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Turn or burn: The gospel at gunpoint?

We had dinner with the couple who oversee us as home group leaders in our church at the weekend. Good food with good conversation about our journey's with our God.
Each of our conversions to Christ centred not on fleeing hell but on embracing Christ, two via childrens evangelists, mine via Cranmer's liturgy. We came to believe because of Christ. Christ who led us to faith. Christ who convicted our hearts. It was Christ. And it is. .

Got me thinking about my evangelism. What do I speak about?

And then Bobby Grow cited Karl Barth's observation on Billy Graham's evangelism. Whether the observation is valid about Graham isn't my concern. I don't want to attack Graham or defend Barth, or vice-versa here. It simply makes me ask about my own preaching. Quote:"It was the gospel at gun-point . . . He preached the law, not a message to make one happy. He wanted to terrify people."

Sometimes, I get the feeling I might see a bit more immediate fruit if I preached a "gospel at gun-point". Now, of course we preach for a response, and final judgement certainly seemed to be a factor in the appeal made in the book of Acts, but even then it was their extolling of Jesus and the Resurrection that seems to dominate Luke's sermon summaries. There is urgency. There is wrath to come, and today. There is much to say about sin too. And there is terror outside of Christ. Yet, that terror is not because our God is not a God of love, but because he is so full of love, the Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, and for his Bride, and the Spirit for all of the above etc. The love of God compels us to invite people to Christ.

I supppose it might come down to what's the aim. We don't preach to make people feel bad about themselves, though I know I have done that. And we surely don't just preach to try handle objections, though we do that. And we cannot preach to send people to hell. Jesus' hardest words were for the hard hearted Pharisees and yet even then (say in Luke 15-16) he was still pointing them to the Father's invitation to the party, and to the testimony of the Scriptures that they might turn and receive Christ.

Interview with Mark Driscoll: Spirit filled leading from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Mark Driscoll asked Terry Virgo: Do you like God? - if the answer is no, we have some serious problems. And yet as Rob Bell observes, many fear the god lurking behind Jesus.  I imagine many who call themselves Christians would falter on that, and certainly many who wouldn't call themselves Christians do say it's because they don't like him. Mike Reeves says::
 "...again and again when talking with non-Christian students I find that their description of the God they don't believe in sounds more like Satan - greedy, selfish, trigger-happy and entirely devoid of love - than the loving Father of Jesus Christ. We need to make the living God known as who he is: the Father of Lights, the fountain of all love and blessing, the one for whom holiness and wrath are not 'nasty sides' but his beautiful commitment to goodness" (Quoted in NB Magazine, Who is God? by Pod Bhogal March 2011)
If we speak of Jesus, and of his loving Father's view of him surely we can't but love him. My colleague Chris Oldfield says:
"The Father loves the son, not arbitrarily, but just look at him! See why the Father loves him - there's no darkness, no conspiracy in him at all; and he's so secure in his Father's love that he'll go to a cross for him. He'll empty himself for him. What a son."
Whatever the setting, whether in answering hard questions or expounding a text, I want to say, with much persuasion and much passion. No gun points, just a humbled beggar pointing, saying: Just look at him.


  1. Dave,

    Good idea with the "just look at him" though I wonder if even then it'd be difficult to avoid the "gun points" because of how the revelation of the Trinity in the Gospels also contains warnings, exhortations, pleas, etc. One thinks of passages like:

    Matthew 6:9
    Matthew 6:14-15
    Matthew 17:5
    Matthew 18:35 and so on

    So I wonder if a better tag line would be:
    Look at him and it will be well,
    turn away and it will be hell


  2. Catchy lines Kip.

    I guess the key in what I'm saying is, when he says those things: look at him. Don't take those sayings and depersonalise them, and don't put them into the mouth of someone else.
    It makes a lot of difference that it's him who teaches the passages you quote!
    (nice selection btw)

  3. "If I could only make men understand the real meaning of the words of the apostle John–”God is love,” I would take that single text, and would go up and down the world proclaiming this glorious truth. If you can convince a man that you love him you have won his heart. If we really make people believe that God loves them, how we should find them crowding into the
    kingdom of heaven! The trouble is that men think God hates them; and so they are all the time running away from Him." (DL Moody)

    ht: Chris Oldfield from

  4. It makes a huge difference that it is the Son who warns us of the wrath we are by nature objects of. He has taken the fullness of it, he knows just how terrible it is. Perhaps that's why his warnings are so urgent! Strikes me the challenge for us is to always be pointing to his warnings, not standing in his place and warning people, which is surely what makes us look judgmental, after all, the Son who warns us is also the judge!

