Posted tagged ‘evangelicalism’

The Gospel Alphabet: U is for Unity

February 26, 2012

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T

In his book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, J.I. Packer has a chapter entitled “The Gospel as of First Importance.”  In that chapter, Packer discusses the pastoral and formational applications of the Gospel.  Many are familiar with the quote from Tim Keller that “the Gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life; it is the A through Z of the Christian life.”  Packer writes,

“In that spirit we offer the following ‘Gospel Alphabet’–twenty-six pastoral and formative reasons why the Gospel must retain primacy as the content of Christian education” (108).

This week, we come to the letter “U”.

U is for Unity

A clear Gospel focus in our preaching and teaching has the potential to contribute to the unity of the church. In the latter half of the twentieth century one frequently seen example of this was the evangelistic campaigns of Billy Graham, which typically featured the cooperation of a great diversity of congregations and denominations. At the  beginning of this century new movements are afoot for the sake of the Gospel that aim to be both evangelical and ecumenical. We never seem to achieve perfect consensus here because we need to constantly wrestle with variant details of conviction and, of course, with all kinds of intellectual spin-offs of our fallenness. But magnifying the Gospel as our central point of reference can help us keep a variety of lesser concerns in proper perspective (Phil. 1:18).


Annotation from me:

Packer seems to be focusing primary on evangelicalism as a whole, and indeed there are gospel-centered movements (Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, etc.) who are working to “renew the center” of evangelical life. But on a local church level, I believe a commitment to the gospel does its greatest work in promoting and protecting unity.  There will always be competing cultures, surging personal preferences, and various approaches or philosophies of ministry.  But what defines the identities and shapes the contours of the church should be the Gospel.  When we are united around the Gospel and all of its implications and applications, we snuff out competing sub-cultures and celebrate diversity in multiple facets of life.


Thank You John Stott (1921-2011)

July 27, 2011

Few people have shaped evangelicalism more in the past 100 years than John R.W. Stott, and this morning he departed to glory with a legacy that will far outlast his lifetime.  I never had a chance to meet John Stott, but I felt that I came to know him through his writings in the many ways he came to meet me in the journey of my Christian faith.

In the early days of my studies, I benefited greatly from his classic book Basic Christianity, which I often kept several copies in my car to give away.  In the formative days of my preaching, his book Between Two Worlds was foundational to understanding and communicating God’s Word.  When I wrestled with the nature, extent, and purpose of Christ’s work on the cross, his book The Cross of Christ rocked my world and plunged me deeper into the glories of Calvary that I had ever been.  As I began to consider how to apply what I had been learning to the world around me, his book The Contemporary Christian was a faithful guide.

When I moved onto seminary, my first major topic of interest was understanding evangelical anti-intellectualism, what would you know, but John Stott had written a book on it (actually they are lectures put into a book).  In the following years, I began wrestling with evangelical mission, in particular the relationship of evangelism with social action.  Stott had two books that I referenced regularly, namely Christian Mission in the Modern World and Our Guilty Silence.  Though it is presented as a commentary, John Stott’s commentary on the book of Acts is incredibly helpful and insightful for the mission of the church, and from my reading of Tim Keller very instrumental in his thinking as well.

The are other books by Stott that I enjoyed, but these served almost biographically in my journey over the past ten years and proved to impact me in numerous ways.  I’m confident that I’m not alone in saying that God has used John Stott in big ways and small as a trustworthy guide in matters related to the gospel, the church, and the mission entrusted to us.  Stott was a faithful steward, and I pray that my generation will carry that baton in the shadow of this churchman, scholar, and missionary statesman for generations to come.  Thank you John Stott, for the way God used you to impact my life.

Below is a tribute from Langham Partnership, the ministry outreach of John Stott that has just been made available.

Church Planting Elitism

December 9, 2010

Earlier this week, Ed Stetzer shared about new trends in church planting, most notably that local churches are becoming the engine for church planting.  As someone who is (and will continue to) invest himself in helping churches plant churches, this is exciting to see.  However, there is something that has been on my mind for some time, and I have been bringing this up among church planters in the PLNTD relational communities for their thoughts on this.  What am I speaking of?

Church planting elitism.

