What is the Gospel?
Sadly, this is a question many Christians get wrong due to lack of good, biblical teaching. However, most who get it wrong can be easily and successfully corrected.
In short, the Gospel is the story of Christ: His life, death, burial, resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4). There is some nuance to add to this, as Jesus said he came to proclaim the “Gospel of the kingdom”. This was the message that the kingdom of God has come. But it wasn’t just some event separated from Christ that He was proclaiming. The Kingdom came in Jesus Himself. So there is harmony between what Jesus presented and what Paul explains. Paul’s definition provides further detail to Jesus’ declaration.
Salvation, then, comes from faith in Christ, which is believing the Gospel. Salvation is not of works (Eph. 2:9), and depending on works at all is condemned (Gal. 3:10).
At its core, the Hebrew Roots movement is about one thing: the Law of Moses applies to believers today, just as it applied to ancient Israel. Beyond this, though, it is very hard to say much about the movement that actually applies to the whole movement. Does the law apply to all people everywhere at all times, or just to believers who, by faith, are entering into a covenant with God? Are all of the laws still applicable, or do some, like the sin sacrifices, find their end in the work of Christ?
For many in this movement, this change is a drastic one. It is hard for some not to think that they’ve been lied to their whole life. And if they’ve been lied to about the law, what else about Christianity is wrong? Every doctrine is up for grabs. As a result, the Gospel often gets the Hebrew Roots treatment as well.
Three Hebrew Roots Gospels
As of writing this, I’ve basically encountered three distinct views of the Gospel within this movement. Let me go over those briefly, here, and I will name names, because this is the Gospel we’re talking about.
Torah Resource – The Biblical Gospel
Starting with the most level-headed, we have Torah Resource, a teaching ministry that believes, really, in the biblical view of what the Gospel is, namely the work of Christ. In the intro to one of the podcasts they produce, they say that salvation is by grace through faith, and even affirm that they believe in the doctrines of grace, that they are “Calvinistic” in their soteriology. They affirm the same method of salvation for all time, citing, as Paul does, that Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”.
Basically, Torah Resource is fairly close to Protestant doctrines, with the main difference being a belief that the Law of Moses still applies to all believers today.
119 Ministries – The Mashup Gospel
119 Ministries takes a different perspective. Though they do say they believe that salvation comes from believing the Gospel, and not of works, they twist what this means by changing the definitions of these words.
In a video on their YouTube channel, called “What is the Gospel?” which is still posted as of the writing of this article, they redefine “Gospel” to be the “good news” received by Moses at Sinai, namely, the Law. And they redefine “faith” as “faithfulness” to the law. In other words, believing the Gospel becomes synonymous with keeping the law.
This is very much explicit in the video linked above, but many other videos, which do not talk about what the Gospel is, but just talk about faith and works, sound like they don’t stray too far from what Scripture says, other than the repeated refrain of keeping the law.
I pointed out the clear and grievous error found in their gospel video on an episode of BW Live. Almost immediately, an employee at 119 Ministries contacted me, seeking to clear up confusion. In our email exchange, he presented to me what sounded like a biblical Gospel, admitting that he could “understand” why I came to the conclusions I had from the video, and that their position on the Gospel was poorly communicated. He stated that they are planning on updating those videos, making it more clear what they believe. That exchange was in November, so it has been several months and they haven’t taken down the videos or replaced them at this point, so I can only conclude at this point that they either really do faithfully represent their position, or if they don’t, the people involved are unconcerned about a badly communicated version of the Gospel being presented.
It is interesting that they did not say to me that I was right about what they believe, but that I didn’t understand what they believe, saying that they didn’t communicate it well. One consequence of this position is that they seem to be maintaining that the videos do accurately represent their views, but are easily misunderstood. For myself, I wouldn’t want something that serious to remain posted if I was shown that it was so badly communicated and so easily misunderstood. I got an explanation of what they believe, but no specific explanation of what statement I misunderstood in the video and how it somehow lines up with the biblical Gospel.
