How the Gospel Confronts the Secular—and the Religious

How the Gospel Confronts the Secular—and the Religious

Collin Hansen interviews Phil Ryken


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Collin Hansen: In what ways is the gospel unique? That question opensSection Four of the Gospel Coalition’s theological vision of ministry. If you’re gonna call yourself The Gospel Coalition, you better explain why the gospel is such a big deal. And I think that’s what this statement does. Compared to 10 years ago, I hear more talk about the gospel, and perhaps that’s evidence of this statement sinking in, but whether it’s popular or cliché in another 10 years to speak of gospel-centered ministry, that’s still what TGC will do because that’s the whole point of our work.

Let me quote from Section Four because there is no greater privilege or motivation than this. “The gospel moves people to holiness and service out of grateful joy for grace and out of love of the glory of God for who He is in Himself.”

I’m joined on “The Gospel Coalition” podcast by Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, and a TGC council member to talk more about the gospel and what a difference it makes in our individual lives and in our churches. We’ll talk theology and application. Plus, I’ll find out if we’re being too hard on religion in this spiritual, but not religious, era. Dr. Ryken, thank you for joining me on The Gospel Coalition podcast.

Phil Ryken: Yeah, thank you, Collin. I’m an occasional listener and it’s great to be on the podcast.

Hansen: All right. That’s good. Well, it seems that even many people who have sat in church for years… And I used to think that this was only in those mainline churches or those Catholic churches and then I moved to the South. And I found it was true of many Baptist and Presbyterian churches as well, that they’ve sat in church for years thinking that their standing with God depends on their good behavior. Why is grace so hard to grasp?

Ryken: No, I think it’s totally contrary to our human nature and I think the way that the human heart runs is we want to have a way to justify ourselves to prove our own standing. And we want to do that in our relationship with God as well. And so, even if we, at some level understand, it’s all about God’s grace, God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ, and even if we understand that at some level, theologically, that as we go through the ups and downs of the Christian life, it’s easy to base how we think God feels about us on how we happen to be feeling about God. And so, I think it’s a common spiritual struggle that’s really part of human nature, Collin.

Hansen: Yeah. That would make sense of why it transcends different dominations, even ones where you’ll find that no, the gospel of grace really was preached in that place. But there was something lost in that spiritual transmission between what was taught and what was ultimately believed. And it makes sense that it would have much to do with that aspect of our human nature that wars against grace. So here’s one of the common things that you hear preachers say, that Christianity is the only religion of grace where God accepts us before we obey. I’ve heard it so many times. Now, I’m asking you, is that true?

Ryken: Well, I feel the pressure of that question, Collin, because I’m pretty sure I’ve said it a few times and I think I’ve said it in print. So I believe that it is true, although I suppose you would have to ask somebody who’s really an expert on world religions. But I think Christianity is unique. I think the gospel is unique. And by the way, we’re talking about the gospel in this podcast. And just to be clear, the gospel is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave with the power of eternal life. It’s the cross and the empty tomb. It’s the crucifixion and the resurrection. That’s what we mean when we’re talking about the gospel. And I think that is totally unique. You know, there’s no law to obey, no pillars of commitment to keep, no spiritual enlightenment that qualifies us for a relationship with the divine. It’s all about the saving work of Jesus Christ.

I remember reading an agnostic was trying… He had this kind of project in world religions. He wanted to combine all faiths into one faith and he just found that no matter how hard he tried, he could not make biblical Christianity fit with his broader scheme. It was kinda like the suitcase that was too big for the trunk. In the end, you had to leave it behind. So I think this is something that is truly unique about Christianity. Here you have God becoming incarnate, loving His enemies. You know, the message of the gospel is not, “Hey, go clean up and then come back.” It’s, “Hey, come and clean up.” I think that’s unique about Christianity. And I don’t think you have in world religions, anything like, for example, Rembrandt’s famous painting of the prodigal, which is at the Hermitage in Russia. This broken-down sinful, impoverished person, lovingly embraced in the Father’s arms without meeting any real prerequisites for having a loving relationship with God. I think this is a unique aspect of Christianity.

Hansen: Well, I remember going all the way back to the Gospel Coalition’s first conference, just about 500 people. We sold out the chapel up there at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School back in 2007 and I sat on your workshop on justification and union with Christ. That’s one of the reasons why I reached out to talk to you about the gospel here because this is one of the things you explained so well. And in this statement, this aspect, this point of the theological vision for ministry, there is a little reference just, “In Christ.” It’s so similar to what we often see in Scripture. So explain what it means to be united to Christ.

