Francis Schaeffer on Preaching Law and Gospel

One unique mark of Reformation theology is the important emphasis on preaching Law and Gospel. Called God’s two words, the Reformers believed that Law and Gospel was the thread that ran through the entire bible.

Law—God’s word of demand that declares us all guilty before God is to be preached until the hearer is brought to despair and then the Gospel—God’s word of deliverance that declares us all justified before God is to be preached to bring deliverance to guilty people on account of what Jesus has done for them. The distinction between Law and Gospel is what distinguishes Reformation folks from the ‘hippie spiritualists’ that dot these parts.

You will not see the Good News of the Gospel until you come to terms with the bad news that you are.

The Christian philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer writing in the late 1960’s had this to say about what he called the ‘tearing down’ or  ‘negative message’ (Law) and the ‘positive message’ (Gospel):

“…we may say that there is a time, and ours is such a time, when a negative message is needed before anything positive can begin. There must first be the message of judgment, the tearing down. There are times….when we cannot expect a constructive revolution if we begin by overemphasizing the positive message. People often say to me, What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you had just an hour to talk to him about the gospel? I would spend forty-five or fifty minutes on the negative, to show him his real dilemma—to show him that he is more dead than even he thinks he is; that he is not just dead in the twentieth-century meaning of dead (not having significance in life) but that he is morally dead because he is separated from the God who exists.

“Then I would take ten of fifteen minutes to tell him the gospel. And I believe this usually is the right way for the truly modern man, for often it takes a long time to bring a man to the place where he understands the negative. And unless he understands what is wrong, he will not be ready to listen to and understand the positive. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get the answer without  having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychologically guilt feelings) in the presence of God. But the same is true on our culture. If I am going to speak to a culture, such as my culture, the message must be the message of Jeremiah. It must be the same in both private and public discourse.” (Death in the City, p. 60-61).

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