For our first Q&A interview for 2022, I figured it was time to sit down with Phillip Jensen and have a chin wag. As is usually the case when we get together, the conversation bounced here and there, covering everything from why the resurrection is the climax of the gospel, to why our preaching should be more like an exposé than an apology.
The audio version of the conversation goes for about 40 minutes. The edited text version below doesn’t cover the whole thing—but I figured that 3000 words of transcript was enough!
Tony: So there are all kinds of things I was going to talk you about today. But you just were mentioning before that you’ve started work on another book—on evangelism. Why do we need a book on evangelism?
Phillip: Well, the book that's been a great help to people was Chapman's Know and Tell The Gospel. But a generation has risen up that has never heard of Chappo, and people read books that are current rather than what is really best. So I think we just need another book that is currently teaching people about evangelism, encouraging them to do it.
TP: What’s the outline of it?
PJ: Part 1 is on the who, why, what, when kind of thing—who evangelises, why do you evangelise? Part 2 then works through the gospel itself (I'm going to use Two ways to live as the summary) showing the kategorics of it rather than the apologetics of it. Because I think in our evangelism, we are too defensive and not... What's the alternate word for defensive that's nice?
PJ: Well … we're not telling the world that the world is wrong. But if the end point is that want to ask people to repent, you’ve got to point out what's wrong with your life that you need to repent from. And so, it's showing the implications of creation and rebellion and judgment in terms of how the world is operating in blindness and ignorance. So it's the accusing of the world by the gospel.
And then, Part 3 of the book is about the spiritual nature of evangelism. Because it's about prayer. It's about the work of the Holy Spirit in changing people's lives. It's about our need to beg God for the mercy that is really required. We need to be more encouraged, I think, that this is not an impossible task because we have God doing the task. The Holy Spirit in the end is the evangelist.
TP: In talking about ‘kategorics’ in Part 2, are you saying—if repentance is a turning from and a turning to, what are you turning from? Like turning from idols to the true and living God?
PJ: Yes that’s right. Think how the Bible treats idolatry. It really says that it's foolishness; it's an absurdity. To worship things that are less than yourself as if they are God, is just an absurdity. And likewise, the fool says in his heart, there is no God. But we say, “All of the most educated, wise, sensible people in all the universe are saying there is no God. And so we've got to answer their accusations.” Now, the fool of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 is a moral fool—but then that's the point.
TP: So ‘positive’ is not the right word. We’re not trying to be positive about the world, but expose the folly of the world through shining the light of the gospel on it. But I was going to ask you: how do we do that in a way that doesn't come across as the Nasty Party or as a negative, unattractive kind of presentation?
PJ: Well, personally, it’s simple. Because personally, it's so easy to love people. And in the context of your genuine care and concern and love for them, the negative things that you say are part of that expression of love. But media-wise and in a book, it's much harder to do.
What I am trying to emphasize is that the thing that connects us with people in the world is not culture studies, and so on. The thing that connects us is creation. We're humans, we have babies, we're in love, we live in a magnificent creation. And so, try and say the positive things that are part of the way in which God has made us and which work and which we enjoy.
But having said all that, no matter how hard you try, in a hyper-sensitive age, as soon as you say, "Yeah, but we're all liars" … It’s offensive.
TP: Are you saying that if we get too apologetic or defensive about the gospel, we don't expose people to truth about themselves?
PJ: Yes, absolutely. And in fact, I looked at apologia in the New Testament. It's never used of intellectual defence. It's always used of what you say when you're dragged in front of the court.
TP: Like when Paul making his defence before...
PJ: Festus or Agrippa or people like that. That's when you use the word. There is the reference in 1 Peter 3 about giving the defence for the hope that lies within you. But that's in the context of being accused of being immoral and then being dragged off and persecuted. So it always seems to be in the persecution context.
And kategoria (to accuse, to convict) is used almost twice as often as apologia. But hardly anybody talks about that—about ‘kategorics’.
The other good word, which we don't know how to translate, is the one in John 16 about Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin and righteous and judgement. And in that sense, while I need to point out what's wrong with the world, it's the Holy Spirit who does that work of conviction.
I wonder if the best word is ‘exposé’. We’re trying to do an exposé of the world. A bit like how the ICAC in NSW ‘exposes’ corruption but doesn’t actually do the prosecuting. It’s the Holy Spirit who prosecutes.
TP: So as part of this book on evangelism, you're going to be talking about what the gospel actually is, the gospel that we preach, and you’re going to use Two Ways To Live as your summary or framework—which is a convenient segue to one of the things that I wanted to ask you about.
With this new version of Two Ways To Live—one of the things that it's managed to successfully convey is the centrality and importance of the resurrection of Jesus.
Most people don't think of it that way. In fact, most of us would probably say the cross is the centre or the nutshell or the climax of the gospel, and the resurrection is kind of the denouement, the wrapping up of the loose ends. So why do you say that the resurrection is the climax of the gospel?
