Tag Archives: J.D. Greear

If you’re not “missional”… (Revised with apology)

***This post has been revised as of 11/30/12. The original post included some language towards my District that was not consistent with the collegial tone that I desire to maintain. Though the theological evaluation and call for dialogue remains the same, I have done my best to remove uncharacteristic inflammatory language, with my apologies to those I have offended by not first speaking to them in person. Be assured I am in the process of personally speaking with individuals regarding this transgression, while also aiming to continue an in-person dialogue on this topic.     

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This world is full of unbelievers. We need simply look around and we’ll find someone who does not know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Like you, they are in desperate need of the truth of the Gospel—that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). It’s a powerful truth. God’s love is so intense that He sent Jesus to be “crucified, dead, and buried” for their sin, my sin, and your sin.

I like the way Paul put it to young Pastor Timothy: “[God our savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:4-5). In other words, God does not discriminate. His love is clear. He wants all to receive it, rest in it, and share it. His ultimate desire is for “all” people to have faith and receive, as the creed says, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The Lutheran church (LCMS) has long stood upon this truth (AC IV) and the desire to make sure the Gospel gets delivered. As our confessions simply state:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ. Augsburg Confession, Article V.

However, as of late, many in the Holy Christian Church, and notably in my own Lutheran church, feel that the church has lost her way, that the mission of the church has somehow been displaced. As a result, a new movement has emerged. It’s called the Missional Movement. I’ve already written about it at some length. But it needs continued dialogue. Many are still confused about it. Many are frustrated it’s not being embraced. There’s even much discussion about using the word “missional” itself. It’s a new word. Some like it. Others don’t. Does it describe a behavior or imply a particular theology? Not everyone is sure. In short, we need to talk.

Thus, I propose that we engage in some forthright, collegial, and honest conversation about what it means to be missional, and how for better or for worse, the movement is impacting our Lutheran church body. So, once again, here we go. I apologize for the length of this post in advance. But since I’ve been away for a while, perhaps you won’t mind.

In short, the Missional Movement has the desire to “reclaim” the mission of the church—to take back what some say has been high jacked by a “maintenance mentality” that only seeks to serve “their own,” ignore the lost, and remain insulated from the invading and changing culture. Consequently, a passionate “missional” paradigm shift is being thrust upon the church. It’s crossed denominational lines. But as we’ll see, its origination has a distinct identity.

At its core, the desire is to get the Gospel out. This is, of course, an awesome thing to do! However, as we will also find out, the understanding of the Gospel does not have uniform agreement or understanding within the Missional Movement. (Just consider Matt Chandler’s recent book, The Explicit Gospel, as well as J.D. Greear’s recent book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary. Both are written as reactions to the movement’s inability to maintain a clear confession of the Gospel.)

In short, the paradigm being offered attempts to organize the ecclesiology of congregations (i.e. church governances, organizational structure, and their defining purpose) in a way that is entirely focused on getting the message out to the lost. Part of this includes the emphasis on “making disciples who make disciples” though what those “disciples” actually look like is also not always agreed upon.

One book in particular attempts to establish this paradigm in great clarity. It is titled, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. Simply put, it’s a guide to developing missional leaders and missional communities: “Missional leaders, along with their leadership teams, have a clear vision for creating authentic missional communities. Everything they do is designed to facilitate development of Christians as missionaries sent by God to live and proclaim His kingdom in their world. Ultimately, the leadership team desires every member of the community to function in a missional lifestyle, equipped and empowered for effective ministry” p.168.

Shaped by God’s Heart?

The book is a favorite among missional advocates, and is a Leadership Network Publication written by the experienced Baptist Pastor, Milfred Minatrea. It is perhaps the best articulation of the movement’s missional paradigm and ecclesiastical desire. As such, it also provides a distinct opportunity for insight into the paradigm’s inherent theology and some of the resulting friction it creates with our Lutheran theology and practice.

The book is divided into three parts: Part One—The Church in a New and Changing World, establishes the belief that most churches in North America are “maintenance” churches that are only focused on “survival” and thus are failing God’s mission and therefore need to move to becoming “missional.”