  5. A lot of evangelism seems to adopt the methodology that someone has to realise they have broken God's Law before they can realise their state and then hear and respond to the good news.

    If that is our fundamental evangelistic methodology, then the good bit will unfailingly be preceded by something that sounds like gunpoint. The gospel as get out of Hell free card, rather than the gospel as receive forgiveness, reconciliation and adoption and enjoy God and his delight forever.

    The question is: is the methodology right or not? Do we need to adduce Law in order to have properly presented a non-watered down gospel? I know lots of people who think it is and lots who think it isn't. What do you think, Dave?

  6. Not persuaded we need to use law first - I'd have thought Christ himself is good for conviction of sin, if that's what we're after. Better to draw people to the goodness and loveliness of Jesus.

    The bad news good news approach is strange.

  7. Hi Marcus,

    This is another Dave rudely butting in with a few thoughts, for you and for Dave, as I've been ruminating for a few days. Anyway... for your consideration:

    Isn't part of what makes God's law 'good' the fact that it helps us to know our 'state' as you say?

    How can you receive forgiveness if you don't realise you have done wrong?
    How can you receive reconciliation if you don't realise you are alienated?
    How can you receive adoption if you think you are have a good enough father?

    The law of course is most clearly expressed not in a legal code (although it is expressed there), but in the person of Jesus Christ who not only kept it but fulfilled it.

    Besides, the law is a important part of God's revelation to us. Unless we chuck it out as God's word to someone else, rather than pesonally addressed to us, then we have to find a place for it. It can either preceed the presentation of the Gospel as the word of death we are resurrected from, or come later as a sting in the tail. I know which I'd prefer.

    And if we think we can chuck it out we end up with knowledge of God, but no knowledge of man (ala Calvin). If we have a Phd in self-knowledge that will get us nowhere, but with no self-knowledge (given by God) the Christian faith looses touch with reality. We may teach pure words of comfort, but not words of comfort for us.

  8. Sorry, "If we have a Phd in self-knowledge that will get us nowhere," should read "If we have a Phd in self-knowledge that will get us nowhere [on its own],"

    .. also interesting language going about. I suppose some people mean by 'law' simply the books of Moses, or simply commands, but I think you do need to think much broader and found supremely in Christ himself as Dave says (ala Forsyth). But in Christ (in himself, rather than for us) all his loveliness and goodness only condemns us (just as the lovely and good Mosaic law does). The difference isn't in the person of Christ alone, but in what he is doing.

    Also, while some do use law/Gospel as a crude methodolgy (Way of the Master etc), 'methodology' is a loaded term which could be applied to everyone to some degree. Perhaps they see themselves as just faithfully preaching.

  9. Me again.

    I had a thought while praying this morning. I was praying for a relative who I worry is not having a great time at the moment. I prayed that this experience would bring him to the end of himself and God would use it to make him realise his emptiness and need for God.

    As I prayed my mind went to this post and I thought to myself "is this praying for him to believe the gospel at gunpoint?" Was that a bad thing to pray? And if it is not a bad thing to pray, is it a bad thing to preach?

    Perhaps you could phrase it as "the gospel at gunpoint". I think it is fairer to say that I was praying that God would show him his true 'state' at this time when false comforts are not so accessible as usual, but that God would not leave him with the 'bad news' but bring him to the 'good news' of Jesus for him.

    I could have just prayed for the 'good news', but then I feel I would be denying his present experience and the connection between his present experience and the Gospel. God is doing the work of the law in his life at this time, I can't criticise God for that, but I can pray that he would complete that work and move on to doing the work of the Gospel.

    ...I don't know, this is a bit of an early morning comment so may not seem to make much sense later in the day. But do you see the connections?

  10. I think the way we must present sin is as bondage and slavery, not rule breaking, or else with the person of Christ, as adultery; as sickening, revolting betrayal of him, our bridegroom. Not disobedience, but faithlessness.

    Also seeing the gospel as it is: the one story that every heart needs, that we tell not only when we 'do evangelism', but with everything we do (evangelism is central to everything, not just our top priority).

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  11. Hi James,

    Passionately agree with your second para, but why the dichotomy in the first para? Why isn't sin BOTH slavery AND rule-breaking, disobedience AND faithlessness. The Bible presents it in all those ways, so how can we do differently? Reductionistic presentations of sin as simply rule-breaking must be rejected, but we must not commit the same mistake in another direction by reducing the descriptions to any one other model either.

