Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Living the Life of Jesus," the Emerging Church, and Redemptive History

In preparation for a two-day class I am part of teaching next week, I have been doing a lot of reading on the emerging church and the emergent conversation/movement. One of the many books I have read is Emerging Churches, by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. Using extensive interviews with over 50 leaders within this movement, Gibbs and Bolger attempt to provide a picture of the main values and identifying marks that distinguish it. For those with little or no firsthand exposure to the emerging church, this provides an insider's look.

The margins of my copy of the book are filled with comments; today I will address only one. There is a lot of talk about living the life of Jesus as an extension of the kingdom. But there is no reflection on whether the life of Jesus is in any sense unique within redemptive history? Of course Christians are to imitate Jesus, but is there no distinction between Jesus and his followers? Furthermore, for all the talk of living the life of Jesus, I do not see much discussion of the cross. The fact that in the four gospels each of them spend the most time describing the events of the week before the crucifixion and the events following his resurrection should serve as a clear indication that everything else in Jesus' life must be understood through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb. Without the centrality of the cross, the remainder of Jesus' life and actions simply cannot be understood rightly; at least that is what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us.

So on the one hand we must remember that within redemptive history Jesus is unique. No one, not even the apostles, "lived the life of Jesus" as the one who perfectly obeys the Father and redeems his people through the cross. I fear that those whom I have read in the emergent movement miss this. But on the other hand we must remember that when Jesus does speak of following him (is this the equivalent to "living the life of Jesus"?) he speaks of the cross, because the cross defines everything he is and does. That too is missing in what I am reading.

So what are your thoughts? Have I been unfair to the emerging church folks when I say this? Before you answer, please know that I am aware of the "five streams" of the movement that Scot MicKnight identifies. I am also aware that Mark Driscoll is an exception to this criticism, but I see Driscoll continually distancing himself from the emerging movement. Besides, one exception does not invalidate the larger observation of the entire movement.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Can One "Live the Gospel"?

In his excellent book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, Graeme Goldsworthy makes the following assertion (p. 59):
It cannot be stressed too much that to confuse the gospel with certain important things that go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel (faith and repentance), the results or fruit of the gospel (regeneration, conversion, sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejectingit (wrath, judgment, hell). These, however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus tow thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot 'live the gospel' as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another.
I am profoundly indebted to Goldsworthy for many things, but I must confess to finding myself disagreeing with this statement. I think I understand what Goldsworthy is trying to affirm: the rootedness of the gospel in the actions of Jesus. On that I agree. But can we really say that we do not live the good news of Jesus Christ? Or have I become accustomed to the language of "living the gospel" when in reality the idea is not strictly biblical? Or is Goldsworthy splitting hairs that on one level may be valuable but on other levels are unnecessary?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fallen Condition Focus

One of the texts that we use in the class I am teaching for Campus Crusade for Christ is Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the book is his discussion of what he refers to as the Fallen Condition Focus, which he defines as:

"the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God's people to glorify and enjoy him." (p. 50)
Surely some of you have read Chapell's text. What are your thoughts? Do you use the concept of Fallen Condition Focus to shape your preaching? Have you found it helpful?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gospel Coalition Website Up and Running

The Gospel Coalition website is now up and running. Resources posted there include both the audio and video of the plenary addresses, as well as the final editions of the documents associated with the coalition. Also available are various articles on a variety of theological and ministry topics. I highly recommend that those who were unable to attend this conference take the time to listen/watch these messages and get involved with this significant partnership of gospel-centered churches and leaders.