It is a little confusing talking about 'gospel'. Take the very simple instance of reference to the 'four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John': does this mean there are four different gospel messages of which we need to take cognisance, or that there is one gospel in four versions ('according to Matthew', 'according to Mark', etc)? Traditionally the church has understood the latter to be the case. In the case of my post yesterday I referred to two or more gospels present in the Anglican Communion today (with special reference to TEC where a number of conservative bloggers often talk of two gospels at work in that church). It would be more precise to say the following:
(a) some claim that two different gospels are present in church X or communion Y - testing that claim will presumably yield a conclusion either that one gospel is true, the other is false, or each is a version of the one true gospel, or each is a false gospel.
(b) present in the life of church Z is a true gospel and a false gospel (and I know which is which and, of course, I am a supporter of the true gospel).
(c) there is only one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but it has many expressions, some of which, unfortunately, are misunderstood as false gospels, with a lot of energy misspent in unnecessary controversy.
So, yesterday, with reference to the current crisis in the Communion, I could more accurately have talked about the need to carefully test claims to follow and to proclaim the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ because it is being claimed that there is the true gospel as well as a false understanding of the gospel present at the heart of the crisis.
Such controversies over the gospel are not unique to the Anglican Communion today. The increasingly public (i.e. beyond academia) controversy over the theology of St Paul, often expressed under the heading of 'the New Perspective on Paul', is a true versus false gospel controversy circling around questions such as these:
What was Paul's understanding of the gospel? Has the Protestant church badly misunderstood Paul's understanding of the gospel since the renewed interest in Romans and Galatians generated by Martin Luther? Are proponents of the so called New Perspective on Paul misunderstanding Paul? What if both Martin Luther and the New Perspectivists are wrong?
Back to the Communion: part of what is going on with the absence of up to 10/38 primates at the imminent Dublin meeting is a conviction that if a false gospel is at work in the church this is (a) a very serious matter, beyond the pale of run of the mill differences in theological conviction; (b) a matter on which some New Testament texts give clear direction: there is to be no fellowship with proponents of a false gospel.
Is there a false gospel in the Communion?