Ray Ortlund and Sam Allberry continue the conversation about gospel culture, focusing on the necessity of honesty, openness, and courage within gospel community.
In this episode:
- Introduction—the need for enjoyment (0:00)
- Gospel culture in Scripture (6:09)
- Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (8:08)
- A new kind of community (11:37)
- Stir up one another to love and good works (18:26)
- Doing what a good statement of faith cannot do (23:54)
- Recommended resource: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund (26:24)
Explore more from Ray Ortlund the topic of gospel culture.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Sam Allberry: Welcome to You’re Not Crazy, a podcast for young pastors from The Gospel Coalition. I’m Sam Allberry. I’m here with my co-host and friend, brother-in-arms, Ray Ortlund. Ray, good to see you.
Ray Ortlund: Thanks Sam. Good to be with you.
Sam Allberry: We’re going to be continuing. Last time we were beginning to introduce the concept of gospel culture. We’re going to get into more of that today as we think about the issue of honesty. But before we get to that Ray, what is something fun that just lights you up?
Ray Ortlund: That is actually an important question, in my opinion, because I don’t think God created us to be bearing down in seriousness all the time. We might collapse under the strain of it eventually. So, I think there’s a rhythm and a sort of an oscillation to life, of intense effort followed by or completed by release, and fun, and recreation, and so forth.
Oh, remember that great story about Spurgeon, Charles Haddon Spurgeon with the New York preacher whose name I can’t remember, who was visiting Spurgeon in London, and they had been working hard that day. And at the end of their workday, they just said, “Oh, let’s go take a walk.” So, they’re walking out through the English countryside, having a blast. And this account says, “They were like children let out of school for the summer holidays.” And oh, Theodore Cuyler was the American preacher. And Cuyler tells Spurgeon a joke. Spurgeon rolls his head back and just laughs his full head off. And then he says, “Theodore, let us thank God for the good gift of laughter.” And these two, the article says, “These two mighty men of God, whose lives were filled with consequence, got down on their knees, on the green grass and thanked the Lord for the gift of laughter.”
I love that. So we work hard. We give ourselves completely. We do our best. We think carefully, and so forth. Then, we go do some just ridiculous fun. And that oscillation back and forth is healthy. So my answer, as you know…
Sam Allberry: Your ridiculous fun is…
Ray Ortlund: Deer season. Sam, I could go to a therapist and pay a lot of money, but that therapist would say, “Ray, you need to go hunt.” So why not take that money, go buy a really good deer rifle and just go hunt. So, what about you? What is fun for you, Sam?
Sam Allberry: Well I’m from England, so hunting isn’t quite the same thing, unless you have your own estate. But for me actually getting outside, getting into, you mentioned the English countryside. If I can get up into some British hills, either the Lake District in England or the Highlands in Scotland, that’s my kind of banner headline, real way to unwind and get some restoration going. But other than, that more week to week stuff would just be catching up with friends, playing games, going for walks, cooking for others, and just enjoying being, at the moment, here in Nashville.
Ray Ortlund: I’m so struck by that. Getting out into what God has made, as opposed to being oppressed within a complete environment of what we have made is healing.
Sam Allberry: Creation is designed, isn’t it, to reorient us. Somebody said once, “No one ever stands next to the Grand Canyon and says, ‘I am awesome.'” It just kind of re-proportions our sense of reality.
You and I are recording this in my home in Nashville at the moment. Behind you, on the wall is a map of the Isle of Skye. And so it’s interesting, we’re having this conversation and I can look beyond you and see the Isle of Skye, which is certainly one of the places God has put on this planet to do some theological reordering in my heart.
Ray Ortlund: It’s very powerful and moving to us. I remember Sam, years ago, speaking with a friend of mine who had been the dean of a Christian college. And he told me about a study that had been done of graduates of that college, who had left the Christian faith, and those who had remained faithful to the Christian faith. I was so struck. He told me one of the findings of the study was that a common theme among those who lost their faith was they grew up in urban areas.
What is a city? We know from Genesis 4, Cain created the city, Jacques Ellul in his book, The Meaning of the City, tells us Cain created the city. A city is more than a collection of buildings. It’s a social mechanism to keep us from having to depend on God. We can create our own interdependent reality and leave God out. So getting out from our citified, eventually oppressive environment into what God created and being overwhelmed with his obvious glories, the Isle of Skye, it’s of God.
Sam Allberry: I wonder if that’s why the New Jerusalem is a garden city. So you get the interconnectedness on the human front. Also, with that sort of punctuated with, blended with, something of the glory of God in creation.
Ray Ortlund: It’s what a Redeemer would do, to take The Garden of Eden, and this mechanism of human rebellion, and take them and recombine them together and make it into heaven. That’s amazing. So, okay. So that’s what you would like to do. I totally get it.