Now I hesitate to even mention this because I have some good friends in the church planting world that would likely fit the description below. Nevertheless, I think it is worth discussing because I fear the upshot is a growing disconnect between what is being portrayed/perceived and what is experienced in reality for many church planters today.  Let me explain.

When I reflect on the major plenary speakers at church planting conferences today, there are five categories or common characteristics that most (not all) of them have:

  • Large church – their church typically runs over 1,000 in attendance
  • Million dollar budget – their budgets allow for large amounts (not necessarily percentages) of money to go to church planting
  • Urban centers – they are located in a large urban city (Dallas, Raleigh, Louisville, Seattle, Orlando, etc.)
  • Colleges/Universities and seminaries – they have several colleges, universities, and seminaries where they can easily farm and recruit future church planters from the upcoming generation
  • Charismatic personality – they usually have a strong, dynamic leader whose personality plays a significant role in the branding of the church plant

While not every conference speaker at church planting conferences fit every one of these categories, it seems that most of them do.  And I might add, this is not inherently bad or wrong.  What makes it bad or wrong is the unintended consequences that arise from what could be described as church planting elitism.

What are some of the unintended consequences?


Theoretical v. Operative Gospels

October 28, 2010

I will let this quote by Graeme Goldsworthy speak for itself:

“Among evangelicals there are differences in the way [gospel] is used.  It is a matter for some concern that some books and study courses on evangelism seem to assume that every Christian is absolutely clear about what the gospel is, and that what is needed most is help in the techniques of explaining the gospel to unbelievers.  Experience suggests that this assumption is poorly based and that there is a great deal of confusion among believers about what the gospel is.

Preachers may have a theoretical and an operative gospel.  Theoretically we will get into a theological mode and produce, as far as possible, a biblically based notion focusing on the person and work of Christ.  But, in pastoral practice it is easy to be pragmatic.  Our operative gospel will be the thing that preoccupies us as the focus of our preaching and teaching.  It may a particular hobbyhorse or a denominational distinctive.  Baptism, a particular view of the second coming, social action, creationism, spiritual gifts, and the like are all easily raised to the status of the gospel by becoming the main focus of our preaching.  This is especially deplorable when these spurious gospels are made the basis of our acceptance of other Christians.”

– Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 81.

Kingdom Words, Kingdom Deeds

March 1, 2010

A lesser known evangelical declaration, the Manila Manifesto (1989) was adopted by the Second International Congress on World Evangelization  in Manila, Philippines.  Regarding the gospel and our social responsibility, I would like to post an excerpt:

The authentic gospel must become visible in the transformed lives of men and women. As we proclaim the love of God we must be involved in loving service, as we preach the Kingdom of God we must be committed to its demands of justice and peace.

Evangelism is primary because our chief concern is with the gospel, that all people may have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Yet Jesus not only proclaimed the Kingdom of God, he also demonstrated its arrival by works of mercy and power. We are called today to a similar integration of words and deeds. In a spirit of humility we are to preach and teach, minister to the sick, feed the hungry, care for prisoners, help the disadvantaged and handicapped, and deliver the oppressed. While we acknowledge the diversity of spiritual gifts, callings and contexts, we also affirm that good news and good works are inseparable.

Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism

July 3, 2009

Southern Baptists Evangelicals and the Future of Denominations

Union University, under the leadership of Dr. David Dockery, continues to lead the discussion in Southern Baptist life by putting together the best conferences about Baptist issues in the country.  In recognition of the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement, the R.C. Ryan Center of Biblical Studies along with the Office of Church Relations is hosting Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism on October 6-9, 2009 on the campus of Union University. This conference is being billed as “one of the most significant conferences to be found anywhere addressing some of the most vital issues facing Southern Baptists and Evangelicals as we prepare to move into the second decade of the 21st Century.”

Conference speakers include Timothy George, Al Mohler, David Dockery, Ed Stetzer, Danny Akin, Nathan Finn, and many more.  Cost of the conference is a reasonable $85, and you can register by downloading this form and mailing it in to UU (online registration coming soon).  Below is the schedule of the conference, including the topics being addressed.

