The set-up for this scene is that the gang from WJM News is at the funeral for their co-worker, Chuckles the Clown, who went to a parade dressed as “Peter Peanut” and was shelled by a rogue elephant. For the entire episode, Mary’s coworkers have been unable to refrain from making jokes about the situation, and Mary is aghast at their lack of solemnity. But when they arrive at the funeral service, it’s Mary who loses control.
Anyone who has ever tried to keep from laughing in a solemn setting will relate.
What does the gospel have to do with our work? Earlier this year, I sat down with J.D. Greear to talk about “the gospel from 8 to 5.” Here’s the video of our conversation. An edited transcript is below.
Trevin Wax: I’m here with J. D. Greear and we’re going to be having a conversation about the gospel and the work place. This actually started from a conversation that we had a couple of months ago about a sermon you did that was helping people understand how people’s work is connected to the kingdom of God. How it’s not irrelevant to God’s purposes.
J.D. Greear: The title of it was, “What makes business Christian?” I went through some of the epistles and tried to identify what is it that made a business Christian. A lot of times, people think it’s opening a hair salon and calling it His Clips or A Cut Above. A coffee shop called He Brews. That’s what it means to be a, a Christian business. But there’s actually a lot more to this.
I had business men coming up saying, “I’ve been in church for twenty-five years and never heard anybody talk about the fifty hours of my week. How am I suppose to honor God in that?”
Trevin Wax: Why do you think we have neglected this? Because this is where our people are all of the time. If they don’t see any connection to what they’re doing week to week with the gospel then it makes it look like the gospel is for super Christians and everyone else just doing their own thing. Why have we neglected this?
J.D. Greear: I guess you could answer that question on a couple of different levels. I’m thinking a poor understanding of the full scope of biblical theology. The Acts 1:8 commandment is preceded by the Genesis 2 commandment to subdue the earth and to glorify God in our business. Maybe a more practical reason is a lot of pastors have a hard time seeing how it affects—and I hate to say it like this—but what we do. Right? Because what I need from my people is to show up and to tithe, so I can do ministry for them. But what if my role as a pastor ought to be seen how to equip our people to do ministry in the workplace?
Trevin Wax: What does that look like though? Because I’m sure a lot of people are hearing this thinking, OK, we need to equip people to be evangelists in the workplace. And I know you do mean that. But you’re going further than this. You’re actually connecting the gospel to the very work that people are doing in, in their different spheres of influence. You’re not just talking about people being honest and sharing the gospel. You’re also talking about the very work that they’re doing.
J.D. Greear: Work is God-glorifying in that it’s done for the purposes of stewarding the talents that God has given you on earth. God did not just put preachers in the garden. He told them to toil the land and to keep it. The architect glorifies God by building buildings. Taking the raw materials of the earth and developing them for the pursuit of humans.
There’s a scene in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell realizes that God has given him a talent in running. And he says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” There are people in our congregations that feel the pleasure of God when they’re painting a picture, when they’re managing, when they’re doing law, when they’re practicing medicine. There’s a dissonance when the pastor never talks about that being a God-given thing that they’re suppose to glorify Him in. And so that’s why it becomes irrelevant.
One of the principles is that work must conform to the highest principles of ethics. You do it excellently for the glory of God.
Trevin Wax: Something you said there, reminds me of my grandfather. My grandfather was a printer. Started a print shop back in 1966. And now my Dad owns it and runs it.
So now, Grandpa has been retired fifteen years. And he goes to his church. They have a printing press and he’s printing Bibles. So he’s retired and he’s going in every day and he’s still printing. I mean in talking with him, he feels like he was born to print. And he’s going to use that platform, and he’s done it in multiple ways. He sets a certain example as to how to glorify God through the passions and gifts and talents that God’s given you.
I think about that quote usually attributed to Martin Luther when they asked him, “How can I be a good Christian shoe maker?” Nowadays we would be thinking, “OK, I guess you put Bible verses in the soles.” And Martin Luther’s answer was, “You make a great shoe and sale it at a fair price.” There’s where you get your ethics, and your excellence too.
