Laying A Gospel Foundation, But Not Building Anything

Jul 30, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Foundation_stone_of_church_building_of_Czechoslovak_Hussite_Church_by_Kouřil_and_Kubelka_in_TřebíčIf you read books or go to conferences with the word “gospel” in them, you’re likely to hear phrases like this:

  • “The gospel is not the ABC’s, but the A to Z of salvation.”
  • “We never move beyond the gospel; we move deeper into the gospel.”
  • “The gospel is not just what we need at the beginning of the Christian life; it’s what we need to sustain our Christian life.”

I agree with each of these statements and have said similar things before. I believe you can back up these statements with Scripture, the manner in which the biblical authors seek to foster spiritual growth among the early Christians.

What About Hebrews and Leaving the Basic Gospel Message?

But if there’s one passage that should give the gospel-centered movement pause, it’s Hebrews 6:1-3. After challenging a lack of maturity on the part of his hearers (they want milk when they should be eating solid food), the author says this:

Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits.

The logic of the passage seems to work against what the gospel-centered slogans say. The writer connects “going on to maturity” with “leaving the elementary message about the Messiah.”

What elementary message are we talking about? The author lists six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith:

  • Repentance from dead works and faith in God is a good description of the conversion experience. We repent of sin and believe in Christ.
  • Ritual washings and laying on of hands probably refer to baptism and what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good deeds.
  • Then there are the basic beliefs in eternal realities, bodily resurrection for the faithful and eternal judgment for the wicked.

To counter the idea that we should keep going back to the gospel, some might say: “See? These fundamental doctrines are just for the beginning of the Christian life. Once we get the basics down, we can move on. If we keep coming back to these, we will stunt our spiritual growth.”

Leaving and Building

There’s a legitimate concern here, but I don’t think this is what the author meant by the word “leaving.” Notice he uses the example of laying a foundation. If we’re going to follow the logic of his construction metaphor, we come to this conclusion: You don’t leave the foundation; you build on the foundation.

So, it’s not that the author sees these doctrines as something you move past. No, he sees them as the foundation of everything that follows.

God doesn’t intend for you to move past the gospel or the basics of Christianity; He intends you to build your life on the gospel and the basics of Christianity.

Furthermore, as Bobby Jamieson points out, if we are to take into consideration the author’s own example, this word about leaving behind “the elementary message” is immediately followed by several chapters where we wade in the deep pools of gospel truth regarding Christ’s identity as our High Priest and perfect sacrifice. Whatever “leaving behind the elementary message” means, it can’t mean moving past the good news of Christ’s work, or the author has contradicted himself.

A Warning To Be Heeded

There is, however, a warning for the gospel-centered movement here. It’s a warning against being so excited about the foundation of Christianity that we fail to do anything with the good news we’ve been given.

Imagine a congregation that is about to start a building program, but the people are so fascinated with the concrete slab that they never erect the walls and put the roof on. They just gather and sit on the concrete slab. That’s spiritual stuntedness. And that’s a good picture of what the Hebrew audience here is like. They’ve laid a good foundation, but they’re not building anything! They’re like construction workers who are having a coffee break that never ends, always admiring the foundation that’s been laid, but never getting on with the structure.

Gospel-Centered Talk and the Church’s Missional Actions

The gospel-centered movement will enter a Hebrews 6 phase of immaturity if all our talk about the rudimentary doctrines of the Christian faith becomes just that: talk. Gospel-centrality is not a simple rehearsal of basic facts week to week; it is seeing the gospel as central to everything else, and then moving on to maturity by building our lives, our ministries, our mission on it.

God’s people will never be missional if all we do is sit around and inspect the foundation. No, the mission requires people who are grounded in the truth, empowered by the Spirit, and who are fueled and shaped by the cruciform love of Christ.

Gospel-centrality is not sitting back and admiring what Christ has done. It’s building on His foundation with faith in God’s grace – past, present, and future.

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Worth a Look 7.30.14

Jul 30, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition by Calvin Miller. $1.99.

A volume of helpful insights for pastors to deliver the heart of the gospel via the Jesus-endorsed vessel of compelling storytelling.

2 Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry:

I’m no management consultant, leadership expert, or church growth guru. But if you love your church and want to see it as effective as possible-for the sake of evangelism, education, exaltation, and whatever other E’s you may have in your mission statement-try asking these two questions. One is from the pastor for his leaders, and the other is from the leaders for his pastor.

