Define the Predicament, and You Understand another Facet of the Gospel

The Good News that Conquers Our Predicament, part 1

In my recent posts on the Atonement, I have stated that the single image of Atonement offered by the Reformation and held tightly by those in Calvinist circles (that is, Penal Substitution) is just one single rose in a bouquet of Atonement Stories. I did not seek to denigrate the one rose, but I did intend to say that the Gospel is bigger than the one rose.

That’s the point of this next series of posts. I want to explore the vastness of the answer to this question: What is the Gospel?

I had been trained by my church and even my seminary that the Gospel is Penal Substitution. In my preaching and in my evangelistic interactions with people, the Gospel that I was proclaiming to individuals was this:
  • You have a predicament; you are a sinner.
  • Therefore, you are guilty and condemned before God for your iniquity.
  • You must be punished for breaking God’s holy Law.
  • However, Jesus died on the cross as your substitute, taking the penalty for you.

When you place your faith in this act on the cross, two things occur:

  • Your guilt is removed through Christ’s payment of the penalty (this is called “Expiation”); and
  • God’s wrath toward you is averted (this is called “Propitiation”).

This is the Gospel I have believed and that I have shared with many, many people. This is certainly biblical. God has indeed sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2, 4:10). Jesus’ death vindicates God’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-26). Christ’s blood “blots out” our sins, his sacrifice turns aside God’s anger, and God can now forgive our sins and declare us righteous. God’s verdict of condemnation no longer applies to those who place their faith in Christ (Romans 8:1-2).

But, is that all there is to the Gospel? Isn’t there more? My answer is yes.

It all starts with how we define the predicament in which humanity finds itself. Penal Substitution defines the predicament in legal terms—you are guilty of breaking God’s laws. God demands perfection, and you fall short of the glory of God.

Now, I am not saying this is not how many passages in the Bible define the predicament.

What I am saying is that this is not the only way the Bible defines the predicament.

In the following posts, we will look at other biblical ways to define the predicament.

The Good News that Conquers Our Predicament (An Emerging and Neo-Calvinist Gospel)
Links to the entire series:
1: Define the Predicament, and You Understand another Facet of the Gospel
2: Predicament #1: The Lack of Shalom
3: Evil Bondage in the Place of Shalom
4: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in Paul
6: Another of Humanity’s Predicaments: Broken Relationships
7: The Prophesied Kingdom of God
8: The Kingdom of God Restoring Israel from Exile
9: The Kingdom of God Healing Broken Relationships
10: The Kingdom of God and the Atonement
11: The Kingdom and the Mission of God’s People
12: What is my view of the Kingdom of God?

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Ted Gossard said...


I'm reading your atonement posts and the comments. Look forward to your unfolding of our predicament.

Reading Biddle's book on sin, it came home to me just how important it is for us to understand the scope of the human predicament, if we're to understand the full scope of God's good news in Jesus, to solve it.

Becky said...

Hey Bob: Like Ted, I'm looking forward to this discussion.

If we're dealing with the nature of sin (rather than the nature of the atonement), it makes sense that there would--analogously--be a "bouquet" of ways to understand sin. In particular is the idea that the common understanding of sin has profound personal-moral-volitional dimensions that aren't completely addressed by the penal substitution view.

Excited to see where this is going.

Matt Wolf said...


Let me begin by saying (and I mean this sincerely) if you would rather me not post comments on this blog since I (and apparently Eric Steen) seem to be the only ones who have taken opposing postions on your recent posts, let me know. I say this because I would think this blog is a place for you and those who agree with you to discuss your ideas and muse about them. Not to have nay-sayers constantly providing comments on your posts. Yet, you have left this blog open for comments, and you have engaged me in conversation, so I feel somewhat inclined to keep abreast of what is happening here and sense no resistance on your part. But again, I will refrain if you would like.

In the meantime, I too am looking forward to this series on how you will define or maybe even re-define "the predicament".

As you proceed, I would encourage you to read 1 Timothy and Titus, where Paul, who was always so concerned that the purity of the Gospel would be maintained, encourages Timothy and Titus to do just that--maintain the purity of the Gospel.

Bob Robinson said...

Matt Wolf,

You are very welcome to interact with me and the other commenters at VanguardChurch. It is helpful to me to have people who will "call me out" if I do not say something clear enough or may be contrary to the revelation of Scripture. I just ask that you have an open mind and open Bible, and that you do not predetermine that the comments here are meant to be antagonistic to Christ or His gospel. We are in a thought-exercise, trying to understand the mind of Christ on these very important topics. Please do not patronize me or the others by saying things like "I would encourage you to read 1 Timothy and Titus...maintain the purity of the Gospel." That kind of condescending rhetoric does not help our efforts here.
Thanks! And I look forward to your comments in the future.

Matt Wolf said...

Please understand, I honestly meant no condescension by that comment and am sorry if it was perceived that way. So please accept my apologies.

I obviously feel that your articulation of "the predicament" that you learned at seminary and has been affirmed for these many years is what the Bible affirms (as you also affirm). And that your upcoming posts to "expand" on the definition of the predicament will lead ineveitably to a change in the meaning of the Gospel (although you say it only enhances positivey the meaning of the Gospel). Hence, in my mind, this leads to an undermining of the purity of the Gospel a thing that Paul was often concerned about.