Posts filed under ‘Christian Theology’
I recently wrote this article for Facts & Trends magazine on The Power of Story: Captivated by the Gospel.
Do you remember the last time you heard a good story?
It’s easy to become captivated by a compelling narrative or a fascinating myth. Stories are instruments of powerful mnemonic and formative capability.
From movies to novels or warm conversations over dinner, stories can capture our imagination and shape the way we think about the world like nothing else can. We love stories.
And like children sitting on the edge of a bed awaiting their parents to read a beloved bedtime book, we long to be told a good story. But more importantly, we want to be part of a good story.
Stories help us make sense of where we find ourselves, what has gone wrong with things, and what can be done about it. Stories shape and narrate how we view ourselves. These narratives speak to a deep longing in our hearts, opening the doors of possibility to things that could be.
However, most of the narratives that captivate the imaginations of children are nothing more than fanciful myths.
Sadly, the same can be said of the worldviews that narrate the worlds of most adults. The burning question that each of us must ask is, who gets to narrate my world?
The true story of the whole world
As Christians, we understand all people are confronted by a host of master narratives that compete with, and often contradict, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also believe God has revealed the true story of the whole world. The story of Christ is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “the true myth.”
In many ways, the Bible presents redemptive history as a four-part drama—creation, fall, redemption, restoration. In that drama, Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story.
Evangelism is sharing the greatest story ever told, namely, the story of redemption through Jesus Christ.
In order to make sense of our lives, we depend on narratives that provide us a broader framework of meaning.
I believe Alasdair MacIntyre was correct in After Virtue, when he wrote: “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”
This principle is extremely important for evangelism. Not only do we need to understand the true story of the whole world, we also need to understand how to read the story of those we talk with. What narrative shapes their worldview, outlook and self-image?
Reading their story, sharing Christ’s story
Too often our evangelism efforts are driven by one-sided, canned presentations. How often do we listen to those we are sharing with in order to present the gospel to them with wisdom and care?
What if our efforts in sharing the good news were less about putting people in evangelistic headlocks until they make a decision and more about capturing their imagination with the beautiful gospel?
We believe the story of Jesus’ life and work is directly related to the story of our world, and to the personal stories of everyone we meet.
When we share the gospel with others, do we ever stop to wonder if they are able to perceive how the gospel is good news for them? How does Jesus’ story enter their story?
What people need to know is not only what the gospel is, but also what the gospel does. We need to show them the beauty of the gospel and pray that God would open their eyes to see it.
In his book Unbelievable Gospel, Jonathan Dodson suggests that using gospel metaphors at the prompting of the Holy Spirit is a more effective way to aim at the heart of the listener.
In other words, apply the gospel to their story.
- To those searching for acceptance in all the wrong places, we can point them to perfect acceptance in the gospel of justification.
- To those searching for fulfilling relationships, we can point them to profound, personal union with Christ.
- To those who struggle with tolerance, we can show them the uniqueness of Christ in the gospel of redemption.
- To those who fear disapproval or demand the applause of others, we can share the gospel of adoption, which offers an enduring approval and produces humble confidence.
- To anyone longing for a new start, there is the hope of new creation.
Tell His story
This is not changing the message of the gospel, but aiming that message to hit people at their deepest needs.
The gospel story is the only story that will help your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors make sense of the world they find themselves in, what has gone wrong with it, and what has been done about it.
As those who are captivated by God’s story, let us go as storytellers and captivate others with the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.
Sin and death may be part of the story, but we know where the story ends. Paradise may be lost, but in Christ we are headed for peace and satisfaction forever after.
The gospel story is good news. Do you remember the last time you told this great story?
Here is a list of classic theology books for free on Kindle. HT Justin Holcomb.
- Summa Theologica, Part I (Prima Pars)
- Summa Theologica, Part I-II (Pars Prima Secunda)
- Summa Theologica, Part II-II (Secunda Secundae)
- Summa Theologica, Part III (Tertia Pars)
- On Prayer and the Contemplative Life
- Concerning Christian Liberty
- Works of Martin Luther with Introduction and Notes (Volume 1)
- Works of Martin Luther with Introduction and Notes (Volume 2)
- Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
- A Treatise on Good Works
- The Epistle of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained
- Selections from the Table Talk of Martin Luther
- Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II (Luther on Sin and the Flood)
- The Hymns of Martin Luther
- Epistle Sermons, Vol II Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost
- Epistle Sermons, Vol III Trinity Sunday to Advent
- Men of the Bible
- Sovereign Grace: Its Source, Its Nature, and Its Effects
- That Gospel Sermon on the Blessed Hope
- A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity
G. K. Chesterton
There are many books circulating the market right now that claim to recount visits to heaven – and millions of people are reading them.What should we make of these supposed “post-death experience” stories?
In this video David Platt argues that if we want to know what heaven is really like, we should read the Bible, not fanciful accounts of near death experiences. (HT J.A. Medders)
Justin Taylor notes the MacArthur book that Platt is quoting from: The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (2nd edition, Crossway, 2013).