J.D. Greear: Right, as an offering to God. You don’t ever want to separate that from witness. But how much more would the witness of Christ be authenticated if believers were doing their work with excellence and ethics!
Trevin Wax: Do you think it’s dangerous to use this terminology of people being called into full time Christian ministry ? Does that create an unnecessary division or barrier between the fact that all of us are called to be missionaries? All of us are called to be ambassadors for the kingdom of God? Not just people who are called into church work.
J.D. Greear: At that point we’re dealing with semantics a little bit. You’re wise to recognize that there is ah an anointing that comes to people working in the church. I mean Paul talked about that with Timothy and God has appointed apostles, and prophets, and teachers. But you know, the, the word calling, as many people have point out, it comes from a Latin word voca, and it’s where we get our word vocation. That there was a calling that God gave not to an elite group of super Christians, but to every Christian, by nature how they’re created, they were given a vocation to glorify God. They are all to use that for the glory of God, and to use it for the purposes of the great commission.
Sometimes we treat calling like there’s an elite group of special forces in our church that are called to mission. And everybody else is just supposed to do their thing and help pay for that group. I feel like sometimes we’ve invited the language of calling to mask the fact that two-thirds of the people in our churches aren’t living the disciples of Christ all together. Every Christian has to ask themselves, “How can what I have be used to further the purposes of God on earth?” All of us—not a group of us, but all of us.
Trevin Wax: Not just what we have, but where God’s placed us too. God sends us to the workplace. There’s no accidents with God, that we’re just suddenly doing a job that He didn’t know and plan ahead of time that we would be in this place with these people doing this thing. So do you recommend that pastors ever stop by and see their people at work?
J.D. Greear: I think Keller also says, “Your sermon looks like whoever you’ve talked to that week.” And so if all you’ve done is talk to other staff people, you’re gonna end up answering questions that seminary people want to know as opposed to how does it interphrase.
Trevin Wax: One of the questions I wanted to ask you was about motivation for doing work well. How does the gospel affect our motivation so that we want to be the very best we can be? We want to do our work with excellence, but not just for the raise. Not just for the boss’ approval, but that it’s actually deeper and grounded in something that’s bigger than just the approval of man. How does the gospel change our motivations for being excellent in our work?
J.D. Greear: Yeah, when you think about the language that the apostles use about the believer’s life—it’s to be an offering to God. When you think about the quality of the offerings in the Old Testament, I realize that those things were fulfilled in Christ in a very special way. But I also know that my work ought to be done as an offering to God and the same excellence that the Old Testament used with their offerings, I would want about my work as well.
Paul, in Colossians is talking about a slave. A lot of us will complain about having a bad boss. But when you’re physically a slave, that’s about as bad as it gets. You talk about receiving unjust treatment but not doing your work as unto man but unto God, unto the Lord. So that you know, you, if you were my boss, Trevin, what a bad thought that would be. But if I was doing my work, not saying what does Trevin deserve but what does God deserve? Not thinking about, will this benefit a raise for me, but does this go in response to the glory of the One who gave His life for me so that I can now use, leverage my gifts to serve.
Trevin Wax: Not that the raises are nice—but that’s not . . . .
J.D. Greear: No, if you were my boss, I would expect a raise.
Trevin Wax: You can be very thankful I’m not your boss.
J.D. Greear: Thank you. And I expect a raise in my honorarium for doing this right here, which I think is currently at zero.
Trevin Wax: If you’d been on, if you’d been on time, then it might have happened, buddy.
J.D. Greear: Should have done that unto God. Fair enough!
Trevin Wax: Anything else you want to say about this subject. I know this is a subject close to your heart. So?
J.D. Greear: Work done unto God is glorified to God not because you can just witness through it. But it’s glory to God just in the fact that you do it well.
If you study what’s going on around the world, it seems that the next wave of missions is not gonna happen through a lot of professional church planters. It’s going to happen by people who use their business and leverage their business to get in to places where they can just share Christ with people – through the normal business relationships.