PJ: When you analyse the New Testament and its gospel preaching, it nearly always features the resurrection. And I think in the Book of Acts, it always is on the resurrection. And what is interesting in the Book of Acts is that it's never on the atoning work of the cross. Luke knows about the atoning work of the cross, because Paul speaks about it in Acts 20 to the Ephesian elders. It's not as if it's a theologically unknown thing. But that’s not what they preached when they were speaking to the Jews in the synagogues, or the Gentiles in the synagogues, or the out and out Gentiles in Athens. But they always preached the resurrection.
It's slightly astonishing when you first see it, because most gospel preaching in my lifetime has been about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins—which I believe and the New Testament believes. But then the resurrection is, “Oh and by the way, he's not dead; he's alive.” It has no theological place. It's just a kind of an end point somehow.
But that's not how it was in the New Testament. As you explore the word ‘gospel’, it means ‘the great declaration’. And the great declaration is that Jesus is King. Which explains why in the Gospels, when Jesus preaches the gospel, it's all about the kingdom of God. It's not about the crucifixion there either. And so the opening gospel reference is Jesus in Mark 1:14-15: "The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel." It's about the coming of the Kingdom. And with the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of Jesus, the kingdom of our Lord has arrived. And so, that's the announcement, the King has come.
But when you come to the answer, “the King has come”, you find out that the way he came, was by conquering the enemy. And he conquered the enemy by his death and resurrection—not that I want toreplace Penal Substitutionary Atonement with Christus Victor. But Christus Victor is there. It's just not the alternative to Penal Sub. How did he conquer the enemy? Well, by paying the penalty for us and turning aside God's wrath—so that the outcome is you can preach to those who repent and acknowledge the King that you'll be forgiven, you'll be pardoned, because he became King by his atoning death and resurrection. But resurrection is a key element to it.
Once you notice this, you also begin to notice all the other NT gospel summaries in which the resurrection is central. For example, much of Romans is an exposition of the propitiatory redemption by Jesus, but it starts with Paul talking about the ‘gospel of God’, and summarizing it as: “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3-4). 2 Tim 2:8 is much the same: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel”.
Now, none of this means that the atoning work of the Lord, His death on the cross is an irrelevance! It is absolutely fundamental to his resurrection. Without it, there would be no resurrection. The two go hand-in-hand, but the thing you say to the outsider first is resurrection. The thing that you then say is forgiveness through the death. That would seem as the pattern in the New Testament uses.
TP: It's like that verse in Acts 2 when Peter gets to the climax of his sermon and he says, "Therefore let all Israel know that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
PJ: Yes, and then they're cut to the heart. And ask what can we do?
TP: Repent and be forgiven.
TP: So, in Two Ways To Live you get to the resurrection at point five of the six points. It's the climax, and point six is the response. And in this new edition, we've put the offer of forgiveness of sins into point five, into the resurrection box for this reason—to capture the sense that we're at the climax and the offer of the gospel. Everything has now been said. We've understood the death of Jesus, because we've understood the judgment of God, because we've understood sin, because we've understood creation, and so then you get to the climax in the resurrection where the gospel declaration and offer is.
PJ: Yes. In Luke 24, in the upper room where he's speaking to the apostles in his resurrection, he says: "It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead, and repentance and forgiveness of sins to be preached to all nations” and so on. I think most of the community's evangelism in my lifetime has been “Christ suffered for your sins … and repentance and forgiveness of sin should be all preached to all nations”. You leave out the resurrection phrase—whereas the resurrection is the effective solution, and the effective consequence, of him dying for our sins, which enables repentance and forgiveness now to be preached to all nations.
TP: And to go further, I'd say the gospel I've heard for most of my lifetime in evangelical churches is: he died for our sins so that you can be forgiven and receive eternal life through that atonement. Virtually full stop. ‘Repent’ is often not there.
PJ: Yes. And why is that so? It can be lots of reasons. One is we don't like to say anything negative to people about their lives. Another is that we're so committed to the idea that gospel is ‘good news’, rather than ‘great news’ that we don't want to say anything that has any negative element to it at all. We just want to tell the good news that you're forgiven, you're forgiven, you're forgiven.
TP: And if you don't talk about Jesus as the Risen King, then there's nobody really to repent before.
PJ: I spent many, many happy years at Katoomba Convention. And I was a young fellow when I was involved in the Council there. And there are a lot of really great old men of evangelicalism in Sydney, who shared with me lots of stories and episodes of life. I heard many times about the famous evangelists who came to Sydney in the 1930s and 40s and 50s. Billy Graham (in 1959) was just the end one. There was Hiram Appleby, and all kinds of people. But they said that the one who had the smallest number of converts, but the highest rate of retention was WP Nicholson, the great Irish evangelist. Not many people got converted by his preaching, but the people who got converted were really converted. The jungle doctor, Paul White, was one of them. And one of the distinctive things of WP Nicholson's evangelism was that he used to ask for repentance and restitution. "If you really are repentant, well then go and pay back what you've done." He preached restitution, which limited the number of people who signed the decision cards! But those who did, really repented.
