Preaching the Gospel with Joy and Urgency

In this post, I am drawing on the writings of G. C. Berkouwer.

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The gladness of salvation cannot be proclaimed where theological speculation  where theological speculation restricts the scope of the Gospel (Divine Election, (Grand Rapids, 1960),pp. 218-227 / Dutch edition, 1955); A Half Century of Theology, (Grand Rapids, (1977), pp. 98-104 / Dutch edition, 1974).  The urgency of salvation cannot be proclaimed where theological speculation presumes on an a priori universalism to which Berkouwer says, “The church is not to speculate but to preach” (”Universalism” in Christianity Today,  I, 16 (April 29, 1957).

If the Church is to be set free from speculative theology to preach  the Gospel joyfully and urgently, there must be a clear perspective on the future. The present proclamation of the Gospel will be joyful where there is a future hope. The present proclamation of the Gospel will be urgent where that future hope is presented as a call for response .

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Here’s a helpful comment on the connection between future hope and present response. It’s from E. Schlink, The Coming Christ and the Coming Church (1967) – “We have no right to speak of Christ as the hope of the world unless we humble ourselves before God and recognize Him as the judge of the world … Only when we have repented and confessed that we have wasted our life in God’s sight shall we ever know Christ as the hope of the world” (p. 258).  Describing “the actions born of Hope”, Schlink writes, “The first act of hope is the preaching of the gospel to the whole world … The second action born of hope is accepting responsibility for the just ordering of society” (pp. 261-262, italics original).

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An adequate perspective on the future demands a hope which may not be interpreted in a manner that represents a radical departure from the New Testament hope.

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Two points of departure from the New Testament hope must be carefully avoided – (a) an entirely ‘other-worldly’ hope which has no consequences for action in this world; (b) an entirely ‘this-worldly’ jhope that has no perspective on the eternal future beyond this present world.

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When the Christian hope is radically demythologized, it tends to be dismissed. When the Christian hope is objectivized, it tends to be taken for granted, thus endangering its relevance.

The difficulties involved in understanding the Bible’s eschatological language cannot lead to a thoroughgoing demythologizing of the eschaton without altering its message(Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, 1975), p. 256 /Dutch edition – Vol. I, 1965; Vol. II, 1967); The Return of Christ, (Grand Rapids, 1972), p. 166, n. 60 / Dutch edition – Vol. I – 1961; Vol.II – 1963). The difficulties involved in understanding divine judgment cannot lead to its dismissal without seriously damaging the urgency of the Gospel’s proclamation (The Return of Christ, pp. 403-423).

Parallel to “demythologizing” are “dehistoricizing” and “de-eschatologizing (Holy Scripture, p. 256). “Dehistoricizing” and “de-eschatologizing” amount to “dekerygmatizing.” To strip the Christian message of its historical foundation and its eschatological challenge is to empty it of its content as a joyful and urgent Gospel.

The apostolic preaching of then Gospel emphasized the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus who, as the exalted Lord, will bring history to its consummation with His return. This historical and eschatological Gospel was concluded with a call to repentance and faith as the way of receiving the blessings of the Gospel. In the apostolic preaching, there was  both a joyful proclamation and an urgent summons to decision. The urgent call to faith was grounded in the saving events of the Gospel, which were presented as events that took place in history.

The existential experience of the believer arises from but does not make redundant the unique saving acts of God in history. To call for a decision that is not grounded in the historical facts of the Gospel represents an unbiblical separation of fact and meaning (The Work of Christ, (Grand Rapids, 1965)p. 181 / Dutch edition, 1953) .

However demythologizing may be proposed, its advocates must face the question whether “the core of the kerygmaHoly Scripture, p. 256). of the New testament is affected when this temporal saving event is brushed aside (

In the kerygma of the New Testament, “This saving event is described in a form that cannot be separated from its content, namely, ‘that of historical reality” (p. 256).

Rather than removing the Christian message from the sphere of history, it must be affirmed that “There is room for a humble and courageous defense of Christianity. the combination of humility and courage is the combination that Christianity in our day sorely needs (”Current Religious Thought” in Christianity Today, III, 13 (March 30, 1959), p. 39).

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