Monthly Archives: April 2009

 

Apr

29

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:12 pm CT

Dude, Where’s My Gospel?

Once upon a time, my family made the very difficult and emotional decision of breaking fellowship with a church for several reasons, but the most important one, and the one that would have done it by itself, was the persistent neglect of gospel-centered teaching. Since I’ve begun publicly urging the evangelical church to reclaim the centrality of the gospel and re-form its discipleship culture around the gospel, I have heard from many others in the same boat.

Gospel deficiency is the biggest crisis of the American church. It has been replaced by many things, most commonly a therapeutic, self-help approach to biblical application. Bible verses are extracted to enhance calls to self-improvement and Jesus is preached as moral exemplar (which of course, he is, but then again, so is Mother Theresa). The result is a Church that, ironically enough, preaches works, not grace, and a growing number of Christians who neither understand the gospel nor revel in its scandal.

There are lots of good reasons to reclaim the centrality of the good news of Jesus in our preaching and teaching and writing and blogging, and I’ve come up with four basic arguments for (what I’m calling) The Gospel Imperative, but perhaps defining our terms is in order. It’s no good going on about making the gospel the center of our worship and discipleship if we are not on the same page for what the gospel actually is.

Like many others, I affirm that the gospel is big. I favor a robust gospel, a good news proclamation with many facets and ramifications. It is everywhere in the shadows and in the light of the Old Testament Israelites’ desert wandering, and it encompasses the brilliant kingdom landscape of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is in God’s gracious covering of the freshly fallen Adam and Eve (and in the cursing of the serpent) in Genesis, and it is in the awesome return of the tattooed, sword-wielding Jesus 65 books later in Revelation. I agree with Tim Keller, who argues that the gospel is “both one and more than that.” It is certainly “more than that.” But it is also “one,” which is why I, along with many others, hold that Jesus’ substitutionary atonement is the sharp edge of the gospel. I nutshell this sharp edge with the simple compound “sin/grace.” This is my way of signaling that the central point and sharp edge of all that the gospel holds is the basic transformative truth that “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
So while acknowledging that the gospel is about the kingdom setting a fallen world back to rights, the gospel I am speaking about here, then, is the essential gospel, which is that Jesus has died and risen bodily and has thereby murdered sin and conquered death.

Pretty powerful stuff, ain’t it? And yet many of our churches will barely touch on it even in an Easter service!
Here are four basic reasons for evangelicalism’s reclamation of the gospel:

1. Because We Are Forgetful

Forgetting God’s goodness is part of our fallen DNA. The Bible demonstrates this vividly. Studying the Gospel of John with some friends recently, we puzzled initially over the way the disciples believed in Jesus after his turning water to wine. Now, of course that would be cause for belief, but John’s Gospel tells us just one chapter earlier that Jesus’ self-attestation and his ability to know them (he reads Nathanel like a book) cause them to believe in him. Which was it?
Well, it’s both. Certainly Jesus gives us endless reasons to worship him as Lord, but I am convinced that he does this graciously as we endlessly “forget” his Lordship. In the Old Testament, God sets the enslaved Israelites free in a mighty act of deliverance (that whole Red Sea parting thing) and one day later they’re complaining about not having anything to eat. And that’s just the beginning. God keeps providing; the Israelites keep grumbling.

Friends, we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us. We are fickle, self-righteous, forgetful people. Yet we serve a steadfast, gracious, faithful God. Many preachers are fearful of highlighting the gospel every time they speak for fear of it appearing stale. But gospel redundancy is a good thing! We need it. We need the gospel every day (His mercies are new every morning) because we forget it and we sin every day.
Do not aid your community in its forgetfulness by relegating the gospel to the periphery of your proclamation. We need to be reminded of it constantly.

2. Because It is the Power to Save

We all want to grow the kingdom, right? We all want to seek and save the lost, right? We all want to lead as many people as possible to salvation, right?
Then, why, for the love of God, do we preach all manner of behavior modification, none of which could save a single one of us, when only the gospel saves?
Paul writes in Romans 1:16, ” I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
Yet if we could label our churches with the Nutrition Facts found on your can of soup, I reckon many would say in the fine print, “Not a significant source of gospel.” Are we ashamed?
If the gospel is the power to save, shouldn’t it be the meat of the message, not saved for the add-on invitation or for a special service every few weeks?