TP: As I've read about the gospel and controversies about the gospel over the last 25 or 30 years, there's been this fight between two groups—the forgiveness-cross-penal substitution people, and the resurrection-kingdom people; almost like there are two gospels. And the resurrection-kingdom gospel is often about the renovation and renewal of the world, and it becomes an atonement-less, cross-less kind of gospel. And I can understand why many good brothers don't want to go there, and so are a bit reluctant to give the resurrection too much play in case it becomes this kind of kingdom gospel.
PJ: Yes you have to keep the two together. It’s also like that gospel where you can supposedly have Jesus as your Saviour and then some other time have a second kind of blessing of his Lordship. But, the only way he saves you is by being your Lord. You have to keep the two things together.
TP: The other really unique thing about Two Ways To Live as a gospel outline is that it talks about creation, and hardly any other gospel presentations do that.
PJ: No, they don't. And hardly any in the New Testament do either. Adam is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament once you get past Gen 1-3. But creation is the backdrop to everything that happens in the selection of Abraham and the history of Israel. And it's a part that I think the Jews didn't quarrel about. The Sadducees and the Pharisees fought over the resurrection and over angels and over prophets. They didn't fight over creation; that was just a given. And so, there was no reason for Paul to particularly preach in the synagogues about creation or for Jesus to preach about creation.
However, it is striking that when Paul goes to Lystra and he's talking to pagans and when he goes to Athens and he's talking to idolaters, then he begins with the one God, who is the creator of all and to whom we are answerable—and so worshipping men in Lystra, and worshipping idols in Acts 17, is totally inappropriate. This is critical to understanding their situation and need of forgiveness and the need of the Christ.
And that I think is true in our context. In one sense, previous generations accepted creation. But we’ve now lived through this great fight over evolution and intelligent design, where atheists use evolution to argue against God's existence, and Christians use intelligent design to argue for God's existence, and neither are listening to each other at all.
The opposite of creation is not evolution. The opposite of creation is accidentalism; it's naturalistic materialism and atheism. That's why the Christians are right in feeling that evolution is on the side of the atheists because the atheists use evolution in that way. But we mustn't get ourselves hung up with the mechanisms. The issue is accidentalism, as opposed to purposeful personal creation. You get rid of creation and the creator, you then change the doctrine of sin, because sin is no longer humans’ rebellion against their creator; sin now becomes breaking rules and regulations. And so, instead of being people who place themselves outside the law, and people who make their own laws, as the essence of sin, we become law breakers as the essence of sin. And so, we then move to solve the problems by attending to the symptoms, rather than attending to the disease. And if you've got a wrong diagnosis, just attending to symptoms for example, you'll never solve the problem.
PJ: You've got to diagnose what the disease is. And the disease is our rebellion against God—which means you can be a highly moral person, and totally godless. Whereas the highly moral person doesn't feel like we are preaching to them because they are moral.
And so, without a proper doctrine of creation, I don't think you've get a proper doctrine of sin. And without a proper doctrine of sin, the reason for judgment seems weird. Because, I mean, why do you get sent to hell for eternity for telling lies or stealing from Woolworths. It seems disproportionate, somehow. But that's because you're thinking just of the symptoms; you're not thinking of how you have put yourself in total opposition to God.
And so you don't understand, "How did Jesus dying on the cross actually pay for my sin?" It all becomes de-personalized, de-relationalized and symptomatic, rather than disease-oriented. So we need to re-introduce creation into our understanding, so that people will understand what sin is, what God's judgment is, and how Jesus' death pays for it.
TP: I think that's very true. I think some of the other gospel presentations I've seen recently focus on the problems we have—our lack of meaning, our lack of purpose, the things that we desire and seek, and so on. These are symptoms. But if we don't penetrate further down to the underlying problem, which is a rebellion against God, it's very hard to see then why death is God's judgment against us, and why Jesus’ death is the answer.
PJ: And it lacks the eschatology too, doesn't it? It speaks of the damage that we do to ourselves, each other and the world (as our new version puts it), but doesn’t go further than offering to fix that damage. If I can fix the damage, then I’ve helped you. And so, Jesus loves you, and he's shown he loves you by his death, and has risen from the dead. And so now turn back to him, and you will have a fulfilled, happy, satisfied life. But the eschatology of the gospel has just completely gone.
So I think the creation background is an important one for our understanding.
Hope you enjoyed that. I’ll be back next week, God willing, with another instalment from the Two Ways to Live evangelistic book that I’m writing. I’m up to chapter 4 on the death of Jesus, and plan to send at least some of that chapter out to the whole list next week.
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