Do we need to "defend" the gospel?
Surveying a variety of sermons online, blog posts, and recent books (mine included!), one might get the impression that evangelicals are so worried about the future that we have gone into all-out "defense" mode when it comes to the gospel. The true gospel is under attack. The good news of Jesus Christ is being maligned, altered, watered down, adjusted, or outright denied. We must defend the gospel that has been entrusted to us!
There is certainly biblical precedent for thinking of the gospel as something to defend. Jude tells us to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." The Apostle Paul claims that God planned for his time in prison to be "for the defense of the gospel."
But the general picture we see in the Scriptures is that the gospel is on offense. The gospel is described as powerful and explosive - unstoppable even. In all our talk about defending the gospel, it's possible that we might think of the good news as fragile and vulnerable. God forbid! Defending the gospel isn't like trying to keep a precious vase from breaking. It's more like running in front of a bulldozer saying, "Clear the path. The gospel is coming through."
So we do defend the gospel - in the sense that a strong proclamation of the gospel will always be seen as a defense against weak or errant proclamations of the gospel. And yes, we are called to recognize attacks on the gospel and be on guard as soldiers in a cosmic battle.
But we do not defend the gospel, if our idea of defense implies that our bungling of things might forever ruin the message upon which Christ has promised to build His church.
The gospel has a life of its own. It is the very power of God. It does not need to be shielded, as if its potency was dependent upon our protection. We fool ourselves if we imagine that we are the mighty protectors of a vulnerable treasure. Au contraire, it is we who are weak and frail and need to be empowered by the gospel.
It's the gospel that defends us. The unstoppable gospel is what stops the mouth of Satan our accuser, and says, "Leave them alone. They've been purchased by blood." The gospel is what seems like foolishness to the world and yet continues to be believed by millions of people in every generation. It's the gospel that comes to us, "as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing." (Col. 1:6).
The gospel is like kudzu that just won't go away. People try to stomp it out (persecution), trim it back (watered-down doctrine), or spray it with weedkiller (heresy), but the vine just keeps on growing. Defending the gospel? It's more like unleashing the gospel.
So take heart. The gospel is unstoppable!