My Charge to the spring 2013 Graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary

The first sermon series I ever preached as a newly minted United Methodist pastor back in 1984 was a series on the Seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus found in John’s gospel : Jesus said, “ I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the Truth and the Life, I am the True Vine, I am the Resurrection and the Life. All of these seven must have been indelibly written on the memories of all the disciples, not just John. We see it, for example, in the memory of Peter as recorded in 1 Peter 5:1,2 which I want to use as my charge to the 2013 class:

PLEASE READ THE CHARGE HERE ON SEEDBED.COM.

Honoring the Past. Forging the Future. Happy 90th Birthday Asbury Theological Seminary

In 1923 the Lord used Henry Clay Morrison to establish a school committed to spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world. From the outset it was clear that Asbury was not birthed to become merely another institution of higher learning that would grace the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Nor was Asbury established to be only a graduate theological institution, as noble of an endeavor as that may be. It was clear from the beginning that Asbury Theological Seminary was the birthing of a great Wesleyan vision. From our humble beginnings we were always enlivened by a mission that could not be completely captured by the word “education” alone. We were committed to sending forth Spirit-filled and sanctified men and women to the ends of the earth. We were both academy and church… we were both steeple and scroll… we were sound learning and vital piety… we were head and heart… we were mind and will… we were reflective scholarship and active mission… Never as two separate things…but as one grand integrated vision.

This is why H. C. Morrison, with only three students and a great vision, set the founding motto of the seminary as “The whole Bible for the whole world.” Yes, Asbury is a grand Wesleyan vision. Asbury is a God-sized, globally focused, biblically based, Wesleyan inspired vision of academic training and formation in holiness which 90 years later has not lost its sense of purpose and vitality.

Praise the Lord!

If you know anything about the history of graduate theological education in North America this is, in itself, one of the greatest miracles of all. This is not to say that we have not had our share of dark moments and difficult trials. But, even our greatest trials were shaping our vision in and through the cross of Jesus Christ and showing us anew the power of redemptive suffering, the urgency of prayerful dependence, the vitality of godly scholarship, and doing all of this by growing more and more into the grace of a joyful, generous community of faith and learning.

Tonight we stand one decade from 2023 and the 100th anniversary of Asbury Theological Seminary. We have a great and decisive decade ahead of us. In the decade ahead we will discover new ways to declare that “the world is our parish” as we train men and women from the ends of the earth and as professors from across the world stand in these hallowed halls to teach our students. In the decade ahead, we will grapple more fully with the reality that we live in a world where information flows horizontally, not vertically. The internet has fundamentally changed the way information flows throughout the world, and seminaries are not exempt from these forces of change. Every denomination that requires the MDiv is in decline and the profile of the pool of potential students is in a rapid state of change. In the decade ahead we must grapple with the growing reality that North America is one of the fastest growing mission fields in the world, even as we are simultaneously experiencing an exponential growth in Hispanic and Chinese and Korean and a host of other new church movements right here in N. America.

All of this requires fresh initiatives in evangelism, church planting and leadership development not seen since the days of Francis Asbury. But, as President of Asbury Theological Seminary, I want to say to every person here tonight: Asbury Theological Seminary is up to the challenge. I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission even when the church is global and the world is flat? I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission in the world of Google, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, iPads and YouTube? I ask you, can Asbury advance its founding mission even when the church in N. America has mostly lost its courage and the Devil is roaring? The answer is yes, because God is still on the throne! The answer is yes because God has not lifted His divine anointing from this institution. The answer is yes because the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes! The answer is yes because never before has the world been in greater need of scriptural holiness than the broken world we live in. The answer is yes because we have always believed that the even the greatest No of the world is swallowed up in the greater Yes of Jesus Christ. The answer is yes because, as John Wesley said in his dying words, “The best of all, God is with us! Amen.

[This address was delivered on May 20, 2013, by Timothy C. Tennent on the Kentucky campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of Asbury Theological Seminary.]