Ryken: Yeah. Collin, first of all, thank you for remembering a talk I gave more than 10 years ago. I’d love for you to sit down with my children and to talk with them about some of your memory tricks. Very gratifying that something I’ve said is something that somebody actually remembered. So either you’ve done really good research or, but I’m grateful in any way in any case. You know, that phrase is so frequent in the New Testament, particularly in the writings of Paul, every spiritual blessing in Christ. This is the message of Ephesians 1, and in that context, Paul talks about being elect in Christ. But elsewhere, it’s being justified in Christ, being sanctified in Christ, being found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ. I mean, it’s just pervasive in the New Testament. When you put those passages together, this beautiful theology of union with Christ emerges. We are so joined to Jesus Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit that everything that is His becomes ours.

Calvin, at a certain point in the Institutes, talks about how look, you’ve got to understand everything Jesus has done for the salvation of the world, that’s of no value to you unless you are in Christ, unless you have faith in Christ, unless you have been joined to Christ, have union and communion with Him. But there’s a beautiful part, this is also in the Institutes, where he says, “Look, if you wanna find any gifts of the Holy Spirit, they’re gonna be found in His anointing. If you need any strength, that’s gonna be in His kingdom. If you need purity, it’s gonna be in His sinless conception. If you need redemption, it’s gonna be in His passion and His sufferings on the cross.” I mean, Calvin goes through all these things. If you need really anything for spiritual vitality or for eternal life, all of that is gonna be found in the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the glorification of Jesus Christ. It’s all in Christ from beginning to end. And I just think the union with Christ is such a beautiful doctrine and so, helpful theologically because you’re trying to figure out, “Okay, how does justification relate to sanctification?”

And, you know, we can talk about some of those specific relationships. All I know is that everything I need is gonna be found in Jesus. And so, putting my faith in Him, everything that is His will become mine. And the images that the New Testament uses to describe this is so beautiful. It talks about us being a bride. We’re united to Christ in a marital relationship. We’re united to Christ in a corporal relationship like parts to a body. There’s an organic relationship. We’re branches in the vine. There’s a kind of spiritual relationship. We’re like living stones in a temple. All of these images that the New Testament uses to describe our relationship to Jesus Christ, there’s a beauty, there’s a power, there’s a completeness and a wholeness that comes. And on some level, there’s nothing more important in the world than being united to Jesus Christ.

Hansen: Let’s go there then to the other aspect of that talk from 2007. And I think an aspect of a relationship with God that is, I think more commonly known, at least, or commonly emphasized, and I’d say that certainly true since 2007, to some controversy as well. And it comes up in this statement from our theological vision for ministry as well. It says that we are, “Simultaneously just and a sinner still.” So for some people who might not know where that comes from, explain the origins of that phrase and why it affected such a drastic change in the Christian world, in our experience of God as so many people began to understand that truth.

Ryken: You know, Collin, when you say where did that phrase come from, I’m tempted to say it came from R. C. Sproul because so many times I have heard that gifted theologian and teacher, you know, use the Latin phrase [inaudible] and talk about Luther’s discovery and rediscovery of this doctrine. You know, in our justification we are declared righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us, which is credited to our account by faith. And now, the Holy Spirit does an ongoing work of sanctification in our lives. We are actually becoming more actually righteous, but it starts with being declared righteous in our justification and so, there’s this lifelong struggle. We are dealing with the remnants of sin. On the one hand, it’s true that we’re justified, we’re declared righteous in Jesus Christ, but we’re still struggling with all of the fallenness of our fallen nature. And that’s not gonna be fully resolved until we get the glory, and finally, we are not able to sin. But, you know, in this in this life, we’re still in an ongoing spiritual struggle, which I find understanding that to be really helpful because it helps me not to get too discouraged and not to feel like, “Oh, I’ve fallen into this sin. Therefore, my salvation is in jeopardy.”

