Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The church must never move beyond the Gospel. It seems odd that a church could “lose” the Gospel but it is more common than we dare imagine. So much of the preaching and worship of the church is focused ultimately on what we can do rather than on what God has already done in Christ. Much of Christian spirituality is driven by achieving subjective mystical experiences rather than resting in the objective reality of the accomplished work of Christ. When this happens we begin to embrace, albeit unknowingly, a religious program of self-salvation. D.A. Carson writes:
"Many have commented on the fact that the church in the western world is going through a time of remarkable fragmentation. This fragmentation extends to our understanding of the gospel. For some Christians, “the gospel” is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom. After that, real discipleship and personal transformation begin, but none of that is integrally related to “the gospel.” This is a far cry from the dominant New Testament emphasis that understands “the gospel” to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together, and takes Christians from lostness and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies, and to the new heaven and the new earth."

To be Gospel-driven means that the Gospel will be our central message, the narrative of our lives, our motive for ministry, and our power in evangelism and missions. In this sense, we never move past the Gospel. Part of the genius of the Gospel is that it operates on two levels of reality. It is the simple message of salvation: Jesus died for sinners and rose victorious over the grave. It is also the deepest of deep truths. Who can fathom the mysteries of grace that caused the Son of God to become a curse in the place of sinners?

Therefore, the Gospel is a reality that drives the people of God. The Gospel will drive our worship. Our singing, preaching, and practice of the ordinances (Lord’s Supper & Baptism) are all shaped primarily by the cross. The themes of serving, sacrifice, and humility that are inherent to the Gospel will drive our fellowship. The call to repent and believe in Jesus Christ will drive us to the world to declare the good news of salvation. The promise of God’s coming new creation where love, holiness, and justice reign will drive us to engage the culture in such a way as to give people a foretaste of these kingdom realities.

Tim Keller of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church points our three ways that the Gospel gives us freedom to move into our culture:
1. The Gospel makes us humble
The Gospel requires radial humility. It requires that we give up on all notions that we can save ourselves or even help ourselves spiritually. It requires total dependence upon God. People defined by the Gospel are used to receiving. In this sense, the Gospel guards us from arrogance and gives us the freedom to say, “I have much to learn.”

There is much we can learn from culture. More specifically, there is much we can learn from lost people. We are not their Savior, Christ is. We are their servants. If we listen well we can learn the best ways to serve them and embody the saving service of Jesus.

2. The Gospel makes us confident.
To be humble is not the equivalent of lacking confidence. The Gospel allows us to say, “I have much to give.” We need not fear that we are like salesmen seeking to move a product that few people really want or need. The Gospel is news. It is the announcement of what Jesus Christ did to bring sinners to God. It is the best news in the universe. It is relevant to every age, every race, and every culture. Every man, woman, and child needs to hear the Gospel.

3. The Gospel makes us courageous.
It is not uncommon to fear the prospect of moving closer to the surrounding culture for the purpose of making the Gospel known. But there is a courage that the Gospel imparts that enables us to say, “I have nothing to fear.” Paul’s attitude is instructive. His perspective on his life is that he lived to declare the Gospel and would therefore be given as many days for that purpose as God determines. But if he departed this life then, as far as he was concerned: “that is better by far.” The Gospel does not make us irresponsible but it does not allow the idolizing of safety and security.