Psalm 87: Anomalous or Apostolic

Psalm 87 (see below) may strike a first time reader as an odd psalm. Why would an entire psalm be dedicated to people from various forgotten nations like Rhab (a name for Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush? Furthermore, why would they be found boasting that they were “born in Zion” as declared in verses 4, 5 and 6 of the Psalm?

We must understand that these nations represent the enemies of Israel. It is an early declaration that God’s global purposes will someday include “every tribe, language and nation” (Rev. 7:9). In one stroke the seven verses of this single Psalm demolish the widely held notion that the Old Testament is only about Israel or that the people of God in those days had a very narrow, parochial view of God’s wider redemptive purposes and that we must patiently wait for the New Testament to show us God’s deeper plan. God’s global purpose is revealed from the beginning of the covenant in Genesis 12:3 when he promises to “bless all nations.”

Zion here is symbolic of what it means to be counted among those embraced by the covenantal, redemptive love of God! He is the fountain of life for all nations and all people. This is why, we sing, even now, with the nations of the world that “all my fountains are in You!” (vs. 7). What would happen if next Sunday your church were to praise God for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan and Chechnya – because God has redemptive plans for all the peoples of the world!

1 He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
3 Glorious things are said of you,
city of God:
4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her.”
6 The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”
7 As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”

Three Cheers for Southland Christian Church

From time to time I have blogged about some of my concerns about mega-churches in North America.  It is not hard to find examples of how contemporary Christianity in North America has been co-opted by the culture and by a whole host of market driven assumptions.  I have observed on several occasions that mega-churches are far better at assessing where people are culturally than where they should be culturally.

Nevertheless, there also comes a time to pause and heap praise where praise is due.  I am continually impressed by many of the ways that Southland Christian Church is making a great impact on our community.  Southland is one of the largest churches in central Kentucky.  They have multiple campuses, and are based in Nicholasville, Kentucky.  They are showing the whole nation what a large church can really be.  Led by John Weece and a large staff, the people of Southland are showing us how the church can make a big difference.  Let me give you a few examples.

They have mobilized hundreds of people to serve the poor and feed the hungry and have demonstrated before this community what it means to love those in our midst who are in need.  Southland’s service to the poor makes you proud to be called a Christian.

They also have never lost sight of the core gospel message.   I did a survey of dozens of church websites one Saturday afternoon.   It was Southland Christian church which had the clearest presentation of the gospel on their website.   This is also reinforced during their weekly services.  On occasion I visit Southland and have found John Weece’s messages to be thoughtful and biblically sound.  He always points people to Jesus Christ.  More recently, the church has challenged hundreds of young people to read Timothy Keller’s book, the Meaning of Marriage.  It is a fantastic book which sets forth a strong case for the importance of traditional marriage and the long term joyful impact of fidelity.  I have heard testimonies of young people who have had their entire understanding of marriage revolutionized by being a part of this reading project.

These are just a few examples which demonstrate that Southland Christian Church is not just another mega-church.  They take their faith seriously.  They are certainly a model for other churches  – large and small – in the way they demonstrate the in-breaking Kingdom of God through word and deed.

I attend another church which is also doing some wonderful work in the community.  Our church recently successfully planted a new church in Frankfort, Kentucky’s capital.  At some point I’ll blog about them as well.  But, today I want to pay tribute to Southland Christian Church.  Keep up the great work, Southland!   In a day when the media is full of churches and church leaders who embarrass us, it is great to see men and women who make us proud to be a part of the church, the most amazing movement in the history of the world.

The Voice of Anselm Rises again

Anselm was a well known 11th century Benedictine monk who has mostly been forgotten by the contemporary church.  He was the Archbishop of Canterbury and was known for his courage.  His ministry was marked by many conflicts with the power brokers of his day as he insisted on the truth of the gospel.  He was also known for his great theological mind.

