We are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.
Recovering Means it was Once Lost
The reason why this whole thing is newsworthy today is because these doctrines were relegated to the back page in previous decades. In other words we are susceptible to seeing the same thing happen before our eyes. Imagine for a second those young people back in the mid-90’s listening to Piper or Sproul for the first time. Their theological synapse start firing at a rapidly joyful rate. They suddenly get a big God complex and can’t stop talking about the greatness of the gospel. Twenty years later they look around at a conference and there are nearly 10,000 other people who have likewise come to the same gospel boasting session. Amazing. Look ahead 40 years later. Someone in their 20’s writes a book about what happened a half-century ago. They marvel at how quickly this gospel wildfire was lit and spread, but also they observe how quickly it went out. After a couple of generations it’s history. This, in my view would be tragic.
It would also be preventable.
We Desperately Need Hermeneutics
My chief concern today is not primarily a matter of theology …
I find it ironic and troubling that so many who wave the gospel-centered flag too often carelessly let it touch the ground in their writing, tweets, and conversations. Far from being semantics, this issue communicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and its implications for holiness.
It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”
When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”
In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.
If you are a Christian then you have convictions. If you are a Christian who knows other Christians then you probably have realized that we don’t all agree on everything. As a result, it is incumbent upon those who name Christ to consider how we engage with those who have different doctrinal foundations and ministry expressions. The two loudest arguments we hear are those who tend to be overly critical and those who tend to be overly accepting. On the one side folks want to limit their full affirmation and support of a teacher and ministry to those within their “tribe” (referring to people just like them). Others, resisting this, build a big tent and welcome as many people in there as they can.
As I have thought about this more and more I find it ironic that both sides are after the same thing: influence. One side wants to protect people by minimizing it and others want to influence people by expanding it. It is truly fascinating to watch and observe.
Recently I was able to sit on a panel for a discussion among some local church planters. One of the questions was, “What are you most concerned about with the gospel-centered movement?”
Before expressing any concern I want to be clear: I am very encouraged by the recovery of the center, the gospel, among many, particularly younger evangelicals. This is essential for us at this hour.
At the same time I have a cause for concern. My chief concern is not primarily a matter of theology but hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation).
This past weekend our local newspaper (The Omaha World-Herald) ran a story on some of the things happening in our church, Emmaus Bible Church. As you can imagine it was a great encouragement to us to have our paper take interest in what we are doing. But it was a double surprise to see the the article on the front page of the Saturday paper, on Easter weekend!
Without giving away the article, here is one of the lead quotes:
As Easter approaches, a youthful congregation marks the end of its first year in a striking church — 103 years old.
As the saying goes, what’s old is new again. But not too new.
“We practice cutting-edge, 16th-century Reformation theology,” quipped Pastor Erik Raymond, 36. “We’re very old-fashioned, but we try to do it in a fresh way — engaging, compassionate and authentic.”
The funny thing was that this question was in response to the writer’s question, “What new things are you doing to attract this growth?”What a blessing to testify to the enduring power of God’s Word to change lives and the beauty of Christ to captivate hearts. In a pragmatic, subjective culture, this is a fresh gust of the gospel breeze (on the front-page no less!).
Another interesting note. On Wednesday nights our kids come together for Bible memory, devotions, singing, and games. My wife teaches the kids music. One of her most successful methods in teaching the kids to participate and memorize Scripture …
Recently my wife and I were able to visit with a gentleman who restored home to its original design. The home was actually a mansion, built in the late 1800’s. The mansion lost its luster through a number of events in the early 1900’s. By the time of The Great Depression the home was turned into apartments. By 1990 it was vacant, a sad monument to the past. Within a couple of years it was nearly destroyed in a fire. Our new friend purchased it and over the next 15+ years, worked tirelessly to restore it to all of it’s 19th Century glory. He succeeded. Some may even say he exceeded his task. It truly is beautiful.
As we talked with him he spoke of the hard work. His face showed the toil. He lost hair and gained wrinkles during the project. He likes the finished product by speaks reluctantly about it. As we pressed more he said something illuminating:
It has been said that in order to be polite in conversation one should not speak of politics, religion, or money. What are the three taboos are for churches? I suggest, money, sex, and race. It is this third topic that I want to discuss in this post.
Why is the issue of race something that a gospel-centered church should deal with? Simply put, it is because the gospel deals with racial reconciliation through gospel reconciliation.
How do we get there and why is it necessary?
As I continue working to establish and emphasize a Gospel-Centered DNA in our church I find myself fielding many questions concerning what being Gospel-Centered is as well as what it looks and feels like. In other words, people want to have it defined and demonstrated. In this series of posts I am trying to provide some basic consequences of a church that is centered upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since these are implications of the gospel taking root I believe that they can be true in our context at Emmaus Bible Church (Omaha, Ne) as well as somewhere on the other side of the globe. The gospel transcends zip codes.
In my first post I argued that:
1. A Gospel-Centered Church has a tone and character of grace.
Moving right along now I turn to the area of Christian Liberty.
2. A Gospel-Centered Church understands the place of Christian liberty.
Christians have Christian liberty (1 Cor. 9; Rom. 14-15). This means that we have the freedom in Christ to enjoy many created things without fear of condemnation. We understand that created things can neither commend nor condemn us before God (Gal. 4.8-9; Col. 2.8, 2.2-23; 1 Tim. 4.1-8). Therefore, as Christians we have the privilege of freedom to enjoy various aspects of creation without fear of judgment.
When the gospel takes root in a person and a church there are obvious and less obvious consequences. We know the obvious. People will be characterized by prayer, humility, joy, sacrifice, generosity, and mission. But what about the less obvious benchmarks of a gospel-centered church? This is what I am after here. I have been reading, watching, listening and learning from others as well as dusting our own congregation for clues as to better discern the look and feel of a gospel-centered church. I am doing this because I believe that being gospel-centered is inextricably linked to being faithful. In other words, being gospel-centered is not one option among many, it is the only option that we are given. It really is that important.
What follows is not a complete list but it is a start. In other words, these things will be present in a gospel-centered church. If the church is not gospel-centered then they will not. I can say this confidently because they are necessary implications of the gospel.
What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?
Churches often obscure the glory of the gospel by reducing it to something less than it is. Some understand the gospel only as doctrinal content to be believed. Others diminish it to a personal, subjective experience of God’s presence. Still others see it as a social cause to be championed. The gospel is none of these, and yet it is all of these. A truly gospel-centered church understands and embraces the fullness of the gospel as message, community, and mission.
The Gospel is a message that is to be preached or proclaimed (Mark 1:14; Acts 14:21; Rom 1:16; 1 Peter 1:12). It is the story of God’s redemption of his fallen creation. It is the good news that God has acted in history to conquer evil, rebellion, and sin and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-12). A gospel-centered church is one where the gospel is proclaimed clearly, consistently, and compellingly and applied to every aspect of life (1 Cor 9:16-23).
The gospel is not just a message to be believed, but a power to be experienced (Rom 1:16). The gospel shapes a new community as those who were formerly God’s enemies are reconciled to Him (Rom 5:10) and adopted into his family (Gal 4:4-7). The church is not a place, …