No, I need to recognize my salvation is secure in Jesus Christ by faith. I need to come in repentance for the sin that I’ve committed. And, in fact, Luther said, and it was really, maybe I didn’t make this clear to really answer your question, it’s Martin Luther that really rediscovered these things and championed them in the Protestant Reformation. And Luther said, “All of life is repentance.” And the reason all of life has to repentance is because all through this life, we’re still struggling with the reality of sin. And it doesn’t mean that we’re not a Christian. I think when you understand simultaneously righteous and a sinner, and you understand that you don’t need to lose the assurance of your salvation, it actually becomes very motivating for obedience because you know your salvation is secure. You’re resting in the love of your Heavenly Father. And out of gratitude for that, you really wanna grow to become as righteous as you can be and be faithful and obedient in the Christian life. And so, rather than sort of, you know, like teaching us to not even care about our obedience, I think really understanding simultaneously just and a sinner still motivates us to live the Christian life as faithfully as we can.

Hansen: So Luther had the problem with acceptance from God. That was his original struggle there. He understood only all too well, according to his confessor and others, his sin. Our era seems to have reversed that. And one of the areas where you see that come through, especially, is in parenting where the emphasis is almost entirely on acceptance but not on the fact that we’re parenting sinners and we’re parents who are likewise sinners ourselves. And I’ve seen a really strong pushback from people when you talk about how we need to teach our children that they are sinners. But what happens when we teach love and we teach acceptance, but we separate that from sin?

Ryken: You know, I have to say, Collin, your question is really interesting to me because this idea that there would be pushback to teaching our children that they’re sinners, it is just so diametrically opposed to the way that I was raised or everything that I think about parenting and the Christian life, it’s almost like it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it. And I think one thing it illustrates is you’re never gonna be a good theologian or probably a faithful disciple, unless you can hold two things together that need to go together and keep them in your mind and put them into practice at the same time. So we’ve got to both believe in the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the human will. We have to believe in both the divine identity of the son of God and in his human nature. And when you move one direction or the other too much and you lose that biblical balance, you’re really gonna be in trouble. And this may be one of those areas. Absolutely, our children should be loved and accepted unconditionally on the basis of their dignity as persons made in the image of God, their exalted status as our sons and daughters. And that is not at all contrary to making sure they realize that the reason they have trouble with obedience is because they have a sinful nature.

I’m not sure we have to do a huge amount of teaching on that. I mean, the Holy Spirit speaks to the conscience. I think a mistake that a lot of parents make is just pointing things out to their kids too much. A little of that goes a long way. You know, say it once and your kid heard it. And you don’t necessarily need them to say back to you what you said to them. They heard you. Let them have some time to think about it and process it. But there is a place for saying, “Hey, you realize, you know, why this is such a struggle. You realize why you did it is because of the sinful nature that you have. And I’m praying for you that you will, you know, turn to Christ in repentance and faith for that.” So I do think there’s a place for pointing that out to our kids. But I also think it’s so obvious that children are sinners and children know it themselves. I think of the little girl in our church. She got caught literally with her hand in the cookie jar up on a high shelf. And the parent asked a diagnostic question and she said, “Well, sometimes the devil tempts me and sometimes he tempts me good.” And, you know, there’s a little 2-year-old theologian that understands the spiritual attack that we’re under.

I personally believe strongly in short, not long, conversations between parents and children. I believe just so much in love and acceptance and not being harsh with our children. I also think it can be helpful to just ask them a question that helps them diagnose, you know, “Why do you think… Even though I told you not to do that and you did it and you got in trouble for it and now you’ve done it again, what do you think is the problem here?” You know, getting them to think and reflect, asking them to do some processing spiritually and theologically, I think, can help our children. I just know Jesus Christ came to save sinners. The people that He loves are sinners. So I don’t think it’s harmful to children to understand that that’s the category that they’re in. I think it’s essential for their eternal spiritual well-being.

Hansen: I can’t wean myself off this completely unhelpful parenting question, especially to my son, “Why did you do that? Why did you do that?” I always wanna know, and I don’t know why every single time I expect some sort of reasoned response from him. Every time I get back the same response, “Because I did.” That’s it. That’s it right there, ” Because I did.” That’s the sin nature at work and my own sin nature of expecting that answer to be somehow different the next time.

Ryken: Yeah. Well, you know, part of the challenge of parenting is you realize children are the way they are because you are the way that you are.