I would like to focus on Anselm’s argument for the existence of God.  Today the church is standing against a headwind of atheism.  This wind of atheism cannot last long because it has no foundation and offers no positive vision.  Nevertheless, the gusts of atheism do kick up from time to time and, tragically, slay thousands in their path.

Anselm’s ontological argument is powerful by virtue of its simplicity.  If God exists, Anselm reasoned, then He is the source of our life and capacity to think.  Therefore, it would be impossible for us to think of a God greater than the one who actually does, in fact, exist.  Therefore God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”   Anselm’s argument came back to me this week when I was reminded of an outspoken atheist named Bobby Henderson who a few years ago introduced what he called the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” religion as a parody against all religions.

Henderson’s basic point was that because it is impossible to prove that God exists, then, equally, no one could disprove his counter claim that the world was actually created by the great Flying Spaghetti Monster.  This, inevitably led Bobby Henderson to found the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a religion known as, you guessed it, pastafarianism.  However, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has exercised no redemptive acts, and by Henderson’s own account, exists only inside his head.

It wouldn’t take even an elementary school child five minutes to “think” of a dozen ways that the God of their deepest longings and hopes is greater than the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  So, if Bobby Henderson wants to “invent” a God, he at least should stretch the limits of his own imagination.  For indeed, the God of Biblical revelation is truly beyond even our greatest conception of him.  This God is not only attested through Scripture, but through countless ages in the lives of those who have been transformed as well as those who have been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  This is, after all, transfiguration Sunday.

Thanks, Anselm, you have reminded all the jaded 21st century cynics that even the mind of Bobby Henderson testifies against his own argument.

The “Yes” of God in Jesus Christ

The great poet Samuel Coleridge wrote a poem entitled The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  In the poem a ship is being followed by an Albatross, one of the great birds of the sea with a wingspan of up to twelve feet. They live on remote islands in the Pacific Ocean.   In the ancient world it was widely regarded as a good omen for a ship to be followed by an Albatross. However, in Coleridge’s classic poem one of the sailors Albatrozshoots the Albatross with a crossbow and kills it, bringing sure doom to the voyage. The sailor who shot the bird is made to wear the dead Albatross around his neck. This is where we get the common saying that someone is wearing guilt or shame “like an albatross around their neck.”

It is a helpful image because sometimes we do fall into the trap of thinking that God has laid an albatross of guilt around our neck.  He is somehow “against” us.   He is forcing us to carry some huge burden.  Perhaps we have a mental picture of an angry God who is just waiting for us to slip up so that he can say “I gotcha.”  We often live under a cloud of internal condemnation and carry the weight of guilt and fear like an albatross around our neck.  However, the Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that all the promises of God are “yes” in Jesus Christ.  God is for us.  Brothers and sisters, God is for you!  He stands with you this day and His word for you is always “yes.”

So, you may ask, what about all the times when God (or God’s Word) says “No” to us.  Isn’t that the “No” of God?   It is precisely here that we have to listen to God’s “no” more carefully.  When God says “No” we must always listen carefully to the hidden “yes” behind every NO of God.  In other words, God only says “No” because He is standing with us and longs for our deepest joy in fellowship with him and others.  Most of what we want God to say “yes” to are things which bring isolation  and destruction to us.  God does not say “no” to crush our joy.  He says “No” because that is the deeper “yes” to our greater joy.

You may feel like you have “shot the albatross” in your life.  You have killed the very thing which was to bring you a blessing and now you must bear that guilt and carry that shame for the rest of your life.  But, today, hear the Yes of God in Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, every sin has been paid for; every closed door flung wide open; every empty table filled with his abundance; every grave prepared for resurrection; every demon cast into the swine and sent over the hill; every broken wall has been rebuilt; every crushed dream has been renewed; every crooked way has been made straight; every sunset of despair has been turned into a sunrise of hope!  It is true that we do not yet see all of this.  We still await the final consummation. But, in Jesus Christ it is already breaking in!   Satan is being crushed under our feet.  The joy of the gospel is breaking upon us. The dead albatross is rising from our neck and taking flight to, once again, bring a blessing, not a curse.  Today, may you hear afresh the “Yes” of God in Jesus Christ.

