This blog is blessed with intelligent, thoughtful and gracious commenters. One of the delights of posting a piece is in the subsequent interaction with its readers. Whether they agree, disagree or are simply asking questions, I often find that the ensuing conversation helps me to sharpen my understanding of the glorious Gospel and its outworking in my own life and in those around me.
In this post: The defective gospel of the Alpha Course; False assumption 1 – We can judge what is right by whether it ‘works’; False assumption 2 – Growth in church attendance proves God’s blessing; False assumption 3 – A transformed life is proof of salvation; The right way, and the wrong way, to view good works; Bonus comment thread: why the Purpose Driven Life movement is problematic
I was chatting with a good friend last week. He is on the leadership track of a self-described Purpose Driven church, and we have a history of (mostly) amicable sparring over the nature of the Gospel and how it should be proclaimed.
(For anyone unfamiliar with the dangers of the Purpose Driven church movement, I recommend Bob DeWaay’s eminently readable and definitive book on the subject, Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement.)
Entirely incidental to the topic of our conversation, my friend happened to mention that the home group he leads had been showing a Nicky Gumbel video. Without thinking, I blurted out the mildly disparaging quip ‘Never mind.’
What is the Gospel?
I briefly covered this in my article, The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel. But the topic is so important that I return to it here.
St. Paul defines the Gospel very clearly and concisely in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
1 Cor. 15:1–8, NKJV
The Gospel, then, is the fact that Christ died for sinners, was buried, and rose from the dead.
My friend Mike Ratliff presents a superb article by Bob DeWaay that gets to the heart of the problems inherent in spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. As usual, Pastor DeWaay is Scriptural, clear, insightful and convincing. What more could you want?
If you have read my article Spiritual growth? There’s an app for that, you’ll be aware that there is currently a big push within the Church to adopt these dangerous practices. Mike and Bob show you why this is a Bad Thing.
Still here? Quick, go read the article now – but don’t forget to come right back:
For those who don’t know him, Bob DeWaay is pastor at Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota and the founder of Critical Issues Commentary. He is also the author of two superb books, both of which I highly recommend:
- The Emergent Church – Undefining Christianity
- Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement
If you don’t have a copy of these books, go buy them now!
Have you noticed?
Christian organizations everywhere are emphasizing the importance of engaging in practical ways with the poor and needy. The talk is of ‘impacting people’s lives for the Kingdom’ and ‘responding to Jesus’ call to look after the poorest and most vulnerable’.
This is a good thing, surely? Is this not simply following the example that Jesus set? And does not Paul exhort the Galatians to ‘do good to all’ (Gal. 6:10)?
This short video makes a pertinent observation. (For best results, choose ‘720p’ and view full screen.)
Try this experiment:
Remember, Leadership Network is the organization that helped infect the church with the twin blights of Seeker Drivenism and Emergence Christianity. Leadership Network has marketing clout, and knows how to use it. Monvee could be huge.
One of the problems with the Church Growth Movement’s seeker-driven approach to mass-producing disciples is that it has largely failed to consider how to make disciples who are growing into spiritual maturity in Christ. When the most mature members of your own congregation tell you that they are ‘not being fed’, there’s a problem. And when the mainstream media writes that ‘megachurches like Saddleback are market-driven, with transcendence not on the menu’, and worse, describes you as the ‘butt end of Christianity’ using the words ‘bland, cheerful, dull’, the scary prospect of irrelevance beckons. And with irrelevance comes that worst nightmare of the Church Growth CEO pastor – stagnant or shrinking congregations.
Monvee is the solution to this problem of stalled Christian lives lacking in transcendence. Market research has uncovered a missed opportunity, and Monvee is the new product that has been created to fill this void.
‘It drives Pharisees nuts to watch God keep blessing ministries they ridicule & despise.God’s sovereignty is often humorous.’
What’s the Pharisee card? Good question.
Which of these two statements is true?
- We are never permitted to sin.
- We cannot avoid sinning.
Both of these assertions appear in an excellent article by Todd Wilken (of the Issues, Etc radio programme). Todd writes:
They seem so different. One person lives his life striving for moral perfection. The other person doesn’t try that hard. The first is convinced that he can avoid sinning, if he tries hard enough. The second is equally convinced that he can’t avoid sinning, so why try at all? After all, He says, ‘I like to sin; God likes to forgive; that’s a pretty good deal.’ The first is all about keeping the rules; the second is all about breaking them.
The first is a legalist. The second is licentious. They seem very different, don’t they?
Which are you? A legalist? Or licentious? Either way, you won’t regret reading the full article:
Thank you to my friend Paula Coyle of Purpose Drivel (please visit!) for bringing this article to my attention, and for the opening question to this post.
My friend James kindly posted some thoughts in response to my How to diagnose a sermon article. That article gave a three-step diagnostic (courtesy of the Issues, Etc. radio programme) for reviewing sermons. You can read his comments in full on that article, but his three main points were:
- That I seemed to be ‘casting judgment on the speaker and the sermon rather than looking for the Lord to help you pick out those things from Him which are helpful for your sanctification and growth in Grace’.
- That there are some texts that do not lend themselves to a forthright preaching of Christ. The commandment not to commit adultery, for example. And that, therefore, the steps for diagnosing a sermon that I propagated cannot be justly applied to the preaching of such texts.
- That a lecture by Dr. Peter Masters (of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) perhaps did not seem to fit the criteria I recited in my article, and that therefore my yardstick might be invalid.
I found myself writing enough in response to these points to warrant a separate blog post.
In times past, many Christians used to educate their children and new converts in the basics of the Christian faith by way of catechisms.
Some still do.
The rest of us might want to give the idea some serious thought, for our times are not so very different from those in which Luther found himself: