Is the gospel always "good news"?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by fralo4truth, Mar 9, 2015.

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  1. fralo4truth

    fralo4truth Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi friends,

    I need your help with something. The gospel is “good news”. I am arguing with some who basically say that since this is true there can’t be anything uttered in the gospel that isn’t good news in and of itself, or it ceases to become the gospel. In other words, I can’t say the lost shall be damned because that isn’t "good news". I can’t warn people about hell because that’s not good news. This line of reasoning is used by some I know who are opposed to preaching to the lost on such a basis.

    We know that warnings and exhortations are a definite part of the gospel, so what’s the best way to respond to this argument?
  2. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    It seems to me they are conflating the duty required and the ability required to believe the gospel. In other words "repent and believe" means, if we don't do as commanded, we can expect the wrath to come, but that same "repent and believe" doesn't mean we have the power to believe and repent. This is the default position of semi-Pelagians everywhere; whether the Arminian, Wesleyan, or other run-of-the-mill variety. Arminius seemed to say the fall wasn't so bad whereas Wesley seemed to say the cross re-leveled the playing field.
    I like to start with the doctrine of Original Sin and work from there. If you get them to understand the depth of corruption and offense, they will have to choose orthodoxy, go Roman or go Wesleyan on you....
  3. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    The gospel, narrowly construed, has the person and work of Christ as Savior as its focus. In this sense, the gospel contains no bad news. All the bad news comes from us, as the law reveals us to be sinners--hopeless and helpless, doomed and damned. This is the path that all unregenerated humanity is on and will continue on until their destruction, unless God mercifully intervenes.

    The exhortation that arises out of this good news of Jesus' person and work is "repent and believe." One must turn to God from idols (repent) and rest and trust in Christ and in Him alone (believe). Again, this is good news--one must turn one's back upon all that is toxic and noxious (as sin is) and rely upon the only One who can do us any good. It's good news to be told that we who cannot do it, and who see and feel that, can rest assured that One has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. That's all good news.

    The bad news comes from continuing down the path that all those in rebellion against God are on. We tell people this: that the consequence of sin is death and that those outside of Christ are under condemnation. This should always accompany gospel preaching but, narrowly, is not itself the gospel, but the law that is always to be preached along with and along side of the gospel. That is why, historically, the Reformers and Puritans made this sort of distinction between law and gospel.

  4. Nicholas Perella

    Nicholas Perella Puritan Board Freshman

    During our pastor's preaching yesterday he said and I paraphrase for I am not quoting word for word but this was the gist of it, 'When somebody walks by a house and sees it is on fire and runs to the house door banging on it saying, 'Fire! Your house is on fire! You need to get out!' Ordinarily the person living in the house surely is not going to say, 'You are throwing fear! You are just saying these things that are only going to scare people! Stop it!' Surely he will be thankful for the warning and desire to get out of the house.'

    He preached on Matthew 7:24-29; 8:1.
  5. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Seems like Hebrews 3:15 speaks of gospel preaching and warnings all in on verse.

    Heb 3:15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

    The New Testament is full of similar examples. Romans 2 comes to mind, too.

    Rom 2:3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
    Rom 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
    Rom 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

    Paul's gospel had a lot of warnings and threats in it.
  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    This is why I said "the gospel, narrowly construed," and proceeded to speak of the distinction that our fathers made between the law and the gospel.

    We can speak of "gospel preaching" in a broader way as that which brings both the good news for belief and obedience and the bad news for unbelief and disobedience. The Hebrew warning passages, for example, serve as exhortations for those who have professed Christ to continue to do so in the face of suffering, persecution, and opposition. We must not turn back, though we may (as were the converted Jews to whom Hebrews was especially addressed) be sorely tempted to do so. We must press on for the prize and for that which is set before us. All of this in a broad sense can be said to be properly part of "gospel preaching."

    Yet we can still speak of the gospel, narrowly construed, as something that is always good news, both as to its ground and object (the person and work of Christ) and as to the exhortation that arises from it (repent and believe), which, when followed, always brings blessing (even if accompanied by trials). I do believe that the gospel properly includes both Christ's person and work and the blessings and benefits that come to us in being rightly related to that by the Holy Spirit, who brings us to Christ and Christ to us. But all of that is good news. We alone are the bad news.