Disruptive Evil vs. Disruptive Grace in Newtown, Connecticut

This past week we all learned of the horrible acts of evil committed by a 20 year old young man armed with an assault weapon in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In the end, 27 people were dead – 20 children (all 6 or 7 years old), 6 adults (including the mother of the killer) and the killer himself. This is a bold example of “disruptive evil.” It is the kind of evil which shocked and disrupted us at the deepest level. When the news came across the internet and television you could almost feel the shock and the depth of evil. Many of us were overcome with emotion and sadness. The normal course of our day and our lives was disrupted as the story of this horror entered our lives, and how much more so the lives of the parents and families of the victims. Jesus said that the devil comes to “kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10). This week we saw the devil’s work: children were killed, lives were stolen and families were destroyed. Apparently, it all happened in about two minutes.

Do Christians have anything to say in the face of such evil? Well, I think our first response is not to say anything, but to “weep with those who weep.” Our first response, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, is to share in the grief of those who are acutely sensing the depth of loss. We should first pray for those families. As a father of two children, I can only imagine the agony that news of such great loss brings. However, we must also remember that evil is not some strange outlier which occasionally raises up its ugly head in a kindergarten class or a movie theater. Rather, we live in a world which is headed towards death and destruction. The Psalmist declared, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any…who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none righteous, not even one” (Psalm 14:2,3). The evil which lost its cover and came so abruptly out in the open this week, is the same evil which is at work in the whole human race all the time in smaller ways.

In contrast, the gospel is about God’s intervention with “disruptive grace” which is even greater than the “disruptive evil” of this world. We are all headed towards death and destruction except through the merciful intervention of God. God has granted men and women free wills (or, more precisely, freed wills). This means that men and women are free to make real choices for evil or for good. Only free will truly makes love possible. God could have created a world of robots who obey his every will. But, obedience to God’s will is not the highest good. Rather, obedience which grows out of a love for God is. God wants our hearts, not just our obedience.

Love involves, by necessity, real choices, including the possibility of rejection. You can make someone obey you, but you cannot make someone love you. Therefore, the same free will which makes love possible also opens the door to the possibility of the utter rejection of God. Real choices which lead to evil, death and destruction are possible in this world, as we have seen this week. Both Mother Theresa and Adam Lanza made real choices in their lives. One chose to move to India and bring God’s love to the dying in Calcutta, the other chose to drive their car to the Sandy Hook elementary school and unleash evil.

This is part of a long narrative. Remember, on that very first Christmas when God the Father made the choice to send His son into the world, King Herod was soon found slaughtering infants in Bethlehem. The overlay of “disruptive grace” which ultimately trumps “disruptive evil” is a long road of redemption which winds though the ragged edges of evil and the crags of despair. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up well as he surveyed his own grim landscape of evil when he said “the arc of the universe is long, but it’s bent towards justice.”

If there is any comfort in this tragedy, it must be found in the knowledge that Jesus has borne all the evils and sins of this world on the cross, including the pain in Newtown, Connecticut. God alone knows the depth of this world’s evil. He alone has responded with the cross. The incarnation and cross of Christ is the ultimate act of “disruptive grace” which alone was sufficient to finally overturn the “disruptive evil” of this world. We do not yet see all things under his feet. However, in the end, God will judge the world and will set all things right. There are twenty children right now in the presence of Jesus who are counting on it.

Charge to December 2012 Graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary

From the iconic Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz we learn afresh of the importance of courage.  Who can forget those memorable words, “what makes the muskrat guard his musk?  What makes the Hottentot so hot, or put the “ape” in apricot? Courage.

