Yesterday, I wrote on Rom. 1.16-21. It seems to indicate that the same gospel that reveals the righteousness of God as power to salvation for those who believe also reveals the wrath of God from heaven upon all who suppress the truth of God in their wicked state (see here) Bryan Lilly responded (here) that this seems to be a theme that appears in 2 Cor. 2.12-17 as well. Let me provide that passage (NASB):
Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God
As we see the gospel is what Paul brought everywhere. This led his apostolic calling to be a “sweet aroma” that is the knowledge of God. This “aroma” smells wonderful to those who “are being saved”, i.e. they have accepted the gospel. Those who have perishing do not think of it the same way.
In my post yesterday I noted that Paul saw the gospel as the power to life and therefore, we can deduct, it is an announcement of death to those who reject it. Paul says it is from “death to death”. They are dead now, they will be dead at the echaton. Those who believe now are alive and this will continue at the eschaton.
Again, I am faced with the reality that Paul saw the gospel as something like a royal proclamation of an installed King to whom allegiance must be pledged now. Those who respond in faith declaring their allegiance to Christ as Lord will live. Those who remain in rebellion will die. It isn’t nice to hear with our modern ears, but it is what it is.
The gospel is “good new”, relatively speaking! In both Rom. 1.16-21 and 2 Cor. 2.12-17 the gospel is a message of life and death, literally. If the gospel announces life and death, or the option for life and death, we must ask if Paul had any thoughts regarding those who never hear the gospel.
This is where the aforementioned blog post went for Bobby Grow and I. The only thing that came to mind was Paul’s statements in Rom. 10.11-21. For Paul it seems to me that is there is no messenger, there is no hope (which is where Bobby rightly notes our answer to our concern for those who have not heard is “go!”, see here). But “go!” doesn’t help us with the reality we won’t reach everybody and there are many who have already gone from this life who we didn’t reach. So the ache remains: What about those who don’t have a messenger? Is there no hope?
This is my discussion point: (1) What do you think of Paul’s statements that seem to indicate that the gospel is not always “good” news, but it sometimes is a message of condemnation and death for those who reject it and (2) do you think there is any way we can read Rom. 10.11-21 while retaining any hope for those who never hear the gospel? If so, how?
In my effort to read the NT in 30 days, I encountered Acts 17: 22-31. Similar questions emerged for me.
Given your questions, that is why some find natural theology even to be salvific. But how are we to reconcile such with the plain statements of Scripture, as indicated in your post?
@TC: It is funny that you mentioned Acts 17.22-31. I have a post coming on that passage tomorrow. It does seem that this is one place where we may seek some sort of “natural theology”. If no gospel is heard, and the gospel brings life or death, then what to do with those who never hear. Then again, this almost seems to make gospel-agnosticism a better option that hearing the gospel, at least for those who reject it.
Now Rom. 10.11-21 slows me down though. He seems to see a messenger as essential. We know there may be exceptions to the rule (as we discussed about the Magi in the First Gospel), but that only enforces the rule, which seems to present a bleak picture for those who never hear outside of the mystery of God’s grace.
If we see 2 Cor. 2:14-17, taken in the image of the ancient Roman context, it suggests a magnificent picture of Christ the Victor, the captives are the powers of darkness, and “we” Christians “through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place”…”For we are to God the fragrance of Christ”, and WE are also the one’s “sufficient”, who trust in Christ! Death and life are in the “aroma” both “In Christ”. But the great procession is thanksgiving & life! Death is for those who are choosing to perish. I don’t think we can press the aspect of “death”, save outside and rejection of Christ.
Well, I see a difference between a rejection of a presentation of the Gospel on the one hand, and simply not hearing the Gospel on the other. We’re talking two different categories here. Are people then going to be judged on the same basis? Tough question!
The Incarnational reality weighs heavy as a witness to the reality and finality of the Gospel also. For the Gospel is finally a “Person”! And note too Romans 1: 20.
@ Fr. Robert: That imagery seems very fitting. I think this is part of the definition of apostleship. They are royal heralds for the newly installed King. Submission is necessary.
@TC: True, it is two different categories. It seems Paul gives adequate attention to those who reject the gospel, but only addresses those who have not heard through generalities.