Taylor also references a podcast by John Piper, in which he argues against such books from Isaiah 8:19 (And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?)
God’s beef with necromancy [form of magic involving communication with the deceased] is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me? And if they say: Well, I have inquired of you and you didn’t tell me what I want to know. He would say: Well, that is your problem. I have told you what you need to know. You don’t need to know about such and such if I haven’t told you. And, in fact, if you go trying to inquire about such and such that I haven’t told you, you are dishonoring me. So that is the nature of the argument. And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books.
In February I had the privilege of preaching at my home church, Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC. My sermon was titled “The Gospel and Our Adoption in Christ”, and was based on Galatians 4:1-7.
You can also download the audio from iTunes here.
Groups are a big part of local church ministry. Whether they come in the form of discipleship groups, accountability groups, Sunday School, or home groups, it’s clear that evangelicals believe groups matter.
For this reason, The Gospel Project is excited about hosting a discussion panel on Group Ministry in the Local Church at Together for the Gospel on Wednesday, April 9th in the zero dollar book store from 2:00-2:40. Our panelists will include:
- Trevin Wax (Moderator) – Author of Gospel-centered Teaching
- Eric Geiger – Author of Transformational Groups
- Robby Gallaty – Author of Growing Up
- Daniel Montgomery – Author of Faithmapping
During the discussion our panelists will explore the theological foundations (why) and practical applications (how) of group ministry. We’ll be tackling issues like:
- How do you integrate a group philosophy into your church’s overall theological vision for ministry?
- Should groups be on campus or off campus?
- How do you raise and train new leaders for groups?
- Should groups monologue or dialogue?
- How do you connect the spiritual disciplines into the structure of your groups?
- How do you multiply groups?
- Should groups have an outward or inward focus?
- How do you cast vision for groups from the pulpit?
- Should groups primarily gather to study the Bible or focus on fellowship?
According to the research behind Transformational Groups, the majority of church attenders don’t believe groups are that important to the church. However, a survey among Protestant pastors, 76% agree (32% strongly) that groups are the primary network to mobilize their church and its work. Why is there such a discrepancy between the church leaders and their members? Join us for the panel discussion as we explore the answers.
Charles Spurgeon once told a story, of a king a farmer and a noblemen:
“Once upon a time there was a king who ruled over everything in a land. One day there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. He took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go, the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I want to give a plot of land to you freely as a gift, so you can garden it all.” The gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this, and he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot, what if you gave the king something better?” The next day the nobleman came before the king, and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses, and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said, “Thank you,” and took the horse and simply dismissed him.
The nobleman was perplexed, so the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”
How often do you and I approach God presenting our good deeds with the heart of the nobleman, rather than giving love filled worship in response to our good King with the heart of the gardener?
The spring study of The Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.
The Moral Influence of the Atonement
Discussions concerning the atoning work of Christ have, for the most part, been relegated to the purpose and extent of Christ’s sacrifice, and rightly so. After all, our evangelical faith holds this doctrine of penal substitution at the center of what we believe about the atoning work of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14).
Even so, there is another aspect of the atonement of Christ often overshadowed by our wonderfully cross-centered theology. If we are seeking a truly comprehensive and robust survey of that wonderful cross, the moral influence of the cross is a necessary companion to the atonement conversation.
The Cross Moves Us
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
…And pour contempt on all my pride.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
This portion of Isaac Watt’s 1700′s hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has regained popularity in recent years and illustrates this doctrine well. The words focus on the emotive effect of the cross on the observer. Before we go any further, it may be prudent to address a few concerns many of you may have already begun to consider.
1. Does the theory of the moral influence of atonement necessarily lead to legalism?
No, and we must be careful not to react legalistically to anything that holds Christ up as an example. As John Stott reminds us, the way to holiness is not by imitation of Christ, but through union with Christ.
How do we express union with Christ? We would all acknowledge that to some degree, worshipping the Lord through a holy lifestyle is a part of that equation, especially if we take seriously Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2.
2. Isn’t the moral influence theory of the atonement the bastion of mainline liberal theology?
Well, it is, unless the moral influence of the cross is rooted in the purpose of the atonement. Leon Morris has rightly argued that by itself the moral example of the cross is inadequate, but this does not render it untrue. In every instance where Christ’s death is presented as an example to be followed, one can also find his substitutionary sacrifice as the foundation and motivation for that example close by. We cannot disconnect the two.
Did Jesus not tell His disciples that the greatest display of love is found in laying down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13)? The motivating power of His sacrifice is seen on the cross. Jesus’ obedience to God and His petition that God would forgive those who crucified Him moved one of the criminals on the cross beside him to believe (Luke 23:39-43; Mark 15:39).