Since no changes have been made from their end, the videos are still up, and they have never explained their redefinition of relevant terms, I still hold that this is their view and have seen no reason to retract that or amend it based on any changes from 119 Ministries.
Gary Simon of Triumph in Truth – Complete Fall into Works-Righteousness
More recently, someone shared with me a sermon by Gary Simon of Triumph in Truth. In the message, Simon repeatedly states that the “good news” is that God will provide His Spirit and give us the ability and desire to keep the commandments. Absent completely is any reference to the work of Christ.
He cites passages that talk about works and judgment based on works, repeatedly asking, “Do you see anything in there about being saved by what you say you believe?” This presents two problems. First, only the most rank antinomian would claim we are saved by what we “say” we believe, and not “through faith”, which would be what we actually believe. He inserts this language over and over, even though almost no one would affirm it’s how they believe we are saved through belief in the Gospel.
Also, and it would be funny if it weren’t so incredibly tragic, his repeated comment about not seeing anything about faith in there, when citing these individual verses without their contexts, is simply a result of not citing one of the many clear passages about salvation through faith. It’s really easy not cite the evidence of the view you reject and claim the evidence doesn’t exist. This becomes truly comical when he cites Ephesians 2:10, which talks about how we were created to do good works God has prepared for us to do, studiously ignoring the previous two verses, two very famous verses, that say we are saved “by grace through faith, and that, not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.” When you listen to the message as a whole, it’s clear these verses are completely at odds with it, and so they are ignored. Truly astounding.
Conclusions – Where is True Unity?
Many in the larger Hebrew Roots/Torah Observant movement condemn Torah Resource for not truly being on their side, what with their staunch Trinitarian and Calvinistic theology. Many others would totally reject the blatant works-righteousness found in Gary Simons’ message, and good for those who do.
The lack of unity in this movement is well known, and not the primary purpose of this article. Those within the Torah movement who discuss this are quick to talk about disunity in the church. So we both have disunity, but it matters what we disagree about. In the Torah movement, it is almost a given for any area of disagreement, that at least one side consigns the other to hell (or whatever version they believe in) for that disagreement. “You don’t pronounce it “Yeshua”? You’re a liar and deceiver condemned by God!” “You mean you don’t follow the lunar calendar to calculate Passover? How can you call yourself a believer?” Of course, not everyone is like this, but it’s widespread. Add to this the real disagreements on issues of who God is and what the Gospel is, and you’re talking about what is central to the faith.
By contrast, there is a principle, recovered during the reformation, that has resulted in great unity among those who truly follow it. That principle is Sola Scriptura. You see, when you have people who are committed to the belief that the final authority in faith and practice is the Scriptures, you get a lot more unity on the truly important things. I see that I have much in common with Christians who are Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Assemblies of God, some Torah observers, and many others. We agree on the Trinity. We agree on what the Gospel is and how we are saved. We disagree about side issues, which vary in importance, but about the central issues of God and Salvation, we are in agreement.
The Hebrew Roots movement, however, is not even united here. There is disagreement even on what is Scripture, for starters, as many become enamored of the apocrypha and other second-temple Jewish texts. There are rampant claims of personal revelation and “leading” by the Spirit into all manner of doctrines at odds with one another. There isn’t really an apparatus to hold it all together. Despite dismissals by some that other Christians are just is fractured, it appears everyone is staking out their positions on various issues, but there isn’t even agreement on what counts as evidence for those positions, so some future unity looks unlikely.
True unity comes from the teaching of Scripture. Jesus and the Apostles cited the books found in the Temple as Scripture, and no others. For those in the Torah Observance movement who hold to the principles of Sola Scriptura, unity is at least possible. As I said, there is general agreement. However, it isn’t universal. I look forward to seeing, as much as God allows me to see it, the Scriptures being brought to bear on Hebrew Roots errors, and a move toward the fullness of Scripture, without artificially, and inconsistently, elevating some passages over others. In the meantime, we continue to contend for the biblical Gospel, and trust God to call His people