Josh Butler—a fellow at the newly launched Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics—will be leading a 7-week online cohort this spring on “The Beauty of the Christian Sexual Ethics,” based on his forthcoming book Beautiful Union (Multnomah, 2023). The cohort—limited to 200 participants—will meet weekly from May 11 to June 22, 2023. Learn more and register here.
For our neighbors to encounter Jesus and trust in him for salvation, the church must embody the reality of his kingdom in practical ways that bear witness to the good news of his reign.
What would this look like in today’s post-Christian culture, where some have never heard Jesus’s gospel and most simply consider it irrelevant to modern life? Three themes are significant.
1. Countercultural Community
God will draw in our neighbors through the contrast displayed when we embody:
- the unity of the Spirit amid a crisis of polarization,
- friendships formed by Jesus’s sacrificial love amid an epidemic of loneliness,
- the Father’s grace amid a culture of canceling those who disagree, and
- a culture of encouraging one another toward holiness in submission to God’s reign amid a society of hallowed authenticity and expressive individualism.
In these ways the local congregation becomes, to quote the missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, the “hermeneutic of the gospel.” We need the corporate witness of our shared life together: “Members of the household of God . . . being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19, 22). We need personal evangelism: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15). We need Christ working in us to display the riches of his grace to the world, forming the church as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
We need Christ working in us to display the riches of his grace to the world.
Amid disembodied digital life, where loneliness is rising, imagine the hope a countercultural community like this can offer. Older congregants become parents and grandparents to younger congregants. Singles are welcomed to the table as brothers and sisters within nuclear families. Leaders function more as fathers and mothers than as executives. The church is experienced as the family of our Heavenly Father, not primarily as an entertainment show, vendor of religious services, nonprofit, classroom, affinity group, or corporation.
2. All-of-Life Discipleship
God will draw in our neighbors through an all-of-life discipleship that rejects cultural dichotomies of sacred/spiritual, public/private, and spiritual/physical. These are false dichotomies because, to paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, there’s not one square inch in all creation that Christ doesn’t claim as Lord.
All-of-life discipleship will include:
- integration of faith and work that pursues vocation in society as a holy calling,
- critical appreciation for culture that resists both assimilation into culture and isolation from culture
- civic engagement that works with our neighbors to build a flourishing society where common ground can be found, and
- prophetic resistance to the idols of our day—such as totalizing political ideologies—and a refusal to bow to anything competing with ultimate allegiance to Jesus.
If the first theme of countercultural community speaks to the gathered church as an institution, this second theme of all-of-life discipleship speaks to the scattered church as an organism. Our church’s vision statement is “All of Life Is All for Jesus.” We seek to equip our doctors and teachers, business leaders and janitors, government officials and artists with a big and bold kingdom vision to pursue their vocations as holy callings and to empower their faithfulness in a complex culture.
Three specific all-of-life issues feel pressing pastorally: sexuality, gender, and politics.
Increasingly the Christian sexual ethic is treated with hostility, sometimes among self-professing Christians as well as the wider culture. We need a beautiful vision that can inspire Christians to obey not out of legalism but from renewed affections. We have a compelling case that God’s vision is better than anything else on offer. The same is true for gender. We need to equip Christians and inspire our neighbors with a vision of the goodness of God’s design for gender, in relation to the body, the family, and the church.
So many professing Christians are converting to “political religions” that compete with their allegiance to Christ. We need a vision that can explain the idolatrous forces at work. We must show how politics is more religious than we might think (and Christianity arguably more “political” than we think, though in a different way than many assume), and provide practical guidance for Christians cultivating a public presence that’s faithful, wise, and glorifying to the King of kings.
God will draw in our unbelieving neighbors if we keep the main thing the main thing. While “gospel-centered” can be a cliché today, it speaks to a foundational reality: the church is only as strong as the basis upon which we stand. The only strong foundation is Christ, through the centrality of his cross and resurrection as the climax of God’s story.
Such gospel-centeredness will prioritize:
- the ministry of the Word (in expositional preaching),
- administration of the sacraments (as divinely ordained means of grace),
- courageous conviction (that labors to demonstrate the truth, goodness, and beauty of orthodoxy),
- confronting both legalism and lawlessness in the life of God’s people (to foster a culture of grace), and
- cultivating prayer and worship (expressing itself in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication).
While ‘gospel-centered’ can be a cliché today, it speaks to a foundational reality: the church is only as strong as the basis upon which we stand.
We shouldn’t assume “seekers,” or even hardened secular unbelievers, would find gospel-centrality unpalatable. On the contrary, I expect the churches least ashamed by the gospel’s “offense” will be the ones most effective at reaching unbelievers in our secular age.
Imagine a 20-something burned out on political antagonism and exhausted from trying to carve out a secure future through his career. Imagine a shame-filled 40-something who finds her way to church because she’s weary of the “anything goes” excesses of the sexual revolution. They’re ready for real talk about sin, repentance, redemption, and hope. They’re ready for an identity that’s received rather than achieved, for the power of Christ that’s greater than their own. A gospel-centered culture of grace makes them feel welcome, while its seriousness about sin makes them feel safe.
Of these three themes, gospel-centrality is the priority. The other two illumine the type of life that should flow from such centrality in the people of God, like fruit growing from a root.