(Con)Tending for the Gospel: Part 1 – How (Not) to do it

Guarding the Gospel?

The metaphor of (con)tending a garden may be the best encompassing metaphor to describe what it means to contend for the Gospel.  This metaphor attends to the pruning, horticultural needs, organic manipulation and protective control that a garden requires. Many times, it is the “guarding” of the Gospel that gets the most attention when it may be best to pay more attention to con-tending needed for the Gospel – a tending that gardeners do in their care of a garden.

The dynamic of the Gospel is organic rather than static, and as a gardener knows, we cannot calculate exactly what a garden will produce, but we can prepare the environment and tend to its growth so as to anticipate a fruitful harvest. The growth is not our responsibility nor our ability – but our intentional activity is still required for that garden to grow fruitfully.

Between the two metaphors of guarding or contending, (con)tending accomplishes a both/and option – always nice to have a both/and in a world filled with dualistic options. So how do we Contend for the Gospel. Below are three ways.

ContendingForFaith1Jude 1:3

3 Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

Philippians 1:15-18; 27-28

15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice….27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.

Three Ways to (Con)tend:

1. Nonviolently endure suffering and persecution because of your faith (nonviolent endurance & resistance).

2. Lead a moderate lifestyle with zealous harmony for each other (simplicity & solidarity).

3. Protect the contents AND the dynamic of the Gospel (holding to the teachings, historic actions, present and future actions of Jesus).

Guarding the Gospel?

If we primarily “guard” we are postured to “enclose” that which we are safe guarding, but if we “garden,” we are postured to both guard and respond to the organic nature of what we are gardening – hoping that it will exceed our expectations, but also being prepared for it to disappoint them.

Contending for the Gospel in the 1st century was a somewhat different game than it is now, but I would like to address the dynamics involved with this discussion. I believe Christ introduces this dynamism to us in his discussion about the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is important for me to first identify the dynamic nature of the Gospel and then decide how to garden or guard it. If we understand the Gospel to be a propositional statement of unchanging dynamics, statically and historically bound in time and space with an unchanging set of elements – then yes we can only “guard.” The Gospel is viewed as an objective reality that theologians like Dr. Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary) & Dr. D.A. Carson (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) claims is only what Christ “has” done – something we proclaim by pointing back to it and embracing its implications in the here and now. Therefore, for those who hold this understanding of the Gospel, it’s content is only an historical event that accomplishes ongoing effects and/or implications (death and resurrection of Jesus).


On the other hand, if it is a lively, organic, unpredictable, growing, unfinished, life-giving thing unto itself, that we can only direct, nurture, provide expression for, etc. – then it is something that can be easily found in a “garden-like” environment. This requires that we “tend” this garden, giving hospitality for it to grow and flourish in the good, but broken world God has placed us in.

The “Kingdom of heaven” or “Kingdom of God” metaphors found in the Gospels (Jesus understanding of the Gospel) were primarily communicated through agricultural metaphors. The Gospel was a proclamation of that (organic) Kingdom and the very nature of the Gospel seemed to mature or grow as the narrative of Scripture progressed. This provides us with two conclusions.

1) David Clark, in his “To Know and Love God,”  writes that we may need to adjust our long held understandings of what the Gospel is because “the conceptual grid of cultures where the gospel is still new may slash through the jungles of established theological habits and renew readings of Scripture in cultures where the gospel is long established.” (Clark, 2003, 118) and…

2) The gospel has a dynamism to it – in that it “grows” as it encounters new cultural contexts and contextual challenges. Andrew Walls, renowned missiologist and founder of the The Center for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh argues for this. (Vanhoozer, 2006, 120-21)

addendum: Zeal for The Family of God

Zealous unity with those who follow Jesus is also required. Andrew Walls argues that as the Gospel encounters new ethnic and geographical contexts, it absorbs the best of what is there and confronts the worst, simultaneously dignifying and prophetically confronting that which a culture has already. This dynamic requires that no one ethnic or cultural context own the Gospel or control its content. It belongs to the universal church as much as it is given by a God who claims universal dominion.

In Part 2, “A Darwinian Gospel?” I will address the question – “Who gets to decide what the Gospel affirms or critiques in a given culture?”

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