Sam Allberry: So finally, something we can have serious enjoyment and that’s okay.
Ray Ortlund: Yes.
Sam Allberry: Now, we were, last episode, talking about the concept of gospel culture, that gospel doctrine should issue forth and create gospel culture. Where do we see that in the Bible? Let’s pull out some verses. Give us a passage or two that really underline that connection for you.
Ray Ortlund: Okay. It’s such an important question because if gospel culture is just our, sort of, clever packaging of yet another to-do list for young pastors, it will only be oppressive. But I think gospel culture is the end of our to-do lists. And it’s actually entrance into the burden-releasing experience of gospel culture.
For example, so where is it in the Bible? How is this not our little clever shtick? Oh, Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7 “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Looking at that verse, I’m thinking, That’s fascinating. Where can the glory of God be seen in the world today, beyond the Grand Canyon, and the Isle of Skye? In our churches, the glory of God is seen when this happens, when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. And here’s what’s so captivating about that to me Sam, all this great theology in Romans 1 through 15, translates into, here’s the practical cash value, welcome one another. Not debate predestination. That’s a good conversation, but beyond that, when we get to chapter 15, it says, “Here’s how you do this, welcome one another.”
Sam Allberry: And Paul’s not just saying, “Hey guys, please be nice,” Because he’s saying, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” So there’s something distinctive about the welcome we’re to have for one another, because it’s meant to be of the same species of welcome as the one Christ has shown us.
Ray Ortlund: Right. So saying hi to one another on the way into church from the parking lot to the sanctuary, that’s a good thing to do. I actually believe small talk is a big deal, and I can prove that from the Book of Acts, but that’s another time, but simply saying hi to one another, it doesn’t work, because how could we say, “Therefore say hi to one another, as Christ said hi to you,” it doesn’t work. What has Christ done now? There’s the gospel doctrine, this vertical reality being revealed through the gospel. Christ has not just said hi to us, He has not just tolerated us, He has welcomed us. He has opened his very personal heart and said, “I want you in my reality now.”
Sam Allberry: I think this is so significant. I know where I’ve come from, one of the dangers of reformed evangelical churches is that we’ve turned the gospel into the cancellation of debt. We’re preaching mercy more than we’re preaching grace. So I actually went many years in my Christian life, not really hearing about the welcome of Jesus. I heard about the debt canceling death of Jesus. You’re now not a problem to Jesus. I didn’t hear much about what we’ve been saved into, into that welcome of Jesus. And that’s so significant for how we relate to each other, isn’t it? If Jesus is simply canceling my debts and forgiving my sins, but that’s it, that is still wonderful news, but all that really means I’m committing to relationally, my vision isn’t for much more than, let’s not have issues with each other. It’s not actually putting a positive energy into relational life, is it? It’s just simply saying, “Let’s not be against each other, because God isn’t against us now,” whereas welcome is saying, “Jesus has canceled our debts. He’s forgiven our sins and He’s welcomed us.” As you say, He’s opened his heart to us.
Ray Ortlund: He said, “I have called you friends.” He didn’t say to us, “You have won my friendship.” He said, I have called you, I’m redefining you as my friends.” Now, that’s now how we turn to one another. It says in Romans 15:7, “Therefore in light of all this gospel, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” So, okay, here you are, Sam Allberry. I have no right. If I’m going to say, I believe the gospel and I accept the gospel and preach the gospel, I have no right to settle for a thin and shallow relationship with you.
Now, I can’t have depth and intensity and richness with every Christian I know, but I can be open to and eager for that kind of relationship with everyone I possibly can have it with. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. So small talk actually is a big deal. I’m not putting that down, but when I walk into church, that is an environment where our relationships, we take the lid off of how far and how rich and how glorious, how honest, how gentle, how vulnerable, how real it can be.
When I feel with a man friend, the intensity between us is the affection, it’s becoming a little awkward and embarrassing, that’s good. We’re finally getting somewhere. That’s what I feel, in my insecurity, it’s what I feel when I’m actually daring to welcome that guy into my heart, into my life. So the gospel, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you,” is a clear call into uncommon, remarkable, astonishing, surprising, beautiful friendships. Jesus did not die and rise again to create a religious version of what already exists. We’re not just a new community in this work. We’re a new kind of community, where we come together and it gets intense quickly.
And it takes some getting used to, but we pastors, we’re the ones who can set this new tone. We can take the relational risks, look each other right in the eye, look our people in the church, right in the eye and just communicate our welcome, our affection, our openness. I’m so glad you’re in my reality. And when we find somebody, we stumbled into a conversation with somebody in the church that we just personally don’t resonate with, that’s a good indicator. My heart is in that moment, being stretched out to, at least, a little bit more like the heart of Christ.