  7. KeithW

    KeithW Puritan Board Freshman

    While I've never heard the "good news" argued that way, I definitely have heard it many times implied that way. Churches in my area assume that if you have walked through the church door you know the "bad news" so you only need to hear the "good news". The bad news is never explained.

    The problem is the "good news" only has meaning in the context of the "bad news". There is a difference between the phrases, "there is good news" and "but there is good news". The latter ties it to something.
  8. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    We should never assume that anyone knows what they need to know about themselves, and those who, by God's grace, have come to see their native sin and misery, need to be deepened in their sense of it.

    No small part of faithful, biblical preaching involves convicting and convincing us of our native sin and misery. The Word uncovers or discloses all that is wretched about us. And it also provides the balm and healing for our wounds in the gospel. Hebrews 4, for instance, speaks to all of this.

    We need to preach law and gospel to both saint and sinner so that the former may be deepened in their sense of sin and the glorious remedy that the gospel is for it (both in delivering from the guilt and penality of sin and in breaking the power of reigning sin) and that the latter may have eyes opened to see sin and thus flee to Christ as the only remedy for our sin. Only a whole-orbed ministry in this way is a biblical one.

  9. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

  10. fralo4truth

    fralo4truth Puritan Board Freshman

    I truly appreciate both this and your previous thought. While I certainly agree, I definitely need more study in this area. Are you saying that warnings and exhortations generally belong more in the category of "law" rather "the gospel" per se?

    If any of you know of any works which deal with this matter in-depth, I would greatly appreciate it.
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    This too easily becomes a debate over terminology. There is a broad sense in which the entire Scripture could be said to be "gospel," in which case warnings are surely a part of it. But Scripture itself tends mostly to use a narrower sense in which the "gospel" is the good news about Christ that answers the bad news about our condition.

    This shouldn't be a problem, even for those who judge that the people they're preaching to need a healthy dose of warnings. To effectively preach the good news requires, at the very least, acknowledging the bad news. Someone might want to label the whole message as "gospel" and someone else might not (I think the distinction between good news and bad is helpful), but the larger issue is not the terminology but the role of bad news in preaching. It is an error either to think that bad news has no place or to think that it has the central place.

    As for warnings, I've never quite understood why some feel that warnings are anti-gospel. If a helpfully narrow definition of "gospel" means warnings are not part of the gospel proper, surely the gospel is still shown to be even more inviting, more necessary, and better news when a caring (not mean-spirited) concern for what happens when one rejects the gospel is expressed.
  12. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    I am simply wanting to preserve that there is a narrow sense in which the gospel is good news, period.

    Having said that, I don't disagree with anything that Jack says in the immediately preceding post. In fact, I quite like the way that he puts it all. I am not disageeing with Vic, either, by the way, just making some clarifications. I don't regard Vic or Jack to be saying anything materially different than I am saying.

    I want the whole counsel of God and don't want to get bogged down in terminology. But I also want to preserve a place for "gospel" as "good news" that is unrivalled and unencumbered. I want the law preached, I want warnings preached, and I want the person and work of Christ preached organically and with integrity, yet making necessary and proper distinctions. I am, natively, the bad news; Christ is the good news: He brings me into that good news by the work of the Spirit, though I have remaining sin until I go to be with Him.

  13. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Agreed! It's important to preserve that narrow sense.

    Kevin, I think I would say that if someone claims gospel preaching should never include any bad news, then the error they are making is not that they've wrongly defined the gospel but that they've wrongly defined preaching. We call it "preaching the gospel" because the gospel is always central to our message, but some of that message may (and often should) also include elements that are not part of the gospel proper, in the narrower sense.
  14. OneOfHisElect

    OneOfHisElect Puritan Board Freshman

    What could not be good about God regenerating the heart through the warning of Hell and saving a lost person from it? With that logic a doctor should never tell a patient that they have cancer in order to save their life. Not a very informational thought but a good way to use logic in the argument.
  15. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Alan, I appreciate your posts on this thread. I didn't see your initial post while I was typing mine.

