Thinking Out Loud

May 15, 2009

The Law and the Gospel

One of the joys of blogging is that you get to experience sectors of the Christian world that you might otherwise miss.    Even if you’ve been walking with Jesus for years — or in some cases, like mine, decades — there is always something new to learn.

Deborah DrapperSeveral weeks ago I linked to the YouTube postings of a BBC documentary on 13-year-old Deborah Drapper.    Her story is a mixture of elements:  A somewhat isolated, innocent, homeschooled girl in rural England who somehow has no fear when it comes to wading into a group of partying teens on a Friday night to ask them some serious faith questions.    Her style is forceful and direct; a style gained from listening nightly to podcasts from Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master website.

So when I learned this week that Deborah had a blog, I took a few minutes to scan it, and in that short time a phrase somewhat jumped out at me several times:

The Law and the Gospel

Having seen the entire BBC show helped here, and if you haven’t you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage,  but Ms. Drapper’s style begins — always — with the Ten Commandments as an example of how peoples’ beliefs that they are “good” can never possibly line up with God’s “Big Ten.”

That’s a fair approach.    I’ve heard Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley do the same, and I was on the same track a few weeks ago when I preached in a Toronto church on the story of the rich young official (or rich young aristocrat, or rich young bureaucrat, or rich young ruler.)   He felt he had kept all ten commandments, but then Jesus helps him to see the impossibility of human righteousness — “there is none good but God.”

But watching Deborah, I got a slightly different vibe.    I’m not sure if it was just a reaction to her formulaic approach — she is only 13, after all — but I think it was her total reliance on the “big ten” as the basis for her verbal witness.   The British Teens she spoke with would wake up the next morning  remembering the message of the Ten Commandments, and not the grace of God in sending Jesus, or the ability of Jesus to meet us at our point of need.

(As an aside, this is why we don’t hire high school students where I work.   There are too many complex “life issues” that people are facing that younger people haven’t necessarily dealt with.)

Unsure what vibe I was sensing, I was finally able to articulate it when I saw the phrase “The Law and the Gospel,”  or “The Ten Commandments, The Law and the Gospel” so clearly printed on her blog.   The nuances of adding “The Law” so distinctly to the presentation are not part of my previous experience.  (Google the phrase for examples of other places where it’s used online.)

Again, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to quench everything that God is doing through Deborah.    And I’m not here to debate the effectiveness of The Way of the Master, or even The Four Spiritual Laws, or even apologetics in general.

The only point I want to make today — and ask your response to it — is that there seemed to be something awkward about going out for an evening of evangelism with the premise that you’re going to share “The Law” with people; and I say that recognizing that “The Gospel” is only good news in light of the condemnation that the law puts everyone under.   There seemed to be something definitely not postmodern about it.     Read the first page currently up on her blog, and tell me if I’m over-reacting.

Visitors:  You may not be here by accident! If you got here from a WordPress or search tag and you’re not a Christ-follower, please understand that in critiquing the approach I’m not minimizing the message or its urgency.   All of us are constantly looking for ways to help the broader population confront the eternal questions that need to be faced.    At the end of the day, Deborah, Ray Comfort and I would have you reach the same conclusion, namely that Jesus’ claim to be God was true, and therefore his message needs to be clearly heard and individually applied.     God is a righteous judge, but also rich in grace,  mercy and compassion.   To hear a presentation like Deborah’s, continue to this site.

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12 Comments »

  1. Paul,
    It’s very possible she has had a Lutheran upbringing. In Lutheranism, the division of Law and Gospel is a major tool for teaching theology.

    Comment by David Rudel — May 15, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  2. It is customary in many Reformed churches to read the Ten Commandments each Sunday in worship. Why is this done? Because ‘through the law comes knowledge of sin’ (Rom. 3:20). Why is it important to be aware of our sin? The conviction of sin leads us to Christ to save us from our sin. It is a tutor, or schoolmaster, that leads us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). But that’s not the end of the story. Having come to Christ, He sends us back to the law again to show us our duty. Thus, in Calvin’s Geneva, they read the law “after” they had confessed their sins, driving home the point that the law was given primarily to guide us in our Christian walk.