If you can overlook the reductionist descriptions of Protestant theology (where is union with Christ?!), you’ll find this to be an interesting take -  An Eastern Orthodox perspective on the sanctification debates:

The heart of the Gospel is not merit and judgement, but rather a life marked by love, sacrifice, and true repentance. An increased awareness of our great sinfulness is not a sign that we have failed in our calling as Christians—or worse, that this calling is altogether impossible—but is instead a sign that we are not far from the Kingdom. Struggle is not a weakness; it is the journey laid out before us.

This life was given to us for repentance.

Aaron Earls – Waiting on Character:

What if in our all out avoidance of waiting and our rush to … rush, we were sabotaging God’s work in our lives? What if Christ has us in moments of waiting because He uses them to make us into the people He created us to be?

When we skip the line at the grocery store or the traffic jam on the interstate are we skipping out on the best God has for us?

Mystical Light – C. S. Lewis’ Debt to George MacDonald:

He purchased the book, “an Everyman [edition] in a dirty jacket”—and that evening sat down to see what it was about. The next few hours changed the young man’s life. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the world might never have heard from C.S. Lewis in the way that it did, were it not for his reading of George MacDonald’s mythic masterwork “Phantastes.”

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The 5 Directions of a Missional Church (INFOGRAPHIC)

Jul 29, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Earlier this month, I posted about the missional church not only being pointed “outward,” as we often say, but also in four other directions. Jeffrey Kranz developed an infographic that shows what the missional church’s orientation should be. Thank you, Jeffrey!




Jeffrey Kranz writes, designs, and consults at The Overview Bible Project. He’s bent on showing off the whole Bible for how interesting and applicable it is—and getting more people to study it for themselves.

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Worth a Look 7.29.14

Jul 29, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) by Graham Cole. $2.99.

This book shows the ultimate selflessness of the Holy Spirit as the member of the Trinity who always works for the glory of God the Father and God the Son and the good of the saints.

Jana Magruder – 3 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Classic Come Ye Children:

Several years ago, a fellow Kids Ministry colleague handed me a copy of Come Ye Children by Charles Spurgeon, the 19th Century British theologian known as the “prince of preachers.” I had heard of Spurgeon, but never knew he had written a book about children’s ministry! Here are some takeaways from the book for you to ponder, but please read this little book when you can. It will re-energize you and affirm your calling to children’s ministry.

Ed Stetzer – Why Defining Missional Matters:

I am with Newbigin and, I think, evangelicals. We need a deeper understanding of mission, a higher engagement in mission, and more people engaging in the part of mission that involves cross-cutlural missions.

Simply but, mission is joining Jesus on mission, from everywhere and to everywhere (John 20:21). Missions is a subset of mission, more focused on global evangelization, planting, etc. (Matthew 28:18-21).

Jason Morehead – Biblotheca: What’s the Point of Making the Bible Beautiful?

Is this all really necessary? Must we approach the Bible like a work of art? Should we? What does hand-crafted typography have to do with “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart?”

David Murray - 14 Kinds of Seeker:

It would help “seekers” if we acknowledged they exist and that there are many different kinds of them with many different and challenging needs. Here are a few I’ve come across in ministry.

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12 Books that Showcase the Grand Narrative of Scripture

Jul 28, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Gospel-CenteredIn my book for teachers and small group leaders, Gospel-Centered Teaching, I recommend asking a “big story” question during preparation: ”How does this topic or passage fit into the big picture story of the Bible?” It’s a question we always ask as we work on The Gospel Project curriculum.

A gospel-centered teacher wants to help people learn to read the Bible for themselves, to understand the flow of the narrative, how the different genres fit into that narrative, and how to apply the truths of the Bible with wisdom.

One of the best ways to get a feel for the Bible’s narrative is to read through the Bible chronologically. Another way is to read at least one or two Bible overview books a year.

Here are twelve books I recommend. Each provides an overview of the Bible, moving from easier to more difficult.

Kids and Family

51GPZl5GJpL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm

This book is for young kids. Beautifully illustrated, it walks through the Bible, following the plot line of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” Full confession: I’ve been known to give this out to parents with preschoolers hoping that the parents would find it as beneficial as the kids.

TheBigPictureInteractiveBibleStorybook_CVRThe Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook from The Gospel Project

This illustrated Bible stays close to the biblical text. It focuses on the major stories of the Bible (and gives a lot of attention to the major and minor prophets).

