Blog Archives

Putting The Gospel Front and Center in Cultural Engagement

Power words from Russell Moore:

As American culture changes, the scandal of Christianity is increasingly right up front, exactly where it was in the first century. The shaking of American culture will get us back to the question Jesus asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am? As the Bible Belt recedes, those left standing up for Jesus will be those who, like Simon Peter of old, know how to answer that question. Once Christianity is no longer seen as part and parcel of patriotism, the church must offer more than ‘What would Jesus do?’ moralism and the “I vote values” populism to which we’ve grown accustomed. Good.

A church that assumes the gospel is church that soon loses the gospel. The church now must articulate, at very phase, the reason for our existence, because it is no longer an obvious part of the cultural ecosystem. That articulation of the gospel will mean engagement because the most pressing issues are not ancillary to the gospel, in the way some other cultural and political issues are. The temptation will be, as always, to overract to the sins and foibles of the last generation, with a pullback altogether in an attempt to avoid culture wars and social gospels. A recalibration is called for, to be sure. We are a different people facing a different context. But if we see the cosmic contours of the gospel, we must not swing into a kind of libertarian spirituality that reduces the gospel simply to matters of personal salvation and personal morality. First of all, the culture increasingly finds personal salvation and personal morality to be themselves politically problematic. There is no cordoning them off from a culture in which the personal is the political.

More importantly, an attempt at wholesale withdrawal might exempt us from some of the hucksterism and moralism of some figures in our parent’s and grandparent’s generations but it will take us back to the opposite errors of some in our great grandparents generation, back to divorcing the gospel from the kingdom, the love of God from the love of neighbor. We could shrug off our social witness altogether, as a defense against legalism. But we would be wrong, and we would, ironically, fall into a pharisaism of the other side, building hedges around a temptation to avoid falling into it. More than that, we would be abandoning a post to which we were assigned and from which we have no permission for leave. The test will be we can engage the culture without losing the gospel.

-Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 25, 26

Advertisements

Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative

My article, Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative (posted earlier this week, and up for about a mere hour) was picked up by Mere Orthodoxy. Please take a look.

The Transcendental Argument and The Gospel

One of the strongest arguments for the existence of God is the transcendental argument. I’ve covered elsewhere (see links below), but this all-encompassing argument claims that to deny the existence of the Christian God is to uncut the very meaningfulness of the most important everyday realities we take for granted.

This is all bold and exciting stuff, but so often it can seem distant from the central truths of the Christian faith. It can feel like a far cry from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But is this true?

I suggest that once we move past that initial sentiment, and reflect among what’s being taught in the transcendental argument, we’ll see that a proper handling of the argument actually creates a bridge, not a hindrance, to the gospel.

So let’s reevaluate the claims of the transcendental argument and see what it tells us about God and man.

What the argument tells us about God. The argument clearly communicates God as the one with whom we have to do. God is there, and he is not silent. In knowing anything about the world we, in fact, know the one true and living God.

Furthermore, we learn…

  • only God accounts for the causation of the universe. This means he has the power to accomplish all that he wants to.
  • God is the very standard of good and righteous behavior mean that he is not passive in evaluating our behavior (whether expressed in thought, word, or deed), and stands against our unrighteousness.
  • God’s existence accounts for rationality and the laws of thought. This means that in our moments of intellectual clarity we reflect God, and when we reason against him we are turning his good gift against him.

What the argument tells us about humanity. But the argument goes further. Not only does it tell about who God is, but it tells us who we are.

  • Man receives God’s revelation of himself through the things God has made.
  • Man suppresses that revelation of God because of his hostility toward God
  • Those who search (in vain) for alternate groundings for the laws of thought are not running toward rationality and logic, but running in the exact opposite direction.

And so if the argument is sound, it pulls back the curtain and reveals what is really going on. God, the true God, is revealed everywhere, in and through every created thing, to every human being. The unbeliever is ultimately not a Christian because they lack information, or require superior rational arguments. They have a deep-seated hostility toward the true God.

This is why the transcendental argument is an incredibly powerful tool in the apologist’s toolbox. It is a multifaceted argument, one that not only argues for the existence of God, but reveals man’s sin, and naturally leads to a biblical solution to the problem: the gospel.