A Gospel-driven church will offer a radical alternative to any culture the world produces:
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding sexuality. The world has perverted and twisted sexuality. On one hand, libertines exploit and idolize sex. On the other hand certain moralists have given the idea that there is something inherently wrong with sex. The church understands that sexuality is a good gift from God to be experienced within the blessed relationship between husband and wife. For the Christian, sex becomes an expression of love where giving is magnified over taking; mutual joy over selfish demands. Because so many people have been harmed by the fallen condition of our world the church must be prepared to surround them with a compassion and community shaped by the Gospel.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding marriage and family. Christians understand that marriage is a reflection of God’s covenant love and loyalty toward His people. They are committed to teaching God’s ways to their children. The church also affirms the goodness of singleness. Some are called to be single for a time and others for life. Whether God calls His children to marriage or singleness He does so purposefully for the sake of displaying His goodness and sufficiency.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding money and possessions. Christians are committed to generosity with all of their resources. They strive to ensure that there are “no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). The Gospel frees us from both asceticism and materialism. Christians who have been blessed with much or comparatively little will seek to use their money, their home, and their time for the benefit of others. They can give freely because they have come to know that Christ is sufficient and does not need to be augmented by material goods.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding power and status. The world craves power and status. Power is seen as having an advantage over others. Status is enjoyed by being an object of envy. The Gospel turns these worldly values inside out. Power is displayed through weakness and status is achieved by being the servant of all.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding social connections. The world is divided along racial, economic, political, and generational lines. The church fails when it reinforces those divisions. A Gospel-driven church consistently seeks to bridge man-made barriers between people. The Gospel heals racial strife and creates a community where godly older men and women mentor those who are younger. People will neither be despised nor envied because of their economic situation. When conflicts arise, as they surely will, a Gospel-Driven church actively pursues reconciliation as defined in Scripture.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative to social action. In the world, social action becomes corrupted by political agendas from both the left and the right. The church is not a social services organization. However, it clear from Scripture that the church will be judged in part by how they treated the poor among them. There are churches today that do an excellent job of caring for poor people but are no longer faithful to God’s Word. There are other churches that are meticulously careful regarding doctrine but do little to meet the needs of the poor and lonely. The task for the Gospel-driven church is actively engage the needs of the poor without being co-opted by liberal doctrine and political agendas. On the other hand, the Gospel-driven church will watch their doctrine closely without being political bed-fellows with those on the right. The Gospel-driven church is wholly owned by Jesus Christ and cares only about His agenda and priorities.

The Gospel changes us. The Gospel-driven church says, “Because we have been forgiven, we will be forgiving. Because we have been shown mercy, we too will show mercy. Because we have been taken out of captivity, we will lead captives to freedom.” In this way, the Gospel becomes both our central message and the controlling motif for our lives. John Ensor writes in his book The Great Work of the Gospel, “Recipients of the gospel become servants of the gospel.” He continues:
“Servanthood is a way of life among the forgiven…We began as guilty sinners, living empty lives, and through the sanctifying power of His Spirit and belief in the truth, God washes, heals, molds, and spurs us on to a place where we wake up every day of our lives with the highest of all purposes for getting out of bed. We serve the living God...
“The great work takes the hostile and turns them into partners in the ministry of the gospel…It is not the Spirit of grace that for so many has made comfort and retirement the end of Christian faith; it is the Spirit of the age gone unchallenged. When grace is at work and on the move, cross-bearing in hard places, fed by the secret spring of joy in a better world yet to be realized, is found in its wake.”

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Because I am often asked about the Emergent Movement I thought I would link to this book review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy (A Generous Orthodoxy). McLaren, the most influential of those within the Emergent Movement is often times coy about what he really believes. In this particular book he shows more of his cards than he has in the past. The results are sad.

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More on the athiestic evangelism of Richard Dawkins from the fellas at Triablogue (Godlessness goes kitsch).

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

In an article in the July/August issue of “Touchstone” Magazine, James Harrison describes a recent visit to a Mosque in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison, a Baptist pastor from New York, was struck by the variety of people in the mosque that day. He called it a “true rainbow coalition.” Many, he writes, were “Middle Eastern” in appearance. But there were many others who were not. He writes, “Americans of European ancestry, or who were European-born, sharing something akin to my Irish complexion, knelt beside African Americans, North Africans, Persians, and Arabs of various stripes.”

One of the worshipers caught pastor Harrison’s eyes particularly. “He appeared to be in his early twenties and as American as apple pie.” So, after the service, Harrison approached the young, pale-faced Muslim convert. He asked him what it was about Islam that would cause him to convert. Interestingly, the reason was not about theology.
“I grew up in church. My parents took us to Sunday school every week. They even went to church themselves, on and off. And what I remember about church is that no matter where I went, everyone was just like me. As I grew older, I noticed, too, that people who were not like me all had their own churches, as well.
“Islam is different,” he said. “I’m sure you noticed that. It’s the first thing I noticed when I began to investigate Islam. And that’s what prompted my conversion. If Islam can accomplish that, it’s something that I can commit myself to.”

