Spotting Counterfeit Gospels

gospelThis week, I discussed “counterfeit gospels” with a couple guys I am meeting with for discipleship. After unpacking the horizontal gospel and vertical gospel for the last three months (those are my terms for what Matt Chandler has called the “gospel in the air” and the “gospel on the ground”), things began to crystalize as we considered ways in which evangelicals misunderstand the gospel.

To that end—understanding and recognizing our deviations from the gospel—Trevin Wax’s book Counterfeit Gospels is a great aid. In three sections, he outlines the gospel in terms of story (creation, fall, redemption, and new creation), announcement (God sent his son to die in the place of sinners; he raised him to life on the third day for the justification of sinners; and any and all who trust on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved), and community (the people of God are formed by the gospel and are called to announce the gospel).

In each section, Trevin explains in detail what the gospel is, but then he devotes two chapters in each section to tackle what the gospel isn’t. And better than any book I’ve read on the gospel, his book exposes the false gospels of our day. What Counterfeit Gospels does so well is, borrowing the language of J. I. Packer, to show how half-truths masquerading as whole truths become damnable untruths—okay, so  I might have added the anathema. But the point remains.

A Modern Evangelical Problem

As is too often the case, Christians who (I think) believe in the gospel fail to communicate the gospel. Instead of articulating the gospel in Scriptural terms, they dress it up in psychological language, reduce the weight of God’s judgment, and replace evangelistic witnessing with social action as the mission of the church. And these deviations does not include the false teachers who outright reject the true gospel or intentionally declare a false gospel.

Concerning the unintentional misrepresentation of the gospel, I heard a pastor recently preach a gospel-less Good Friday message. Yet, when I spoke with him about it later and asked him what the gospel was, he clearly articulated it’s meaning. What is going on? Continue reading

What the Gospel Isn’t: Four Errant ‘Gospels’

In his little book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Southern Baptist pastor Mark Dever defines the gospel as follows:

The gospel is the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, and eternal life with God. (43)

This is the simple and saving message of Jesus Christ. For more than twenty centuries, it has been proclaimed to kings and criminals, housemaid and headhunters (cannibals, that is; not corporate matchmakers). This message is God’s power unto salvation (Rom 1:16), but because it comes in verbal form, it also has been misunderstood, distorted, and caricatured. While upheld by God himself; the gospel, as a message carried by humans, is an endangered species. Continue reading

Aesthetics 101: Learning to Look for the Beauty of Christ

Last week, I guest-posted (I guess that’s a word) on Trevin Wax’s blog, a meditation from Revelation 19 on “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.”  It was one of a couple meditations that came out of a series of sermons I preached last year on the subject of beauty–namely beauty as it is found in the Bible.

Today, I will begin to add to that post.  Looking at the subject of aesthetics, I will consider its place in the Bible, and in the days ahead I will post a few reflections on beauty and its essential place in the Christians’ life.  Then, after considering the need for aesthetics, I will offer a few reflections on how the beauty of the incarnation and hell (yes, the beauty of hell) can move us towards greater love and holiness.

Whether aesthetics is a subject that is familiar or foreign, I hope you will consider with me the idea of beauty as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ–who is indeed, the most beautiful one of all.

Aesthetics 101

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul concludes his six-fold admonition to right thinking by saying, “if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things” (4:8).  As someone who had seen firsthand the glories of heaven (2 Cor 12:1-3), Paul spoke with a unique knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness.  Indeed, as a herald of the gospel, he was at great pains to proclaim the beauty of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2) and to see the beauty of Christ formed in the believers whom he betrothed to Christ (2 Cor 11:2).

In a way, Paul was an aesthete (i. e. a person who has a highly developed appreciation for beauty).  Now, that sounds really esoteric and unnecessary for the Christian life.  But I want to argue that seeing God’s beauty in the Word and the world is essential for Christian discipleship and spiritual growth.