Hansen: Yes. That is one of those reminders that we see. All right, so this Section Four as well from our theological vision for ministry says this, a little provocative, “Secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic.” So I want to ask you in what sense that statement is true, but I want to provide some of the context there. I would imagine that many secularists would absolutely disagree with that and argue that we can be good without God. I think it would actually even go further, maybe in ways that we see today in 2019 versus 2007 when this was drafted, that religion is seen as harmful in ways that it wasn’t at the time, that it leads to injustice or bigotry or other forms of harm. So let’s go back to that statement. We say secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic. Well, what do we mean by that? In what sense is it true?

Ryken: Well, you know, that’s a really good question, Collin. And I was involved in the… I was on the council of The Gospel Coalition, very involved in the meeting where we kind of finalized our theological statement. And, you know, the Presbyterians in the room were pretty particular about how things were stated. So I definitely remember coming into that process and feeling like, “Yeah, this is a good statement of what I believe.” And I agree… I mean, you’re kind of asking about this statement because it needs some balancing and it needs some broader perspective. And I agree with that. First of all, one thing I’ll say is I’m not a big fan of isms of any kind. I think you could almost say this about Calvinism. I don’t love to be called a Calvinist, even though I am Calvinian in my theology.

But, you know, Calvinism can make people selfish and individualistic too if it’s understood in the wrong way. So it’s not as if secularism has a corner on this market. I think we need to acknowledge that there are some non-Christians who are better people in many ways than most Christians are. That’s part of God’s common grace. That too is a manifestation of His goodness in the world, that people are selfless, that they care about caring for the environment, that they’re loving towards their children, that they are perhaps seeing some things that are wrong with our culture in ways that Christians aren’t even seeing it and are working towards really positive redemptive goals. I mean, I wanna see that as a manifestation of God’s goodness in the world. And I don’t wanna give any impression that somehow Christians have a corner on the market of goodness.

I actually think, you know, one thing you know about a church is, okay, these are people here who they believe their theology. They know that they need God’s grace as much as anybody in the world. I sometimes say it on the campus of Wheaton College. “There’s not a college or university anywhere in the world that needs the gospel more than this campus does.” So I think we want to be humble about how much, you know, we need God’s work in our lives to get to a stronger place of selflessness and communal spirit. And I also think this comment is really talking about broader cultural trends. So I don’t wanna down with an individual secular person and say, “You know, the problem with you is you’re selfish and individualistic and it’s all because of your secular world view.” I mean, I think we’re talking about the broader trends here. And then we want to think and talk more maybe sensitively when we’re talking about a particular individual.

But I do wanna, in the right way as a pastor, particularly and maybe as a friend, challenge people just to examine themselves and see if they’re really the good people that they actually think they are or not. Are you even able to meet your own standards for what you think is right and good, let alone God’s standards? And I think about just some of the diagnostic questions that you can ask in a sermon that really get to heart attitudes about covetousness, profanity, anger. You ask the right kind of probing questions, I think any human being in the world, if they really take it seriously, they’re gonna kind of shake their head and say, “No, no, I’m not the good person I wanna be either.” And that’s true for people from a secular mindset. So I would want them to balance and nuance and contextualize the statement a little bit. But I think if we know Christ, we are moving in a direction of selflessness and a recognition of love for others. And I don’t think you can get in any other way. And I don’t think secularism is gonna ultimately make you a selfless and communally-minded person the way that the gospel can.

Hansen: Yeah. And part of those trends that you’re talking about there are evidenced in giving rates, and I think just how much money people give away, not just to churches, but beyond that and pretty stark the differences between people who are religious and people who are secular. Now, interestingly though, it’s not always broken down with what kind of religion. There are some benefits that accrue to people who are involved in a sort of religious transcendent community, and it doesn’t quite matter exactly which community that is in those cases, at least, as it relates to this contrast with secularism. But let’s come back then to specifically the gospel of grace that we’re talking about here that’s unique to Christianity. And this is what our statement says. It, “Removes self-righteousness and selfishness and turns its members to serve others, both for the temporal flourishing of all people, especially the poor, and for their salvation.” Here’s what stood out to me this time. Why include that little phrase, “Especially the poor?”

Ryken: Yeah. You know, I think there are a lot of reasons for that, Collin. One is how frequent care for the poor is expressed in the Scriptures as an important value for the people of God. And often, in a context of critique of, “Hey, you are not caring for the poor the way that your Heavenly Father wants you to.” I think especially the poor because they are typically the ones who are most in need of material help. And we see that all over the world. There’s so much poverty in the world. And even what we’re doing to address that I think is small, not large. Here’s another reason. It’s a Scriptural reason. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.” And there are a lot of reasons for that. It’s part of his Fatherly heart to care for the poor, but they’re not gonna be so blessed if the people of God are not eager to bless them. So in order for that blessing to be realized in the world, it’s the people of God, the children of the Heavenly Father, who know what it means to be a son or a daughter of God that really are gonna implement that care for the poor in the world.