    The genius of the Reformed view is that it corrects the libertines without falling into legalism. Ironically, some of the most legalistic groups have been those who have been more eager to deny the Law any place in the Christian life. Typically, they have abolished the Law while, at the same time, adding a host of extra-biblical requirements, like no drinking, dancing, or movie-going. Their peculiar rules support the observation that man needs a law-if he doesn’t have God’s, he’ll make his own.

    The Reformed faith has adamntly maintained that there is Christian liberty in areas outside of the application of the moral law. Every bit as strongly as it has argued for the need of absolute and precise conformity to the Law of God, it has argued for liberty of conscience in areas not addressed by Scripture. No tradition has been so strict and rigid in its use of the Law. No tradition has been so rigorous in banishing the commandments of men.

    Comment by Ike — May 15, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

    • Thanks, Ike. I really appreciate your perspective. My wife and I have worshiped in the Reformed (CRC) Church here in Canada, and the Ten Commandments has never been part of the liturgy.

      I like your comments in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, though I’m not sure where that takes us. My view is that the “big ten” (which really stem from the “big two” which Jesus lists when asked as to “the greatest commandment”) reflect the highest principles that God wants to lay down. Principles apply to all people, in all locations and in all time periods.

      Rules derive from principles. Rules apply to specific peoples or specific locations or at specific times. There’s nothing wrong with rules if they derive from the principles and the principles are clearly understood. (I got all that from a Dutch Reformed theologian who published it in booklet form for InterVarsity during the 1970s.) So if the Bible is silent on a certain issue, but there are higher principles that can be invoked, I have no problem with the establishment of rules to guide that situation. But they would be rules, not commandments. Matters of lesser degree, not matters of lesser origin.

      It would take three times as many paragraphs to fully flesh that out, but it gives you the idea. It does not discount the ‘spirit’ of what you’re saying, though. I think we can weigh both considerations and find a place of balance.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

      • The more I study God’s Word the more I am convinced of how little I really understand.

        Comment by Ike — May 15, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    • Ike,
      I think you are misreading Galatians 3:24.

      When Paul speaks of “The Law” he is not referring to “the totality of God’s will for man.” He, a Jew writing to Gentiles being influenced by Judaizers, is referring to what a 2nd Temple Jew would normally consider “The Law,” the Mosaic covenants with its various sacrifices and requirements.

      This law was to “lead us to Christ” not in the sense of somehow showing us what God requires and this somehow helping us find Christ. After all, whatever Paul is referring to in 3:24 he immediately thereafter says “we no longer need.” I’m sure you agree that we need God’s commands, and Paul would certainly agree with that given the tongue lashing he gave the Corinthians.

      Paul is referring to how the Mosaic Law points people to Christ prophetically. As I’m sure you know, Christ can be found again and again represented by the earlier ordinances, rituals that would be called “Shadows of Christ.”

      If we look at what NT authors refer to as these “shadows” of Christ we see that it is definitely not what most people call the “moral law.” It is the complete opposite. Col 2:17 is referring to observances that Paul now says are not required. Hebrews 8:5 and Hebrews 10:1 are referring to the sacrifices that presaged Christ.

      In all cases we see patterns pointing to Christ…and hence patterns that (as the author of Hebrews says in 8:5) are obsolete…just as Paul says we “no longer need a [paidagōgos].”

      And if you look at “The Law” that Paul was reacting to in Galatians, it was certainly not “doing good works.” Throughout the letter, Paul is referring to exactly those ritualistic observances [such as table requirements (Galatians 2:11-14) and circumcision (Galatians 5:1-6). The commentary immediately after the verse in question (Galatians 3:28-29) should make clear that Paul is referring to the Jewish covenantal markers here.
      The markers had been designed (among other things) to help the Jews identify Christ, though with rather limited success.

