[My fellow-bloggers, my comments on the blogs I follow seem to disappear into spam, please note]
Well-known evangelist, Rebecca Manley Pippert, reminded us recently that (a) no matter how secular or hostile to Christianity our culture may be, it doesn’t have the power to erase the creational longings God has placed in all humans for meaning, love, purpose, identity, connection and belonging. (b) Recent studies (Barna/etc) have also shown that a majority of Americans are willing to have conversations about Jesus, as long as Christians listen respectfully to their story. (c) She also asks why many Christians, who sincerely believe the Gospel, often struggle to talk about it? She suggests one reason is that we’re too focused on ourselves in evangelism: the solution is to rely on the Spirit’s strength in our weakness. We lay far too much importance on our skills and gifts (or lack thereof) and not enough on God himself! (1)
Which takes us back to PART 1 of ‘A Gospel Worth Gospeling.’ We proceed with Rom. 1…
V. 2-3 refer to Jesus’ OT roots, which are important as he comes in fulfillment of the OT story of God and Israel. F.F. Bruce points out that while this was indeed a valid element in the earliest Christian preaching (e.g. Jesus didn’t refuse the title of ‘Son of David’ ascribed to him), Christ himself appears to have laid no particular weight on it: v. 2-6/MSG, ‘The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ!’ There you have it, Christ’s chief identity, and ours who trust in him. This flies in the face of so much proselytizing by often self-isolating ‘Hebrew Roots’/’Sacred Name’ followers (especially among white Afrikaners in my home country). One facebook group promoting ‘HR’ urges all Christians to learn Hebrew (I scraped three years at seminary, phew!), their website trumpeting ‘7 Hebrew words every Christian should know. With the use of the Hebrew language God revealed himself to mankind!’ Hello? Is that not only half the story of God’s self-revelation? Was not the whole NT written in Greek for the sake of the Gentile nations and the rest of the world? (2)
Back to the resurrection… there have always been those who insist on signs and wonders in order to believe God: “The Pharisees and Sadducees [the latter didn’t believe in the resurrection] came to Jesus. In order to test him they asked for a sign from heaven. But he replied, ‘At evening you say, ‘It will be nice weather because the sky is bright red.’ And in the morning you say, ‘There will be bad weather because the sky is cloudy.’ You know how to make sense of the sky’s appearance. But you are unable to recognize the signs that point to what time it is. An evil and unfaithful generation searches for a sign. But it won’t receive any sign except Jonah’s sign.” (Mt.16:1-4/CEB). In the mercy of God, humanity would in fact get one more sign: ‘just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights…’ (Mt. 12:38ff). Jesus thereby affirmed that he would suffer and die, and on the third day rise again – the only sign humankind would ever need. It marks Jesus as God’s Son, sent from heaven to rescue us and share his eternal life with us both now and in the world to come. That constitutes ‘The Good News!’
V. 15-17 further define this glorious gospel we are called to convey: “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim…’ NT scholar FF Bruce reminds us that “I am not ashamed” is a figure of speech called ‘litotes,’ meaning that Paul actually glories in the Gospel and counts it the highest honour to proclaim it… ‘this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts in him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting in him really lives!'” Paul goes on to expound ‘justification by grace through faith’ in Rom. chapters 3-11.
[NT specialist Prof. NT Wright has rightly referred us to the alternate Greek rendering of Gal. 2:19b-20/NRSV, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ That opens up a whole new perspective, doesn’t it?!]
This Gospel isn’t difficult to understand – I (with minimal Christian background) grasped its essentials as a 14-year-old teen with a baptism of glorious joy and assurance by faith in Christ. Eph. 2:8 flashed into the mind of this teen who was trying to earn his way to eternal life. Together with this experience came a life-long call to Gospel ministry wherever God would lead. I veered from the path somewhat in my high school years, but at age 21 it once more exploded in my heart and mind. Fifty+ gracious years later I’m still proud of the Gospel of Jesus Christ… are you?? And your congregation?? If not, the Gospel deserves urgent attention, both personally and corporately.
