposition of the gospel in this
book will already be very familiar to many readers as it has often been reproduced in various places, I thought that it would be helpful for people to read it in its original context. The reason for this is that Torrance draws a clear contrast between an evangelical as opposed to an unevangelical way of presenting the gospel. As Torrance notes, it is sadly the latter rather than the former which can often be heard from the pulpits of ostensibly ‘evangelical’ churches. By seeing this contrast, the power of Torrance’s ‘evangelized evangelism’ lands with greater force:

There is, then, an evangelical way to preach the Gospel and an unevangelical way to preach it. The Gospel is preached in an unevangelical way, as happens so often in modern evangelism, when the preacher announces: This is what Jesus Christ has done for you, but you will not be saved unless you make your own personal decision for Christ as your Saviour. Or: Jesus Christ loved you and gave his life for you on the Cross, but you will be saved only if you give your heart to him. In that event what is actually coming across to people is not a Gospel of unconditional grace but some other Gospel of conditional grace which belies the essential nature and content of the Gospel as it is in Jesus. It was that subtle legalist twist to the Gosspel which worried St Paul so much in his Epistle to the Galatians, a distortion of the truth which can easily take a ‘gentile’ as well as a ‘Jewish’ form. To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them – but in that case they feel that they will never be saved. They know perfectly well in their own hearts that if the chain that binds them to God in Jesus Christ has as even on of its links their own feeble act of decision, then the whole chain is as weak as that, its weakest link. They are aware that the very self who is being called upon to make such a momentous decision requires to be saved, so that the preaching of the Gospel would not really be good news unless it announced that in his unconditional love and grace Jesus Christ had put that human self, that ego of their, on an entirely different basis by being replaced at that crucial point by Jesus Christ himself.

How, then, is the Gospel to be preached in a genuinely evangelical way? Surely in such a way that full and central place is given to the vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response to the saving love of God which he has freely and unconditionally provided for us. We preach and teach the Gospel evangelically, then, in such a way as this: God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. From beginning to end what Jesus Christ has done for you he has done not only as God but as man. He has acted in your place in the whole range of your human life and activity, including your personal decisions, and your responses to God’s love, and even your acts of faith. He has believed for you, fulfilled your human response to God, even made your personal decision for you, so that he acknowledges you before God as one who has already responded to God in him, who has already believed in God through him, and whose personal decision is already implicated in Christ’s self-offering to the Father, in all of which he has been fully and completely accepted by the Father, so that in Jesus Christ you are already accepted in him. Therefore, renounce yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

To preach the Gospel of the unconditional grace of God in this way is to set before people the astonishingly good news of what God has freely provided for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus. To repent and believe in Jesus Christ and commit myself to him on that basis means that I do not need to look over my shoulder all the time to see whether I have really given myself personally to him, whether I really believe and trust him, whether my faith is at all adequate, for in faith it is not upon my faith, my believing or my personal commitment that I rely, but solely upon what Jesus Christ has done for me, in my place and on my behalf, and what he is and always will be as he stands in for me before the face of the Father. That means that I am completely liberated from all ulterior motives in believing or following Jesus Christ, for on the ground of his vicarious human response for me, I am free for spontaneous joyful response and worship and service as I could not otherwise be.[1]

So the question that this puts to all of us is this: do we believe, espouse, preach, teach, and share the gospel in a truly evangelical way – in strict accordance with the grace of God secured for us in Jesus Christ alone – or in an unevangelical way – throwing ourselves and our hearers back upon our own capabilities and resources as the ultimate determining factor in salvation?

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[1] Torrance, T.F., 1992. The Mediation of Christ. Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, pp.93-95.

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