Monthly Archives: November 2011

 

Nov

08

2011

Jared C. Wilson|1:29 pm CT

What is a Gospel-Centered Church?

A commenter this morning asks, “What is a gospel-driven church? What does a Bible believing church look like?”

Always helpful to refresh.

Joe Thorn reflects on “Gospel-Centered”

Ray Ortlund answers “What does it mean to be a gospel-centered church?”

Redeemer City Church’s definition and list of marks thereof.

And the best short piece I’m aware of is this one by my friend Joel Lindsey: “What is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One?”

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Nov

08

2011

Jared C. Wilson|1:04 pm CT

Can Real Christians Not be Gospel Wakened?

I am grateful this morning for Aaron Armstrong’s positive review of Gospel Wakefulness. Aaron highlights a few passages from and features of the book most others do not, and that is an encouragement to me. It is clear that he felt the book, yet understood what I was trying to say about feeling, which is a double bonus and a great comfort for the author.

At the end of his review, however, Aaron expressed a concern, writing:

As much as I appreciate Gospel Wakefulness, I do have one point of concern. That is the distinction between the gospel awakened Christian and the one who believes, but isn’t necessarily captivated by the gospel. My concern is that this distinction could be used to create a false dichotomy between believers—as if there were Varsity and Junior Varsity Christians (an idea that tends to permeate certain segments of Pentecostal circles). While I’m not sure that was Wilson’s intention, it’s something that could be problematic for some readers who are particularly sensitive to that kind of thing. But it reveals an elephant in the room — can a believer truly not be in awe of the gospel? We all have season where our hearts wander and our affections are weak, but do the Scriptures give us room to say that there really is a distinction? I’m not sure that the Scriptures give us room to say that it’s the case, particularly as we look to what Jesus says to the lukewarm Laodiceans in Rev. 3:16. But then again, I don’t think it would be terribly wise to plant a flag too firmly without serious amounts of prayer and study.

Aaron is right. Suggesting a varsity team and a JV for the Christian community was not my intention. I sought to address this notion in the book itself. Here are a couple of relevant passages:

This is not to set up tiers of Christian sanctification, as if there is a first-class discipleship and a second-class, and so on. Every believer is united with Christ on the same foundation, with the full access and authority granted by being made joint heirs with Christ. And in the final day, no matter where we are in our Christian walks, we will all reach the same destination on the same basis. There are no coach seats on the journey to Christ when he calls his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to another. (pp.31-32)

And perhaps most directly, as I explore the distinction I make between conversion and gospel wakefulness:

I do not mean to diminish the full scope of the radical change that occurs when someone believes in Christ for salvation. Rather, I mean to not diminish the full scope of what Christ’s salvation covers, and this includes a mustard seed faith that has not fully blossomed yet. You are no less justified the moment of your salvation than you are ten minutes or ten years later, but the warp speed sanctification of gospel wakefulness may make you feel as though you were. What I’m trying to say is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection out of the grave are big enough, grand enough, effective enough, and eternal enough to cover your shoddy Christian life, assuming of course you do believe.

This is in fact the thrust of the gospel: it is Christ’s work that saves, not yours. Be careful, then, not to attribute your continuing sinfulness or moments of depression to a lack of salvation. For one thing, people who are not truly saved generally don’t worry about whether they are or aren’t anyway—your anxiety on that matter is evidence of a reborn heart. But for another thing, this will only set you up for more trouble later on, because gospel-wakened people don’t stop sinning either. If the measure of your perfection is the measure of your assurance, you will always be a timid, fearful Christian. But if your measure of assurance is the perfection of Jesus Christ, you are ripe for gospel wakefulness. (pp.27-28)

Aaron’s concern in fact appears a little similar to one expressed by Trevin Wax in his review, although Aaron’s runs the other way. While Trevin thought a misunderstanding could lead to people questioning their salvation, Aaron appears to suggest they ought to! I see that he makes allowances for seasons of wandering and weakness, but one reason why I included an entire chapter on depression is because I wanted to make an allowance for the darknesses that will not lift while our omnipotent Jesus is ever-faithful. I think we may lose our sense of awe if we place the focus of our assurance on our sense of awe.

One of the means of gospel wakefulness, in a moment of profound brokenness, may be to see just how faithful God has been in Christ despite our lethargic, tempestuous, waffling Christian life. I do not at all mean to say that someone may repent and believe and their life not at all look like it! I only mean to say that all justified persons are somewhere in the process of the Spirit’s progressive work of sanctification, and that, providing as I said “they do believe,” one’s level of awe no matter how great is a poorer assurance than the finished work of Christ, in whom there is no shadow of turning.