      Comment by David Rudel — May 15, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

      • Sorry, I should be more precise. When Paul speaks of “The Law” in Galatians 3:24, he is referring to those rituals and requirements that had served as dividers [the wall of partition described in Ephesians 2:16]

        I did not mean to imply that every time Paul uses the term, that is what he means. He uses it in at least 5 different ways in Romans alone.

        Comment by David Rudel — May 15, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

  3. When Jesus appeared post-resurrection to two men, his explanation of The Law no doubt consisted greatly of what you’re describing in your second paragraph. Ditto Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian in Acts.

    But we’ve drifted a long way from a discussion about the evangelism methods of a 13-year old girl who is trying to follow a witness formula set out by her online mentors. For her, The Law = The Ten Commandments, and the point I was making is that there are a number of sites online where the focus on The Ten Commandments is so front-and-center that it appears to border on obsessive.

    Yes, they are a good measure of how we fail to hit God’s mark of righteousness, but this is only one of several possible approaches to use. Better to talk to someone first, get to know them, and then ask the Holy Spirit to give you words which intersect at their point of need; adding a dash of scripture that you draw from various passages you’ve studied that help customize the response to each individual.

    But I don’t for a minute discount the role of “Law” in the New Testament. That’s why we have the book of Romans. The passages in Galatians and Colossians reference the tension of putting the law in perspective post-resurrection and post-ascension. The book of Hebrews tidies a lot of that up for us, too.

    Also, for this discussion to be that encompassing, we would have needed to define “Law” clearly, and then delineate when we’re talking 1st Century and when we’re talking 21st century.

    But nobody said Christian theology was simple.

    Comment by Paul Wilkinson — May 16, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    • Paul…I think you make a good point. Getting to know someone and praying for the Lord to open an opportunity is a good thing.

      I think we need to tell people who God is. He is holy..holy..holy. When a jew wanted to emphasize something…he would repeat it. What does it mean that God is holy. Well….what is more like God? An arc angel in heaven or a worm crawling on the ground? Neither…for there is no one like the Lord. He is not quanitatively larger than man….He is qualitatively different. And it is in this we find all of His attributes.
      Getting back to the law….we really are totally depraved sinners. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. To this day…I do not fully understand that verse. If the Lord would enable me to fully understand that verse….I would fall to my concrete floor and try to dig right through that concrete and bury myself…..for the shame of it!
      My point is this….we have to tell the “bad” news to get to the “good” news. If people don’t see themselves as lost sinners….they will not see themselves as needing a Saviour. We have too many people who “said a prayer” and believe themselves saved instead of faith and repentance.

      Comment by Ike — May 16, 2009 @ 11:11 am

      • we have to tell the “bad” news to get to the “good” news. If people don’t see themselves as lost sinners….they will not see themselves as needing a Saviour. We have too many people who “said a prayer” and believe themselves saved instead of faith and repentance.

        Maybe that best sums up Deborah’s — and Ray Comfort’s — approach to witnessing and evangelism.

        If the Lord would enable me to fully understand that verse….I would fall to my concrete floor and try to dig right through that concrete and bury myself…..for the shame of it!

        But thankfully, he said quoting the KJV, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

        Comment by Paul Wilkinson — May 16, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

  4. [...] Related post on this blog:  Deborah Drapper – 13 Year Old Evangelist (May 15/09) [...]

    Pingback by Forced Evangelism: Enough Already! « Thinking Out Loud — July 6, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

  5. Hello;

    Deborah Drapper and her father will be conducting a Seminar on “Biblical Evangelism” in Cannes, France.

    http://bit.ly/Drappers

    I just thought you might wanna know.

    God bless.

    Comment by dikayo — August 31, 2009 @ 2:56 am

  6. [...] Related post on this blog:  Considering Deborah Drapper (May 15, 2009) Leave a Comment [...]

    Pingback by Frontline Ministry « Thinking Out Loud — September 26, 2010 @ 2:04 pm


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