There is a “Big Picture Question and Answer” for every Bible story (which serves as a catechetical exercise for parents who want to instill biblical truths in their children). Each story also includes a Christ connection that points forward to Jesus’ work for us.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones

Sally Lloyd Jones does a remarkable job of pointing forward to Jesus, showing how “every story whispers His name.”

This is the kind of book that demands multiple readings, for adults and children alike. The more I’ve used this with our kids, the more I’ve come to love it.

Overview of the Bible Book by Book

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture by Michael Williams.

This is not a book I would read straight through. Instead, I’d add it to my daily Bible reading. Whenever you read a book of the Bible, you ought to consult Williams’ work. He will show you how every book of the Bible is ultimately pointing us to Jesus, and he does so in a way that does justice to each book’s particular context and history. Let this book supplement your daily Bible reading.

Overview of the Bible Through Stories

The Story of Hope

A booklet which takes the reader through 40 essential Bible scenes (20 Old Testament and 20 New Testament), while distilling eight theological truths from the stories.

These resources are helpful if you are hoping to “story” through the Bible with an unbeliever who is curious about the Christian faith, or with a new believer who is eager to learn the basics of biblical and systematic theology.

Overview of the Bible Through Themes

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts

This book shows how the Bible is telling the story of the kingdom of God. In just a few short chapters, Roberts walks through the story of God’s kingdom as it unfolds in the Bible.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the alliteration (the pattern of the kingdom, the perished kingdom, the promised kingdom, the partial kingdom, the prophesied kingdom, the present kingdom, the proclaimed kingdom, and the perfected kingdom). I’m a nerd, I know.

From Creation to New Creation: Understanding the Bible Story by Tim Chester

Another short book. Chester traces different themes through the Bible, showing how the Scriptures hold together to tell one overarching story. He treats these five:

  1. promise of salvation
  2. a people who know God
  3. a place of blessing
  4. a King and a kingdom
  5. blessing to the nations

A Walk Through the Bible by Lesslie Newbigin

One of the most important missionary theologians of the 20th century, Lesslie Newbigin’s brief telling of the Bible’s story from Genesis to Revelation culminates in the creation of a missional people for God’s glory.

Originally delivered as a series of radio addresses, this short book walks through the Bible in a way that emphasizes God’s missionary heart and His passion for the nations.

Overview of the Bible in our Hermeneutics

9780830826964_p0_v2_s260x420According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy

Graeme Goldsworthy’s work shows how the Bible fits together with Christ at the center. Many view this book as a classic, a life-changing resource that helps us see the unveiling of Christ through the pages of Scripture.

Some may be unconvinced of a few of Goldsworthy’s typological interpretations of Old Testament texts, but the beauty of this book is the way it simply and convincingly lays out a way of reading across the Bible, seeing how the divine Author weaves together a story of redemption.

The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen

This book helpfully lays out the story of the Old Testament and shows how everything culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is also a more academic version called The Drama of Scripture.

If you or your leader is seminary trained, I recommend The Drama of Scripture. If the idea of studying the Bible’s grand narrative is new to you or your leaders, I say start with The True Story. Both are well done, but The True Story is more immediately accessible.

Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

This is a manual for understanding the Bible’s storyline. A helpful resource that reads like a textbook, you’ll want to study this one with a group.

The benefit of Living God’s Word is that it serves as a resource you can return to again and again to get the overview of different Bible sections and how they fit into the whole. You’ll probably not read this one from cover to cover, but you’ll find yourself returning to it often.

The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson

As Carson walks through the storyline of the Bible, he draws out the theological building blocks essential to Christianity. This book is a more difficult read, but one of the most rewarding.

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Worth a Look 7.28.14

Jul 28, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper. $2.51.

Draws on key biblical texts to demonstrate that worship is the ultimate goal of the church and that proper worship fuels missionary outreach.

The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet:

While the dramatic collapses of trust in the institutional authority of the Church following the exposure and scrutiny of cases of abuse may receive the most attention, there are other ways—albeit slower and more gradual—in which this trust is being eroded. Perhaps the most significant of these in my experience has been our greater exposure to Church leaders and their thinking.

Interactive Introduction to the first World War:

Ten historians from 10 countries give a brief history of the first world war through a global lens. Using original news reports, interactive maps and rarely-seen footage, including extraordinary scenes of troops crossing Mesopotamia on camels and Italian soldiers fighting high up in the Alps, the half-hour film explores the war and its effects from many different perspectives.

