Solid Food
What Does It Mean to
"Preach the Cross?"

Tom M. Roberts

One writer has referred to the instrument of Jesus' death as "The Polished Mahogany Cross" (Bill Love, The Core Gospel, p. vii). He intended by this to emphasize that our generation does not see the cross as an instrument of torture as did the first century where it was the common instrument of Roman punishment for criminals. Consequently, that writer and others have concluded that our generation has failed to place the cross in its proper place in God's grace, ignoring or unwittingly omitting the cross as an expression of God's grace and the "drawing power" (John 12:32) of God unto salvation. In its place, we are accused, we have put an emphasis on doctrine, splitting the Bible into bits and pieces, placing theology and its study on a higher plane than that of the "core gospel." The accusation is untrue and unfounded.

This "core gospel" has been the subject of much discussion. A British theologian of the Church of England by the name of C. H. Dodd (1930's) has written extensively on the theory (an avowed modernist, he denied the inspiration of the Bible). His views have been carried into the mainstream of Protestant religious thought and, to one extent or another, into the thinking of some brethren. Carl Ketcherside, for one, accepted his definition of a "core gospel" and changed his religious views to accommodate it. Ketcherside was considered a maverick in his early preaching and writing days but lived long enough to see his views gain popularity. In Love's book, this "core gospel" achieves a status of scholarship (in some circles).

Background of "Core Gospel" Concept

"Dodd maintained that the original disciples who heard Jesus speak and who later became disciples did so with the anticipation of an immediate return of Jesus while they lived. When Jesus did not immediately return, they began to memorize the sayings of Jesus and formed a primitive catechism to preserve these sayings (he did not believe in plenary inspiration). Later disciples, including Luke, Paul and Peter, incorporated these catechisms into their writings as they attempted to explain within doctrinal and moral instructions why Jesus delayed His coming. To Dodd, these original sayings of Jesus (which had salvation as their theme) were buried in the volume of New Testament writings but he has determined which they are and these form an original 'kerygma' or evangel (the original gospel that has salvation as its theme). One should not try to teach this gospel but kerusssein (proclaim, preach it). The doctrinal and moral instruction (law, if you will) should be taught (didaskein), not preached. From this, one can see clearly the distinction that Dodd has made between gospel and doctrine" (Tom Roberts, Neo-Calvinsim in the Church of Christ, p. 48).

"'The significant features of Dodd's theory which have been described in their developmental sequence are:

  1. In the earliest church a distinct activity called preaching was practiced.

  2. Preaching had a particular content, the kerygma, which was the earliest missionary message of the church.

  3. Fragments of this earliest message are discernible in the written record, Scripture.

  4. Teaching is a second, distinct activity of the early church.

  5. The content of teaching is primarily ethical instruction and exhortation. Its form is derived from Jewish antecedents.

  6. The practice and content of teaching are the product of the evolutionary development of the earliest church as it awaited the second coming of Jesus' (Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church, Robert C. Worley, pp. 22, 23)." ibid. p. 51.

"Following the various suggestions of German form critics, Dodd pieced together fragments from the various books and chapters of the Pauline writings to form what he called the kerygma....In a modification of Dodd's original proposal that the kerygma consisted of seven items, Hunter and Craig proposed a kerygma with three points. They were not in agreement on the three points. Craig, in addition, maintained that considerable freedom was exercised by the early preachers in following the formula....Filson....maintained (he) could find five facts...Glasson, like Filson, has argued for a kerygma with five facts, not identical with Filson's....Gartner suggested a seven-point kerygma with significant modification of Dodd's original seven points'." (ibid. p. 52).

"'Dodd's seven points were: The prophecies are fulfilled - a new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ; Jesus born of seed of David; died according to the scriptures; was buried; rose on the third day; exalted at God's right hand; will come again' (The Apostolic Preaching, p 17." ibid, p. 52.

Redefinition of "Gospel" and "Doctrine"
To Establish "Core Gospel"

Carl Ketcherside advocated that the "core gospel" "'consisted of the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation and glorification of Jesus' (Mission Messenger, Dec., 1972, p. 180)." ibid, p. 53. He also said that "The gospel was proclaimed as fully and completely on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus as it ever has been, and nothing written later was added to it" (ibid, p. 53). "Not one apostolic letter is a part of the gospel of Christ...the Roman letter was not a part of the gospel...the letter to the Galatians was not a part of the gospel" (ibid, p. 53).

"'The implications of all this to unity and fellowship are weighty. It means that the gospel itself, not our doctrinal interpretations, is the basis of our being one in Christ and in fellowship with each other. That is, when one believes in Jesus and obeys him in baptism, he is our brother and in the fellowship ...That fellowship is strengthened and made joyful by doctrine, but it is the gospel and not doctrine that determines the fellowship...' (Leroy Garrett, "The Word Abused," Restoration Review, Vol. XVII, No. 3, pp. 42-46)", ibid, pp. 54-55.