If you study Acts, what you see is that Luke goes out of his way to show you that the gospel got to Rome faster through the means of ordinary merchants then it did the Apostle Paul. Luke is going out of his way to show you that the gospel has spread around the world just through normal people that are carrying the gospel with them. What if in our churches, people began to consider how they could use business skill to carry the gospel with them to do their businesses with integrity, to do them for the, you know, to make a profit, and then to carry the gospel with them as they went? That is the unlocked resource of the church.
With clear writing and a contemporary approach, emphasizing how each doctrine should be understood and applied by present-day Christians, Making Sense of the Future explores the fulfillment of Scripture—the bodily return of Christ.Topics include but are not limited to the primary views of the Millennium (thousand years): Amillennialism—the reign of Christ is now being fulfilled; Postamillennialism—Christ will return after the millennium; Premillennialism—Christ will come back after the millennium.Whichever view the reader subscribes to, the end result is clear: there will be a sudden, personal, visible, bodily return of Christ.
Many of us have horror stories of members’ meetings gone terribly wrong. But do they always have to end in bitterness and bickering? I don’t think so. Here are nine suggestions to help set members’ meetings on the right track.
The distinctive aspect of the Cranmer liturgy is that it is in English — and a particular form of stately English whose wording may seem antique but whose rhythms retain a classic beauty. I wouldn’t, and can’t, write the same way. Yet passages like those after the jump have stuck in my mind as the pure idea of how sentences should be paced, should repeat for emphasis yet also vary, should end.
Forgive me for the obvious remark, but they never seriously contemplated adding most of the Nag Hammadi texts because they had not even been written in the mid-second century, and in any case, these relied on the Big Four for any historical descriptions. I can point confidently to chains of historical evidence and authority linking the apostles to Mark, and on to the other synoptics, and John has its distinctive foundations. Literally no other gospel – including Thomas - has anything vaguely comparable.
If the entity is a living thing, is it not a life? If your person began as a single cell, how can that fertilized egg be something other than a human being? Isn’t it more accurate to say you were an embryo than that you simply came from one?
Our daughter, Julia, is four years old now, and she loves when we read to her. In going through the books in her room last week, I wrote down a list of the books we return to again and again. Some of them have carried over from when Timothy was younger. Others are new additions to the family. Here are a few I’d recommend for your preschoolers:
You probably know of Sally Lloyd-Jones from her masterpiece - The Jesus Storybook Bible, but you shouldn’t overlook this charming tale of a little squirrel scampering through the woods with his dad. The point of the story is that the father doesn’t love his son for being handsome, brave, fast, or friendly. “No, little one… I love you just because you’re mine,” he says, painting a picture of father-love bestowed on a child apart from any merit or earnings. I have read this book to Julia more times than I can remember, and I have yet to grow tired of it.
I was skeptical when someone gave us this book by country singer Tim McGraw. The jump from writing songs to writing books seemed like a cleverly designed marketing ploy. But I was wrong. After more than a dozen readings of this book with Julia, I consider it a favorite.
The story follows a little girl spending the day with her dad. The dad displays tenderness and toughness in the way he respects his daughter and speaks highly of her mother.
This book will never be deemed a classic. It goes squarely into the “great fun” category, and as such, it has value in the joy it brings. We used to read it to Timothy all the time, and now Julia likes it too. One recommendation: reading the book is more fun if you vary your voice based on whoever is speaking.
The story starts with Bob the Tomato taking a trip. One by one, additional members of the Veggie Tales cast join him until the boat is almost submerged in the water. The climactic moment is surprising, and the ending is designed for a good laugh too.
This is a delightful story that teaches children good social skills and how to use their imaginations. Multiple readings have not diminished our enjoyment of this book.
In the story, Lulu is an imaginative little girl who goes to the park with her mom and her dog. Lulu and her friend Sam can’t decide on what to do at the playground. Once they don their new personas – “Ladybug Girl” and “Bumblebee Boy” – the playground is transformed into the scene for their adventures. Additional friends also join the “Bug Squad.”
In an age where kids are constantly entertained, it’s important to see examples of children using their imaginations when playing by themselves. This book excels at doing just that.
Dr. Seuss’ books are so wildly imaginative (and often silly) that it is easy to overlook the beauty and brilliance of his work. The patterns of rhyme, the twisting of well-known words, the moral sensibilities underlying the stories – all of these come together to provide an immensely joyful reading experience.