By all means, let’s work out our salvation with fear and trembling, let’s test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. But let’s remember that, as Augustus Toplady has said, “A feeble faith may lay hold on a strong Christ.”

So can real Christians not be awed by the gospel? Yes, and it frequently happens for us each new morning. But there are God’s mercies, waiting anew to meet us. That’s awesome.

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Nov

07

2011

Jared C. Wilson|10:29 pm CT

What Works

The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy?

If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it?

In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new. To obliterate all our present affections by simply expunging them, and so as to leave the seat of them unoccupied, would be to destroy the old character, and to substitute no new character in its place. But when they take their departure upon the ingress of other visitors; when they resign their sway to the power and the predominance of new affections; when, abandoning the heart to solitude, they merely give place to a successor who turns it into as busy a residence of desire and interest and expectation as before – there is nothing in all this to thwart or to overbear any of the laws of our sentient nature – and we see how, in fullest accordance with the mechanism of the heart, a great moral revolution may be made to take place upon it.

This, we trust, will explain the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel.

– Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”

Read Chalmers’ masterpiece here (pdf).

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Nov

07

2011

Jared C. Wilson|10:09 pm CT

TD Jakes and Theological Arrhythmia

Popular religious spokesperson T.D. Jakes, overseer of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, was all over my blog subscription feed a few weeks back because of his invitation to the Elephant Room. Jakes has a background in Oneness Pentecostalism which is traditionally known for its view of the Trinity, commonly classified as modalism.

Modalists maintain that there is one God and that he exists in three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — but not simultaneously. Instead, modalists use language like “God exists in three manifestations,” inferring that God is sometimes Father, sometimes Son, and sometimes Holy Spirit. This view has always been untrue but was officially declared a heresy (twice) by the Church in the fourth century. The “sometimes” of modalism’s manifestation language is at odds with both Scripture and the verbiage of the creeds. Here, as an example, is a taste of the Athanasian Creed’s Trinitarian confession:

And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

When the Athanasian creed speaks of the three Persons of the Trinity having coeternal majesty it denies a God who morphs into one of three persons at a time.

Now, T.D. Jakes wishes to distance himself from his Oneness Pentecostal background. He desires a wider audience. So he claims that his view has evolved from his heterodox foundations. But the language in his church’s statement of faith on the Trinity still includes the fuzzy, red-flaggy “manifestations,” and when Jakes attempts to differentiate himself from Oneness Pentecostalism he nevertheless neglects to distance himself from it, finding it very difficult to clearly state his personal view of the Trinity out of fear of hurting the feelings of those in his Oneness past.

In 2000, he denied in a statement to Christianity Today that he is a modalist but in fifteen paragraphs nowhere articulates simple orthodox Trinitarianism. He affirms that there is one God and affirms that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, both of which are good affirmations, but he cannot seem to put the two together to distinguish between Three-in-Oneness and one-at-a-time-ness. Ten years later Jakes is pressed well by Open House interviewer Leigh Hatcher to stake out his perspective but Jakes claims the Trinity is hard to define. But it is not difficult to confess orthodox Trinitarianism, for those who want to do it . . .

Is this important? Should we have just left poor Bishop Jakes alone? No, we should implore him earnestly to come out of the shadows of obfuscation — or the absolute darkness of heresy, if that’s where he is — and embrace the light of orthodox Trinitarianism.

Seeing the Trinity is important because if we want a real relationship with God we must make sure it’s really God we’re in a relationship with.

I have watched Jakes preach on television, and while I would trade his special pleading for the gospel any old day, I much admire his energy. He is a dynamic, engaging fellow. Yet he is out of step. Time and time again, given ample opportunity to unequivocally disavow heterodoxy he shows only his theological arrhythmia. For a brother with so much rhythm it is a shame he claps on the 1 and 3 when it comes to orthodoxy.

(This is an altered version of an excerpt from the manuscript for my book Gospel Deeps, forthcoming from Crossway in 2012.)

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Nov

03

2011

Jared C. Wilson|4:49 pm CT

Justification by Vocabulary?

Matt Smethurst recently interviewed me for The Gospel Coalition on my new book Gospel Wakefulness. Here is an excerpt that has been making the rounds today:

Near the end of the book you ask, “Is gospel centrality just a trend?” What are some practical ways that we who champion gospel-centered theology and living can guard against this temptation to treasure the trend more than God himself?

Keep asking this question, for starters.

We need to also work at making sure the “gospel-centered” jargon doesn’t become our badge of orthodoxy, that we don’t shrink the church to the size of our tribe. I think when we trend that way, we have clearly made the gospel-centered movement more cherished than Christ and his body.