Wikipedia’s Edit Wars – and the 8 Religious Pages People Can’t Stop Editing:

Religion is among several of the top 100 altered topics on Wikipedia, according to a recent list published by Five Thirty Eight.

There are scientific reasons for why it feels like time is flying by:

If you’re like many people, this week will feel shorter than the last. June will pass more quickly than May. 2014 will end before you’ve fully processed that it even began. The symmetry of clocks lulls us into believing that time is a fixed commodity, but studies indicate that’s not the way it’s experienced. Time speeds up as we age. And the older you get, the more quickly it appears to vanish.

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I Believe So That I May Understand

Jul 27, 2014 | Trevin Wax

St. Anselm WeningerI confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that You have made me in Your image,
so that I can remember You,
think of You,
and love You.

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless You renew and refashion it.

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to Your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of Your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe,
I shall not understand.

Anselm of Canterbury

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C. S. Lewis On Assuming Our Age’s Ideas Are Right

Jul 26, 2014 | Trevin Wax

{C7FF6000-9646-405D-ACA3-BDDC8474653A}Img100Alister McGrath on C. S. Lewis’ view of chronological snobbery:

There’s another point that Lewis wants to make. When we read an older book—say, a treatise on science dating from the sixteenth century—we often feel patronising about its ideas. “That’s what they thought back then! But who would think that today? We’ve moved on.” Our own ideas, we believe, are so much better.

Lewis asks us to realise that we have fallen into a trap. We’re assuming that our own ideas are right. What we need to appreciate is that every age assumes its ideas are right. Lewis suggests that we imagine how future readers—say, a century from now—will look back at some of the settled assumptions of our age. They might well think about our ideas what we think about older ideas today.

Do you see what Lewis is doing? He is using our critical attitude towards the past to anticipate the judgement that the future will make about us! We can’t just assume that the most recent is the best. We need to realize that posterity will discard much of what we value, but will retain some as having permanent value.

What Lewis wants us to do is to identify what is junk and what is valuable. Yet Lewis does more than call into question the idea that the most recent is the best. He challenges the idea that we ourselves know best. It’s one of the most natural assumptions that we can make: “This is how we see it—and this is how it is.” Lewis invites us to see things through other eyes, and expand our vision of reality as a result.

- from If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Afshin Ziafat

Jul 25, 2014 | Trevin Wax

afshin ziafatName: Afshin Ziafat

Age: 42 (June 7, 1972)

Position: Afshin is the lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, TX.

Previous: For 12 years, Afshin served as an evangelist and itinerant speaker based out of Dallas. He was also the speaker at Vertical Ministries at Baylor University in Waco, TX.

Education: Afshin graduated from The University of Texas in 1996 with a Bachelors of Arts in History and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 with a Masters of Divinity with Biblical Languages.

Books: Afshin has written articles, contributed to books and curriculum like The Gospel Project.

Why he’s important: Afshin was born in Houston, Texas. He moved with his family to their native country of Iran when he was two years old. In the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Afshin’s family moved back to Houston when he was six years old.

In the second grade, he was given a Bible by a tutor who was teaching him the English language. He read that Bible 10 years later as a senior in high school and came to faith in Christ. His conversion to Christianity was only the beginning of his journey to understand what it would look like to follow Christ.

Ultimately, his family would disown him because of his faith in Christ. His story illustrates the call of Christ on each of our lives—to follow Him regardless of the cost. Currently, Afshin resides in Frisco, Texas, with his wife Meredith. Along with serving at Providence Church, he is the founder of Afshin Ziafat Ministries, through which he travels nationally and internationally preaching in churches, retreats, camps, conferences, and missions.

Afshin helped launch and spoke weekly at Vertical, a student ministry at Baylor, before taking the pastorate position at Providence. He also travels into the Middle East regularly to train Iranian pastors.

Notable Quotes:

“The call of Christ on your life is not just to believe the right things about him but to follow Him regardless of the cost.”

“Jesus didn’t come to set you free so that you can do whatever you want. He came to set you free from doing whatever you want.”

“A proper understanding of the Gospel of grace is the greatest fuel for missions.”

“Don’t chase after respect. Run after Jesus and character, integrity, and respect will follow.”

“A good church leader will not make his people dependent on him but on God and His word.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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