I was recently asked to write up an explanation of the “good news” for a newspaper as a part of JR Woodward’s Good News Series. I wrote up a contextualized expression of the gospel for Austin, the gospel for my city. I’ve also submitted it to our local paper. This is a good exercise for all church planters. Thanks to JR for stimulating this good line of thinking. I hope you’ll do something similar for your local newspaper.
When participating on the Q panel for American Ecclesiology last week, I was asked what positive and negative trends I perceive in the church. The panel was rather large and responses had to be concise. Here’s an elaboration on what I said:
Positive Church Trends:
Something very positive about current American Ecclesiology is the Post-Christendom cooperation I see everywhere. Given the decline of the church in America, the shift of the center of Global Christiantiy to Africa and Asia, the urgency of mission is upon us. Churches are reaching across denominational, theological barriers in order to engage in mission. That’s great.
Post-Christendom Cooperation – since the walls of Christian culture and ecclesiastical power (humpty-dumpty) are falling, all the kings horses and all the kings men are helping put humpty together again…but differently. It is because humpty-dumpty has fallen that we are coming together to rally in our belief that Jesus really is Lord. But the kingdom cooperation I see is not simply remedial, a product of broken walls. It is missional. In an increasingly post-Christian environment, the urgency of mission has gripped many Christians and they want to share and experience the life-renewing power of the gospel of Jesus. The urgency of mission is creating collaborative partnerships that did not exist before, but the urgency is present because Christendom has failed. The fallout is post-Christendom cooperation. We see the task as so urgent that our secondary theological and methodological differences have become, well secondary, instead of primary clearing the way for cooperation in the great task of mission.
Negative Church Trends:
Conversely, one great danger I see in American Ecclesiology is partnership, unity in mission, not in the gospel. As we respond to the great social and spiritual needs in the U.S., we are rallying under the banner of mission, not the gospel. We aren’t freshly articulating the gospel but freshly articulating methods and mission. The great danger is that we displace the gospel from the center of mission and lose its meaning and centrality altogether. Then the church history pendulum will swing from one end to the other.
Abdicating the Gospel of Mission – putting the Humpty-Dumpty of the American Church back together again is a delicate process. On the one hand, I am very glad that Humpty shattered, that the defective pieces have been exposed like: technology driven church, consumeristic church, i-church, health and wealth church, come as you are and stay as you are church, Sunday event church, impotent missionless church. All those pieces contributed to the fall, but we are scrambling to reassemble Humpty too quickly. We are rallying around mission instead of the gospel. If we continue, we will build a new Church based on missional methods, social justice, international justice, not based on teh Gospel of Jesus Christ who defeated sin, death, and evil at the cross in order to make all things new. Our sin, our death, our evil for his righteousness, his life, his glory. We are in danger of abdicating teh Gospel in the name of mission. Just read the CT interview with Rob Bell. Not much Jesus, not much gospel, but lots of justice.
On Sunday we launched a new series called The Gospel and the Gospel as a follow up to our previous series on The Gospel and Character. The gospel is both simple and complex. We affirm that it is simple enough for a child to grasp but complex enough to ponder for all eternity. This new series focuses on some of the complex, doctrinal content of the gospel in order to come to a greater appreciation of its simplicity. In this article, Tim Keller lays out three perspectives on the gospel (Doctrinal, Personal, Social). We have taken his observations and worked them out quite a bit in order to set up a holistic, gospel framework. We use the word “dimensions” instead of “perspectives” to emphasize that each dimension is non-negotiable. If we receive and reflect only one-dimension, we distort both the gospel and our lives. Very often, Christians pick one or two dimensions and end up dishonoring Christ and his gospel. Our hope is that in understanding the fullness of a three-dimensional gospel, we will more profoundly live it out. If you want to grow in your comprehension and reflection of the gospel, I highly recommend that you take advantage of these resources:
In Seattle Steve Timmis gave us three sessions on “Total Church”. The first was on the Gospel, the second on Community, the third on practical training for developing gospel-centered communities. One of the things I love about Chester and Timmis is the way they allow biblical theology to drive their ecclesiology, and not in an academic way. Consider the following definition of the gospel which accessibly incorporates the biblical-theological themes of: monotheistic christology, substitutionary atonement, imputed righteousness, christus victor, new creation, inaugurated eschatology, and the gospel of grace:
Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign.
This is a big gospel. This is not the individualistic, works-based, escapist gospel of much of American evangelicalism. It incorporates the whole world, person, and Jesus. It forces us to move beyond decision-based conversions to following Jesus as Lord. It calls us beyond Christianity as private religion into Christianity as public, communal gospel. It’s not a pocket-sized gospel. The gospel is bigger than we think. Now, if we can just lead our churches into renewal, revival, and repentance towards living out a big gospel, a gospel as big as the city, as the world, as the whole of history.
How is this big gospel impacting your church, your leadership? Are you doing anything differently in your church because of the size of this gospel?