Indeed, I am grateful to Trevin for letting me scribble some thoughts on the subject of aesthetics, and to share them with you.  For indeed, it was a book review on Erasing Hellthat Trevin wrote about a year ago that sowed the first seed in my thinking about the subject of beauty and its importance—make that, its necessity—in the Christian life.

A Journey into the Beautiful

I am a novice when it comes to art, literature, and most things that fall under the subject of aesthetics.  I have not taken a class on it.  I have read very little on the subject.  So, I am sure that in what I have to say on the subject will make plain my naïve understanding.  However, as a pastor, the subject of beauty is weekly occupation.  Here is what I mean.

Called to herald the sufferings and glories of Christ every Lord’s Day and every day in between, I have found that preaching the gospel means more than simply explaining concepts like justification, sanctification, and grace.  Of course, Christ-centered exposition must never divert from such biblical theology.  However, the call to preach and teach God’s word must go further. Indeed, stewards of the gospel must explain the whole counsel of Scripture, but they must also exalt beauty of these gospel truths.  This is why aesthetics is a necessary discipline for Christian preachers and parishioners.

And truly, I am grateful to Trevin for helping me see this.  Here is what he said a year ago, that grabbed my attention:

 What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

Trevin makes the probing observation, “We struggle in the area of aesthetics, and I’m not sure why.”  Then, he comes back and challenges those who defend the truth by means of propositions to consider other artistic tools to depict the beauty of God’s capital T truth.

The problem with the responses to Love Wins is that, while we are experts at critiquing Bell’s vision of God, we aren’t stepping up with a more compelling portrait of God’s magnificence. We are scribbling down our thoughts under Bell’s chalk drawing instead of taking up the paint brush and creating something that reflects the beauty of biblical truth.

I am grateful for Trevin awakening me from my aesthetic slumber, and so as I have preached, blogged, and counseled in the last year, I have sought not only to diagram sentences but to communicate the beauties of God and his gospel.

One last attribution.  I was greatly helped in the months leading up to preaching on the beauty of God in creation and redemption  by the excellent little book on the subject of beauty by my friend Owen Strachan and his doctoral supervisor, Doug Sweeney.  Their book, Jonathan Edwards on Beauty, is full of Edwards own aesthetic reflections, and is well worth the read.

Over the next few posts, I will try to share a few biblical meditations on some of the things I found in Scripture that stirred my heart, and I hope they will stir your as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Holy Subversion in Your Worship Service

Trevin Wax offers some provocative thoughts on how we should order our worship services.  He considers the place of national holidays for God’s multi-national church and ‘hallmark’ holidays for the people marked out by God.  His comments arise from a recent article in Christianity Today, which offered a variety of opinions on Mother’s Day.

He concludes his thoughts with a number of perceptive questions:

Why should the consumerist culture of the United States dictate what we celebrate as a church?

Why is it that so many American churches celebrate with great fanfare the birth of their nation (July 4) without even so much as mentioning the birth of the church (Pentecost)?

Does the way we order our time shape us as the unique, called-out people of God or merely reinforce our nationalist, consumer-shaped identity?

Trevin’s considerations challenge status quo evangelicalism, but that is why his thoughts are worth considering.  We should always be willing to examine our church practices by the light of Scripture.  Asking whether our church reflects or reshapes the culture around us, is an important prophylactic against watered-down Christianity.  For more on the subject, see  Trevin’s book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals.

May we be Salt and Light churches refracting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all that we do.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Helpful Primer on Justification

Trevin Wax has put together a helpful primer on the justification debate that has been raging between John Piper and N.T. Wright.  You can check it out at Christianity Today

The New Testament professors here at Southern Seminary also discussed this subject a few months ago.  You can hear the round table discussion between Drs. Tom Schreiner, Brian Vickers, and Mark Seifrid, facilitated by Denny Burk, the Dean of Boyce College online.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Russell Moore)