Sam Allberry: Well, I feel very challenged by that. It’s Monday, today. So yesterday was Sunday. I was at church yesterday. I remember seeing someone in my peripheral vision and thinking, that person is quite a hard worker and I remember walking towards someone else instead to go and say hi, rather than to that person. That’s convicting. I need to look out for that guy next week and make a beeline for him.
Ray Ortlund: And deliberately move toward the people with a heartfelt welcome, for Jesus’ sake. That just reminds me Sam, one more thought and let me hand it off to you for a biblical evidence of gospel culture. My dad had dinner with Bill Bright many years ago, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Campus Crusade had just been through a hard time at the higher levels of leadership, there was tension there. And Bill Bright shared with my dad who shared it with me, that Bill had learned to love by faith. Not only to live by faith, but to love by faith. In other words, you walk into a room and there you see somebody and you don’t have the relationship with them now that you once had, and things are not as free and relaxed and joyous as it once had been the case.
And Bill said, “What I’ve learned is, let’s say they’re 10 feet between where I’m standing and where that guy’s standing. I’m going to love him by faith.” In other words, I’m going to deliberately make a beeline for that guy. Look him in the eyes, stick my hand out, greet him, welcome him into my reality. Trusting that by the time I get from where I am to 10 feet away, where he is, the Lord is going to give me the wherewithal I’m going to need for that to be real. That’s loving by faith.
Sam Allberry: I love that. You mentioned your dad earlier. I’m sure his name will come up a lot over these episodes. I remember you saying once that he, and you’ll maybe explain this better than me, but he used to say, “There are two mindsets you can have when you walk into a room where there’s a group of people. One mindset is to say, ‘Here I am. I’m here for you to notice me for you to take an interest in me.’ Or I can walk into a room and go, ‘There you are. I’m here to take an interest in you. You’re the focus of my attention, not the other way around.'” Which is another way of saying, “We welcome as Christ welcomed us.” Christ didn’t wait for us to notice Him and to come to Him. He came to us actually, when we were oblivious to Him and served us and loved us.
Ray Ortlund: I’m so struck by that. You know what that prompts in me, Sam, your comment, is that the experience of church, and I think I’ve gotten the impression from some of my brother pastors, who are theologically serious, as we all must be, that the experience of church, a church service should be so God-centered that we really shouldn’t be aware of each other, but where’s that in Romans 15:7?
Sam Allberry: Well, actually some churches pretty much turn off the lights so that you can’t see each other.
Ray Ortlund: I have to confess, I just don’t get it. We don’t do that at Immanuel church. Not only because we want to be able to look at the Bible in our lap, but also because the vertical grace coming out from above creates horizontal grace reaching out to one another. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.
True confession, I rarely feel like going to church on a Sunday morning. All right? There’s a kind of inertia, a lethargy, a depression, a blah, whatever. When I walk to my pickup to drive home after church, I am alive. I am pumped. I am re-energized. I actually, sort of float out of church. This happens every Sunday. Every Sunday, I don’t feel like going, every Sunday I don’t feel like leaving. Why? Two things have happened. I have heard gospel doctrine. I have experienced gospel culture and I walk out of that encounter a little less dead and a little more alive. Okay. So Sam, where do you see gospel culture in scripture itself?
Sam Allberry: Lots of places, but one verse that I keep coming back to is Hebrews 10:24, 25, where we’re told, “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works.” Then he says, “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” I’ve always seen the negative in that, don’t stop meeting together, as is the habit of some. And it’s a key verse for that. It shows us we’re meant to gather together. But the interesting thing is the way it’s worded, not neglecting to meet together, but he doesn’t then say, “Meeting together.” For him, the opposite of not gathering as God’s people is encouraging one another.
So, as well as the vertical dimension of church being, we come together to worship God, there’s also a horizontal kind of responsibility, which is, we gather together to encourage one another. That is an assumed outcome of our meeting together, is that we encourage one another. It’s not even that we meet to be encouraged by whoever’s leading the ministry or preaching that morning, we’re all here to encourage one another. So there’s lots of things that come under that catch-all term of encouraged, that there are times where we need to help each other in repentance and correct each other and all those sorts of things. But the net effect of going to church should be, everybody walks out more encouraged than when they walked in.
Which means whatever else is going on, I can always pray for two things when I walk into church, one is that, I would receive encouragement, that I would be willing to receive encouragement, open to it, aware of my need for it. And that I would be somehow by God’s grace a means of encouragement. And some people encourage you, just by physically being there. You catch sight of, Eddie [Sesco] at our church, I just need to see Eddie in my peripheral vision. And I’m encouraged because he’s there. He’s still persevering with the Lord. He’s just a faithful, dear, older brother in Christ. So some people actually, they don’t need to do much other than be at church with a pulse for me to be encouraged by them. But there’s something just so beautifully multifaceted about how that all happens.