Timothy’s favorites are Yertle the Turtle, If I Ran the Zoo, and The Lorax. Julia prefers The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch that Stole Christmas, and Green Eggs and Ham. Dad and Mom like all of them.
A little boy wants peace and quiet so he can read a book. But a tiger continues to distract him (pretending to be a bear, blowing a whistle, riding a train).
The story is well-written, with the right amount of repetition and a continual element of surprise. It’s fun to read and fun to look at. Out of these seven books, this one is the more recent addition to our collection.
This is a good night-time book because it has good artwork, crisp writing, and tell a memorable story.
In the story, the moon thinks he is terrific because of the light he gives. Eventually, the moon discovers that he is merely a reflection of the sun. In the end, he discovers that the greatest joy comes from reflecting light back to the sun.
The moral of the story is that the greatest joy for human beings comes not from receiving glory for ourselves but in reflecting praise back to the God who has made us.
No Other gods offers a revealing look at the heart of a woman. Author Kelly Minter explores what happens when good desires become false gods, robbing us of an intimate relationship with our heavenly father. So discover the freedom in surrender. The healing in worship. And the joy found in exchanging everyday gods for the one true God.
This is a “take your medicine” election for Americans who think we can go on without reforms in Medicare and Social Security and with no substantial reductions in wasteful and unnecessary government spending.
These demographic facts are not easy to accept. It is much easier to turn up the volume on our latest Christian CD, point to the hundreds of cars in mega-church parking lots, or pick up the latest Christian romance novel, rather than soberly face the fact that we are not passing the faith down to the next generation. What should we do? Here are three suggestions.
When you’re busy hating everybody, and denouncing everybody, and seeking political solutions to everything, it’s very difficult to evangelize. Isn’t it? Very hard to be compassionate, to look on the crowds as though they’re sheep without a shepherd, very hard to look on them like that when they’re taking away “my heritage.” Do you see?
Consider me irked. Irked, as in, “I love you, guys, but you’re talking down to me, not with me.”
That’s my basic response after reading a brief interview with Matt Barrett and Tom Nettles about their new book Whomever He Wills(Founders, 2012) that puts forth a robust argumentation for a Reformed view of soteriology.
Many of you are my friends, including some of the authors of this volume. So, allow me say at the outset how much I admire your conviction, your theological rigor, and your commitment to rightly interpreting the Scriptures.
Let me also put this little squabble in perspective. When I consider the culture’s current trajectory as well as the disturbing evangelical capitulation to culture rather than biblical truth, this in-house debate between people who believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture is just that, in-house. It is certainly not the most important topic for discussion.
But as one who doesn’t follow your logical arguments all the way to their conclusions, I confess my frustration with the type of condescension that often accompanies your passion for your position.
Particular Redemption in Service to Universal Atonement
Here’s an example from the interview. Consider how the question is worded:
What about the death of Christ have convictional “four-point Calvinists” perhaps failed to adequately consider?
Instead of asking, “Why do you reject the unlimited atonement view?,” the question is framed in a way that treats four-point Calvinists like they have simply failed to adequately consider all the relevant points. The implication is this: Oh, those four-pointers are good guys, but they obviously haven’t thought it through as well as we have.
No, my brothers. There are plenty of us who reject the traditional Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement precisely because we have adequately considered the arguments and have found them wanting. The reason I stand with theologians like J.C. Ryle, Millard Erickson, Gregg Allison, Bruce Demarest, and Bruce Ware is because their argumentation is more persuasive than yours.
I understand you believe you are safeguarding the reality of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice when you affirm a definite atonement position. Many non-Calvinists believe they are safeguarding the free offer of the gospel by affirming the general atonement position. The truth is, just as Calvinists can believe in definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel, so also can non-Calvinists believe in general atonement and penal substitution. Neither one is necessarily lost by either position. That’s why I defend Calvinists from the charge that taking a limited atonement position necessarily leads to apathy in evangelism. I’d appreciate it if you’d defend your general atonement friends from the charge that our position leads to universalism instead of saying our view “threatens to tear apart the Holy Trinity.”
