Presenting a Trinitarian gospel

Jeff McSwain
The Jan./Feb. 2008 issue of The Journal of Student Ministries includes the article "Reconsidering the 'Non-Negotiables'" by Christian Smith (Notre Dame) and Douglas Campbell (Duke Divinity School).

The article is written in defense of Jeff McSwain and other staffers recently fired from Young Life (YL) for advocating a Trinitarian view of the gospel - one grounded fully in God's triune nature and Jesus' incarnation.

Though Smith and Campbell acknowledge that Young Life has a valuable ministry and that their teachings are, in balance, fully orthodox, they believe that YLs position on how the gospel should be presented to teens is "defective" in that it espouses a "conditional and sequential understanding of salvation" that is dependent upon our own "human repentance and faith."

They note that "the theological commitment entailed in [YL's] position is a belief that God saves us because we repent - that salvation isn't accomplished for people until they take action to embrace the gospel. In other words, God has provided *nearly everthing* for our salvation; but God's work remains ineffective until humans contribute their own last part of the transaction by 'making a decision' and having faith."

Campbell and Smith call this theological position, "insidious 'works righteousness' [that is] alien to the sovereign love and grace of God in Christ at work through the Holy Spirit." They note further that the YL position, "reflects less a biblical gospel of God's elective and covenantal redemption than our American culture's preoccupation with contractual agreements."

The authors believe that the YL position overlooks an "important tradition in the historic Christian faith...teaching that it's possible for humans to respond to God in repentance *because and only after they have, in fact, been saved by God.*"

They continue: "Jesus' removal of sin is not somehow conditionally dependent upon our acts of remorse for our perceived sin. Our repentance and faith *per se* add nothing to our salvation; they are mere responses accepting an already established, divinely accomplished fact of redemption."

Campbell and Smith are careful to note that this understanding of the gospel is not to be equated with universalism (a frequent, but unwarranted, objection to Trinitarian theology).

Campbell and Smith assert that, indeed, "a Young Life staff member can faithfully proclaim the gospel to teenagers without having to tell the story in such a way that suggests that their salvation is dependent upon their own acts of remorse, repentance, and faith." There are many precendents within the historic, orthodox Christian faith that say they can.