Part Two—The Nine Essential Practices of Missional Churches, explore what “missional” churches do on a regular basis: 1) Have a High Threshold for membership, 2) Be Real, Not Religious, 3) Teach to Obey Rather than to Know, 4) Rewrite Worship every Week, 5) Live Apostolically, 6) Expect to Change the World, 7) Order actions according to Purpose, 8) Measure Growth by Capacity to Release, Not Retain, 9) Place Kingdom Concerns First.

And Part Three—Structures and Strategies for Becoming Missional provides some specific details of the organizational change the congregation must go through to become “authentic disciples” and “truly missional.”

What becomes apparent from the very beginning of the book is the context from which the author is speaking. His regular comparing and contrasting of “missional” to “maintenance” churches reveals that he is operating with a distinct theological and ecclesiastical context that is unmistakably Baptist in nature (including nondenominational or evangelical expressions of this theology).

He is quick to criticize (rightly I might add) how many congregations “have adopted and adapted to consumer culture” where “just as they count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their churches to provide religious goods and services” (p.7). But then he also asserts that maintenance mentality churches merely focus on “preserving the ‘savedness’ of the members, and the church’s function to manage that salvation” where in such churches, “both clergy and laity lose sight of their obligation to make disciples” (p. 9).

However, with this assertion he offers no consideration of the ongoing spiritual needs of church members (i.e. the forgiveness of sins, despairing souls etc.), or any recognition of how sin can continually wreak havoc on the faithful and the peculiarities of each afflicted sinner, nor about the God pleasing nature of vocation. To be sure, he does note how each person has a “sphere of influence” where they can share the Gospel, which includes their place of work (which I completely agree with). However, that is portrayed as a divinely mandated obligation and issue of obedience rather than an outworking of the Gospel, to say nothing of the God pleasing nature of their other various family or work vocations.

His attempt to theologically back up this assertion reveals a distinct difference in how his “missional” mind understands the desire of God and how Lutherans understand the desire of God: “God desires His church to relish in His glory, share His glory among the nations, and reflect His glory in word and deed. The church is a Body made in His image, sent on His mission, to be His glory!” (p.9). The glory of God is not explained in terms of the forgiveness of sins through Christ (central for Lutheran theology), but rather in people coming to worship God.

In other words, it appears that according to this paradigm, missional churches do not emphasize the forgiveness of sins, but rather that people are to praise God, worship God, and give God glory. “Their passion is to see the people of all nations worship God” (p.122). To be sure, worship of our Creator and Redeemer is indeed a salutary and proper activity. But Lutherans recognize worship consists of things far greater than our human endeavors of praise and adoration, and can only occur because of God’s gracious activity toward us.

This approach should not be surprising. It would only be consistent with the non-sacramental nature of Baptist and nondenominational theology, (i.e. that worship is all about the human action of giving praise and glory to God, not about God serving the forgiveness of sins and the gifts of His grace—Word and sacrament worship in Lutheran parlance.) This would also help us understand why he emphasizes the importance of his missional practice number four: Rewrite Worship Every Week (p.65-75). Though he says “worship is about content, not form” he still emphasizes that missional churches are to “make sure worship stays fresh” so that a “relevant” connection can be made with worshipers (p.66). Thus, by theological default, the emphasis of this missional paradigm is repeatedly on the law—what we are to do. As such, if we are being honest, this creates friction for Lutherans.

Law and Gospel or Just Law?

By-in-large, this is the reoccurring theological emphasis of the book. Though he attempts to portray this paradigm as simple “practices” of missional churches, the reality is no practice is theologically neutral, nor is any ecclesiology theologically neutral. They have inherent to them the theological disposition of those creating any such “practice” or “church structure.”

Consider what he says are the four “dimensions of missional churches.” These are what establish the heart and soul of being a missional church—what it is and what it does: Dimension one: Love God—worship and obey. Dimension two: Live His mission—serve and share. Dimension three: Love people—embrace and invite. Dimension Four: Lead them to follow—equip and empower (p. 16-26). Nowhere is the Gospel clearly declared, at least not as Lutherans understand it.

Again, the emphasis is all on the human action rather than on what God in Christ has done and is doing. In fact, from a Lutheran perspective, the Gospel is made into a law—do this, do that—love, live, lead. To be sure, those are sanctified activities and even part of the works that God has in advanced prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). But that is not the Gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ is the Gospel.

