J. D Greear’s book Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary is an evangelical perspective on recovering the Gospel in the midst of a very confused church. My previous post began a look at the book. This post picks up where I left off.
What’s fascinating about his presentation is that it tends to highlight the Gospel by distinguishing it from the law, something Lutherans do as the bedrock of teaching and preaching the faith.
The “laws” of God (i.e., commands like, “J.D., don’t lie, be depressed, worry, or get angry”) tell me what to do, but don’t really give me the power to do them—at least to obey them from the heart… The gospel shows me that God’s presence and approval are the greatest treasure in the universe. The gospel reveals God’s mercy toward me, and that makes me more merciful with others—not because I have to be so to gain God’s acceptance, but because I am so overwhelmed by His mercy that I can’t help but extend that to others. We must saturate ourselves, therefore, in the truths of the gospel. (Chapter 1, Kindle Edition).
Even more fascinating is that as of late he isn’t the only evangelical approaching faith through these theological lenses. Evangelical Matt Chandler also uses this approach in his book The Explicit Gospel (see my previous posts on his book.) Tullian Tchividjian does as well in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. He’s also has been running a series of posts on the law and Gospel over at his Gospel Coalition blog http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/.
Nonetheless, Greear becomes especially helpful in addressing some of the more regular confusing Gospel presentations being made in the Church today:
Have you ever heard that statement (attributed to Francis of Assisi), “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words”? How do you explain the gospel without using words? That’s like saying, “Tell me your phone number. If necessary, use digits.” Your phone number is digits. The gospel is the words announcing what Christ has done. People can’t look at our lives and know the story of Christ. They may see glimpses of the kindness of Christ, but expecting them to get the gospel just by watching us would be like trying to gather information from a newscast with the sound turned off. (Chapter 14, Kindle Edition)
His constant goal is to keep the Gospel central and to keep it absolutely clear. And to make sure it stays clear, he’s not shy about offering a sharp critique about the various movements within the church today.
Contemporary churches often just change the list and take off the tie. The new list includes volunteering at one of the weekend services, going to small group, and, above all, tithing. The elements on the list might have changed, but it is still a list of to-do’s, and the expectation is still that outward behavior modifications are God’s primary way of changing our hearts. A lot of the new, cool, emerging Christianity has turned out simply to be “old legalism” in grunge clothing.
If we only command people to be generous, we will produce merely desperate people who run out to do something extravagantly generous to prove they are saved. That is a type of works-righteousness, in which we try to add a work to our lives to prove we are children of God. A heart of generosity will only be produced in us as we embrace and believe the gospel.
At many “emergent” churches, the emphasis is on the wholistic nature of salvation, particularly social justice and racial reconciliation issues. Amen. We need to be paying attention to those issues, and gospel-centered Christians will care about them. But you cannot confuse the effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. (Conclusion, Kindle Edition).
Here he hits the nail on the head. Seeing the effects of the Gospel is truly amazing. But when those effects replace the Gospel we have a problem. Namely, the Gospel gets distorted, or worse, it gets lost.
I think many in the church today are simply having trouble trusting the Gospel to do what the Lord says it will do. When things don’t happen fast enough or in the manner we think it should occur, the inevitable trend is to resort to using the law (demands) to get the results they think need to happen. And then they declare that to be the Gospel of the Lord. But according to Greear, Gospel-centered churches stand on the Gospel and let it be the Gospel.
A gospel-centered church prioritizes the message of the gospel in its ministries; focuses that message on what Christ has done rather than anything we are to be doing, and then demonstrates the gospel in the community around them. A gospel-centered church is always about the gospel. It preaches the gospel in all places, at all times, to all people. The gospel is the defining element in every part of their ministry.
Nonbelievers need to hear the gospel to believe it and be saved. Believers need to be reminded of the gospel so they can grow deeper in Christ. There is really no distinction, you see, between what believers need to hear and what unbelievers need to hear. Both believers and unbelievers need to get a glimpse of God’s majestic glory, a taste of His surpassing beauty, and a sense of how much grace God has shown toward them in Christ. Both believers and unbelievers need to be rebuked for their pride and self-sufficiency, to be reminded of the all-surpassing beauty of God. They both need to be stirred up to faith. The gospel is the center of the message no matter who you are talking to. It is everything. Christ is all. So make the gospel central in everything you do. Preach it everywhere. Always. To everyone. (Conclusion, Kindle Edition).
All in all, it’s another intriguing read that will remind Lutherans of the treasures inherent in our theology.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.