Herman Ridderbos in his book When the Time Had Fully Come explains how the gospel is more than just that which is concerned with man’s stake in it through justification, but is in its fullness rooted in the historical and factual reality of the incarnate Christ who lived, died, rose again, ascended, and poured out the Spirit. The warning that Ridderbos issues accords with warnings I have seen in more recent years by the likes of Scot McKnight, Darrell Bock, and others that we must not preach a “truncated gospel” that only is concerned with justification but rather that we should preach the gospel that proclaims the whole historical story of the good news that Jesus came to bring. Indeed, rejoice in the provision and work of justification, but remember the king and recount all of the works which he accomplished.
(Emphasis below in bold is my own.)
If asked what the functioning of this wider approach to the Pauline kerygma could mean with respect to preaching in our day, I would reply: It can be a mighty support for us in the present crisis of certitudes. In Reformation times, too, a life and death struggle was carried on, with the ultimate certainties of the Church at stake. Today that crisis is perhaps even deeper and more fundamental. Then the question was whether man shall be justified by faith or by works. It was then that the Pauline kerygma of the justification by faith saved the Church. Now the issue is whether man in general has any need of justification at all. The question is presented whether truth and certainty can be found anywhere except in the true existence of man himself, and whether truth is not simply subjectivity and no more. Thus the whole history of salvation is thrown into the crisis. It is more than mere accident that in our time the battle about the existentialist interpretation of the gospel overlaps for the greater part that of the demythologizing of the facts of salvation. Put in a simple way, the issue is whether this history of salvation is something more than what takes place in man himself. And this issue concerns not only theologians and philosophers. With ever increasing force it is required that the preaching of Christ should make clear to man how he is existentially concerned in the gospel. And the criticism of preaching is largely bound up with this, although most people may never have heard of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, or Bultmann.
Now this demand that preaching should bring home to man his being concerned in the gospel, is a decidedly legitimate one. But it is also a dangerous one. For great is the temptation for the preacher to approach this involvement of man and gospel not from the gospel but from man. When the approach is made from man, then it is no more the analysis of the history of redemption in Jesus Christ which reveals the real existence of man, but it is the analysis of man in his actual situation which serves as the criterion for what is acceptable in the history of salvation. In this crisis of certitudes, in this struggle of the being or not being of the Church, the gospel of the apostle Paul can once more save the Church from destruction. The apostle preaches the gospel in a really existential way. He preaches not only the facts of salvation which once have happened in the history of Jesus Christ; he also points out in an incomparable way man’s concern in God’s beneficial deeds in Christ Jesus. For he places man in the facts of salvation, man in Christ, in His death and resurrection, in His ascension into heaven, and consequently man in the Holy Spirit. But this means that for the knowledge of man in his real existence as-well as for his salvation there is no other way and possibility than in what once has happened in the history of Christ. This history reveals the very existence of man in its distress and in its redemption. And it is only in the involvement in this history of salvation, in the death and glorification of Christ, that the existence of man can be saved and has been saved.Ridderbos (pgs. 58–60)
Herman Ridderbos. When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957.
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