Ironically, the book is titled Shaped by God’s Heart, but seems to have missed the mark of what makes God’s heart beat, (not to mention the marks of the church)—namely, the justification of the ungodly in the cross of Jesus Christ; the forgiveness of sins regularly doled out through Word and sacrament.

Instead, the Gospel is depicted as activities that must be done by those who are “authentic” disciples of Jesus. (By the way, does this mean that non-missional folks are not authentic or real disciples? He is fond of backhandedly indicting those who are not missional: “Missional churches are communities of authentic disciples. These churches take discipleship seriously.” p.45. Does this mean that the rest of us don’t?

Also consider this quote by Erwin McManus: “I think that in the traditional church what you oftentimes have is the affirmation of beliefs, and that’s how people get fed. In a missional church it’s the implementation of the actions of beliefs and the fleshing out of beliefs. We actually hold ourselves more fundamentally to the scripture. Honestly, I think most traditional churches don’t really obey the scriptures” p.56. (Seriously?!)

Unfortunately (and perhaps ironically) sin and repentance are dealt with very little in this paradigm. At one point, Minatrea depicts repentance as a past act with no apparent continued need, where it is portrayed more as a part of a past church culture, rather than as a vital part of “authentic” faith:

Leroy Eims is a marvelous disciple builder, author, and master storyteller who called for authentic discipleship in the twentieth century as a representative of the Navigators. Some years ago, as he tells the story, he was listening to the radio while driving toward his Colorado Springs home, It was Saturday evening, and he was listening to sounds of the Big Band era. While enjoying one of his favorites, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” the song was suddenly drowned out by a higher-powered station broadcasting a “fire and brimstone” preacher who shouted, “Repent. Repent, now!” In response to this appeal, Eims replied, “Now my problem is I’ve already done that. I did that years ago. I have repented. Right now, I am trying to listen to ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo! But he won’t let me listen to ‘Chatanooga Choo-Choo’; instead he insists that I repent!” Living apostolically can be like that. Our connection to the church can be so strong that it repeatedly interrupts our attempts to move beyond the church and into the culture of the world. While we try to hear what is being said in the world, the sounds of our religious traditions continue to overpower us.” (p.78).

I believe his aim is to challenge the prescriptions of a particular church culture (which can be a fair approach), but in so doing he reveals that the forgiveness of sins is not necessarily central to “missional” congregations (which would not be a healthy approach). Rather, being missional seems to mean that a person is someone who gets others to know who Jesus is; know his love (whatever that might mean) and what he did a long time ago on the cross, but not necessarily know the ongoing effects of sin and the need for the forgiveness of sins today and tomorrow. In other words, the life of evangelism, not the life of repentance, is the core of the “authentic” disciple’s life.

Measures of Success

What is more, the “success” of missional congregations is not measured by the presence of the forgiveness of sins, but rather by a numerical evaluation: “Concerning measures of success… ‘The measure of church success may need to be reevaluated. One day, a church may evaluate its fulfillment of Christ’s commission not only on the basis of attendance, its strength of fellowship, budget and cash flow, but by the number of congregation it begets.’ Indeed, missional churches are redefining what it means to be a church” (p.122-123).

In the end, this is what concerns me about this movement. Confessional Lutherans maintain the nature of the church does not change. This missional paradigm says it does. If we are being honest, we would have to acknowledge that, at a minimum, this poses some very significant concerns.

Ultimately, this is what makes the book, along with many elements of the movement itself, so disenfranchising for me as a Lutheran. Minatrea claims the missional church wants to work with all churches, and not compete with other churches since they are “members of the same team” (p.135). However, I find it troublesome when he notes that “moving to missional is a deep change that is inherently difficult because it requires leaving established ways of doing things” (p.173). Sometimes there are things that are not up for debate. There is not the option to leave them.

Thus, I occasionally wonder if we are really on the same team when there are such disparities of understanding the Gospel. Is the Gospel Jesus’ work for me or my work for Jesus? Lutherans say it’s the former, this missional paradigm says it’s the latter. Leaving the way of Jesus “for me” is to leave the way of the forgiveness of sins. That’s not an option for Lutherans.

