Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, both pastors at Sojourn in Louisville, have written a new book together, Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey (Crossway, 2013). I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Their emphasis on “the whole gospel for the whole church for the whole world” is balanced, comprehensive, and pastoral. Put this on your reading list.
Today, Daniel and Mike join me for a discussion about their book.
Trevin Wax: You’ve written a book together called Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey. What is it about us evangelicals that prompted you guys to think we need a “map” of some kind? Was it so we would have a way of navigating the different emphases we hear from different leaders?
Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper: Two things sparked our sense that we needed a map.
One is actually exemplified right here on your blog – the vast variation of gospel definitions offered by saints, pastors, and theologians throughout history.
In one sense, there’s a remarkable sense of unanimity about the gospel. (Many of the definitions are echoes of one another.) But in another sense, we see that the definitions have some discord. There are different ways of nuancing and emphasizing one aspect of the gospel over and against emphases on others.
Among evangelicals, we see a kind of tribalism emerge as people rally around one emphasis or another. And – as tribes tend to do – they go to war against one another. So you get the gospel-as-cross (or gospel-as-atonement) guys lobbing verbal bombs at the gospel-as-kingdom guys or the gospel-as-grace guys.
“It’s all about the cross,” says one.
That’s vampire Christianity,” says the other. “You want Jesus for his blood and nothing else.”
And with that kind of conflict, we’re still only talking about gospel-centered folks. Others (those who view the gospel as some sort of entryway to Christian life, and not as the center) want to make mission the center of the church, or some aspect of the church’s identity – community service, worship, or discipleship.
Which brings us to the second reason…
As young pastors, we struggled in the midst of all these conflicting voices. For a while, we drifted from vision to vision, until by God’s grace, we saw the gospel as the key to the whole Christian life. From there, we had to wrestle with what the gospel actually was. Eventually we found John Frame, and of course Tim Keller, and their tri-perspectival understanding of the gospel brought a great deal of clarity.
So Faithmapping is something we’ve written for the folks in our church and beyond who want to trace out a holistic vision for the Christian life, seeing the connections between a whole gospel, the life of the church, and our mission in the world.
TW: What are some of those connections? Spell out how you’d make connections from the gospel to… let’s say “mission.” How does the tri-perspectival understanding of the gospel impact the church’s view of mission?
First, we need to remember the gospel of grace. Grace tells us that God has freely accepted us at Christ’s expense. It changes the way we’re present to the world because we aren’t bound-up, neurotic, and fearful. We’re welcome. We’re loved. We’re being transformed (hopefully) into more settled, less anxious, more confident children of God because of our confidence in his grace.
Second, we remember the gospel of the cross – the good news that Jesus life, death, and resurrection have paid for our sins and brought us into community with God. It’s a message that simultaneously reminds us of human sinfulness and divine provision – that the world (including us) is a dark and sinful place, but that Jesus’ sacrifice is a perfect atoning payment for that sin. It should empower and motivate our message. The world needs the mercy of God.
Third, we remember the gospel of the Kingdom – the good news that through Jesus, God is inviting us to live under His rule and reign once again, as it was always meant to be. It’s a kingdom that has already won the decisive battle, and will unquestionably move forward.
So to put it slightly differently, God’s grace frees us from fear, reminding us that we’re welcome and accepted by God. God’s cross reminds us that we carry a crucial, life-and-death message to the world, motivating our journey out into it, and God’s kingdom gives us confidence that our mission is, ultimately, going to be a successful one.
TW: You focus on some key words the Bible uses to describe Christians (worshippers, family, witnesses, disciples, servants). How does the gospel shape us into the kind of people who worship and witness?
DM & MC: Being witnesses and worshipers is more basic to human nature. Prior to being Christians, we were already worshipers and witnesses. The way we’re wired up, as Harold Best so perfectly describes it, is that we’re “continuous outpourers.” Our lives are oriented towards praising, celebrating, and honoring, and our action in the world is always functioning this way.
Think of the way that people’s lives get oriented around a certain brand of politics, a school or sports team. Parents get oriented around the lives and achievements of their children. Young lovers become oriented around one another. In every case, they both worship and witness, pouring out their lives to the person or thing loved, declaring their love and loyalty to the wider world.
One aspect of our sanctification is the re-orientation of our hearts, a right ordering of worship with God at the center and these other objects of our love and affection in their proper place – as gifts of a loving Creator.
This is true of all the identities. Like worship and witness, we gravitate naturally towards family (tribal or party loyalty), service (“We’re dying to give ourselves away to something,” as David Foster Wallace once said), and discipleship (think of how people adapt to new cultures, absorbing their habits, language, and traditions in relatively short periods of time). The identities are aspects of what it means to be human, and in Faithmapping, we’re trying to look at how those aspects are transformed – renewed, if you will – by a life lived in the good of the gospel.
TW: What’s the end result you hope will be true in the lives of those who pick up Faithmapping? How do you hope churches will be impacted by your work?
DM & MC: Three goals come to mind.
First, we hope that – in a way that’s clear and simple – we’ve helped to map out the connections between the gospel, church, and mission, leaving folks with a sense of the breadth and depth of the gospel, as well as a vision for how it sits at the center of the life and ministry of the church. You really can center your life, ministry, and church on the gospel.
Second, we hope that we can help to spare folks from some of the confusion that plagued us. A lot of lip-service gets paid to “gospel-centered” these days, and for us, understanding what that meant functionally and theologically took a lot of work.
Some theologians talk about the “perspicuity” of the gospel – the fact that it is clear and able to be understood (as opposed to being an opaque mystery). A five-dollar word like that can sound silly or pretentious, but ultimately, it’s an important idea.
In our day of fads, hype, internet trolls, and flame-throwing theological battles – some of which are important – understanding the roots and foundations of gospel, church, and world can be hard. Our goal was to find a way through the fog and help people see clearly what we believe the Bible is saying about these crucial ideas. Because that clarity was such a struggle for us (in the early days, when we were planting Sojourn), we think it’s probably a struggle for others as well.
Third, we hope that people get excited about the gospel. Yes, there’s a plethora of books, conferences, and tribes that are talking about the gospel, but frankly, it’s not enough. We haven’t said it enough. We haven’t preached it enough. We haven’t pounded the table enough.
Evangelicals are still battling with our tendencies towards assuming the gospel, sidelining it as a mere entryway, or dismissing it as an artifact of a previous generation’s faith. So even if a thousand “gospel” books were published next year, it probably wouldn’t be enough to overcome the barriers and assumptions that stand against gospel-centered efforts.
If our book helps a few folks to see the gospel more clearly, more centrally, then we’ve accomplished our mission.