  12. I suppose on sin I'd be inclined to say it's a heart problem leading to external issues which include rule-breaking but also extend to rule-keeping and a whole host of other things.

  13. Yes, good point Dave. I guess 'model' is the wrong word and 'fruit' is better. Just after I wrote that I thought about how unfaith is the root of it all. We don't believe God's promises of his goodness towards us... SO we break rules, we are enslaved, we run after other gods, etc.

  14. A lot of thought-provoking stuff from Dave K. More than I have time to respond to. I have one more question: where does the NT use OT Law breaking evangelistically as a means to highlight to Gentiles (who aren't under it) their state before God?

  15. Hi Marcus,

    First off, I guess we have to understand 'law' in the systematic sense, and not be too dispensationalist about it. In that sense there was the 'Gospel', even the New Covenant, in the OT too; and there is 'law' in the AD era too. As Melanchthon says, 'law' and 'Gospel' are not bound into parts of the Bible or ethnic groups:

    The whole of Scripture is in some parts law, in others gospel. The books of Moses in some sections propound the law, in others the gospel, and moreover the gospel is concealed in the very law itself. For what can you find more evangelical than that promise which the Spirit of God added as the etiology of the First Commandment: "Showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Deut. 5:10)? And see how suddenly Moses is transformed from lawgiver to evangelist, that is, a herald of grace and mercy, when he says in Ex. 34:6 f.: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast lover and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty." Try to find a more evangelical passage in the whole New Testament [...]

    In like manner, Christ expounds law, for grace cannot be preached without law. [...]

    Often, to be sure, Christ also preaches law, because without law sin cannot be recognized and unless we experience sin, we shall not understand the power and fullness of grace. Therefore, both law and gospel ought to be preached at the same time, and both sin and grace ought to be made clear.

    (pp. 73-77, 'Loci Communes' (1521) in LCC: Melanchthon and Bucer)"

    But with that long quote out of the way, I think the answer to your question about use of the OT law evangelistically with gentiles is that they never do directly. I also think it would usually be a mistake to lead with the OT law in evangelistic preaching today.

    I think you could argue that the Letter to the Romans uses the Jews as a case study of what happens when God comes close to a sinful people, and that in Romans Paul shows the Mosaic law also served the purpose of being an intensification and clarification of the obligation on us all to believe, love and obey our creator.

    However, seeing the law in the systematic theology sense, you can see it in Acts 17. In fact, I think you could argue that Paul in Acts 17 only does 'law' preaching because he is stopped before he preaches the Gospel. He only preaches God as creator and Christ as judge, but is stopped before he can preach the love of God in becoming both creature and judged in our place to bring us to himself.

    A great bit of evangelistic preaching is Acts 26 where Paul uses himself as an example and encourages Agrippa to see himself as like he was. He gives his testimony as a terrible sinner in persecuting the church, but then tells how he became a recipient of pure grace when he is forgiven. That then is 'law' and 'Gospel' preaching, because it is one and then the other fulfilling it.

  16. BTW, I'm sorry for hijacking your comments Dave

  17. Dave K. No problem.

    I suppose my real question isn't so much law or gospel, as "do we really need to scare people into believing?" - Just because it looks a bit like Romans 1-3 talks a bit about sin does that really mean we have to lead with that, Romans is hardly an evangelistic tract... do we really have to do "bad news, good news", and can't we just do "good news"... Is it really scare you with hell and how sinful you are... or could it be, win you with how lovely Jesus is?

  18. Dave K

    thanks for that. I just penned a lengthy reply and the computer has lost it. Grr. (Probably for the best. I suspect we are off-topic here. Sorry Bish, I will stop with this one!)

    My difficulty with your answer is that you state "I guess we have to understand 'law' in the systematic sense" with no textual warrant. Why do we? The texts you do quote are in the light of having already assumed a NT continuing-law systematic category, and then presuming that they speak from that perspective.

    Granted we all have some systematic that drives our approach to the text, and you are good enough to be clear about yours. But given the strong nature of, eg. Gal 3 teaching that the Law was given until Christ came and fulfilled it, you need to have a strongly text-driven and exegetical (not historical systematic-driven) proof that the NT has a clear doctrine of law.

  19. @Bish, I think that's it: Jesus' loveliness. In Song of Songs she doesn't scare the others into going searching for her beloved, simply her description of him moves them to want to.