Whereas the revealation of God in the created order is sufficient only to condemn us for our sin, the gospel reveals that the final Judge is also gracious and merciful. The gospel reveals the character of God as generous and forgiving, something the philosopher will search for in vain in their “first principles.” The gospel reveals that God can grant the power to overcome humanity’s rebellion and by the Spirit give him the ability to think God’s thoughts after him.

For more, see

Gospel Inclusivity and Same-Sex Attraction

I am incredibly thankful for people and ministries that devote themselves to minister to people who experience same-sex attraction. In fact, I’m glad whenever anyone establishes a ministry geared toward the “LGBT” community in general. After all, everyone needs the gospel! But here a crucial distinction that needs to be made and I believe is often overlook by those who embrace “homosexual Christianity.”

Here’s the distinction: Identifying as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction (SSA) is not the same as being a “gay Christian.” The latter denotes someone who identifies as a Christ follower and nevertheless openly embraces homosexuality and sees no moral problem with it (often knowingly or unknowingly reinterpreting Scripture in order to support a lifestyle it clearly does not.

On the other hand, being a Christian who admits to experiencing SSA is quite different. A Christian who experiences SSA is someone who recognizes two things:

  • First, that regardless of their desires, they find themselves romantically attracted to people of the same gender. For these people, it probably matters little whether this attraction developed through nature or nurture—the attraction is there and is real. But, the second realization is key.
  • Second, they also embrace Scripture as God’s word and agree with Scripture’s diagnosis of homosexuality as contrary to God’s creative purposes for human sexuality, and they seek to obey God even though it hurts to do so.

To my mind, this is incredibly commendable.

In the spirit of sympathy, we should recognize a distinctive challenge for Christians with SSA. The heterosexual Christian can pursue romantic relationships before marriage (as long as in doing so they follow the other moral commandments of Scripture). The Christian with SSA cannot “date” (insert whatever term you think appropriate here) whoever they wish. This is rough. They may want something at one level (their SSA), that at another level they know that cannot do without displeasing the God they love. We need to be willing to love, support, lose sleep over, and stand with those valuable image bearers as they struggle, fight, and claw their way to mortify their flesh as an expression of their treasuring Christ.

And yet, in another sense the call to sexual mortification is perfectly normal in the Christian life. Whether we are same-sex attracted or opposite sex attracted, all people everywhere are called to submit to the lordship of Christ through their sexuality. Our sexuality is given to us as something that comes with an instruction manual (Scripture). The Creator knows how best it functions and shares this information with us for maximum earthly fulfillment and flourishing. So heterosexual desires have only one proper channel through which will bring God’s approval (heterosexual monogamous marriage), and the person with SSA has the same channel. The standard is the same. The Bible does not teach that heterosexuals can do whatever they’d like with their sexuality with homosexuals oppressed with an unfair restriction.

In response to the struggles same-sex attracted Christian experience, our churches need to be places of inclusivity. But I am not advocating the kind of postmodern inclusivity that ultimately denies the reality of moral rebellion against God. What needed is gospel inclusivity. This is the kind of inclusivity that’s affirmed throughout the Bible itself. Biblical inclusivity affirms that each human being is valued and dignified by their Creator because we are fashioned in his image (Gen. 1:26). But it also includes every human being as equally fallen, in moral rebellion to their Creator apart from his grace (Rom. 3:23), and all subject to the effects of the fall (Rom. 8:20). Lastly, gospel inclusivity affirms that in Christ there is neither male or female, Jew nor Gentile, but we all have equal access to our Heavenly Father, and no one has any standing before God except the sole merits of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Gospel inclusivity looks like a bunch of broken sinners clinging to the cross together.

This is an inclusivity that is pleasing to God, and though humbles us to the dust is ultimately what—through God’s redeeming grace—will exalt us to the heavens.

Labor, Identity, and the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone

The gospel of justification by faith alone teaches us that we don’t have to prove our worth, value, or dignity to God and man based upon our productivity and accomplishments. Jesus lived a perfect life, one free from meaningless distractions and sloth, in order to pay the price for our petty laziness. Jesus’ work was singularly devoted to God and his kingdom, and yet he was crucified so our workaholism and other idolatries could be destroyed at their root. But he was raised to new life and lives today so his work record would be our work record.

When we believe in Jesus, his merit is our merit; therefore our identity isn’t determined by our work.