"Everywhere Paul went he established churches preaching the same gospel of Jesus crucified and raised. Along the way, in and out of scrapes, he wrote letters to the churches he had established. In those letters he applied the 'word of the cross,' exploring the implications of the core gospel for daily church problems." ibid. p. 39.

"It means that the gospel itself, not our doctrinal instructions, is the basis of our being one in Christ and in fellowship with each other." Ibid, p. 59.

What the Bible Teaches About Gospel/Doctrine

  1. 1 Tim. 1:8-11 (gospel includes doctrine); 2 Tim. 3:16 (doctrine includes gospel).

  2. John 18:19 - Jews asked Jesus about his "teaching" (doctrine). Was it gospel?

  3. Acts 5:21, 28,42 - Disciples taught the gospel.

  4. Acts 13:12 (note vs. 7, 8, 10)

  5. Acts 17:3, 10, 11, 18, 19 (preaching & teaching used interchangeably).

  6. Acts 20:20 - declaring and teaching the word

  7. Acts 20:25 - Paul preached (kerusso) to elders

  8. Rom. 1:15 - gospel preached to church at Rome

  9. Rom. 6:17 - teaching the death, burial and resurrection (vs. 3ff)

  10. 1 Cor. 11:26 - we preach (proclaim) by taking the Lord’s Supper

  11. 2 Thes. 2:14, 15 - traditions (core gospel?) were taught

  12. 2 Tim. 4:2 - preach the word with all teaching

  13. Terms "the faith," "gospel," "truth," "word of God," "word of the Lord," "doctrine," are all used interchangeably and refer to one another: Acts 17:3-9; Col. 1:5; Eph. 1:13; Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:18, 21; Jn. 17:17-19; Jude 3; Gal. 2:5, 14; Gal. 3:1; Phil. 1:27; Acts 13:5

Accusations Based on Faulty Redefinition

"Peter preached Christ crucified and raised by the plan and power of God for the salvation of all mankind [in Acts 2, tr]. That was the core gospel. That the nucleus of the gospel which changed the world." Love, The Core Gospel, p. 32.

"In other words, was the 'word of the cross' central in our proclamation as it is in the New Testament?" ibid, p. 109.

"From the very first something of the core gospel was missing in our Restoration preaching." ibid. p. 152.

"When we compare the first and second generations of Restoration preachers we see a decline in mention of the core gospel from 56 to 46 the case of T. W. Brents the theme is present hardly at all." ibid. p. 180.

"This second generation preaching shows a measurable decline in both the quantity and quality of references to the cross. What the first generation considered obvious and took for granted seemed less obvious to the second generation." ibid. p. 181.

"In this third generation we see a further decline in percentages of sermons with references to the core gospel. The rate of mention declined from 56 in the first generation to 46 in the second to 26 in the third. Even that low figure does not truly indicate the poverty of their preaching regarding the cross." ibid, p. 207.

"All in all, the fourth generation's sermons in the composite show further decline in mention of the core gospel, from 26% to 23%......My own judgment is that the seeds of the first generation's church-centered 'Reformation' had by this time taken root, come to full maturity and were bearing abundant fruit. Long since had the focus shifted from Golgotha to Pentecost" ibid. 239.

Someone has said, "Let your opponent define your terms and you will lose every argument." We see the wisdom of this in our present difficulty. If "gospel" or "core gospel" is defined so as to include only seven (or five, or three, etc.) items, then fellowship with God will depend only on those things and one must preach about these things and these things only in order to preach the gospel. Preaching about any other Bible subject would not be preaching the "gospel."

If I re-defined "money" to mean "gold" and then complained that I had no money when I have $1 million in the bank, I would be playing fast and loose with the truth.

If I re-defined "obedience" to mean "perfect works' salvation" and then complained that by preaching baptism you are guilty of believing in salvation by works, I would also be playing fast and loose with the truth.

If I re-defined "gospel" to mean only "seven core facts about Jesus" and then complain that you are not preaching the gospel when you preach about the church or morality or worship, I would be playing fast and loose with the truth.

Now make the application to the "cross." If I re-define "word of the cross" to mean only the passion and death of Jesus on Calvary and then complain that when you preach about elders, organization of the church, morality, etc., you are not preaching the "word of the cross," I am also playing fast and loose with the truth.

The real and only fair consideration is, "How does the Bible define the 'word of the cross,' and what does it mean to 'preach Christ and him crucified'?" Let the Bible define its own terms.

The Word of the Cross Includes:

I. All the fact, commands, and promises of the gospel centered in Jesus Christ - Rom. 1:16, 17. Are only the "red letters" of the New Testament the doctrine of Christ or is all scripture included?

II. The entire gospel system - Acts 20:20-27; 1 Cor. 1:18

(For more study, see "Preaching the Cross: Agreeing with a Brother on Some Fundamentals," Larry Hafley, Guardian of Truth, 11/5/92.)

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