Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gospel issues

On July 3, 2016, Dave Miller posted on SBC Voices a writing titled "Not Everything Is a “Gospel” Issue – But Race Is!" The author apparently became frustrated and removed the post (which is one reason I chose to write here), but it has since reappeared. In the article Miller asserted, "But race, racial reconciliation, and the combating of racism in any form in the church is a gospel issue." The problem was, though, that he did not clearly define what the term "gospel issue" means.* Much of the discussion that followed centered around what a "gospel issue" is rather than the importance of "racial reconciliation and combating racism in any form in the church." Everyone who commented agreed that racial reconciliation is important and that combating racism was a crucial component of Christian theology. But  many did not agree that the terminology "gospel issue" was a useful label for the topic (or much of any topic for that matter).

The terminology "gospel issue" is used frequently on the internet (I don't hear it in regular conversations with church folks, or even with preachers). Though used frequently, it is seldom defined and done so with difficulty when attempted. It is a nebulous buzzword, without a useful acceptable meaning grasped by various sides discussing "gospel issues." Even without definition, though, it is clear that it serves an intended purpose. D. A. Carson points out that "The statement “X is a gospel issue” is simultaneously (a) a truth claim and (b) a polemical assertion attempting to establish relative importance." Even without rising to the level of definition or proof, the claim itself neverthelss establishes a hierarchy of importance and seeks to influence boundaries of Christian fellowship. If "gospel issue" does not imply that the issue is a "make or break" issue that is essential to faith and practice, then it really has no meaning or purpose at all. suggests "a “gospel issue” is one that is essential to a right understanding and practice of the Christian life for those who believe the gospel" and D. A. Carson notes it means to refer to a category of topics "the denial of which clearly affect our understanding of the gospel adversely."

Christians need to either stop making claims "this is a gospel issue" or they need to agree on a definition of what "gospel issue" means. I recommend the former, as the term's chief function is rhetorical and polemic -- designed to lend weight to whatever topic is being discussed.**

* An online search for a definition of “gospel issue” suggests the difficulty of defining it, the problem with using it, and the subjective nature of discussion surrounding it. In the comments section of his post, Dave Miller clarified that a gospel issue is one that is fundamental to the gospel, one that undermines the gospel when means something at the heart of God’s gospel purpose...that which is fundamental to a proper understanding of the gospel. 

** From my online reading of topics classed as gospel issues, I got the impression that a primary purpose of using it is 'for "my cause" to be heard, above the others'.

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