What does this mean for the way we should think about work? What practical effect does it have for the 9 to 5 grind? In the words of the apostle Paul, it means that whatever we do, we should work at it with all our heart, as if we were working for the Lord, not for human bosses or to gain accolades (cf. Colossians 3:23). If the gospel of grace really gets down into our bones it can’t fail to affect our work. That means that our work—whether we have our names on our office doors or on nametags—will be for the glory of God, for the betterment of the organizations we work for, and in service to those made in his image (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

Unlike so many voices we hear in our culture, we are free to strive for excellence without the pressure to prove ourselves. We will no longer regard our work like a master that must be served. And when we fail, and we will fail, we won’t be crushed—since we understand that by faith in Jesus we have passed the cosmic performance review.

The Message of Christian Mission: Christological Monotheism

John Dickson helpfully summarizes both the message of the gospel and the message of Christian mission:

At the heart of the gospel message (in the Old and New Testaments) is the idea of God’s rule as king, in other words, his kingdom. When the first Christians proclaimed this gospel of the kingdom, they were not copying the “gospel” of the Roman kingdom; they were exposing it as a fraud. It was God, not any human king, who ruled over all. This is the central theme of the Christian gospel…

What is the single most important idea driving our mission to the world?…The answer has to do with monotheism (one God) or, more correctly, Christological monotheism- the lordship of the one true God through his Messiah…To put it in simple and practical terms, the goal of gospel preaching-and of gospel promoting- is to help our neighbors realize and submit to God’s kingship or lordship over their lives.

[However] the Christian gospel  does not just announce the concept “God reigns”; it outlines exactly  how that reign has been revealed to the world…the core content of the gospel is the work of God’s anointed king, Jesus.  Through his birth, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection God’s kingdom has been manifest (and will be consummated upon his return). Telling the “gospel”, then, involves recounting the deeds of Messiah Jesus.

-John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips, 114-115. 

The Trinity Gospel

Kevin Vahoozer on the need for grasping the doctrine of the Trinity for making sense of the gospel:

In sum, the Gospel is ultimately unintelligible apart from Trinitarian theology. Only the doctrine of the Trinity adequately accounts for how those who are not God come to share in the fellowship of Father and Son through the Spirit. The Trinity is both the Christian specification of God and a summary statement of the Gospel, in that the possibility of life with God depends on the person and work of the Son and Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity thus serves both as an identification of the dramatis personae and as a precis of the drama itself. “He is risen indeed!”

-Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 43-44

Heralding the King and Savior

Again, Michael F. Bird achieves biblical balance:

The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon , and even for the covenant God, Yahweh put. In other words, Jesus is King and reigns over all.

But merely stating that Jesus is King is an insufficient representation of the gospel if we do not point out how he has shown his kingly power in giving himself up for our sins and being raised by God for our acquittal. The gospel is a royal announcement that God has become king in Jesus Christ and has expressed his saving sovereignty through the death and resurrection of the Son, which atones, justifies and reconciles. There is no gospel without the heralding of the king, and there is no gospel without atonement and resurrection.

-Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message

At cliché as it sounds, looks like the gospel really is about Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Jesus, John Piper, and the Gospel of the Gospels

This past week the Gospel Coalition posted a discussion with Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, and John Piper on whether Paul preached the gospel. Here’s the video:

I love Piper, Carson, and Keller dearly. Their insights (both in sermons, lectures, and books) have been a great influence on me. Much of what is said here is helpful and edifying. Yet, I am uneasy with Piper’s approach here. I think it’s too susceptible to the kind of criticism of N. T. Wright or Scot McKnight that this is an individualistic message. Both Wright (in What Saint Paul Really Said, and other works) and McKnight (in The King Jesus Gospel) claim that an approach like the one here presented by Piper

  1. downplays or ignores the Old Testament story of Israel (Piper is especially guilty of this), and
  2. functionally elevates the Pauline corpus into a canon within a canon, making Paul the cipher through which we interpret the Gospels.

I think these charges are worth considering (even if, at times, they are overstated). I would humbly add 1 more criticism to Piper’s approach

3. a lack of redemptive-historical emphasis.

That is to say, Piper focuses more on, in John Murray’s terms, the “gospel applied” (ordo salutis) than the “gospel accomplished” (historia salutis).

Here are some excellent discussions that basically land where I do.

