Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Greg Gilbert - What is the Gospel?

Several years ago I was given Greg Gilbert's short book What is the Gospel? as a gift. While this book makes many good affirmations, it is also an example of the sort of self-contradictory assertions made by those in the Neo-Calvinist camp.  

Consider the following statements:
First, if you are not a Christian, thank you for reading this far into the book.  I hope you've taken the opportunity to give some thought to this good news about Jesus, and pray it has gotten deeply into your mind.  For you, I think the "what now?" question is really easy.  There aren't millions of things you ought to do. There is one: repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.  That means recognizing your spiritual bankruptcy, acknowledging your complete inability to save yourself, and coming to Jesus as your only hope of ever being forgiven and right before God. (Gilbert, p.116)
Gilbert page 116 - notice the line to what is said on the very next page.

So in Gilbert's theology:

  • One Thing = Two Things (repent, believe)
  • Two Things = Three Things (recognize, acknowledge, come to Jesus) and thus
  • Three Things = Two Things = One Thing
Any sober reading of Gilbert's statement reveals that his "one thing" that man must do is defined by two things (repentance and faith) and this is further clarified by three things (recognition, understanding, and coming to Jesus). In short, it is a squirrel's nest of logical contradictions. It is indeed puzzling that men who believe you must do three things in order to obtain eternal life insist that there is only one thing you need to do. It is as though they believe there some inherent power in stating that only one thing must be done.

So in Gilbert's gospel either one, two, or three things must be done in order for this person to become a Christian. As we shall see, when Gilbert uses the phrase "becoming a Christian" he is speaking of obtaining the gift of eternal life. Let's read on:
Becoming a Christian is not some laborious process.  There's nothing to earn.  Jesus has already earned everything you need.  What the gospel calls you to do is to turn your heart away from sin and toward Jesus in faith - that is, trust and reliance.  It calls you to come to him and say, "I know I can't save myself, Jesus, so I'm trusting you to do it for me."  And then a whole world opens up before you.  But it all begins with repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus to save you. (Gilbert, p.116)
So from these two statements it is apparent that the saving work of Christ is not a finished work, but a potential work that is offered to all of humanity on the condition of the one thing that man must do, defined by two things, and further clarified as three things.  

But whether one, two, or three things remain to be done to procure man's eternal salvation is irrelevant. If anything remains to be done, then Christ's work is not a finished work.  Moreover if that which must be done is something man must do, then salvation is synergistic and Gilbert is not preaching salvation by sovereign grace as he claims. In light of Gilbert's previous affirmations, it seems incredible that on the very next page he goes on to say:
The gospel tells me that my righteous standing before God is not grounded in checking off some spiritual bingo card. (Gilbert, p.117)
Gilbert's quote on page 117.
If the acquisition of eternal life is in any way tied to doing the one-two-three thing that Gilbert's gospel demands, then salvation most certainly is grounded in checking off some spiritual bingo card - the card of belief, recognition, acknowledgement, repentance, and coming to Christ.  

So, brother Gilbert, which is it?  Is eternal salvation about doing the list of things stated on page 116, or is it not about doing a list of things as stated on page 117?  One thing is certain, it cannot be both.


We would have you know that the gospel is a proclamation (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18) of the finished work of Christ (John 19:30) on behalf of his people (Matthew 1:21).  It is not an offer of eternal salvation to all of humanity conditioned upon repentance and faith, but a declaration to the elect that their warfare is accomplished (Isaiah 40:2). It is accompanied by the assurance that those who believe this declaration are of his sheep (John 10:27-28), and an admonition to walk in obedient discipleship and thereby save themselves from this untoward generation (Acts 2:40).


  1. Thanks for your v. good videos (of audio blog insights).
    Two typos in your rehearsal of G.G.:
    @ 0:23, there is "...acknowledging your complete to save yourself..."
    @ 3:05, there is "The Gospel tells me (the Christian, teth)..."
    These are minor, but I thought you'd want to know.
    Keep up the good work!
    Robert Cook is posting your audio blogs at Facebook to everyone's edification.
    Yours in Christ,
    Hugh McCann

    1. Brother Hugh,

      Thanks for your kind words of support regarding this blog post and video. I particularly appreciate your words of correction. Rest assured that as a result of your feedback we have already taken steps to correct these mistakes in the blog and the video which you correctly pointed out. I have requested that an extensive post-mortem, root cause analysis be run in an all-hands-on-deck meeting of the entire executive staff via closed-circuit video conference simulcast to all of our US and international locations. As the result of a similar error which occurred last year, an independent audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers revealed that "a lack of staffing may have attributed to the error" and included the recommendation that we double the size of our staff by terminating all board members whose only credentials were having once been Galilean fishermen, and replacing them with those who had received formal seminary training.

      This proposal was soundly rejected.

      God bless and thanks for the encouragement and contribution to the cause of truth. :)

    2. Dear mysterious "teth,"

      Very good. Glad to read you're cutting fat, dead wood, etc. Nothing like appointing a committee to look into the matter to get it all sorted out ASAP!

  2. Oops, saw on your piece on the SBC gospel that "teth" is your acronym for TheEarsToHear! :)

    Are you anonymous, or may we know your identity?


  3. I'm confused. If repentance and faith is not necessary for salvation, then why did Jesus and the apostles preach, "Repent and believe for the kingdom of God has come."?

