Is there any place for confident proclamation of the gospel anymore? Robert Bellah’s book, The Good Society (1991) quotes a graduate student’s comment of his experience at Harvard:
They tell us it’s heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to a judgment sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote yourself to any value we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.” (quoted in D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012, 97)
This is a very perceptive observation of the quagmire of ‘the freedom of our day.’ All that we have is individual opinion that leaves us in our own little, private world.
The Apostle Paul lived in a day of pluralism as well.
He found confidence to proclaim the gospel in God’s self-revelation. 2 Corinthians 4: 13 states, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, “(ESV). Paul believed that he had received the ministry of the gospel by the mercy of God (4:1) and refused to tamper with God’s word (2 Cor. 4:2). He was not proclaiming a private value that he chose for himself. He was not proclaiming himself ‘but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5). Paul’s confidence to proclaim the gospel came from his conviction that God has spoken. In 2 Corinthians 4:6,7 he writes,
For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (ESV)
I find it interesting that he links his confidence in the gospel to creation. Apart from the whole story line of the Bible the gospel lacks coherence and authority. In commenting on the Bible’s plot-line as a necessary framework for the gospel, D.A. Carson writes:
The doctrine of Creation establishes the grounds of our responsibility before God: he made us for himself, and it is the essence of our culpable anarchy that we ignore it. The doctrine of the Fall establishes the nature of our dilemma: by nature and choice we are alienated from God, deceived, justly condemned, without hope in the world, unless God himself delivers us. All our ills trail from this profound rebellion. Solutions that do not address our alienation from the personal/transcendent God who made us are at best superficial palliatives, at worst deceptive placebos that leave us to die. In this framework, the philosophic pluralist is not the vanguard of progress, but an idolater. (D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 504)
When we believe that the Bible is the self-revelation of God who has created us and all that exists, then we speak not with our authority but with his. The gospel we proclaim is not a value we choose but it is a message we believe to be true because it is rooted in the Christian Scripture. Our confidence is based on God’s authority, not our own or our community’s. Our confidence comes not only from our belief in the Bible as God’s Word, but also from the fact that we have received God’s grace through the gospel. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 18, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” (ESV).
Our confident proclamation of the gospel comes from the confidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. A new book by John Piper entitled A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (Crossway, 2016) will strengthen your conviction that the Bible is indeed true. In his introduction, Piper writes, “I point out that I did not simply hold a view of the Bible for seven decades. I was held by a view through the Bible. … I have been a Christian all these years not because I had the courage to hold on to an embattled view of Scripture, but because I have been held happily captive by the beauty of God and his ways that I see through the Scriptures.” (18). For those with a larger appetite, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A Carson published by Eerdmans in 2016 is a good read (I haven’t finished the 1180 pages yet).
Confident proclamation of the gospel is possible in our pluralistic age just as it was in the first century when we believe and so speak.