Ray Ortlund: I remember sitting in church a couple of years ago and the band began the pre-service song and it was from Romans 8:31-39, “Nothing will ever separate us.” And they’ve got this sort of bluesy, rocky interpretation of it. And I just love it. And I’m sitting there enjoying it, minding my own business and out of my peripheral vision, way out at the left, I see motion. So I look over and 50 feet away, 75 feet away is a young mom. I know her. She does not have an easy life. I know something of what she’s facing and courage means to give courage to one another for what we’re going to be facing that week and the next week as well. Anyway. So I know something of what she’s facing and she’s standing and she’s dancing, not in a weird, make-me-feel-awkward sort of way, and no self-display, but she is too happy hearing scripture, Romans 8:31-39, put to music. The service hasn’t even begun yet, and she’s too happy to sit still.
That was such a powerful experience for me. She had no idea she was energizing me. She was re-oxygenating me. She was encouraging me, just by the authenticity, the honesty, the courage, the wholeheartedness, the all-in-ness of her heart for the Lord, that got her up onto her feet. And she was just giving glory to God. And she was so happy.
And Sam, I thought about the effort and hardship that went into planting Immanuel Church. And my thought at that moment was, all that we went through by God’s grace for His glory was totally worth it. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for her to be encouraged in Christ, to be lifted up by the gospel. Because she is energized, she is more able to face the realities of her existence, because Romans 8:31-39 is coming through the Immanuel Band, into her heart. And God Himself is detonating something here. And then it splashes over onto me? I love that. That’s a powerful experience. That is what God gives us in what we call church.
Sam Allberry: Yeah. And that’s why we need gospel culture, because simply having a good statement of faith tucked away on the website somewhere, on its own, isn’t going to do that. We have to let the gospel truth propel us into that kind of gospel culture.
Ray Ortlund: I’d never seen these verses in Hebrews 10 that way, that the alternative, the only alternative to neglect of our Sunday gatherings is gathering to encourage one another. Walking in the room, “Oh, there you are,” and going after each other with encouragement, man.
Sam Allberry: So church shouldn’t drain the emotional life out of us. It should be tiring in one sense, because we are giving of ourselves to others where our brains are being put to work. We trust and there’s energy being expended, maybe in the case of that lady, calorie is being expended as well. But it should all be in a way that actually, we feel, like you said, we want to float out of church.
Ray Ortlund: One of the things we pray for here, in Nashville is, we have traffic problems here in our city. So many people are moving in and we believe that’s God. We believe it’s part of His plan for history. But one of our prayers for our city is that the heaviest traffic jams will be on Sunday mornings because so many people are hurrying and crowding into the churches, not because they’re looking for a modest, a psychological uplift as they ramp up for their stressful Monday morning, but because something glorious, something divine is coming down. “A joy that is unspeakable and full of glory,” as Peter describes it in 1 Peter 1. And when we’re encouraged with that kind of nuclear powered, divine encouragement, I will drive down to church, if that’s what I’m going to experience. Not just to be a good Christian, but to die less and live more.
Sam Allberry: It’s funny, yesterday, driving into church, I thought I was getting a glimpse of that, just tailbacks to the hallway, and then I realized they had closed the interstate, but it would be lovely if that was the case, because people were desperate to find refuge in the church.
Well, there’s lots more to say on this Ray, but we’ll stop there for the sake of having mercy on our poor listeners. You mentioned, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you and how Christ opened up His very heart to us. We’re grateful to Crossway for sponsoring these episodes. A book, I think you’ve heard of it’s called, Gentle and Lowly. It’s about the very heart of Christ. It’s by someone called Dane Ortlund. Is he a distant cousin or something?
Ray Ortlund: I’ve met him. Yeah, my son and Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. That is gospel doctrine, perfectly positioned to spread gospel culture. So actually, that book is spreading out now into the churches of our nation and is being made available by a very generous grant to churches, to use in their small groups. And what if thousands of churches across our country, what if serious sinners start feeling cared for by an all sufficient savior?
Sam Allberry: Oh, I loved it. It’s a deeply powerful book and it shows us the richness of the welcome of Jesus, doesn’t it? I remember reading it thinking, really? And then he would just keep taking me to scripture and scripture and scripture. Okay. I see Jesus really does, He really does welcome sinners like me. So may that be a great catalyst to more people finding that welcome, and then reflecting that welcome in our churches.
Ray, thanks for your time. Thanks for this conversation.
Ray Ortlund: Thank you, Sam.
Sam Allberry: Thanks guys for listening. We’ll see you next time.
Ray Ortlund: We know you have a ton to do these days, and so it means a lot to us that you would listen to the podcast. Thank you for listening to this episode of You’re Not Crazy: Gospel Sanity for Young Pastors. Do visit tgc.org/podcasts for more episodes. And it would be great if you’d subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts. Thank you for doing that. Spotify, wherever you listen, wherever you hang out. Thanks.