I think of the example that Jesus set and how often his heart went out to the poor. And he did things to relieve their physical pain, their material need in a variety of ways without ever sacrificing the priority of preaching the gospel. So I feel really good about that phrase, “Especially the poor.” And I think when you look in the history of the church, when the gospel is really flourishing, if you look at the early church, the extraordinary commitment that early Christians made to caring not only for their own poor, so to speak, but for poor people in their culture, rescuing infants that were in danger of infanticide. If you look at the church in the middle ages with all of the poverty and struggle there, you look at what happened in the reformation cities and how the poor were cared for, I mean, we could just give example after example. And even in our own times, thinking about the important work that organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and World Relief are doing, you know, I think it speaks well of the people of God when they understand that God has given us, among all the responsibilities we have, very strongly, a responsibility to care for the poor.

Hansen: So often what we see in these theological debates, which can be unhelpfully abstract, but it says here that we work, in this statement that I just read there, not only for salvation but also for temporal flourishing. And I’m wondering, what makes it so hard for us to do both? I mean, you did point to a number of organizations. Samaritan’s Purse would be a good example there where they do a lot of evangelism as well as poverty relief, which is wonderful. So I wanna observe that a lot of places do it. But it seems like at least rhetorically, with a lot of the online discourse, especially that we’ve seen in recent years, that we’re pitting one against the other, that you have to care for one instead of the other, that there are different camps when it seems biblically, they’re one in the way that you’re talking, not one as in undistinct, but that they go hand in hand. We care as John Piper said at Lausanne, “We care for all kinds of, suffering especially eternal suffering and eternal need.” But why do we always want to be pulling them apart? And I think this is especially true of some reformed people who really want to preserve, for good reasons, the priority on evangelism. But it seems like then it becomes dichotomized. How do we get past that?

Ryken: Yeah. I wish I knew the answer to that, Collin. I mean, I’ve observed the same thing. I think it’s… You know, in leadership roles I’ve had, whether it’s been in a local church context or on a Christian college campus, it feels like you always have to fight for that biblical balance and, you know, people are going off in one direction or the other direction and not getting the full picture here. I mean, I think Jesus has given us a great commission to proclaim the gospel in all the world, and it is a proclamation of the gospel. It is also the case that caring for others through deeds of mercy is what I’m gonna call a necessary entailment of the gospel. That is, if you really understand what the gospel is doing in your life, this is gonna have to be part and parcel. How you love your neighbor is just part and parcel of the impact that the gospel has in your life.

So these things should never be separated, they should always be brought together, and they’re mutually reinforcing. So there’s something very powerful about the word of gospel testimony and proclamation that comes to you from somebody that has had mercy on you and has cared for your material circumstances. And so, I think deeds of mercy help create an open door for the proclamation of the Word. I think the credibility of the proclamation of the Word, in part, depends on the work of the church in performing deeds of mercy. I also think in the history of the church, you see people recognize, oh, there’s an imbalance. We’re like getting so focused on just needs of mercy and like we’re not even proclaiming the gospel anymore. You feel like then you have to sort of lean so hard in the other direction that now instead of actually having a balanced view, you’re in danger of an imbalanced view that needs to be pulled back to a biblical balance.

An analogy I sometimes use, Collin, you’ve already heard me say, I’ve tried to say to our listeners, boy, if you’re gonna be a good theologian and a faithful disciple, you’re gonna need to hold two things together. And I think of it is sometimes being in a boat and somebody has shifted their weight to the other side of the boat. And I’m gonna need to shift my weight in the other direction, but I’m gonna do that more effectively if I stay pretty close to the middle of the boat. So if you’re like way out on this deeds of mercy side, I’m gonna have to move over a little bit to emphasize proclamation evangelism, but I’ve got to stay in the boat. And I’m gonna be a better ballast if I’m somewhere close to the middle of that boat. So maybe that analogy works.

