I mentioned earlier that my desire is that our church be marked by three distinctives: Gospel Community, Authentic Community, and Missional Community. We have seen some of the problems with the word “missional,” and I will revisit this later. However, for the moment, I want to focus on what it means to be a gospel community. Before I get to that, I thought it might be helpful to explain why I believe this should be stated as a distinctive. To explain this, let me backtrack to our previous discussion.
In my last post, I mentioned that missional is a call to return to biblical, holistic ministry of both word and deed. I will admit that I am no church historian, but from what I have read, it seems that ever since the fundamentalist/modernist split, the evangelical church has neglected biblical deed ministry. Of course, there have been some marvelous exceptions to this. I would also argue that even during this time period, conservative, evangelical Christians did a tremendous amount of good for the poor around the world. For example, Christians were helping the starving people of Africa long before the celebrity culture got engaged. Yet, overall, the conservative church neglected deed ministry while the liberal church engaged in the social gospel.
D. A. Carson warns us against making statements like “The previous generation came down either on the social-transformation side or on the gospel-fidelity side, and we want to put together both.” Certainly, such a statement can be arrogant. At the same time, as the church is always reforming (semper reformanda), we should always be looking to correct what we are doing in light of Scripture.
Besides the neglect of ministry in deed (acts of justice, mercy, and compassion), something else seems to have been lost, or at least obscured, in the wake of the modernist controversy. That is the preaching of the gospel to believers (I will explain this later).
In a recent discussion, noted Christian author, Jerry Bridges, said, that if you trace Christian preaching and teaching all the way back to John Own, then through the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries stopping with B.B. Warfield, you will see that the preaching constantly emphasized the necessity of the gospel for Christians. Bridges goes on to note that at some point around Warfield (which is during the height of the modernist controversy in America in the early 20th century), this sort of preaching was clearly lost. He says that it does not begin to appear again until Richard Lovelace’s wonderful book, Dynamics of the Spiritual Life. (By the way, I found that Mr. Bridges made this same statement in a recent interview that you can read here.)
I will post more later on what it means to be a gospel community. However, there are already some wonderful articles on this on the net. Let me point you to two that I find very helpful:
Gospel Driven Sanctification by Jerry Bridges
The Centrality of the Gospel by Tim Keller
Here are a few books on the theme:
The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges
Holiness by Grace by Bryan Chapell
Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges
The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
TruFaced by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S Lynch
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall (get the “modernized” version edited by Bruce McRae)
Dynamics of the Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace
The Reign of Grace by Scotty Smith