This is by no means to disavow all non-Lutheran Christians. Rather, it is to simply affirm the clarity of the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ—for the sake of God’s kingdom and the sake of those sinners called into it. In fact, I love how Reformed Presbyterian Pastor Tullian Tchividjian puts it in his just released book: Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free:

Listen carefully: Christianity is not first and foremost about our behavior, our obedience, our response, and our daily victory over sin—as important as all these are. It is not first and foremost about us at all–it is first and foremost about Jesus! It is about His person; His substitutionary work; His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. We are justified—and sanctified—by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. Even now, the banner under which Christians live reads, “It is finished.” Everything we need, and everything we look for in things smaller than Jesus, is already ours in Christ (p.83).

Thus, it should be clear that I’m not trying to be elitist, snobbish, or a preservationist. I simply desire to affirm the Lutheran principle that doctrine and practice go together; that doctrine is not negotiable, that Christ is central, that sinners need to be forgiven, and that life is very often much more messy than what this missional paradigm seems to acknowledge.

I like how Luther puts it in his 1535 commentary to the Galatians: “Therefore, as I often warn you, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery, mixed, as the saying goes, ‘with vinegar.’ Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended… But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in sacred scripture. The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why he attacks us so cleverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches” (p.41-42).

Doctrine and Danger

Yes, as with all books, there are some helpful things that can be learned from this one. Congregational structures can be tenuous and difficult, and there are some helpful pointers that could be gleaned from Minatrea. But the inadequacies of this paradigm as its presented here prevents me from being able to recommend this book.

Curiously, one of the dangers Minatrea notes about the movement is one that I have observed with some frequency. Minatrea offers this warning: “The Missional community must shun the pretense of viewing themselves as ‘more spiritual’ than members of the church who do not pursue the missional vision” (p.177).

It has been my observation that there is a significant amount of pressure to be “missional” even though not everyone agrees or understands on what it actually means to be missional. Nonetheless, congregations and pastors are being evaluated and assessed (implicitly and explicitly) on how “missional” they are. This book itself has multiple missional assessment tools after each chapter that can be used to measure pastors’ and congregations’ missional effectiveness.

I will acknowledge that tools can be helpful to take stock of a congregation’s situation, however this particular mode of measurement would seem to be foreign to Lutheran theology and practice. It does not lend itself to creating a unified atmosphere of Lutheran ministry, but would rather seem to divide and label by way of a new emerging (and yet uncertain) movement.

As a result, those that are not be deemed to be “missional” (either by choice or by circumstance) end up getting looked down upon. Very often they are then viewed or labeled as inferior. They’re seen as upholding a “maintenance” congregation. They get a mark against them and, for some, are seen as a hindrance to “real” ministry. The intent of such measurements may indeed be sincere. But such resulting labels are unfortunate, particularly in view of Minatrea’s own warnings.

In the end, if measurement tools are going to be used, at least from a Lutheran theological and practical perspective, I wonder how pastors and congregations would feel if they were to be evaluated by similar tools on whether they are being truly Lutheran? I know, its a touchy statement. But it draws out the accusatory slippery slope we risk when utilizing such assessment tools.

I believe the Missional Movement desires to get congregations headed in the right direction. I just think Lutheran theology has been pointing us there long before this movement came along.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

A Gospel-centered Church

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.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Recovering the Gospel

The church of North America continues to struggle. Much is being written and being said about the church and her mission. Great confusion remains. Emergent, missional, relevant, contemporary, discipleship-focused, informal, young—all are words used to describe the various Evangelical versions of what the church is to be. Some focus on making their worship services informal, relevant, and relational. Others focus on serving the community. Some focus on small group ministry. And still others emphasize ministry to specific ages. Similarly, many Lutheran congregations have followed suit in one way or another, often relying on the Evangelical world and their rational as the impetus for change.

I’ve been tracking these varying emphases for some time, often providing my own critique from a Lutheran theological perspective. However, what I have discovered, (actually stumbled upon at the start) is the growing number of Evangelical voices calling the church out. As of late, I have been noting a number of them on this blog. Their overarching observation is that something is wrong.

As well-intentioned as these movements might be, many are saying something is missing. What is it? Sadly, they’re saying it’s the Gospel. And they’re also saying a correction needs to take place. (See my last two posts on The Explicit Gospel, among others).