Like the Lion, we may feel we’re not very courageous, but with God’s help we can be women and men of great courage and boldness tempered with honest, “truth-telling” humility.

There are few traits more needed by pastors and full time Christian workers today than that of courage.  As the church in the West moves from the warm “high noon” light of Christian cultural consensus, to the long “sunset” shadows of post-Christendom, it is easy to lose one’s courage – the moral nerve to stand with Christ and the gospel.  We would much rather occupy the cultural center than the prophetic margins.  It takes courage to announce the gospel even as it is being decried as outrageous and offensive.  We live in a society enmeshed in deep spiritual and moral chaos.  It takes enormous patience and courage to lead someone from the gutter of despair to the high road of holiness, through the power of the gospel.  It takes courage to confess Christ when even big swaths of the church have lost the patience to listen to him.  It takes courage to preach the whole gospel, not just the warm, fuzzy bits.  It takes courage to preach Christ, and not ourselves.  It takes courage to stand firm on the Word of God, when the prevailing winds of culture are blowing hard in your face.

The redemption of the world is hard, toilsome work and God has decided to not redeem the world without us.  So, December 2012 graduates:  go forth as men and women of courage!   Preach the Word with courage!  Pray with Courage.  Love with Courage.  Serve with courage.  Be courageous in your life of holiness.

There is a day in Wesley’s journal where he gets up in the morning and he preaches to a group while loud mocking noises and jeers are going on around him.  He travels on to the next stop, but before he finishes preaching he is pelted with stones and run out of town.  On his third stop he preaches, but some opponents let their animals loose which dispersed the crowd and caused a great commotion.  His final stop that day was an evening service where several thousand people gathered and the Spirit’s presence was sweet and powerful as God did his work, hundreds responding to the gospel.  It took a lot of courage for Wesley to get through that day.  You are going to have days like that.

It was the great 16th century Reformer Martin Luther who once said, “If I confess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all other battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace if you flinch at that point.”

Courage.  Go forth with courage, class of 2012, and don’t give the Devil a chink of light.

Reflections On How The “Love of God” Changes Us

In his 1937 landmark book, The Kingdom of God in America, Richard Niebuhr memorably described the weakened message of the church in his day as follows:  “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[1]  Tragically, Niebuhr’s devastating critique could easily be said today of evangelical Christianity.  Who has lost sight more of the depth of human sin, the certainty of God’s judgment and the call to repentance than today’s populistic, evangelical churches?  Have you noticed how the prayers of repentance and confession have dropped out of the order of services in many churches?  Have you noticed the quiet re-writing of some of the older hymns to drop out references to wrath, repentance and judgment?  Thankfully, there is a growing realization that, in our attempt to stay at the cultural center of consensus (rather than the prophetic margins) we have inadvertently participated in an obscuring of the gospel.

No where is this problem more evident than how the phrase, “the love of God” is used today.   So much of the biblical meaning has been squeezed out to comply with modern sensibilities.  The word “love” is used in our society for everything from “I love chocolate cake” to “I love that movie” to “for God so loved the world that he gave His only Son.”  The ancient Greeks,  as you know, had four words for love:  eros (erotic love), philia (devoted friendship), storge (parental affection towards children), and agápe (God’s love/ 1 Cor. 13 type love).  Each of these words have nuances of meaning and are used in a variety of ways in the New Testament.   But, it remains instructive.   When we say we ‘love our children’ most understand that this involves a wide range of responses and responsibilities which cannot be understood in merely emotive ways (though it would not exclude this).  When we love our children it involves, among others, acts of compassion towards them, learning to listen, honest truth telling, wise instruction, empathy when they are hurting, forbearing patience, loving discipline, the setting of boundaries, and so forth.  To neglect any of these would not be expressive of the full range of what it means to love.  This is, likewise, true in our relationship with God.  It is misguided, for example, to insist that God’s love towards us does not, at times, involve his disciplining us for our own good.  God has given us moral boundaries, not because He is a tyrannical kill-joy, but because he longs for us to know the deepest joy of His design.  In fact, God is so committed in his covenant-love toward us that He sometimes opposes us in our own inclinations, and deeds, and ideas as to what we think is right because His love is a holy love.