Yes, there are statements in Scripture that stress the particularity of Christ’s sacrifice and its universality. But to squeeze universal feet into tight, particular shoes is precisely the wrong choice to make. Instead, when the particular texts are nestled snugly into their universal shoes, they fit more naturally.
In the context of the Old Testament, particularity serves universality. God chose a particular man in Genesis 12 (Abraham), in order that through his seed, the whole world would be blessed. God’s chosen people, Israel, are not selected merely to receive God’s covenantal benefits, but to be God’s missional people, a light to the nations. In other words, God’s choice of Israel was prompted by His love for the nations. The particular nation of Israel was the means by which He would provide redemption for all people.
In the same way, Jesus can say that He comes only to the lost sheep of Israel, not because He has no heart for the Gentiles, but because it is the particular nature of His ministry that will provide the catalyst for worldwide restoration. His mission to Israel enables the church’s mission to the nations.
Likewise, our election has a missional component. We are chosen to be the means by which God’s salvation extends universally. The particular nature of our salvation has, as its intention, the universal extension of the gospel as a sign of God’s benevolent heart to all.
So, just as my friend David Schrock can title a chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed,” I like to say, “Jesus died for the sins of the world,” and I don’t need an asterisk either.
Calvinism and the Gospel
Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.
Now, to be fair, you consider the doctrines of grace as “the foundation on which the gospel itself is built,” not the message itself. And when you quote Charles Spurgeon’s words equating Calvinism and the gospel (a place where I believe the great Spurgeon got it wrong), you are not saying that those of us who do not subscribe to all the points of Calvinism fail to believe the gospel. Instead, you consider this shorthand for biblical Christianity.
I get what you’re saying. But please consider what it sounds like to those of us who disagree. It sounds like you are making a systematic presentation of theology the gospel. As if the gospel were a set of doctrines, not the announcement of King Jesus. Plus, it smacks of elitism and sends young Calvinists back to their churches, thinking that if their pastors haven’t parsed the petals of TULIP, they aren’t really gospel preachers.
Let’s be very clear. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).
The gospel is not the ordo salutis. It is not Grudem’s systematic theology. Nor is it the five solas.
I understand your desire to buttress the gospel announcement with a robust, theological vision of soteriology. But I think a stronger case can be made that one’s ecclesiological underpinnings are just as important (if not more so) to safeguarding the gospel. (I digress. That’s the Baptist coming out in me, so I’ll need to save that for another time, another post.)
So, my brothers, I thank you for your love for the Lord, the Scriptures, and the church. I simply ask that you consider the effect of your rhetoric on those who disagree with you, and that even when you disagree, you do not put forth your view with condescension.
Side by side with you,
Your Calvinist-loving but sometimes frustrated friend,
As I have continued to reflect on my last 25 years of pastoral ministry at Kabwata Baptist Church, I have thought about what the challenges of a lengthy pastoral ministry are. I think that both long and short pastorates have their pros and cons. However, having only experienced a lengthy pastorate, I can only share about what I know.
On the night of July 27th, 2012, a huge prank was pulled in New York City and this is the video of what took place. Brett Cohen came up with a crazy idea to fool thousands of pedestrians walking the streets of Times Square into thinking he was a huge celebrity, and it worked! Not only did it work, it caused quite a stir. This social experiment, of sorts, makes a profound statement about how modern culture is so attracted to pop culture, without any real credibility needed.
Many today are interested in the Holy Spirit. They may be curious about His gifts. They feel this mysterious third Member of the Trinity has been neglected. They (rightly) want to sense His presence and experience His power.
But fascination with the Holy Spirit can sometimes lead people to be interested in His powerful manifestations, as if the experience of His power were the end goal. When we look at the Holy Spirit’s work in the New Testament, however, we realize that the Holy Spirit does not just give us power; He gives us power for something.
The Holy Spirit gives us power for a specific task – He leads us to proclamation of the gospel. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are necessarily focused on Jesus. Curiosity about the Spirit’s gifts is not the sign that you are filled with the Spirit. Talking about Jesus all the time is a more likely indication of the Spirit’s presence.
