My previous post in this series made the case that evangelicals for various reasons largely ignore the Old Testament, this avoiding about 75% of Scripture. Since “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable…” doing so skews their view of God, our relationship with Him, and other spiritual issues.
But that’s not the only part of Scripture where evangelicals find inconvenient truths. The Synoptic Gospels, consisting of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, also comprise foreign territory for many evangelicals. Sure, they provide some great passages for Christmas and Easter services, but those chapters in these gospels in between the birth of Christ and the cross can be troublesome.
The discomfort stems from the evangelical gospel, which is formulated predominantly from the writings of John and Paul. Those authors clearly teach that we are saved by grace through faith alone. John 3:16, for example specifically states that, “… whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Salvation by faith alone became the rallying cry of the Reformation and comprises a foundational truth for all evangelicals.
The difficulty arises with our understanding of the nature of saving faith. Contemporary evangelicals, at least from a practical perspective, reduce saving faith to cognitive belief. The condition for salvation entails believing that the sacrifice of Jesus paid for my sin.
Some might contend that evangelicals also assert that this faith not only needs to include a head belief but also a heart belief. However, since seldom is the difference between a head and heart belief identified, and since it is far from apparent, this assertion adds little to the evangelical understanding of faith.
The teachings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels often paints a divergent picture of the requirement for salvation. We find verses such as Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
We also find Jesus teaching:
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25)
When the rich, young ruler asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus responded:
You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:19-21)
When this man left sorrowful, apparently unwilling to pay that price, Jesus said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” This statement indicates that salvation was in view in this discussion.
This story and the other passages above do not fit comfortably with the contemporary evangelical understanding of salvation, and therefore most evangelicals tend to carefully avoid them. How often do we find these teachings of Jesus in a presentation of the gospel? One pastor, whom I respect highly, in preaching on this story asserted that this perspective on salvation does not apply to us because this was a teaching of Jesus prior to the cross. Apparently it did not occur to him that this is true of John 3:16 also.
The Synoptic Gospels include many such passages that conflict with the gospel as usually presented by evangelicals. I again emphasize that since Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is by faith alone, I am not suggesting that these passages militate against that scriptural perspective. However, they should contribute to our understanding of salvation by faith alone, and specifically to the nature of faith. Failure to give equal time to the Synoptic Gospels skews our perspective on faith and the gospel and on our understanding of the Christian life.
A major plank in the evangelical platform consists of commitment to the inspiration of Scripture. However, the tendency of evangelicals largely to ignore the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels does not support our self-proclaimed position.
The problem goes even deeper. Evangelicals tend to avoid other aspects of Scripture also. I plan to discuss that issue in my next article.