    1. TETH ANSWER 101

      First off, thanks for taking a moment to interact with my blog. My thoughts follow:

      ANON: I'm confused. If repentance and faith is not necessary for salvation, then why did Jesus and the apostles preach, "Repent and believe for the kingdom of God has come."?

      TETH: I'd like to make several observations regarding this question:

      1. The first thing we should recognize is that eternal salvation comes to those who are said to be "dead in trespasses and in sins." (Ephesians 2:1) This describes someone who is in an abject state of depravity (Romans 3:10-18), devoid of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God (Romans 8:9), and therefore devoid of the fruits thereof such as faith (Galatians 5:22). So from the biblical fact of total depravity alone we have eliminated the possibility that such a man could meet the conditions of faith or repentance in order to obtain eternal salvation. This is an unavoidable corollary of total depravity that is either completely ignored or woefully mishandled by a great many Christians who are in the "sovereign grace" camp today. It has huge ramifications on gospel mechanics and I believe we do well to enter into those ramifications if we are to have a proper view of the role of repentance and faith in the life of a child of God. 

      2. The second thing is a ramification of the first observation, namely that no man exercises sincere belief or repentance with respect to the things of the Spirit of God unless he is ALREADY in possession of eternal life because apart from preceding monergistic regeneration on his behalf he would not have faith at all and as such would be incapable of seeing (spiritually) the truth of the Kingdom of God heralded in the gospel message (John 3:3). So it has been well said that men repent and believe not in order to obtain eternal life but because they already have it. (John 5:24, I John 5:1) Stated another way, repentance and faith are not prerequisites to obtaining the eternally saving grace of God, but rather are the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), namely the election, redemption, and regeneration that preceded such actions. These are the proper motions of the new creature under gospel instruction, not the conditions placed upon unregenerate men for obtaining eternal salvation.

      3. The third thing is that pointing out that repentance and faith do not serve the purpose of acquiring eternal salvation does not prove that they therefore serve no purpose whatsoever. Repentance and faith serve many purposes in the life of discipleship for a child of God, it’s just that no man can exercise such spirit enabled things until he is ALREADY in possession of eternal life by regeneration, and ALREADY has the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, apart from which he would regard all such spiritual truth as foolishness (I Corinthians 2:14). For more on this topic I would recommend you watch my short video entitled The Gospel and The New Birth.

    2. TETH ANSWER 102

      4. Finally, I believe it is important to point out how the term “salvation” has a broad range of meaning in the bible. Many Christians unnecessarily rush to the conclusion that the term “salvation” always has reference to “eternal salvation” or “the impartation of eternal life” when it is employed. Close examination of the context of “salvation” passages reveals that this approach to interpreting that word is shortsighted and ultimately leads to statements that contradict the fundamentals of salvation by sovereign grace. I’ll give you two examples of what I mean by that:

      a. Repentance is undeniably a faith-enabled act of righteousness that is actually done by man with assistance from the Spirit of God. Stated another way, sincere repentance requires faith and unregenerate men don’t have faith, therefore unregenerate men cannot repent. What’s more since repentance is a synergistic act of righteousness it is explicitly excluded from having any participatory involvement from the work whereby a man is eternally saved. Paul said that we’re saved, “not by works of righteousness done by us” and “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and “not according to our works” (II Timothy 1:9). Repentance is excluded from how one acquires regeneration because regeneration is the impartation of eternal life and if the work of righteousness called repentance is a prerequisite to obtaining regeneration the salvation is indisputably by works.

      b. One of the more clear examples of where “save” does NOT mean “eternal salvation” is found in Paul’s epistle to Timothy. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (I Timothy 4:16) Paul was speaking to the ordained Elder Timothy, a man who was already regenerate and in possession of eternal life. It follows that Paul must have some OTHER sense of being “saved” in view when he tells Timothy that he can “save” himself and his congregation if they take heed unto the doctrine he was sent to preach. This is what we refer to as temporal or time salvation (Conditional Time Salvation), the deliverance (salvation) that a disciple of Christ can experience in this lifetime as a result of his diligent obedience to the precepts of Christ. It is salvation from this untoward generation (Acts 2:40) and the degree to which God’s people avail themselves of this temporal salvation is dependent upon the degree of gospel instruction they have encountered and how much of it they have been diligent to put into practice. When one compares the lives of Daniel to that of Lot is is very evident that there is a great variance in the lives lived by the saints of God. Daniel was a nearly perfect man as nothing bad is ever said of him. Lot was a man who pitched his tent toward Sodom and his life fell into utter ruin as a result. Both men were eternally saved by the work of Christ and are in heaven with God today; but their temporal lives were very different. Daniel was diligent to follow God and serve him; Lot had a very relaxed attitude toward serving God and his life fell into a state of temporal destruction as a result of the chastening rod of God in his life (Hebrews 12:6). 

      TETH: So in summary, the gospel most certainly is accompanied by a command to repent and believe but we should recognize that the well-founded doctrine of total depravity insists that is only the new man (the born again man) who could ever repent or believe. These things are ex post facto evidences of eternally saving grace already imparted to a man - fruits of his regenerate state - not the prerequisites for a man who is dead in trespasses and sins to acquire eternal salvation. That explanation is absolutely vital to a proper understanding of gospel mechanics as well as the role of repentance and faith in the life of a child of God. 

      May God bless our studies and understanding of his word, 


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