3. Because It is of First Importance

If holding the gospel as the power to save doesn’t push us toward greater gospel-centeredness, certainly Paul’s claim that is of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) should do the trick. But, again, we hold off on the gospel. We make it occasional or half-hearted, thereby ascribing it lesser worth than our very important and self-devised Six Steps for Successful Living.
In a recent White Horse Inn podcast, the fellows warned listeners to beware the preacher who says, “Well, of course the gospel.” The point here is that they are highlighting so much of what they do that is not the gospel and then when asked about the gospel’s absence, they say, “Well, of course the gospel.” In such churches the gospel is implied. Which means it is an afterthought.

The gospel should not be implied. It is of first importance. It should be the clearest, most prevalent message and theme of all a community’s worship and focus.

4. Because It Glorifies God

The gospel is not advice. It is news.
It is not “Do more, be more, try more.” It is the message that the work is done.
The gospel does not say “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It says “It is finished!”

Our flesh hates this contrast. We hate it because the gospel says to us “You can’t do it; you are unable; you are deficient.” And we don’t like to hear that. Nobody wants to hear that we are incapable of saving ourselves, that in our insidest insides we are broken and cannot repair ourselves.
But this is what the gospel forces us to admit. And because it forces us to admit we are sinners deserving punishment with no inherent means of rescue, it forces us to admit that only God can save us, which forces us to reckon with the gospel truth that salvation is God’s work, not ours. God gets the credit. Grace means getting what we didn’t deserve, and the gospel of grace announces that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

When we insist on preaching about our efforts and making the gospel an afterthought, we have begun glorifying our works, glorifying ourselves. But when we center on the gospel and revel in its proclamation, we are glorifying God, because we are holding Christ’s finished good work more important than our insufficient good works.

The gospel is the hope of the world. It is my hope and it is yours. It should be our prayer and our humble insistence, then, that the people named for the gospel — “evangelical” is built on the word “evangelion,” Greek for “gospel” — live and preach true to their name once again.

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Apr

29

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:00 pm CT

What is a Missional Church?: Three Convergent Takes

Mark Driscoll posts:

In Vintage Church chapter nine we answer the question, “What Is a Missional Church?” With the ongoing debate between traditional churches, seeker churches, emerging churches, etc., there is a need to clarify what a missional church is and is not. In this chapter we explore the history and nature of a missional church. Regarding the missional church, excerpts from Vintage Church pages 219-220 say:

Thankfully, the mission of the church is not that complicated. The mission of the church comes directly from the command of Jesus, who, following his resurrection and just prior to his ascension, said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20; see also Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:20-31; Acts 1:5-8). Jesus speaks of going, evangelizing, making disciples, and planting churches that plant churches to continue the process. Therefore, the mission of the church is nothing less than bringing the entire world to Christian faith and maturity.

A missional church must strategize how to carry out the mission to today’s increasingly non-Christian culture.

Still the best short piece I know of is What Is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One? from The Journey Church (St. Louis). Read it all, but here’s an excerpt:

Primarily, a missional church recognizes the centrality of the Gospel as its people live out the calling to be “for” the culture. This means a church must derive its purpose from the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); it must be a servant of the Gospel that glorifies God by telling people the story of Jesus through word and action (1 John 3:16-17). A Gospel-centered church’s ministry cannot be separated from the person of Jesus, nor can its mission be defined or performed apart from the Gospel. The Gospel is the ultimate guide and authority for how we function and minister as a church. Said another way, a missional church embraces God’s call to be a sender of missionaries to its own culture (Matthew. 4:19; Acts 16:20; 17:6).

Again, read the whole thing.

Finally, this is from a piece I wrote back in my days at SearchWarp called The Meaning of Missional:

God is a missionary.

Throughout the great narrative of Scripture, what we see is God’s initiative and man’s response. This really does affect the way one thinks about worship and goes about worshiping. And it really does affect the way the community of Jesus followers thinks about discipleship and goes about discipling.

So for our community, “missional” means following God outside the church walls and into the warp and woof of human existence. It means echoing the emptying, sacrificing, and servanthood of the incarnation (God becoming man in Jesus) in our day to day walk. And to be a missional church means teaching people how to do this and actually doing it together.

Three angles, all complementary, I think.

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Apr

25

2009

Jared C. Wilson|12:58 am CT

The Fear of Preaching Dangerously

Collapse shmollapse. :-)

Last year I nodded toward the preaching coming out of LifeChurch as a sign that the tide may be turning. LifeChurch is in many ways the epicenter of the attractional multi-site church movement, and LifeChurch’s pastor Craig Groeschel has been preaching some great messages in some great series.