What Kind of Proclamation?
I love the story of Pentecost, primarily because Luke has already informed us of Peter’s back story. Here you have a disciple who, just weeks before, was denying Jesus and then cowering for fear in a locked-up room. But now we see him standing before thousands and proclaiming the resurrection. What could possibly account for such a transformation other than that he is filled with the Spirit’s power?
Peter’s testimony is a terrific display of the Spirit’s power. But his transformation does not lead him to declare his own testimony. Rather, the Spirit empowers him to give testimony to Christ.
Testimony to the Risen Christ
Watch how Peter proclaims the gospel. First, he focuses on the story of Israel. Then he zeroes in on Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Finally, he exalts Him as King and Lord.
This is a message about Jesus Christ crucified and raised. But it is also a message for the people who are listening. That’s why Peter confronts his hearers: “You killed Jesus!” he says.
As readers, we may scratch our heads at such a remark. Were all those people present responsible for Jesus’ death? In one sense, no. They weren’t all in Jerusalem that fateful week. These aren’t the same people who said, “Crucify Him!” Peter isn’t saying that everyone there was responsible, like Pilate, for crucifying Jesus.
Still, Peter has no problem with indicting them all. Why? Because all people are guilty before God. Because in our guilt before God, we have all contributed the sins that put Jesus on the cross.
Here’s my paraphrase of Peter’s Pentecost address to those present:
Take sides! God has vindicated Jesus Christ. The government condemned Him. The religious rulers condemned Him. They executed Him.
But God overturned their verdict, and in the moment of resurrection, the heavenly court ruled that Jesus Christ was the innocent Lamb of God sent to death for the sins of the world and now exalted as King over creation.
So which side are you on? If you persist in your sins, you are agreeing with Rome and agreeing with the Jewish leaders that Jesus was a false Messiah. But if you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you are standing with God’s affirmation. You are saying, “I stand with Jesus.” And in standing with Jesus, His verdict is yours!
The verdict of the evil one – that you are worthless, that you are helpless, that you are hopeless, that you are nothing but a hell-deserving sinner – it is overturned. The accuser’s mouth is stopped. You are vindicated along with Christ in His resurrection. His death was your death. His life was counted as your life. His resurrection is your resurrection.
Gospel Proclamation as the Evidence of the Spirit’s Work
When Peter was filled with the Spirit, he immediately began proclaiming the gospel. The Spirit’s power is mission-focused.
All this means that we are not filled with the Spirit if we are not proclaiming the gospel regularly. The Spirit indwells us and gives us power, yes. But it is power for proclamation. He is lifting up Jesus. And the more we are filled with the Spirit, the more we will lift Him up too.
Have you ever felt like there’s a higher calling for your life? Something more than the mundane weekly routine of work, eat, sleep, play, and church? In Godspeed, Britt Merrick challenges us to step out of our little, self-centered lives and step into God’s grand mission—His plan to restore, redeem, and renew the world. Your heart has been aching for something more. This is it. Join His mission and change the world.
I was with a friend the other day, I asked him straight up, “Are the Gospels the gospel?” With a bit of a look of dismissal and condescension, he said No with the suggestion that it’s clear for everyone but me. He’s at odds with Carson, Keller and Piper on this one. They think Luke presents the gospel. I agree.
If you are thinking about going into rural ministry… you need to talk with the congregation about some of the things on this list if you value your marriage. If you are in the congregation of a rural church you need to take this to heart for the sake of your pastor and his family.
Reviewing conversations with Christians over the past half-century or so, I am impressed by how often I have heard quoted a line from Irenaeus of Lyons: “the glory of God is man fully alive.” Normally it would be encouraging to hear a wide variety of Christians quoting a second-century church father and martyr, especially so prolific and effective an opponent of every heresy that plagued the churches of his day. But in the case of this quotation, its popularity arises from a radical misreading, and this misreading explains a lot about what is wrong with American Christianity at present.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to turn a church around. I can think of a lot of churches that are in decline, but I can only think of a few that have turned around. Here’s what they have in common.