    Your point is well taken--the bad news is because of us and our sin.

    This reminds me of the importance of perspective. I was looking at from the point of view of the one receiving the news. A humble analogy:

    A 25 year old rich superstar athlete is told by a doctor that he has good news for him: he's got a wretched disease and will die in 6 months but for the cure that this doctor just happens to have. The one hitch: he must give up all the glory that has been given to him by the world. In other words, no more Nike deals, etc.

    I'm imagining the athlete would not find that to be good news. He didn't even know he was sick and nigh unto death.

    But once he understands and comprehends the nature (and reality) of his condition, and the fact that there is a cure, it is very good news.
  16. oeco

    oeco Puritan Board Freshman

    And that's why TULIP begins with the T!!

    But I see where the dilemma is. How can any of the gospel be considered good news from the perspective of the reprobate? And how is the eternal punishment of the reprobate be considered inherently good?

    The proclamation of that message is indeed "good" in that sense. I would perhaps struggle to say that the punishment of the reprobate is a "good" thing. Just, definitely. Good, not so sure.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  17. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    This is why, historically, we would not call the "reprobate will be punished" the "gospel," narrowly (and we might even say, properly) construed. The good news is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16), that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (I Tim. 1:15), and the like. We preach that all those who continue in rebellion and unbelief will suffer perdition, but this is not the "good news." This is the "bad news." The good news is that God has provided a remedy in Christ for all who come to Him.

    If you answer, "well, not all will come to Him, only the elect will," I respond, "true, but the good news is that He came to save His people from their sins." And that is to be preached to all without distinction on my part. Since all are invited to come, they have a warrant to come and ought to come. We know that only the elect will but this is not to keep us from freely offering the gospel to all and calling all our hearers to repentance and faith. The good news that we hold forth is not "some of you will die in your sins." The good news that we hold forth is "Sinner, why die when you can come to Christ and live? Come to Him, believe in Him, rest in Him, trust in Him and Him alone, all you who labor and are heavy laden." This is the good news; this is the gospel.


    BTW: Man's depravity and total inability is the Third Head of Doctrine (in the Canons of Dort) and the First is Election and Reprobation. TULIP is a convention in the English language not introduced until the 20th century.
  18. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    Alan's point is well taken in terms of preserving the "gospel narrowly construed." Yet,, a contemporary problem arises when this narrow construction becomes the exclusive definition of the gospel, rather than seeing the gospel as containing both indicative and imperative. The same thing can happen when the "law" is "narrowly" construed apart from its covenantal setting, thereby never allowing for the graciousness of the law. Law and gospel are distinct, but for the Christian, should not be in opposition.
  19. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    I agree, Mark.

    I was just telling a class today that the gospel is not only the objective person and work of Christ, but also the Spirit's work in us to apply the merits and mediation of Christ to us. This is all good news. As Calvin said, "As long as Christ remains outside of us, He does us no good." Thus the Spirit brings us to Christ and Christ to us.

    Law and gospel are both involved in all of this and surely are brought to agreement in the life of the Christian. Remember, however, the original post was not about indicative and imperative for the Christian, but whether the statement "the lost shall be damned" is, narrowly, good news. And I would say "no" because the law condemns the reprobate while it has been perfectly satisfied with respect to the Christian so that "justice smiles and asks no more."

  20. aadebayo

    aadebayo Puritan Board Freshman

    The gospel that describes humans as desperate sinners, depraved and guilty before God is bad news to begin with. The gospel has to be seen in the light of the infinite holiness and majesty of God. This requires us to tell people that as humans, we are guilty of sin against God. It is Cod's plan of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ that makes the gospel end with good news. However, this good news cannot be offered to anyone who still thinks that there is anything in themselves that deserve good from God.
  21. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    This is the law that does this. This is what I am getting at: a historic Reformed and Puritan approach always made this distinction. It is the first use of the law that does what is described here.

    We need to set thoroughly before people how unrelievedly wicked and sinful we are natively, outside of Christ. We need to make it clear that there is no hope whatsoever in us, as Paul said, "no good thing."