Here’s another way to answer your question. So your question was why do we have trouble with this imbalance, not so much what do we do about it? I think in the end it’s because we don’t really love people well. And so, there are some people that don’t have that Piper emphasis on proclamation evangelism. They’re more concerned about what people are gonna think about them than about the eternal destiny of the people that they meet every day. They don’t love them well enough to tell them what they need to know to be saved. And some people that are maybe interested in evangelism, they don’t really care about people’s material poverty, their health needs, just all the things that are broken in the world. They don’t really have a heart of compassion for that. I think the more completely that we love other people, both of those things are gonna flow naturally, supernaturally, really from our Christian discipleship.

Hansen: One last question here. And this has been so stimulating and illuminating for me. This is one that I teased at the beginning or during my introduction. This Section Four of TGC’s theological vision for ministry has a lot of the talk that I think has especially been popularized by Tim Keller over the last decade-plus about religion on one side, secularism on the other side, with Christianity in the middle. So religion is used in essentially negative terms here and we know that it’s very popular today to be spiritual but not religious. But I’m wondering, Dr. Ryken, are we too hard on religion or is perhaps that that terminology or that dichotomizing, is it ultimately helpful for us?

Ryken: Yeah, so these are great questions, Collin. And one thing I like about your questions is it’s forcing us to look carefully again at what this vision, the theological vision for ministry for The Gospel Coalition really says. And, you know, like any human document, there are probably ways that can be improved. I think the answer to your question on this one really is what do we mean by spiritual? What do we mean by religious? What is religion? And you hear all kinds of different definitions. And I probably don’t have the background or expertise to have my own carefully worked out, “Hey, this is what religion is. This is what’s different from Christianity.” When I think of religion, a lot of what I think of is things that are man-made. It’s something not divinely empowered. It’s sort of the outward trappings of religion. It’s the kind of thing Paul talked about when he was writing to Timothy. And there’s like a form of godliness, but it denies its power.

When I hear the word spiritual, I don’t know if that’s positive or not because there are many different spirits in the world. Some of them are evil spirits. In its true sense, spiritual, and I think it really helps Christians, if you’re thinking about the word spiritual, always to just bring this to mind. And that is spiritual means of the Holy Spirit. If it’s something positive and something that’s actually gonna make a difference in the world, it’s what the Holy Spirit does. So whether people are spiritual or religious, I wanna be somebody that is spiritual in this sense that I’m full of the Holy Spirit, religious in this sense, that I’m following what Jesus said about the kind of religion that is pure, and holy, and honoring to our Father. And that religion has a lot to do with not only loving God but also loving other people.

So I think understood properly, there’s a critique of religion that’s really helpful. And one reason I think it’s helpful, Collin, is because when people think about Christianity that don’t have a relationship with Christ, they’re thinking of it as a religion, kind of the external forms of things. And they’re not necessarily thinking about who Jesus is, what He has done, what it would mean to have a personal relationship with Him. So I think a lot of times when we’re saying, “Hey, yeah, no, I agree with you. Like religion, yeah, it’s unhelpful in a lot of ways, but let me talk to you about Jesus.” So I think if talking about religion by way of critique can clear the ground so that we can talk to people about Jesus, then I think that that critique is helpful.

Hansen: Yeah, that makes sense. My guest on The Gospel Coalition podcast has been Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, and a TGC council member, as you heard here, involved in the original drafting of these documents and one reason why I was so eager to talk to him. Dr. Ryken, thank you again for joining me.

Ryken: Thank you, Collin. Great to talk to you and to our listeners.

In what ways is the gospel unique?

That question opens section four of The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry. If you’re going to call yourself The Gospel Coalition, you’d better explain why the gospel is such a big deal.

And I think that’s what this statement does. Compared to 10 years ago, I hear more talk about the gospel, and perhaps that’s evidence of this statement sinking in. But whether it’s popular or cliché in another 10 years to speak of gospel-centered ministry, that’s still what TGC will do, because that’s the whole point of our work. Let me quote from section four, since there is no greater privilege or motivation that this: “The gospel moves people to holiness and service out of grateful joy for grace, and out of love of the glory of God for who he is in himself.”

I’m joined on The Gospel Coalition Podcast by Phil Ryken, president of Wheaton College and a TGC Council member, to talk more about the gospel and what a difference it makes in our individual lives and in our churches. We talked theology and application; plus I asked if we’re being too hard on religion in this “spiritual but not religious” era.

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast and check out other episodes in the series Why We Need Theological Vision.