As Carson pointed out, Paul does preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (ex: Acts 28:31). Likewise, as Piper correctly noted, the emphasis for Paul on kingdom gets centered on the reign of the king, king Jesus. The differences usually set forth are overblown (more blow). But there is a difference. Jesus doesn’t need to teach double-imputation (a doctrine I embrace) in order to “preach the gospel.” Jesus is the gospel. The Gospels are called the Gospels for a reason. Jonathan Pennington of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary makes this point wonderfully here:

As I understand the Bible the theme uniting Jesus and Paul is eschatology. Both proclaim (in their unique way, historical circumstances, and wording) that in Jesus YHWH is now at work to redeem Israel and hence the world.  Jesus is the messianic embodiment of YHWH’s return to make good on his promises (albeit in surprising ways), and Paul is the messianic herald, explaining and proclaiming how Jesus fulfilled Israel’s story and how the Messiah’s victory is applied to those united to him by faith. Jesus taught the inauguration of the kingdom in his own prophetic message and messianic actions. Paul reflects back upon the accomplishment of king Jesus and applies that to the various issues of his (largely Gentile) church plants.

Let’s quickly return to my [added] third critique of Piper’s approach, his lack of a redemptive-historical emphasis (especially the kind championed by Richard Gaffin, G.K. Beale, Thomas Schreiner, and others).  N. T. Wright states the redemptive-historical

It should be clear from all this that if Paul had simply trotted out, parrot-fashion, every line of Jesus’ teaching – if he had repeated the parables, if he had tried to do again what Jesus did in announcing and inaugurating the kingdom – he would not have been endorsing Jesus, as an appropriate and loyal follower should. He would have been denying him. Someone who copies exactly what a would-be Messiah does is himself trying to be a Messiah; which means denying the earlier claim. When we see the entire sequence within the context of Jewish eschatology, we are forced to realized that for Paul to be a loyal ‘servant of Jesus Christ’, as he describes himself, could never mean that Paul would repeat Jesus’  unique, one-off announcement of the kingdom to his fellow Jews. What we are looking for is not a parallelism between two abstract messages. It is the appropriate continuity between two people living, and conscious of living, at different points in the eschatological timetable. (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 180-181)

PS: Here’s the article Keller-recommended by Simon Gathercole on “The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom” from the book God’s Power to Save.

PPS: I’ve taken my swing at defining the gospel in light of the whole drama of Scripture here and especially here. My approach there still leans in direction of an individual application. This is fine, but I recognize I could have done more to incorporate the Old Testament and the Gospels. I hope to do that in a future post.

Is Christianity Political?

In this latest clip from The Gospel Coalition, Bill Kynes, Voddie Baucham, Mark Dever ask whether pastors should make their pulpits political.

Great thoughts. I could watch a series of talks on this topic from these guys. I’d like to make 2 points:

Read the rest of this entry

The Announcement of the Gospel

Another great quote from Wright:

 … the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord. … The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being ‘left behind’), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.

~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope

(HT: Creedal Christian)

The Easter Gospel

Easter is about the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah.

Easter is about power. But it’s not about the kind of power this world is used to. It’s power demonstrated in weakness, vulnerability, and brokenness. Jesus revealed that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). That’s an important, but mostly misunderstood passage. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the kingdom of God is spiritual as opposed to earthly. The very goal of the kingdom of God in Christ is to transform creation so God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus was saying that the governing principles and the ultimate source of his kingdom are at odds with those of this present fallen world. Jesus didn’t simply fight the great battle against sin, suffering, and Satan for us, he lost the battle for us too.

The Problem. By and large, the Jewish people were ready for a king, a mighty, righteous king, who would overthrow the Romans, deliver the people of Israel, renew God’s covenant with his people, and usher in a period of blessing and prosperity. This is, after all, what Moses spoke of as happening after the time of exile.

The problem is that Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. He didn’t crush the Romans; they crushed him. He didn’t take up arms. In fact, he instructed his disciples to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 5:39). When the people seemed so in love with Jesus’ message (as they understood it) that they were going to make him King by force (Jn. 6:15), he avoided the crowd and slipped away to the mountain side.

This isn’t the way a king acts. And in time people were starting to get suspicious of whether Jesus was really the right horse to back against the Empire of Rome.

Finally, when Jesus was crucified and buried, that made it about as obvious as possible that he was not the Lord’s annointed, the Messiah.

Read the rest of this entry