by Travis Pickell
A couple months ago, I saw a good buddy of mine at a wedding, and during the course of events, we got to talking about God. He wanted to know about what I was learning at seminary and how that was influencing my faith life, and so we talked about that for a while. Being the thoughtful guy he is, he challenged me on some of my views on what salvation means and what the Christian life is all about. A few weeks later, I got an email entitled “Can you beat it???” with the following quote in the body:
“Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”
—J.I. Packer, Knowing God (214)
This is indeed a rich and pregnant summary of the gospel. I have been thinking about it alot, on and off, over the last couple months. Adoption through propitiation. There is so much to this definition that must be unpacked. Packer means by “propitiation,” the means by which two things happen: (1) the barrier to a “propitious” (i.e. favorable) relationship with God—our sin—is wiped away/eradicated, and (2) because of this, God’s wrath is turned away. He contrasts this with the alternate translation of hilasterion/hilasmos (i`lasth,rion / i`lasmoj): “expiation,” which indicates only effect (1), not effect (2). There is a debate between the two definitions, but it doesn’t seem to be very important to me, for the simple reason that if effect (1) doesn’t happen, it doesn’t really matter if effect (2) does. Whether God has wrath that need be satisfied or not, our sin must be dealt with or we are hopelessly lost.
For Packer, this propitiation, takes place in Jesus Christ: “by his sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God” (184, emphasis original). Through this, we (more precisely Christians/the elect) become adopted sons (and daughters) of God. This sonship is not a natural birthright, according to Packer, but is a divine gift, offered freely to those who receive Jesus (cf. John 1:12-13). Not until we properly understand adoption will we understand Christianity (202). To be an adopted child of the Father radically changes our identity: we carry God’s name, we are assured of a place in God’s heavenly household, our Redeemer is also our brother, and the whole Church is our royal family whom we are called to love. As someone who has experienced adoption, I can personally testify to the radical way in which it has shaped my identity. In this way, I can appreciate the depth of meaning of the Biblical language of adoption.
I am pretty sure that I cannot beat J.I. Packer’s three-word gospel (although I am also sure that any three-word summary of the gospel will necessarily be reductionistic and will leave much unsaid, as Packer’s does). That being said, just for fun, I thought I would try out some different options. Here are a few that I came up with… please leave some of your own in the comments section.
God’s Kingdom Come
(Colossians 1:13, Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:21)
Christ Reconciles Everything
(Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19)
Elected in Jesus
New Heavens [&] Earth
(Revelation 21, Isaiah 65, 2 Peter 3)
Creation (shalom) Regained
God’s Love Revealed
(1 John 4:10)
The Curse Reversed
(Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 55, Revelation 21-22)
Recapitulation in Christ
(Ephesians 1:10, esp. St. Irenaeus)
—or, how about a one-word Gospel?—
(The Gospel is a Person, and He has a name)