Last week at the Catalyst West Conference (which gets credit for inviting Francis Chan back to speak year after year), Groeschel pushed the calling of people into “Level 3″ discipleship, where life is sacrificed for the good of the gospel. And then there’s this post, which is just refreshing and awesome and prophetic:

Pastor, you are called to preach a dangerous message.

(Notice I didn’t say an “edgy” message. There is a big difference between dangerous and edgy.)

Preaching the Gospel of Christ is offensive to men. If you’re being criticized for your sex talks and creative marketing and never for preaching Christ, something might be wrong with your preaching.

Preaching God’s standards will make some people mad. If your sermons always make people feel better about themselves and you never confront their sin, they won’t likely see their need for a Savior.

Preaching about the miraculous power of God stirs people up. If your typical message is five steps to a better life, you may be overlooking the one step of truly taking God at His word.

I pray our messages become more Spirit-filled, Scripture-packed, and God-annointed!

A few of the comments are revealing.

When a guy like me, in my context, says things like this, they tend to get received by two kinds of people: pastors who agree with me and laypeople who agree with me but are either in a) churches where stuff like this isn’t a problem, or b) churches where stuff like this is a problem but where there is no means of addressing the problems fruitfully. In that sense, blogs and voices like mine have limited influence on the people who most need to hear the sorts of things we’re saying. The recipients of our criticism are closed to criticism from the outside.

But Francis Chan and Matt Chandler at Catalyst, Tim Keller at Exponential, Mark Driscoll in loving and influential brotherhood with pastoral tribes he may not typically run in, and especially guys like Craig Groeschel, an undisputed leader and highly respected voice, saying things like this to his tribe is a very, very good thing. (For the same reason the Reformed gurus at Gospel Coalition last week stressing that the doctrines of grace are no substitute for enjoying grace and giving grace to others to a bunch of Calvinists was very important.)

May Craig’s influence continue to spread prophetically among his brothers and sisters, and may their tribe increase.

(Btw, for those no doubt wondering: No, I’m still not a fan of the video church thing, but that would be a really stupid nit to pick in a post like this.)

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Apr

25

2009

Jared C. Wilson|12:48 am CT

When the Work is Dull or People Are Slipping Away

Don’t expect the enemy to coddle you.

This excerpt from C. John Miller’s The Heart of a Servant Leader really ministered to me:

Let me urge upon you the importance of cultivating faith if you are to be able to walk in love and spiritual power. Without faith it is impossible to please God, but those who believe are given more grace than they can handle. Believing is to expect God to be with you and change you and to change others…When the work is dull and routine or people are slipping away, go forth with new boldness and preach Christ until you are filled with faith yourselves and God works faith in others.

Think of it this way. All the powers of hell and earth are ranged against the gospel and your ministry. They will not compromise. Therefore don’t expect it from them. Don’t expect the enemy to coddle you. He will continue to attack from every quarter. At night. On the streets. In your meetings. Wherever. This is a take-no-prisoners kind of war, and we must not compromise with the uglies and with evil in any form.

Therefore resist, fight with all your heart against evil in yourself and others, seek holiness through faith in the blood of Christ, and live boldly out of your union with Christ. You are in Him and He is in you. Don’t doubt it. On that basis keep at it.

Keep at it. Yes.
We will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Thanks to Darryl Dash for posting this last week.

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Apr

24

2009

Jared C. Wilson|6:58 pm CT

Jesus Wants the Rose

Killer story from Matt Chandler, a radically gospel-intoxicated puma of a pastor. :-)

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Apr

24

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:51 pm CT

Mawwiage

Element celebrated another milestone last week: our second engagement!

After the service last Sunday night, Element worship leader and rascally raconteur-about-town Jason Haggard proposed to his girlfriend of, like, 14 years Abigail Davis.

I had the great privilege of baptizing Abigail last year, and now I’ll get the great privilege of officiating their wedding in November.

Congratulations, you crazy kids!

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Apr

24

2009

Jared C. Wilson|1:57 pm CT

Gospel Coalition Conference Rundown

Had a great and refreshing three days in Chicago with some good friends and Element team members for the 2009 Gospel Coalition Conference. You can find video and audio and manuscripts elsewhere, so I won’t say too much about the talks. Just some general reflections.

John Piper was on his game. I feel incredibly blessed to have heard live in person one of the best messages I’ve ever heard from him. A great word for ministers of the gospel. Find it and take it in. He also has a keen insight to Paul’s epistles that I’d never heard before, which is no wonder, given that Piper said he’d never seen it in any commentary. (Btw, only a guy like Piper can get away with introducing an insight that’s not found in commentaries. Don’t try that at home.)