    While this is part of what we might call "gospel preaching" broadly, this is the preaching of the law that precedes and provides the context for the preaching of the gospel, which is the good news that Christ has come to save us. I refuse to fail to distinguish the bad news of my sin and need from the good news of Christ's doing and dying and the work of the Spirit to bring that home to me so that I trust in Him alone and walk in faithful obedience.

    We all need to be schooled in this so that we never make the gospel proper something less than the unspeakably glorious thing that it is: balm for sin-sick souls. This is classic Reformed Christianity.

  22. aadebayo

    aadebayo Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Alan. It is really sad that even professing reformed churches fail to preach the law, the Holiness of God, the desperate wretchedness and sinfulness of man before offering salvation. This is one of the reasons why we left our previous church. Imagine a church that professes to be reformed in doctrine using resources by a man like Bill Hybels.
  23. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    True, your response was more directly related to the original post's question."

    I do wonder, though, what to make of Edwards' suggestion that for the saints in heaven, we will rejoice over the damnation of sinners in hell. (I believe he cited a text in Revelation on this point). The thought flowing from this would be this: if everything that God does is good, then is there some sense in which the damnation of sinners is "good news", given this is His eternally praiseworthy display of His righteousness? Granted, it is not "good news" for those in hell, but is it part of the "good news" for Christians?
  24. aadebayo

    aadebayo Puritan Board Freshman

    Looking at it from God's perspective, then it is good news that sin is punished and God's word is vindicated. This is just my thoughts.
  25. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    I would distinguish between "good news" as gospel (that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners) and the broader concept of "good."

    For instance, we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). This means even the most difficult of providences, in short, things that we rightly refer to as evil (the murder of a loved one, the kidnapping of our child, etc.) do not defeat God, but, because He is such a great and good God, He uses even evil to bring about the greatest good. Wicked men may mean it for evil for us (Genesis 50:20), but God means it for good and turns it to our good. That this is so, however, does not mean that there is no evil. There is evil, even though God turns it to good. Romans 9 would tell us that even the reprobate magnify the justice and wrath of God as the elect do His mercy and grace.

    But all things working together for good and the reprobate giving opportunity for a full display of God's wrath does not mean that everything is "good news." I wouldn't come to you and say, excitedly, "Mark, good news: all that you love has been destroyed in a fire while you were away." No, that's bad news, though God ultimately would turn it to your good. Similarly, our sin is bad news, though because of the good news, even that is conquered and we become those who live to the praise of His glorious grace.

  26. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks, Alan. I grant and agree with the distinction between some rough providence (bad news) being turned to the believer's good, and the "good news" of Christ dying and saving sinners.

    Just some additional thoughts:

    Rather than just by some providence of God, my house is burned down by an arsonist, it seems it would be comforting "good news" to know that they apprehend the culprit, that justice is will be done, which may include a measure of restitution to me and protection for the community.

    Is it "good news" that God delivered Israel on dry ground AND drowned Pharoah and his hosts in the Red Sea?

    I think of Belgic 37 that testifies that the final judgment "... is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect;" That judgment upon the wicked sounds like it is good news to us, and then rounds out the whole of the gospel message.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2015
  27. aadebayo

    aadebayo Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Alan for your explaination of how God can bring good out of evil. A modern example of this will be how God brought salvation to the aucha Indians in Equador after Jim Elliot and his friends were murdered by the same people. The good here was the salvation of those people. The evil of course was the murder of the missionaries.
  28. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    I completely agree. And also with Edwards, of course!

    The BC citation is apt. I think that the Psalms are chock-full of the comfort to the righteous that the destruction of the wicked entails.

    Having said all of that, I wanted the brother in the OP to be sensitive to maintaining that the good news narrowly finds its focus in the person and work of Christ. The proclamation to the lost that they shall be damned unless they trust Christ is classic bad news/good news. The bad news is that you are a lost sinner. The good news is that Christ came to save that which was lost. Both are to be preached and in this case we rightly speak of preaching the law and the gospel. We want to maintain the gloriousness, the freeness, and the goodness of that gospel message, which is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save all who believe in Him from perishing.

  29. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks, Alan.
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