Likewise, Paul argues that the death of Christ not only provides the way of salvation, but also provides the supreme demonstration of love (Rom. 5:8). For this reason, he called the church to imitate Jesus’ love and compassion and adopt an attitude of unselfish concern for others (Eph. 5:1-2; Phil. 2:3-8).
Peter also exhorted the church: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).” Christ serves as the example of love and perseverance for the church when they suffer unjustly.
The Supreme Example
Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 12:2). The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others (2 Cor. 5:14).
The cross of Christ not only atones for sin; it also provides a gripping vision that demands our souls, our lives, and our all.
There is a scarlet thread that runs throughout the Bible and it is the binding that holds the pages of the Scripture together. That great scarlet thread is redemption through Jesus Christ. In this book, Criswell traces the scarlet thread of redemption from the blood of covering after the fall in the Garden of Eden to the blood-washed multitude standing before the throne of God in eternity. The content of this eBook was originally delivered as a sermon by W. A. Criswell at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. In his introductory remarks Dr. Criswell said:
“The sermon is as if a man stood on the top of a great height and looked over the whole creation of God. As Moses stood on the top of Mount Pisgah and saw from afar the Promised Land, so this message tonight. We are standing as it were on a great and lofty eminence. And we are looking over the entire story of human history from its beginning in the eternity of the eternities, in the unknown distant ages of the ageless past, and as it reaches forward to the great incomparable consummation of the ages that are yet to come.”
This post was originally posted at The Ministry Grid.
Joining a local church is an important decision. As pastors and leaders we need to not only help people understand that, but we also need to properly shepherd them through the process of uniting with a local church body. However, according to LifeWay research 64% of churches either have nothing to assimilate new members, or no systemic plan to move people towards membership. This is where a church membership class can be beneficial.
1. Membership Classes Help Guard the Purity of the Church
In our culture the statement “I am a Christian” can mean ten thousand things, therefore it is important to make sure as humanly possible that everyone desiring membership in your church understands and believes the gospel. It is not uncommon to hold a membership class and find that some have never heard the gospel clearly articulated – even people that grew up in church. For this reason it is beneficial to hear someone’s testimony along with their understanding of the gospel before they join your church. A membership class provides a church the opportunity to explain the gospel for the benefit of the attendants evangelization or edification.
2. Membership Classes Help People Understand the Church
Membership classes help everyone in the church enter “on the same page.” I believe that a prospective member should know what the church believes on essential and non-essential doctrines, how a church works, and how it makes decisions. Therefore, communicating the church vision, core values, and explain its ministry philosophy can be an important aspect of helping someone make the decision to join the church. By implication, teaching these things can also help people learn what they can expect from the church leaders, processes, and its ministries.
3. Membership Classes Help People Plug In to Serve the Church
Membership classes are also an effective environment to plug people into serving the local church. When someone first joins a church it can be difficult to figure out where to get involved. Too many churches just assume that a new member will automatically want to get involved in ministry and will know how to do so. In a membership class people should learn that the church expects them to get involved, and learn of entry level opportunities for service.
4. Membership Classes Help Guard the Unity of the Church
Most churches emphasize membership expectations in their membership class. Not only can churches raise the bar of membership by holding a class, but also by talking about what would happen if church members did not live up to membership covenant and expectations. Being clear in the membership class as to what the church expects goes a long way in setting the church member relationship on the right path. It is important to note that the membership class can serve to preempt potential church discipline issues.
5. Membership Classes Help People Assimilate Into the Church
The membership class is an opportunity to encourage prospective members to get to know other potential members of the church as well as leaders in the church. Obviously, the primary purposes of a membership class are church orientation and teaching doctrine. However, relational orientation to the churches leaders and other potential members should not be overlooked. The significance of connecting with others in the class can pay dividends for a long time to come.
Perhaps you are involved in or are a leader a church that doesn’t currently offer a membership class. The good news, according to Chuck Lawless in his book Membership Matters, is that most church leaders face little opposition when starting a required or encouraged membership class. It has also been noted by Thom Rainer, in his book High Expectations, that churches who require or encourage membership classes have a much higher retention rates than churches that do not.
The writers of the New Testament always assumed that the local churches to whom they were writing had a clear understanding of who was a member of the church and who was not (1 Corinthians 5:2; Colossians 4:5; Galatians 6:10). Church membership classes are one of the most effective ways to examine, assimilate, and clearly demarcate new members into a church family.
The necessity of preaching Christ in a world hostile to Him:
Proclaiming the message of eternal salvation in Christ alone unquestionably evidences undiluted arrogance, gross insensitivity, and religious bigotry – unless the message is true. Then, proclamation of the only true hope is the most important and loving message that a person can communicate, and failure to do so evidences incomparable callousness, gross negligence, and religious selfishness. The determination of whether evangelical preachers who proclaim salvation through Christ alone are guilty of religious bigotry or are admirable for religious altruism hinges entirely on the question of the truth of their message. That question Jesus answers with clarity: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”
Bryan Chapell in Preaching To A Shifting Culture.