Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 18, 1971
NUMBER 39, PAGE 9b-10a

Strength And Weakness Of The Gospel

Edward Fudge

"God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance" (I Cor. 1:21, Taylor). Instead, "in accordance with God's definite plan and with His previous knowledge" (Acts 2:23, TCNT), the Almighty sent a Redeemer, then allowed Him to be murdered. But God raised Him from the dead!

And then, while Jews mocked and Gentiles wondered, it was forever demonstrated that "this so-called foolish plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man" (I Cor. 1:25, Taylor).

In a sense, Patriarchs and prophets had both heard and preached the Gospel (John 8:56; I Peter 1:10). And yet, until God revealed His plan, even those godly men did not understand what was involved (Daniel 7:27, 28; Lk. 24: 44-47).

Angels, too, were aware that something was being carried out, and longed to get a glimpse of it (I Peter 1:12, Moffatt). But angels and men had to wait — wait till God was clearly exegeted, by the One who was with Him in the very beginning (John 1:1, 18). It is only since Christ's people have come into being, in response to the Good News, that "the complex wisdom of God's plan" is seen, "being worked out through the Church" (Eph. 3:10, Phillips).

Looking back over those thousands of years, described in part in the Old Testament Scriptures and the Gospels, the Christian does not see "just history." To him these events are much more. They are salvation-history. Milligan called these acts of God through history the "Scheme of Redemption." The Germans call it all Heilsgeschichte. We often refer to it as God's "Plan of Salvation." But whatever it is called, it reached its fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and its proclamation is Divine-power to save (Romans 1:16; Gal. 4:14).

But while it is all-powerful to accomplish its purpose, the Gospel has a weakness. And that weakness is precisely its power. For because the power is in the Word (and, of course, ultimately and immediately in the Spirit that gave it) and not in the man who proclaims it, the messenger is it unable to utilize any other power to force men to accept it. In other words, when men reject the Gospel, the "gospelizer" (evangelist) has no alternative than to shake the dust off his feet and go away. He has no other power. The Gospel is God's power.

In the English translation of his book, entitled The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was killed by the Nazis, makes this explanation, to which all today would do well to listen.

The disciples. . . are simply the servants and instruments of the Word; they have no wish to be strong where the Word chooses to be weak. To try and force the Word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living Word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea for which it had no use. . . The same weak Word which is content to endure the gainsaying of sinners is also the mighty Word of mercy which can convert the hearts of sinners.

When one realizes the truth contained in this statement, he is forced to make a decision. On the one hand he is faced with the choice of being a Servant of the Word. That means he shares both its strength and its weakness. He is privileged to see the Gospel at work, to be God's worker, to be a fellow-worker of Paul and the Apostles (1 Cor. 3:9). But he also is limited to the Gospel in his appeal. He must stop where it stops. He can compel only as it compels.

On the other hand he has the alternative of being a professional (or otherwise) propagandist. That means he can resort to any method or use any gimmick to attain results. He might have some results. But any power of God present in such fruit has been illegitimately used. And such fruit, in that condition, will be rejected in the final Crisis.

Honesty demands that those who claim to pursue New Testament Christianity in the 20th century give serious and considerable thought to the nature and purpose of the Gospel of God. Can we do less?

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