I also think we ought to take care that what we are seeing and doing are acts of worship, exulting in the gospel, which looks like—to borrow from Piper —”oh!” language, rather than merely recitations of the mechanics of salvation or rote theology. When Paul is outlining the workings of the gospel, he doesn’t do so simply or a-theologically; he is nearly breathless. He ransacks his vocabulary to do some sense of justice to it, to revel in it. His sense of awe is palpable.

Matt’s questions reflects a genuine concern. It’s a good question, and we need to keep asking it and not get irritated by those sincerely challenging on this point.

Here is the portion of the book he is referencing in his question, which comes from the book’s Conclusion:

I met a gospel-loving fellow once who said all the gospel talk in some of evangelicalism’s newer movements made him nervous. Like me, he grew up a product of 80s pop culture, and he said to me, “Do you remember The Smurfs? Do you remember how they used the word ‘smurfy’ for everything? If something was great, the Smurfs said it was smurfy. A beautiful sunrise wasn’t beautiful: it was smurfy. For every Smurf’s success, they would say he had done a smurfy job.” My friend said, “I feel like all the gospel-centered this and gospel-driven that is just our version of ‘smurfy.’”

Is “gospel-centered” like “smurfy”? Bill Streger cautions against making “the gospel” a word of utility—noun and verb and adjective rolled into one—lest we make “the gospel” an evangelical shibboleth. He says, “Learning to talk about the gospel can be the worst thing for your spiritual health.”* How so? Streger suggests that if we are gospel-centered in language only, we may delude ourselves, but we can’t fool God. He says he’s afraid many of us have just learned to mimic the popular lingo of what he calls “gospel hype.”

Is gospel centrality just a trend? Is “gospel wakefulness” just a buzzword? Perhaps. If so, we will end up standing before Jesus at the end of days, resting in justification by vocabulary.

I am more hopeful. Certainly there are some who preach the gospel or talk the talk of gospel centrality out of false motives, or ignorant ones. But as for me and many others I know well, we are learning to talk in new ways to reflect the new thing that has happened to us, the new thing that is happening to our churches (which is really just a returning to the old thing). To use the phrase “gospel wakefulness” could be an affectation. Or it could be how people talk when they know the gospel’s power intimately and have resolved to know nothing else. Maybe some of us can’t shut up about how the gospel affects this or implies that, because it’s the gospel that energizes us and interests us. Maybe it’s because we have found nothing else to come close in fascination.

* Bill Streger, “Gospel Hype,” message given at Lead 2010 conference in Auburn, Maine, October 8, 2010.

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Nov

01

2011

Jared C. Wilson|8:46 pm CT

Gospel Wakefulness Giveaway Notice

I’m giving away two copies of my new book Gospel Wakefulness tomorrow to randomly selected “likers” of my public Facebook page. If you’ve already “liked” me, do nothing. If you haven’t, go on ahead with yo bad self.

I’m using an online random number generator and will discover, announce, and notify the winners at end of day tomorrow (Wednesday).

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Nov

01

2011

Jared C. Wilson|6:40 pm CT

May I Go In There?

This is taken from an illustration in John Phillips’ Exploring Hebrews commentary that has always moved me.

Imagine with me a Moabite of old gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from some lofty hillside. This Moabite is attracted to what he sees so he descends the hill and makes his way toward the Tabernacle.

He walks around this high wall of dazzling linen until he comes to a gate and at the gate, he sees a man. “May I go in there?” he asks, pointing to the gate where all the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen.

“Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously.

“I’m from Moab,” the stranger replies.

“Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred the Moabite from any part in the worship of Israel until his tenth generation.”

The Moabite looks so sad and said, “Well, what would I have to do to go in there?”

“You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite, of the tribe of Judah, or of the tribe of Benjamin or Dan.”

“Oh, I wish I had been born an Israelite,” the Moabite says and as he looks again, he sees one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the brazen altar and the priest cleansed himself at the brazen laver and then the Moabite sees the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” asks the Moabite. “Inside the main building, I mean.”

“Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living god upon the golden altar.”

“Ah,” sighs the Moabite, “I wish I were an Israelite so that I could do that. I would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table.”

“Oh, no, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the holy place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron.”

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron,” and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?”

“Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’… ‘the Holy of Holies.’”

“What’s in the Holy of Holies?” the Moabite asks.

“Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s the Shekinah glory cloud. It rests on the mercy,” said the gatekeeper.

Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’

“Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”

The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Holy of Holies!”

The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh now,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while.”

Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

. . . Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Here it is, a tremendous word of welcome, extended to Jew and Gentile alike, to come on in and worship, not in the holiest place of the human tabernacle, but into the Holy of Holies in heaven itself “by the blood of Jesus.”

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