Don’t Call It a Comeback: Interviews, Part 1
Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Same Evangelical Faith for a New Day is set to be released on January 31st. I’ve been working on this project in one way or another for the past 18 months. Along the way I’ve become convinced of two things: 1) being an editor is more work than writing a book, and 2) there are a lot of great, young church leaders out there. It was fun to work with these men over the past year. Our hope is that this project can help reassert the wonder, the relevance, and the necessity of theological and ethical orthodoxy for a new generation.
Over the next four Wednesdays I’ll introduce the contributors and ask them a specific question related to their chapter. Today we have Hansen, Leeman, Naselli, and Gilbert.
Collin Hansen, editorial director, The Gospel Coalition. Collin is married to Lauren. His chapter is “The Story of Evangelicalism from the Beginning and Before.”
What is one of the most important things many evangelicals don’t know about their own history?
I’m afraid that many evangelicals don’t know that their history is about God. We so often tell our history as a succession of famous leaders, writers, councils, and battles over doctrine. I do a lot of that in my chapter for Don’t Call It a Comeback. And to some degree it’s true: God has worked through great leaders, books, and councils to preserve his church and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But I fear that this way of telling the story leads us to draw the wrong conclusions for our own day. We think if we can just get our doctrine right and honor the right leaders, then God will bless us with tremendous church growth. But as I researched A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir, I learned that’s not what history looks like. The most gifted, faithful Christians may toil in obscurity. God uses leaders with mixed motives to accomplish his purposes. And just when all hope seems lost, God sometimes revives his church with a tremendous outpouring of his presence through the Holy Spirit. This way God reminds us that history is about him, his story of salvation from first to last.
Jonathan Leeman, director of communications, 9Marks (Washington, DC). Jonathan is married to Shannon and they have three daughters. His chapter is entitled, “God: Not Like You.”
Your chapter is about the doctrine of God and how he is different than his creatures. Why is it good news that God is not like us?
Here are four reasons:
1) Moses told Pharaoh that “no one is like the LORD our God” (Ex. 8:10) because God’s plans cannot be thwarted. That’s good news because none of the God-opposing forces which you and I watch on movie screens or read about in newspapers will keep Christ from fulfilling his final victory.
2) David praised God saying “there is none like you” (2 Sam. 7:22) because God shakes up entire nations to redeem his people, all the while accounting for puny individuals like David by name. That’s good news because our God includes insignificant us in his grand plans for the universe.
3) Solomon also praises God with the words “there is no God like you” (1 Kings 8:23) because God alone is faithful to his Word. That’s good news because we can rely on his promises.
4) Finally, God himself tells us, “I am God, and there is none like me” (Is. 46:9) because he rules over eternity and has ordained the end from the beginning. That’s good news because it means that, through all the ups and downs of life, the end is certain and—for those who love him and are called according to his purpose—the end is good.
Andrew David Naselli, Research Manager for D. A. Carson and Administrator of Themelios (Moore, South Carolina). Andy is married to Jenni, and they have two children. He writes the fourth chapter, “Scripture: How the Bible is a Book Like No Other.”
What do you see as the biggest threat to the authority of the Scriptures among evangelicals today?
One of the most serious threats is treating the Bible as merely an authority. That is, it is one of many authorities but not the final, ultimate, supreme authority. Reducing the Bible’s authority like that is common in the fields of science and history, and it’s becoming common in other fields. For example, people may arrive at their theology by giving equal or greater weight to the latest psychological studies, self-help philosophies, or talk-radio opinions. The result is syncretism.
The Protestant Reformers rightly defended sola Scriptura. This doesn’t mean that Scripture is the only source of any truth in the world. It means that Scripture is the only inerrant and infallible authority. It is the final authority for every domain of knowledge it addresses. It’s supremely authoritative. It’s like no other book.
Greg Gilbert, Senior Pastor, Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, KY. He is married to Moriah. They have three children: Justin, Jack and Juliet. His chapter, not surprisingly, is on the gospel, “The Gospel: God’s Self-Substitution for Sinners.”
You argue that the heart of the gospel is God’s self-substitution for sinners. Why do you think there is hostility in some quarters to this understanding of the gospel?
I think it must be, finally, because of the very thing Paul said in 1 Corinthians: The message of the cross is always going to be thought by most of the world to be utter foolishness. If you think about it, the gospel of salvation through Jesus cuts against everything we as human beings naturally want to think about ourselves, and about God. We want to think of ourselves as basically good; the gospel tells us we are basically sinful. We want to think we are capable of saving ourselves; the gospel says we are wholly incapable of doing that. We want to think about God as one who forgives but never judges; the gospel tells us that he is so righteous that saving sinners required him to kill his Son.
Now, if you take all that offense that the world feels against the message of the cross, and mix it up with a usually good desire among Christians to make the gospel winsome and attractive to the world, you wind up with a very strong incentive—if you’re not enormously cautious—to leave out or soften the things about the gospel that the world finds most offensive. You begin to shift the center of the gospel away from the cross and onto happier things, in order to help people hear it with less offense. And when that begins to happen, it’s not surprising in the least that one of the first things to go—to get left out or softened beyond recognition and offense—is the offensive message of God’s self-substitution for sinners.