Tuesday, October 6

  • 5:00 p.m. Ed Stetzer: Denominationalism: Is There a Future?
  • 6:00 p.m. Dinner
  • 7:00 p.m. Jim Patterson: Reflections on 400 Years of the Baptist Movement: Who We Are. What We Believe.

Wednesday, October 7

  • Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30 a.m. Harry L. Poe: The Gospel and Its Meaning: Implications for Southern Baptists and Evangelicals
  • 10:00 a.m. Timothy George: Baptists and Their Relations with Other Christians (G. M. Savage Chapel)
  • Noon Luncheon Address – Duane Litfin: The Future of American Evangelicalism
  • 2:00 p.m. Ray Van Neste: The Oversight of Souls: Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Life
  • 7:00 p.m. Corporate Worship: Robert Smith: Preaching (G. M. Savage Chapel)

Thursday, October 8

  • Continental Breakfast
  • 10:00 a.m. Daniel Akin: The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • Noon Luncheon Address – Michael Lindsay: Denominationalism and the Changing Religious Landscape in North America
  • 2:00 p.m. Jerry Tidwell: Missions and Evangelism: Awakenings and Their Influence on Southern Baptists and Evangelicals
  • 6:00 p.m. Banquet
  • 7:00 p.m. David S. Dockery: Denominationalism and a Global Evangelical Future
  • 8:00 p.m. Mark DeVine: Emergent or Emerging: Questions for Southern Baptists and North American Evangelicals

Friday, October 9

  • Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30 a.m. Nathan Finn: Southern Baptists and Evangelicals: Passing on the Faith to the Next Generation
  • 10:00 a.m. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.: Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism (G. M. Savage Chapel)

Carl Trueman on American Celebrity Culture

March 11, 2009

Back in May of 2007, I asked the question, “Are We Creating a Reformed Celebrity Culture?” which, at the time, gained considerable traction.  A year later, Carl Trueman shared some of his concerns about the celebrity culture while reflecting on Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed. Most recently, Trueman again picked up on the cult of personality and celebrity culture in America.  Here’s an excerpt:

I had often wondered why certain British figures – Jim Packer, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath etc., were much bigger this side of the Atlantic than back home in their native country.  Was it just the accent?  Surely it couldn’t be the dentistry…..?  Maybe the dress sense? No.  It is all to do with the way America is a personality/celebrity oriented culture in a way that Britain, while she may well be catching up, has historically not been.   The American church reflects the culture: ministries built around individuals, around big shots, churches that focus on god-like guru figures, all of them pointing to one door.  I have lost count of the conversations I have had with church people anxious to tell of who they heard at this conference, of which person they corresponded with, of how this opinion or that opinion would not sit well with this demi-god and is therefore of little value; and, of course, of how anyone who disagrees with, or criticizes, this chosen hero must, of necessity be morally depraved and wicked.  People want the gods to do their thinking for them.  All of the Pelagian, Manichean celebrity malarkey of the American political process is alive and well in the church as well.  The question is: when it comes to churches and ministries built around messiahs who are supposed to point not to themselves but to the true door, who is going to have the guts to leave the temple?

My good friend Owen Strachan has interacted with Trueman’s article, and offers these thoughts:

Our culture can leave us susceptible to the vicissitudes of a personality-driven atmosphere, causing us to trust more in the speaker at the conference, perhaps, than in the Lord of the church. Trueman is right about the way some Christians lean too strongly on certain leaders, seemingly aligning themselves more with earthly leaders than the Lord of the church.  The same is true of contempoary political leaders, not least among them our current President.  In sum, his political analysis is generally on target, and he gives some needed cautions about a celebrity church culture.

[ . . .] At the end of the day, I’m sure that I have a great deal of agreement with Trueman.  I would love for American Christians to put way more trust in the church–and more than this, the Lord of the church–than in conferences, speakers, big-name organizations, and the like.  More of us everyday Christians need to invest in the local work of God and give a little less devotion, perhaps, to big-name Christians.

We could all do a little self-examination on this point and consider whether we’ve bought into celebrity Christian culture and how it might be affecting our view of the church and its mission.  But don’t take my word for it–take Carl Trueman’s.

Good words, both from Trueman and Owen, words we need to hear more than just once, or twice.