So is the Bible inaccurate about the Gospel? Horton Takes Manhattan I

The Manhattan Declaration, released November 20, 2009, firmly yet winsomely takes the stand in defense of truths that are increasingly undermined in contemporary Western societies, including our own. Drafted by Princeton law professor Robert George and evangelical leaders Chuck Colson and Timothy George, this declaration focuses on three issues: (1) the inherent dignity and rights of each human life (including the unborn) by virtue of being created in God’s image; (2) the integrity of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and (3) religious liberty, also anchored in the image of God.

There is a lot of wisdom in this document. For one, it does not breathe the vitriol that is often too common on the religious right and left. In this declaration one will find more light than heat, yet a sense of personal concern for the humaneness of the common culture, even for those who are pursuing antithetical agendas. May this more thoughtful approach to public engagement become more characteristic!

The framers wisely appeal to natural law as well as to Scripture and its revealed doctrines. After all, these three issues are grounded in creation. They are deliverances of the law that God inscribed on every human conscience, not of the gospel that God announced beforehand through his prophets and fulfilled in his incarnate Son’s life, death, and resurrection.

However, it is just for that reason that I stumbled over a few references to the gospel in this declaration. It took me back to the old days of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” when I joined others in raising concerns with Chuck Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, J. I. Packer, and others that this 1996 document announced agreement on the gospel while recognizing remaining disagreement over justification, merit, and the like. Many true and wonderful things were affirmed in that ECT document, but the gospel without “justification through faith alone apart from works” is, as I said then, like chocolate chip cookies without the chips.

This declaration continues this tendency to define “the gospel” as something other than the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits.

(Emphasis added)

Read the rest at A Review of the Manhattan Declaration » White Horse Inn Blog.

Yes this is a completely Biblical idea that fits all the data.

Consider the first four books of the New Testament (referred to as “Gospels” by non-Protestants):

Matthew 4.24:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the kingdom’s specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

Matthew 24.14:

And this specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits, which belongs to the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 26.13:

Truly, I say to you, wherever this specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.

Or consider the heading of the Book of Mark (Chapter 1, verse 1):

The beginning of the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1.14, 15:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming God’s specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits.”

Luke 9.6:

And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits and healing everywhere.

Luke 20.1:

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up…

Acts 8.25:

Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits to many villages of the Samaritans.

Acts 15.7:

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits and believe.

What did Paul say the Gospel was?

Romans 1.1-4:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures) about the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits.

Romans 2.15, 16:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 15.1-12:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits is proclaimed, how can some of you say that there is no forgiveness of sins or righteousness solely by Christ’s merits?

Galatians 3.8:

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits beforehand to Abraham, saying, “your sins are forgiven and you are declared righteous solely by Christ’s merits.”

What about Peter?

First Peter 4.17:

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey God’s specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits?

What about John or Jesus?

Revelation 14.6, 7:

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

OK, I’m not trying to deny a content difference between how the disciples preached the Gospel when Jesus sent them out during his earthly ministry, and how it was preached by the Twelve after Pentecost and how it is preached by Paul.  But if Horton’s definition is true, then the Gospel was simply a description of atonement theory and a claim that that transaction was about to be/had been fulfilled in Jesus.  It is about propitiation and anything more compromises the Gospel.

A preview of future posts in this series.

Horton is completely wrong in his definition of the Gospel.  When Jesus preached the Gospel he did not preach the precise message that Horton says that he was supposed to.  When the Apostles preached the Gospel, Luke does us the favor in Acts of telling us what they preached and it does not conform to Horton’s “specific announcement.”  When Paul describes the believing response to the Gospel and the specific mental content it entails, he does not specify the reception of any such specific message.

It is not just that Horton is wrong, it is that the content of the Manhattan Document is exactly right to appeal to the Gospel as the Church’s commission to proclaim the justice of Jesus.  Jesus is Lord and he has assumed enforcement and arbitration of every violation of those ethical mandates “grounded in creation.”  Every violation will be brought before Jesus whom, according to the one and only Gospel, has been given authority as the raised and ascended Lord to Judge.

Horton’s ideas are not as dangerous as Tetzel’s sales pitch, because what he believes is true.  But what he teaches is every bit as Biblically illiterate and twisting of Scripture.  And the fact that professed Bible-believers cling to these false and groundless claims is as intellectually superstitious as any monk approaching a vial of Mary’s alleged breast milk on his knees.

We need to outgrow this and be willing to accept the Bible as written.  Stay tuned.

12 thoughts on “So is the Bible inaccurate about the Gospel? Horton Takes Manhattan I

  1. Paul Baxter

    I guess he didn’t have time to worry about the fact that neither “dignity” nor “rights” are biblical concepts. Nor is “religious liberty” in the sense that most Americans use the term.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Old Life Theological Society » Blog Archive » “Horton is completely wrong in his definition of the Gospel”

  3. tim prussic

    For the past few years, I’ve been fond of defining the gospel as “the declaration of the person and work of Jesus Christ.” I now see that such a definition is too vague, as just about anyone could use it. Horton’s definition has the advantage of getting at the fundamental soteriological import of the gospel. For the life, death, resurrection and enthronement of Christ are all comprehended in the fact that forgiveness of sins is in Christ. Similarly, his life, death, resurrection and enthronement are all found in the fact that righteousness is found only in his merits. In other words, you’re quite harsh on Horton. He’s put a pretty fine point on it, and like all fine points, it’s difficult to comprehend the whole, but I think it Horton’s definition covers the bases while not losing the definitive soterioloigcal power.
    -Tim

    Reply
  4. mark Post author

    Seems to me the fact that preaching Christ and preaching the Gospel are used virtually interchangeably in very close proximity by Paul would be a reason to prefer your first definition Tim. And I doubt error can be prevented at the level of glossary-type formulations.

    If the Bible is the Word of God, then Horton misses a boatload of bases.

    I have a different view than you as who is too harsh with whom. But I don’t think I need to defend myself on that issue.

    Reply
  5. Ken

    “When we confuse the law and the gospel, there is inevitably a confusion of Christ and culture”…..

    Horton is very confusing here! He has effectively made the Christian life a dichotomy and it fills his entire theology! Probably worse than evangelicals do when they personalize the Christian faith.

    Coughs…no Mike when we confuse law and the gospel we end up in GALATIONS and the body suffers with a different gospel!

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Mark Horne » Blog Archive » Realizing I’ve heard that before: Horton Takes Manhattan 1.5

  7. Pingback: Mark Horne » Blog Archive » The Gospel in the Gospels: Horton Takes Manhattan II

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