The idea that the gospel is weak and irrelevant is a patent lie, yet it continues to be a popular lie for the secular world to embrace and promote. You don’t have to look far to encounter portrayals of Christians—especially those “evangelical Bible-thumpers”—as out-of-touch and bad for society. We’ve been dismissed as backwoods, judgmental hicks. People try to persuade us and the world that we have nothing to say worth listening to, that the message of the gospel is weak, ineffective, and obsolete.
Is gospel Christianity dead? Pundits are writing the obituary of historic, orthodox Christianity, but pastor and author J. D. Greear believes the postmortems are premature. Jesus promised to build his church. He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The church is not going away. Along with this promise, Jesus gave clear instructions for how the church would prevail. He promised to build it on the rock of the gospel. The most pressing need for Christianity today is not a new strategy. It is not an updated message. It is a return to keeping the gospel above all.
It’s an old trick, yet we often fall for it. Though we know better than to say it aloud, we grapple with whether we really believe the gospel is powerful. We question whether the gospel makes a difference. We question whether other people will come to believe the gospel they currently reject (even though we used to be one of them). We question whether the gospel is a sufficient basis of unity in our church.
We look at the way the culture speaks about Christians, and we wonder if there is something more we could do or say—in addition to the gospel—to help people like us more. We judge the gospel’s fruit by what we can see with our eyes, despite our Lord’s reminders not to judge by outward appearance. No matter how many parables Jesus told us conveying the seeming insignificance of God’s cosmos-wide kingdom, we really do feel like we’re a minority searching desperately for some way—any way—to maintain relevance.
Above All: The Gospel Is the Source of the Church’s Renewal by J. D. Greear—lead pastor of The Summit Church and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention—is a rallying cry against this old lie. The good news of Jesus Christ is the power to save sinners from the condemnation they deserve. And that news is always relevant.
The book is split in two halves: exhortation to remember the power of the gospel, and application of that belief to contemporary issues.
If the apostle Paul quoted Nicolas Cage instead of Cretan poets, he might’ve written something like this.
The initial chapters assert the gospel’s role as the centerpiece of church life. God has promised that the good news of Christ will change people, accomplish the mission, multiply the church, give us hope for the future, and allow us to be gracious with both outsiders and fellow believers.
The latter part of the book demonstrates what that work looks like in the areas of cultural differences, worship preferences, and political opinions. In that way, it’s structured much like a New Testament epistle. If the apostle Paul quoted Nicolas Cage instead of Cretan poets, he might’ve written something like this.
Above All isn’t particularly distinctive; its message is the heartbeat of the modern gospel-centered trend. And that’s a good thing. God’s redeeming grace extended to undeserving sinners through Jesus’s death and resurrection is what makes our faith mean anything. Apart from that truth, we indeed are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). The gospel-centered “trend” is Christians talking about what they love most about their faith—Christ, and him crucified.
Greear shows what it looks like for the gospel to be the center of gravity in the life of a church. As such, Above All isn’t digging deep into previously undiscovered ideas. And given the book’s scope, Greear only briefly dips into each area of application he discusses.
But it’s not a book only for the young believer just being introduced to the idea. Most of the Christian life consists of being reminded of the same basic truths we learned when we first believed—and holding fast to those truths in the next season of life.
Multiplication Flows from Confidence
One of the most powerful and encouraging sections is the chapter on gospel multiplication. Greear meditates on the fact that much of Acts shows ordinary Christians, not the apostles, spreading the gospel. Far too much of modern evangelistic strategy implicitly teaches, or at least implies, that people must give up ordinary secular employ in order to “really” serve God. Yet when I look around my city, I see buildings full of people who meet there each day to work, and who don’t know a single Christian. Greear asks questions I wish more of us wrestled with. For example:
What if we made our primary consideration in where we pursue our careers where we can be used in the mission of God? . . . Lots of factors go into where we choose to pursue our career—where the money is good, where our extended family lives, where we want to live—and all these are valid. But why wouldn’t the kingdom of God be the largest factor? (84)
Paired with chapters on “gospel hope” (which reminds us God is by no means finished working in the world), or “gospel grace” (which reminds us how his certain victory enables us to be gracious to others), Greear presents a call to good gospel ambition built on confidence and joy, not guilt.
Greear says some things I wouldn’t say. There are illustrations I probably wouldn’t use, and arguments I’d want to modify or adjust. But it’s clear throughout Above All that this brother loves the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he serves us by pointing us to the absolute certainty we can have that God is able to do what he’s promised, through gospel proclamation.
Don’t you need to be reminded of that?