  20. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for your graciousness. I don't think the two questions are unrelated, although there is a difference (see the last para of Melanchthon). I don't think you can, never mind, should scare people into believing. As Piper says in that quote I mentioned ages ago, a 'faith' produced by fear rather than a changed heart is a false faith. Nevertheless, I think the Bible seems clear that fear has a role to play... the difficult question is how. I would say that we should scare people out of believing false promises about ourselves and others (by showing how things don't satisfy now, and given death and hell, will not satisfy in the future). But as well as clearing the ground in that way then telling of the greater and more beautiful promises of the Gospel. As Paul says we need to do the negative work of tearing down, as well as the positive work of building.... as in fact Jesus will do when he comes again.

    While Romans may not be an evangelistic tract, I think both Christians and non-Christians need to hear the same thing - the same Gospel.

    Finally, with your final question I think it must be both. HOWEVER, I'm aware that both can be done bad. We can teach a false medieval view of hell, and we can teach a lovely Jesus who is really a vending machine. We have to be careful to be Biblical and culturally aware in our presentation of both.

    Incidentally, if you ever met me I fear you'd think I'm a bit of a hypocrite because I do tend to major on the loveliness of the Gospel... and I think that is right to some degree because you only need to say a sentence about hell in our context and that stands out in bold in the minds of all the hearers but you need to hammer and hammer that the Gospel is good because people are so innoculated by adverts, past church experiences, etc that they just don't hear it.

  21. I'm sorry you lost your reply Marcus. It's happened to me many a time.

    Good question. I think I said "we have to understand 'law' in the systematic sense", not as a general principle, but in the context of this post where we are talking about the practice of warnings and promises. If we were talking about the Biblical studies of words, or Biblical theology, then we obviously should be thinking about what the NT means by law.

    However, I the two domains of language are connected because the Mosaic law has as its major theme command (law), and NT gospel has as its major theme promise (gospel). There is a Luther quote somewhere, but I'd have to dig it out.

    I think that there is textual warrant in Galatians and elsewhere for seeing the key time periods not as BC/AD (i.e. OT/NT) but Old Creation/New Creation. The Law was given until New Creation in Christ! So, as we are caught in the overlap of the ages the law speaks to the old creation in sin, and Gospel creates and speaks of the New Creation in righteousness.

    My church is preaching through 1 Tim at the moment. It is striking who Paul says the law is for in chapter 1:

    "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."

    He doesn't seem to see it as only of relevance to the Jews, although it is primarily for them, or only for the BC era, although it was particularly prominant there. Instead it is dependant on whether you are in Christ a New Creation or not.

    Later in the same chapter Paul says that he is a sinner (present tense), although in other places he would say that he was a sinner (past tense). This mirrors the already/not-yet of the Old Creation/New Creation.

    As the law is for 'sinners' and even Paul is a 'sinner' in his old self, then the law has a continuing role in revealing and warning us of the danger of sin in us. However, for Christians our old self is OLD, and we should be seeking to live out of our new identity, where there is no law and we can live freely.

    I think we misread Paul in Gal 3 if we read time as simply linear instead of seeing that the future, which still hasn't fully happened, has broken into the past in the person of Jesus Christ and is now breaking into our lives too. Then if we see that the law does not belong to the future but to the past, we have to stop to think all the time: is this person in the past or the future? Where am I living in the past and where am I living in the future?

    Sorry, this is far too long a comment. And I swore at the beginning that I was going to be short!

    Incidentally, I should say pass on that one of my great friends here in York found Finding Joy a great encouragement and help several years ago. So thanks for writing that!

  22. James, how about Hosea 2 though:

    "Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—
    that she put away her whoring from her face,
    and her adultery from between her breasts...
    Now I will uncover her lewdness...
    I will put an end to all her mirth...
    I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals...
    THEREFORE, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her...
    “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ ...I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy."

    Would Israel have become Christ's wife again without the trip to the wilderness?

  23. Indeed! Good point well made. Is this another of those 'both/and' situations?

  24. The wilderness is Exodus revisited and hardship isn't it? There is punishment but it is "I will punish... therefore I will allure". So even in judgement he's out to seduce us back to relationship... which is going to cost him his life, to betroth us to him.

  25. Definitely both/and, but, as Dave says, with a definite primacy of emphasis and of purpose being the relationship and not the judgement.

    Question is where we meet Christ initially. Is it in the glory and the sunny times, or is it outside the camp in a man identifying with us in his own exodus (Luke 9:31) where he too his fearful of punishment and experiencing it too. It is both, but we know him in his cross and therefore we know him in his resurrection (no shortcut - Phil 3:10). We enter into and indwell Christ's story by his Spirit.

  26. ... and thinking over Hosea 2: by entering Christ's story we enter Israel's story too.


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