In today’s morally vacuous climate, we can easily become influenced by sentimental concepts of love which precludes his righteous judgment, or his loving discipline.   However, one of the surest signs of God’s love for us is that, like a good parent, He disciplines us, sets moral boundaries, makes judgments according to his revealed will, and so forth.  Sometimes His “discipline” and “truth telling” can really hurt and make us want to flee in the opposite direction.  However, we know from Scripture that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Paul says that “when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32).


[1] Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (NY: Harper Row, 1959 edition), 193.

Why The Church Is So Concerned With Same-Sex Marriage and Homosexual Ordination

I occasionally hear someone make the case that evangelicals have invested far too much energy fighting against same sex marriage and the ordaining of homosexuals as pastors in the church.  There are some who have become convinced by weak exegesis and, feeling the winds of culture blowing, have convinced themselves that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn homosexual behavior.  Texts such as Genesis 19:1-11 and Lev. 18:22; 20:13 and Judges 19:11-24 and Romans 1:18-32 and I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I Timothy 1:8-10 and Jude 7, not to mention texts like Matthew 19:4-6 where Jesus himself clearly teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, are all swept aside with some version of the question, “hath God truly said…?”   This is, of course, the well trodden response which first appears in Genesis 3:1 and has been a favorite wedge of the enemy against God’s Word.  I do believe that evangelicals must become more devoted readers of the Scriptures and less susceptible to specious arguments which erode thousands of years of faithful Jewish- Christian teaching.   But, I will need to devote more time in some future blog to address this problem.   In this blog I want to make a point of clarification about those who may agree that homosexual practice is wrong, but wonder why the church seems to be focused on this particular sin and not others.

Why, they argue, do we not seem to exhibit the same kind of righteous indignation against embezzlers or liars or landlords who oppress the poor, as we do against homosexual behavior?   Why, they go on to insist, do we single out this one sin when there are so many others sins we could – and should – oppose?  From this perspective, it seems like the church is doing the ecclesiastical equivalent of a “pile on.”

It is absolutely true that the church must take a stand against all manner of sin, whether it be shoplifting or rape.  All sin is, at its root, an expression of rebellion against God.  Therefore, the church must stand against anything which stands in opposition to His righteous rule and reign.  I think that sexual brokenness runs so deep in our culture that every pastor should take time to regularly address a whole host of issues along the “sexual brokenness” continuum, including pre-marital sex, fornication, adultery, pornography viewing, misogyny, etc.

However, the reason the issue of homosexuality has been highlighted so much in recent years is not, as is often said, because this sin is being singled out from all the others.  Rather, it is because this particular sin is seeking to be legitimized as normative in the life and experience of the church.  I expect the wider secular culture to embrace homosexuality as normative and, indeed, to be regularly bewildered by the strangeness of Christian teaching.  The point is, no one in the church has sought to promote the ordination of openly practicing adulterers or to legitimize the practice of usury.  If there was a movement among us to ordain oppressive landlords or habitual shoplifters, then I suspect that these issues would be regularly discussed as well.  No Christian is now saying that usury is a good thing, or that Christians should no longer consider it important to visit prisoners, or help widows in their distress.  However, we do have bishops who are telling the church that it is now permissible for someone to sodomize their neighbor.   The result is an attempt to legitimize homosexuality and same sex marriage, moving it from the “sin” category to the “sacrament” category.

So, to put in plainly, the church would rather not focus time and energy on homosexuality.   We actually don’t believe that homosexual practice carries a heavier moral weight than a whole range of other sins.  However, any attempt to relocate any sin from the New Testament “sin lists” to the celebrative, normative list must be addressed because it strikes at the heart of the gospel itself.