Way of the Master Review Part II: The Law and the gospel

Part I

WOTM draws on passages such as Mark 10, Romans 3:19-20, Galatians 3:24, Romans 7:7ff to argue that we must preach the law before we preach the gospel, to arouse an awareness of sin.

1. The basic point is good and right. You have to know sin to understand your need for your saviour. You need to know your predicament in order to understand your need for rescue. It is good, right and brave to approach evangelism with a willingness to speak up front about hell and judgment.

A whole range of pastors and theologians with two initials are quoted to defend this approach: C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, A. W. Pink and others.

But the problem, I think, is to argue that this is the way of the master:

Your job isn't to convince the person that there is a God' according to Romans 1:20, he already knows that. Rather, it is to convince him that he needs a Saviour, which the Moral Law will do. (Training Manual page 65)

2. The texts appealed to do not build a strong case:
  • Mark 10 is a unique treatment, for many reasons. In fact Jesus doesn't even get to the gospel. More than that, he doesn't seem to press that Rich Young Ruler for his claim to have obeyed the commandments, but rather for his failure to sell everything and follow Jesus. Later, when the disciples claim that they have forsaken everything to follow him, Jesus credits that.
  • Romans 3 and Romans 7 do in part talk to us about a subjective awareness of guilt, but that is not their primary point. Their primary point is that the law confirms our objective guilt before God. It is the role of the law is sealing and confirming beyond any doubt that God is right to judge us, rather than the role of the law to arouse a personal sense and awareness of guilt.
  • Galatians 3:24 is talking about the role of the law in salvation history, not in the personal conversion story. In fact, in context, this passage argues that now that Christ has come, the law no longer has a role to play!
3. Preaching the law before the gospel is not the one, biblical way of evangelism.

Acts 17 and John 4 demonstrate different approaches to evangelistic approach. The former affirms the desire for the Creator to know his creatures and then accuses us of guilt for our rejection of created realities, not transgression of the moral law. The latter describes the offer of eternal life, before the accusation of adultery.

Of course WOTM advocates can squeeze these into the WOTM framework, but there are significant difference in emphasis and approach in these passages.

But I don't want to get bogged down in choosing narrative examples. We can always squeeze them into our system. I would rather draw on larger theological categories:
  • Romans 1 and 2 demonstrate human guilt, not before the moral law, but because our knowledge of God from creation.
  • Romans 3:19-20 demonstrates human guilt through Israel's moral failure - if they have failed to please God with all their privileges, we are all guilty.
  • Some passages, such as Joel or Obadiah, accuse people of guilt because of their treatment of Israel, the chosen people.
  • Many NT passages seek to arouse human guilt by proclaiming the gospel itself - see John 16 or Acts 2.
4. The law itself, in particular, is not needed to arouse guilt. It is God's word at work in the human heart by God's Spirit that does it.

5. The WOTM approach is more cultural conditioned than it will admit. For example, their suggested response to someone who doubts the reality of hell:

Explain that because God is good, it makes sense that He will punish sin. (Training Manual p. 54)

Does it make sense? Really? Try that response on your average Australian pagan! The Training Manual offers many testimonials for people who have been been blessed by WOTM, and it is telling that most of these come from places like Texas, with a huge nominal Christian population.

Among nominal Christians, all you need to do is arouse their guilt for what they already know, and implicitly believe, and call on them to respond.

With pagan, postmodern, biblically illiterate people, something more thorough, more slow, more holistic is needed.