Maybe there’s another way to answer this, I think it will have to be a theo-logical answer since obviously the Text won’t answer it for us (explicitly). Maybe we need to press the idea that God choose for humanity in Christ, and now any and all who respond affirmatively do so out of the vicarious Yes that Jesus made for us in our stead as our mediator and Priest. Maybe this discussion needs to go there for the answer to this dilemma. I.e. that faith isn’t ours to begin with.
I need to go eat dinner, I’ll finish my thought when I get back 🙂 .
@Bobby: That is an interesting lead. I will need it to be unpacked more to trek further, so I anticipate you unpacking it a bit. My first thought was it sounds a little like a form of the type of Calvinism I find problematic, but I am hopeful the further details you give will bring more clarity to what you are saying.
Let me think about it more, Brian. I think your question here probably just bottoms out at Rom. 11.33-36. I do have some thoughts on the “vicarious” point, and I do think that that will reframe the question here, by emphasis, in a certain direction (the question of “faith” and its relationship to “grace” and how grounding that in Christ’s humanity for us shapes the questions your highlighting with a different set of expectations). Like I think that Romans 10 might not have the “missionary” “salvific” sense to it that has traditionally been associated with its exegesis. What I mean is that we are bringing certain “theological” assumptions to our interpretive questions, and it would be good to expose those. David Gibson recently in his book on Calvin and Barth’s election and exegesis has juxtaposed Calvin’s and Barth’s interpretation of Romans by identifying Calvin’s approach as soteriological-extensive and Barth’s as principial christological-intensive. Meaning that Calvin’s questions when interpreting Romans were driven by “temporal-historical” salvific suppositions; while Barth’s were driven by “pre-temporal-dogmatic/christological” suppositions. I go with more of a Barthian approach (surprise 😉 ), and it seems that you probably go more with a Calvinian (or more simply, soteriological) approach. I’m only highlighting this, because I think this does have bearing on how you are thinking about Rom. 10 — and then maybe I’m reading you wrong on that 🙂 .
I’m just really thinking out-loud here, thank you for your patience, Brian 😉 . If you are going to do your ThM thesis on Romans, Gibson’s book might be something you want to check out (at least to provide an even more thick understanding on how Calvin and Barth approached their exegesis of that epistle — even if you don’t actually use anything from Gibson’s insights in your thesis).
This is a good probing issue, Brian. Thanks for raising it. Something for me to continue to think about.
@Bobby: That does sound like an interesting juxtaposition. Do you think one must have spent a lot of time with Barth and Calvin for it to benefit or could a novice reader in these two theologians follow Gibson’s argument?
I may be working from a soteriological model. I am not sure. When I think of the message of the epistle I think primarily through this lens: Jesus is the new Adam, whose resurrection has initiated the eschatological rule of the “true human” and whose adopted siblings who will reign over the redeemed created order in the age to come, fulfilling the purpose for humanity that was intended at the beginning but lost with Adam. A little soteriology; a little Christology!
Yeah, I don’t think you would have to be either a Calvin or Barth expert to understand Gibson’s book (it is is PhD diss though), I’m certainly not 🙂 .
I like what you you have to say in re. to the Adam motif in Romans. Although I’m not a one-for-one kind of guy when it comes to the 1st and 2nd Adam; I think there is certainly a relationship (a Pauline one no doubt), but that the relationship (contrary to the classical Covenantal/Federal scheme) is asymmetrical with the 2nd Adam greater than the 1st. Which it does seem like you would agree with as well.
I think I didn’t really explain the dstinction is getting at well enough here; maybe someday you’ll have a chance to read the book (to be honest, it is quite dense, I’m having a little trouble working through it — not because it’s not clear, it’s just that Gibson’s work and reconstruction is very very detailed oriented [so it’s not a page turner 😉 ]).
I like how you’ve summarised Romans though.
Now I should probably just “go” 😉 .
*I need to proofread my comments more often.
“I think I didn’t really explain the distinction between Calvin and Barth well enough here;” . . .
@Bobby: I would very much agree that the second Adam is much greater. Jesus is greater as a individual and Jesus’ saving action is greater than Adam’s sinful action.
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