(1) Leonard Ravenhill: ‘Revival tarries because evangelism is so highly commercialized… because of cheapening the gospel…because of carelessness… because of fear… because we lack urgency in prayer… because we steal the glory that belongs to God.’
(2) See my archives for an exposition of Galatians 3 (April 18th 2020), under the heading ‘Crazy Christians!’ (that’s what Paul called those who tried to add to the Gospel) Notice Generation Z’s current experience of God’s heaven-sent love, shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Witness the move of the Spirit on many USA campuses, started among praying and love-hungry students at Asbury University in Kentucky. Perhaps read Rom. 12:9-20 (from a good paraphrase if possible): it was this passage, under God, that first sparked the fire at Asbury.
[FOLLOW THIS UP WITH THE REQUESTED ‘Q&A’ BELOW – PERHAPS AFTER A GOOD COFFEE BREAK OR LATER IN THE WEEK…]
‘A GOSPEL WORTH GOSPELING!’ – ‘Q&A‘
Under the COMMENTS SECTION OF PART 1, a good friend of mine enquired about ‘The person or things I identify as taking over the place of Christ at the centre’… as a very experienced pastor I’m jolly sure he knows the answers better than I do! You’re welcome to add your own list, bro. Ed.
[As David Bolton has reminded us in his last few blogs, believers are called to declare and display to all creation the absolute need for Christ to be the exact centre of everything. We are to be God’s prophetic voices in this matter. David warns us that, failing to do so, will inevitably lead the Church into disunity, imbalance (doctrinally and behaviourally), impurity, etc. David mentions the example of the divided and immoral Corinthian church as a result of leadership idolatries. (cf. 1 Cor. chapters 1-3; Eph. 4:11-15 and 5:27)]
(1) First (imho) some things to avoid like the plague (as believers/communities/leadership)…
(a) Any self-exalting ego-spirit after the pattern of Lucifer (Is. 14). How many leaders today (here we must own up ourselves) have been guilty of subtle self-promotion in the Body: note our leadership styles, superior attitudes, neglect of unsolved personality issues, etc. Many today come across as outright narcissists! I attend two inter-denominational fraternals for the sake of keeping in touch with the wider Body. In a city-wide Fraternal (about 100+ pastors) I’m regularly disappointed by the self-importance of some leaders looked up to as ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets,’ etc. During a recent over-breakfast prayer session, one megachurch pastor was busy with his cell phone without pause for virtually the whole allotted time – wink, I often pray with my eyes open! As we know, power without character is a perennial danger to any leader.
(b) AW Tozer in his classic ‘The Divine Conquest’ used to speak of ‘self-sins.’ We did an edifying study-series on this subject in our house church last year. At a glance you can find a list of these self-sins in Gal. 5:16-21. Note, as one who pastored denominational congregations for 38 years, I’m painfully aware of my own failures as a church leader in this regard. Thus it’s essential for all of us to pursue a Spirit-filled life on a daily basis (Eph. 5:18-20). We expect our members to do so, why not ourselves?