That is a profound observation. The churches I have been a part of have, in most cases, been just like me. And the reason is simple. I am most comfortable around people who are like me. This is true for most of us. And that fact was not lost on the architects of the church growth movement in the later half of the 20th century. One of the first principles discovered in the “science” of church growth is that churches grow best when structured along lines of homogeneity. In fact, “homogeneous groups” became official language for the church growth movement.

People are attracted to people like themselves. In contrast, people are not comfortable around people who are not like them. It became an easy equation. If you desire your church to grow, then target a specific group. Interestingly, it seems that most pastors want to target rich, white, suburbanites. I don’t know of very many pastors who feel called to plant churches in poor “black” neighborhoods. I know of many churches that moved from the city to the suburbs. But I know of no churches that moved from the suburbs to the city. North Dallas and Suburban Atlanta are far more attractive church planting fields than are Compton or Detroit.

Harrison writes, “When we allow our comfort to cage us in when we should be reaching out, we refuse to be and to do that which Christ has commanded, and our comfort has become a less obvious kind of sin.” He points out that early in American history many denominations came to be defined along lines of national origin: Swedish Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc. However, these nationalistic designations did not reflect well the barrier breaking character of the Gospel. “Eventually, many came to see this desire for comfort as a hindrance to the mission of the church.”

I do not believe that the push for homogeneity among the church growth experts is racist or bigoted. It is, I believe, simple pragmatism. The leaders in the church growth movement were not prophets. They were marketers. They understood what people wanted. Therefore, the conclusion was that if the church would simply supply consumers (George Barna’s language) with what they wanted then the church would grow. One of the things people want from a church is comfort. And one of the things that makes most people uncomfortable is being around people who are different from them. The conclusion was simple. Create churches for people just like me. This could be done, we have been promised, without compromising the message. But is this true? I believe not.

Harrison continues:
“The idea seems to be that if we can be more like the culture, or like a specific subset of the culture, the people will be comfortable with us. If they are comfortable with us, we’ll be able to convince them that not only are we just like them, but Jesus is just like them, too. And if they think Jesus is just like them, maybe they’ll want to follow him. Why they would want to follow someone who is just like them, however, remains a mystery…
“But what makes the Gospel unique is the way in which Jesus is not like us. I don’t need someone who is just like me. I’m sinful. I need someone holy. I’m human. I need someone divine. I cannot stand under the wrath of God. I need someone who has stood there in my place. I cannot raise myself from death to life. I need someone who can raise me up because he himself has been raised…
“[T]his emphasis on similarity is not a good thing for the church. It runs counter to the biblical ideal of what the church is to be, and also counter to the biblical example of what the church is to accomplish before a watching world.
“In the New Testament, whenever a problem of cultural or racial division arose within the church, the solution to the problem was not separation into compatible social or racial groups. The solution was to foster ever-increasing union around the gospel and its implications…
“The church is to be an earthly representative, imperfect though it is, of the heavenly glory, in which men from every tongue and tribe and nation are gathered together, worshipping the One who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.”

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More on the Southern Baptist Convention and numbers from the editorial pages of Christianity Today(Evangelical Conviction).

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

This article written for Baptist Press by a professor at Boyce College at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is worth the read ((BP)).

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Al Mohler has posted a blog (Heresy in the Cathedral) about John Shelby Spong's visit to Australia. If you don't know, Spong is an Anglican from the U.S. whose views are so heretical he would be hard to caracature. Anyway, Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has refused Spong entry into any of Syndey's Anglican pulpits. In a day where there seems to be little or no price to pay for heresy, Rev. Jensen's move is laudable.

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

John Piper on the Prosperity "Gospel".

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I found this video posted at "Recover the Gospel" (Allow Me to Reintroduce the Christ.). It may be a bit unconventional for white suburban Christians but it is powerful. There is more good theology and doxology packed into this presentation than many church goers heard last Sunday in their church.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Tony Kummer over at "Said at Southern" has posted a good interview with Derek Webb (Derek Webb podcast interview).