At the conclusion of my last post about the triperspectival framework, I mentioned the role of gospel “forms” in the diagram I created to explain gospel-centered spiritual formation. Before I jump into the perspectives individually, I want to explain what I mean by gospel forms and how those forms overlap to give greater gospel focus to spiritual disciplines through the triperspectival framework.
Tim Keller and Gospel “Forms”
One of the most significant articles Tim Keller has written on the gospel can be found at Christianity Today, entitled “The Gospel in All Its Forms“. In this article, Keller borrows from Simon Gathercole’s chapter in God’s Power to Save to explain the various “forms” of the gospel. Contrary to liberal theologians, Keller says there is not multiple gospels, but one gospel expressed in different forms.
For instance, when Jesus speaks of the gospel in the Synoptic Gospels, kingdom language is employed (“gospel of the kingdom”). In this case, the gospel speaks to the inauguration of Christ’s reign as King, and the focus is more communal and social. When the Apostle John writes about the Gospel, there is no mention of kingdom language but rather “receiving eternal life,” and the focus is more individual and personal. When you get the writings of Paul, you hear little emphasis on “kingdom” or “eternal life” but instead the focus is on “justification by faith“. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul are all talking about one message, but that message is expressed in different forms. Through an analysis of these forms, what you find is that the gospel can be expressed as story-arc focused (creation, fall, redemption, restoration) as well as content-driven (God, man, sin, Christ). Not to be left out, Keller stresses the eschatological implications of the gospel with the in breaking of God’s kingdom and renewal of all things.
Tim Keller and Gospel “Perspectives”
Another important contribution of Keller is a Vision Paper for Redeemer Presbyterian Church called “The Gospel: Key to Change“. In it, he argues three points: (1) the gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance, (2) the gospel is the good news of changed lives, and (3) the gospel is the good news of the new world coming. What you will find in the quote below is Keller’s triperspectival summary of gospel change. Keller writes:
“All of the above (points) are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary and social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent to one another. . . . The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering the radical grace of God” (emphasis original).
Now, let me lay out the diagram again (look at the blue rectangular boxes especially). . .
What you see in Keller’s quote is how he argues the gospel is normative (doctrinal), existential (personal), and situational (social). He shows how the doctrinal content engages our head with truth, the personal experience of the gospel engages our hearts with affections, and the social dynamic of the gospel engages our hands as our world is changed. As Frame and Poythress each emphasized, the three ‘perspectives’ (tri-perspectivalism) are not exclusive but inclusive and interdependent upon one another.
Applying Gospel Forms and Perspectives to Spiritual Formation
When disciples are being made, they need to understand the whole gospel for their whole life to impact the whole world for Christ. I want them to know the content/nature of the gospel. But that is not enough. They need to experience it and find their identity in Christ personally. They also need to understand the implications and application of the gospel for all of life. In my paradigm of gospel-centered spiritual formation, here is how I break it down:
Message of the Gospel: stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel so that we can have a correct understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done (text/normative)
Story of the Gospel: stresses the experience/realization of the gospel so that we can have our affections moved and captured by who Jesus is and what He has done (subtext/existential)
Gospel of the Kingdom: stresses the implication/application of the gospel in the world so that we can have our world brought under the reign and rule of who Jesus is and what He has done (context/situational)
When the message of the gospel gives us right understanding, our minds are renewed through the glorious truths of Scripture. When the story of the gospel gives us right affections, the story of our life is rewritten by the story of the gospel, redeeming and renewing our hearts. When the gospel of the kingdom is applied to our lives, we walk in repentance and faith so that the kingdoms of our world become the kingdom of our God.
I find it imperative that we “see” each of these “perspectives” and “forms” regularly if we are going to have properly formed, gospel-centered disciples. Christians who know, experience, and apply the gospel to their lives will display the infinite treasure that Jesus really is. At the end of the day, that’s what we want. People who love Jesus, speak well of Jesus, and live in the joy of knowing that His kingdom is coming on earth, in their lives, as it is in heaven.