The reason I track these Evangelical voices is that it seems many Lutheran pastors and congregations are more prone to embrace a new ministry emphasis based upon the endorsement of a foreign theology and practice rather than their own. Ironic, is that Lutheran theology and practice has long held that the beating heart of the church is the justification of the ungodly through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In other words, the proclamation of the Gospel has historically been our foundation. So the concern is this, if Evangelicals have lost the Gospel will Lutherans who follow their lead also lose it?

But don’t get me wrong. I think we can certainly learn from our Christian cousins. And I readily admit they have some thoughtful things to say. I just think Lutherans need to be more discerning about what we so willingly embrace and use as foundations for our ministry, particularly when there is a great degree of uncertainty about those foundations.

In fact, if there is the desire to embrace what our Evangelical cousins are saying, why not heed those corrective voices calling the Evangelical church to task for their loss of the Gospel?

One such voice is mega church Pastor J. D. Greear. He has some very thoughtful reflections (and more than a few indictments) for the church to consider in his 2011 book titled, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.

The 39 year old Greear has a Ph. D. of Philosophy that concentrated in Christian and Muslim theology. He is the Lead Pastor at Summit (Baptist) Church of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina which worships over 6,000 people a weekend. His book recounts the burdened experience he had with the various emphases and practices of evangelicalism, where he came to feel that “enough was never enough.” Serving the Lord in one way was never enough because more could always be done. More could be given. The church constantly put pressure on him to be a “good” Christian. He had to give more if he was to gain God’s favor and be a true disciple. At one point he notes: “I even packed up my entire life into an oversized duffel bag and went to live in a third-world fundamentalist Muslim country for two years.

He aims to offer a compelling resolution to this law based and guilt ridden malady: I want you to see how the gospel, and it alone, can make you genuinely passionate for God, free you from captivity to sin, and move you outward to joyful sacrifice on behalf of others… I believe evangelicalism, as a whole, desperately needs a recovery of the gospel as the center of Christianity. Even in conservative denominations like my own (the Southern Baptist Convention), the gospel has been eclipsed by any number of secondary stimuli for growth. (Chapter 1, Kindle Edition).

The Gospel needs to be recovered! And he is very clear on what the Gospel is and is not, at times sounding rather Lutheran, even repeatedly invoking Martin Luther. It’s an interesting read. Though I don’t agree with everything he says, on the whole I found it to be another fascinating voice of reform. For now, I’ll provide some quotes from chapter one (of my Kindle Edition) with more from the rest of the book to come:

The gospel is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. I want you to see the gospel not only as the means by which you get into heaven, but as the driving force behind every single moment of your life.

The gospel, and the gospel alone, has the power to produce love for God in the heart. Paul calls the gospel “God’s power for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). There are only two things that Paul ever refers to as “the power of God.” One is the gospel; the other is Christ Himself. As the story of the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit Himself makes the heart come alive to see the glory and beauty of God revealed in it. Just as Jesus’ command to the lame man to “get up and walk” had in itself the power to obey the command, so the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has in itself the power to make dead hearts new. As the gospel is believed, through the power of the spirit, our selfish, hardened hearts burst alive with righteous and godly passions.

Only in the gospel, you see, is the power to obey the first commandment. Only in the truths of the gospel can a heart turned in on itself burst alive in love for God. For many evangelicals the gospel has functioned solely as the entry rite into Christianity; it is the prayer we pray to begin our relationship with Jesus; the diving board off of which we jump into the pool of Christianity. After we get into the pool, we get into the real stuff of Christianity: mastering good principles for our marriage; learning rules and regulations of how to behave; and figuring out if Kirk Cameron will be left behind.

We have substituted all kinds of cosmetic changes for true heart change. We encourage people to pursue new and better spiritual gifts. We tell them to recover ancient devotional techniques. We try to beef them up on a particular doctrinal system, as if more correct facts will do the trick in itself. We tell them to show audacious, mountain-moving faith in prayer. We tell them to get radically committed to the Great Commission. These things all have their place, but all we are doing is piling superficial changes onto a heart that doesn’t really love God. None of those things can produce love for God. Only the gospel can.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford