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I thank God for all the talk about the gospel among evangelical churches today. Granted, some of it can degenerate into trite jingoism and anomalous platitudes, but still, at least the necessity and centrality of theevangel is once again being recognized by believers who purportedly take their identity from it and who agree that evangelism is our great work. Considering where American evangelicalism was 30 years ago, this is a huge improvement.
This does not mean that Thabiti Anybwile’s “mild rant” against all the modern talk about the gospel is completely unwarranted. Bunyan warned about the kind of groupies who only love religion when it walks in “silver slippers” and gospel-centrality certainly seems to be enjoying that kind of status in our day. When it becomes chic to talk about the gospel then watch out because much gospel-talk will contain more talk than gospel. So I tip my hat to Thabiti’s point.
But I do not think we are in any danger of obsessing over the gospel. In fact, I fear that our case is quite the opposite. Particularly, I am afraid that we have yet to begin to plumb the depths of the gospel’s sufficiency. The gospel is most certainly an exclusive message. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter reiterated that point when he said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The gospel is a very narrowly defined message. It is all about Jesus–who he is, what he has done and why that matters. It is the only message that saves those who believe.
“The gospel is most certainly an exclusive message… but the gospel has implications that are infinitely broad”
But the gospel has implications that are infinitely broad. It applies to everything. That is why Paul can say what he does in 1 Corinthians. When he first went to Corinth he “decided to know nothing among [the Corinthians] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). He preached an exclusive message: the gospel. Yet, as his letter indicates, he recognized that the gospel applies to everything. Dissension, jealousy, immaturity, injustice, slavery, sexuality, marriage, singleness, the future, the past–all of these subjects and more are addressed by Paul in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In that sense, no matter what the problem is, the answer is always the gospel.
One of the greatest challenges that a church faces as devotes itself to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42) is keeping the gospel as the sole foundation for unity. Over time, as associations and relationships grow within a body it is inevitable that church members will discover that they have other things beside the gospel in common with some of their fellow members. This is neither good nor bad. It is simply a reality.
One of the greatest challenges that a church faces… is keeping the gospel as the sole foundation for unity. Over time, as associations and relationships grow within a body it is inevitable that church members will discover that they have other things beside the gospel in common with some of their fellow members… The temptation that this inevitability presents, however, is making those other things more important than the main thing…
The temptation that this inevitability presents, however, is making those other things more important than the main thing that we share in common, that is, the gospel. It usually happens subtly and even unconsciously. Families that homeschool their children can naturally gravitate to other homeschoolers. Sports enthusiasts can do the same. Young married couples naturally enjoy spending time with others close to their age and stage of life, as do young people, single adults and senior adults. The relationships forged along such affinities are not necessarily bad and can even be very beneficial. There is nothing wrong with closer relationships developing along those kinds of lines.
Where such relationships can become problematic is at the point that they begin to take on more importance than the gospel. When your affinities start to trump the gospel in your decision making you can be sure that Christ has been supplanted as the basis for your fellowship.
Here are some indications that this may be happening in your church.
When statements like this are being heard:
“I just don’t feel at home in that church because there aren’t enough _________ (fill in the blank however you want to: homeschoolers; Republicans; young people; old people; single people; married people; Cubans; business people; bikers; surfers; professionals; blondes; left-handers, etc. etc. You get the point).
When those who are in any of the above (or other) affinity groups find it impossible to relate to believers who are not.
If you find yourself thinking that you don’t really have anything in common with an older (or younger) member or single (or married) member or an adoptive (or childless) family, it’s time to back up and reexamine what the basis of your fellowship really is.
If we are living out the conviction that the gospel really is enough then we will not require anyone to be in our “age and stage” of life in order to enjoy genuine fellowship with them. Age, race, marital status, occupation, hobbies, etc. will all be recognized and appreciated but they will not be allowed to be attached to the gospel as a necessary basis for fellowship.
As that happens then the manifold wisdom of God will be put clearly on display before a watching world. God will be glorified. His gospel will be adorned. And His church will be strengthened.
One of the points I’ve been trying to make throughout our Sunday Seminary teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity is why we should delight in knowing God as Father, Son, and Spirit. Several news books have come out on that topic, one which I’d like to highlight here:
I have read several books on the Trinity in the past and have always enjoyed reading them. James White’s The Forgotten Trinity and Bruce Ware’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are biblical, systematic and powerful. I’ve read them, benefited from them, and often recommended them. I will continue to do so. The unique angle—and unique beauty—of Delighting in the Trinity is that it looks less at a concept and more at a relationship, less at a doctrine and more at the persons of the godhead. It is, at heart, an introduction to the Christian faith and the Christian life that seeks to show that both must be at all times rooted in the triunity of God. All that God is, all that God does, flows out of his triunity. It is the essential Christian doctrine. Reeves says that his book is
about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune being makes all his ways beautiful. It is a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good, to have your heart won and yourself refreshed. For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God. If the Trinity were something we could shave off God, we would not be relieving him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing him of precisely what is so delightful about him. For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desirable.
Like me, you have looked at the diagrams that attempt to display the Trinity and you’ve heard the various comparisons: It’s like the three states of water: liquid, steam and ice; it’s like an egg that has shell, white and yolk and yet is only one egg. But if we aren’t careful, our explanations can make the Trinity seem distant and difficult rather than imminent and delightful. “For all that we may give an orthodox nod of the head to belief in the Trinity, it simply seems too arcane to make any practical difference to our lives.” While we have a theological construct of the Trinity in our hearts and minds and statements of faith, it can make so little difference to our lives that God is a Trinity rather than one (or two, for that). What Reeves seeks to do, and what he does so well, is to introduce the Trinity not as a problem or a technicality, but as “the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.”
And so he looks at Father, Son and Spirit, he looks at Creation, at salvation, at the Christian life, placing the triunity of God at the very center of it all. Consider this, the triune nature of the cross:
This God makes no third party suffer to achieve atonement. The one who dies is the Lamb of God, the Son. And it means that nobody but God contributes to the work of salvation: the Father, Son and Spirit accomplish it all. Now if God were not triune, if there was no Son, no lamb of God to die in our place, then we would have to atone for our sin ourselves. We would have to provide, for God could not. But—hallelujah!—God has a Son, and in his infinite kindness he dies, paying the wages of sin, for us. It is because God is triune that the cross is such good news.
He says a page later,
“The more trinitarian the salvation, the sweeter it is.”
Here’s the rub: If you are to delight in God, you must delight in the God who is, which is to say, the triune God. And if you gaze at this God, you will be filled with delight. And this is exactly what this book does—it draws the heart and mind to the Trinity, the source of all delight.
And so, this book is about delighting in the Trinity not as a theological construct, but as the very essence, the very joy, of the Christian faith. The Trinity is not merely a doctrine that separates Christianity from the other religions of the world, but a doctrine that describes the reality of the God who is.