Mark Driscoll’s talk was good but uncharacteristically subdued. I took this as perhaps fatigue, but also as a sign that he was speaking from experience, wisdom, brokenness, and repentance (as he himself indicated) on the topic assigned him. Given recent hammering of Driscoll by a guy Driscoll himself honored quite recently online, his message was ripe with meaning and sensitivity.

K. Edward Copeland and Ajith Fernando also gave great messages. Copeland spoke on ministering under God’s sovereignty and had some great stuff to say about pastors who engage in “recreational preaching.” Time is too short to mess around. Fernando talked about suffering for the gospel in a pluralistic culture. Sobering stuff.

C.J. Mahaney’s workshop (which might as well have been a plenary talk since it was a fantastic sermon to pastors in a packed-out main hall) was phenomenal. At several points I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. Mahaney, like Piper, is a guy who feels the text of Scripture. If you’re a pastor, get a hold of the audio/video and be encouraged and inspired as I was.

Tim Keller’s address was illuminating and engaging. Only a guy like him can make a lecture trandsformative. Jason Haggard, our worship leader and resident history buff, enjoyed Keller’s talk the most, I think.

The Wednesday night panel with Keller, Piper, Crawford Loritts, and Ligon Duncan was a highlight of the conference. Such wisdom, experience, and brokenness. Young guys, we ought to be eternally grateful for the gifts of such generous ministers to the body of Christ. Loritts had some scathing words for this generation of preachers who think God is inarticulate.

The Band of Bloggers gathering was fun. The best part was just seeing in person so many people I read and talk to online for the first time. The bag full of free books wasn’t bad either. :-) Thank you, Timmy Brister, for putting such an awesome thing together.

Highlights of the conference for me, aside from the edifying preaching, were the times of hanging with my friends, staying with an old friend (the guy who founded Element, actually), running into my friend and mentor Ray Ortlund, and meeting people I’ve only known “virtually” like Darryl Dash, Jon McIntosh, Jason Kovacs, Tim Challies, Steve McCoy, and Rob Harrison (known to long-time Thinklings readers as Ancient Mariner). Rob’s more substantive rundown of the conference can be read here.

All told, I loved my time in Chicago. While I was there chewing on some of the greatness I was hearing, I got a discouraging email from a young lady who has confirmed her distance from our community, after long-time commitment and leadership, means she is no longer interested. She said she didn’t know what it was, but that she is looking for someplace that better “meets her needs.” She never used to speak like that and in fact was critical of those who did. Things like this can really crush my spirit. But God is faithful. And I had just that day heard Mahaney speak to faithfulness in the face of discouragement. The next day Ligon Duncan preached on finishing the race even if you finish alone.

I am thankful for TGC and its gift to gospel-driven evangelicalism. I hope to make it to the Together for the Gospel conference next year, this time with my beloved.

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Apr

20

2009

Jared C. Wilson|2:04 pm CT

Your Jesus is Too Safe Available for Pre-Order

I discovered over the weekend that my book Your Jesus is Too Safe is now available on Amazon.com for pre-order. (Book releases in July.)

I’m not saying you should order it now. I’m just saying you can. ;-)

Here.

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Apr

20

2009

Jared C. Wilson|1:58 pm CT

Gospel Coalition Conference This Week

I’m going to be in Chicago for this for the next few days.

I haven’t been to a conference in 13 years (the Willow Creek Leadership Conference in 1996), so I’m really looking forward to hearing and learning from some of my favorite preachers and writers.

And I’ll be there with Element’s worship director, administrative director, and missions director, so I really look forward to having a leadership retreat of sorts with some close friends. We will be staying with our good friend Chris Thomas, the guy who founded Element (and now works at Willow, incidentally).

Might blog from the conference; not sure. But it’s a good bet I’ll be tweeting.

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Apr

17

2009

Jared C. Wilson|12:31 am CT

Judgment Begins with the House of God

…All the calls to “reclaim America for Christ” leave me cold. Our real need is to reclaim the church for Christ. When Christ is exalted in His church, when He is loved and revered and cherished with passion by those who bear His Name–in other words, when the church starts living like the church–then His body cannot help but make an impact on culture.

Tom Ascol

Thanks, Brenden Link, for the quote. It is timely as I have been already brainstorming my July 4th weekend sermon, and this is near the direction I’m heading.

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