(c) Imho, any complicated church system, including clergy-laity divides and titles (I believe with many, that biblical leadership titles describe gifting and function rather than status and office) should be avoided as far as possible. After leading institutional churches for decades, 16 years ago God sovereignly engineered our exit to engage in what has become known as ‘organic church’ or ‘simple church’ (cf. Frank Viola’s ‘Finding Organic Church’: ‘By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pews services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering’ [some of my readers may not agree with the above – I respect that, as long as one has diligently searched the Scriptures through ‘Jesus-lenses’ for a biblical eccesiology) (What’s more, there’s room for preaching/teaching as God leads: in our house church we have scripture expositions by gifted leaders on a regular basis). I’ve just watched a video-clip of the Asbury revival worship with just a piano leading – totally spontaneous yet under the control of the Spirit – powerful, yet sweet. Wolfgang Simson of ‘Houses that Change the World ‘ renown, mentions house groups currently developing in Sweden and Germany of all places, with conversions from every ‘ism’ you can think of. These converts are getting baptized and following hard after Jesus. This is besides the multiplying underground house groups in Iran and China – I’ve personally witnessed this phenomenon in China/Tibet on two occasions] (1)
(d) On a national level, we must avoid the idolatry of power, materialism, party politics, national exceptionalism, etc (in the USA, Africa and South Africa). Cf. Prof. Walter Brueggemann on Idolatry/ ANNOTATE below…
Brian Zahnd put it this way recently, ‘The kingdom of the heavens inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot collaborate with the empires of this world. The empires of this age are predicated on violence – their capacity to wage war. The kingdom of Christ is predicated on the resurrection alone.’
(e) Obsessions with church leaders, ancient and postmodern [with respect, this includes Archbishops, the Pope, et al] While our spiritual heroes have much to commend, our life should not be dominated by any one of them. I have a friend who worships at home every Sunday (and during the week) by watching a particular American megachurch superstar pastor perform. Another friend has got stuck with Calvin’s Institutes written 500 years ago. Somehow church members are always looking for a ‘Guru’ of one kind or another.
(f) False ‘gospels’ like the ‘prosperity gospel,’ obsession with a particular spiritual gift among the many denoted in the OT and NT, etc. I.o.w. avoid poor doctrine and experience. ‘The hardest thing in the world is to keep balanced’ (Prof. Maxwell, decades ago at Prairie Bible Institute in Canada). Included here are Jesus ‘plus’ or ‘minus’ false gospels. Christ alone is supreme and necessary.
(2) Positively, we are called by the Gospel to pursue Jesus at all costs, until he returns. Here the oft-neglected Letter to the Hebrews is key. Only those who persevere to the end, will be saved. It’s about ‘costly grace,’ as Dietrich Bonhoeffer testified during WW2. Cf. Mk. 8:34. Rom. 5:5, ‘This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us!’ (CEB).
In closing, with regard to humility, here’s a little parable from the biography of singer Keith Green in the early 1980’s. Keith was singing to a crowd of 4,500 students, mainly from Oral Roberts University. As he sat down at the piano, he announced ‘Tonight we’re gonna speak about holiness.’ Sin was anything that caused a loving God pain. Using Bible characters he became specific re typical student sins. He made an altar-call of sorts, calling for repentance. Unexpectedly hundreds of students streamed forward to confess their sins, filling the stage and pressing right up against the piano. As the stage filled, they started kneeling and lying face down everywhere in the hall. Some 2500 of them. Keith wasn’t even looking at the audience, just quietly worshiping, then weeping and praying out aloud for the presence of the Spirit while confessing that he was nothing without God. Folk began to confess out aloud things like gossip, fornication, drug-abuse, etc. In the mean time Keith had crawled under the nine-foot grand piano – he wanted to ‘get out of the way’… (as I read this, I had to chuckle) Soon he felt God had done his work, crawled out from under the piano and announced the closing song. Today we all know of his incredible passion for revival and mission. He passionately pursued personal holiness and mission until the day he died in a private plane crash at the age of only 28. ‘Less of self, more of Thee!’
(1) The campus pastor at Lee University in the US testified a few days ago how the student revival on their campus has been marked by spontaneous prayer, repentance, public baptisms, love for God and one another, etc – all this without any prompting or organization from the university leadership. What the students and staff demonstrated was in fact the ‘functional headship’ of Jesus, the spontaneous priesthood of all believers, and the determination to make a difference in society in the most natural way. PS, NT theologian Scot McKnight indicates that both communion and baptism are gospeling events. Of course they are! Our mission team in China celebrated communion carefully but publicly on several occasions, as a sign of Christ’s triumphant Gospel!