As part of the ongoing “confidence in the gospel” initiative. I am pleased to be able to share with you an excellent talk from the inimitable Christina Baxter (former principal of St John’s Nottingham). I am a big fan of Christina’s she has a gravitas about her and a dignity that comes across whenever she is speaking. So prepare to have your minds stretched in this short 12 min talk engaging with the magesterial thinker Karl Barth and what he has to teach us about communicating the gospel in today’s world.
Just in case it needs reiterating- the views represented on my blog and in this post are my own – I am not speaking on behalf of any organisation that I work for.
If you know me a little or if you have read this blog before you know I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favourite authors and preachers. His gracious tone makes him one of a very small number of people I know of who have the capacity to take on the role of Global elder statesman in the mold of John Stott and Billy Graham (in his prime). I have had the opportunity to tell him this in person. I also had the opportunity to ask him directly about one area where I found his position puzzling. It was on the role of women. Tim was one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition whose name suggests that it is a gathering of Christians around the gospel. Indeed on the Gospel Coalition website it says “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.”
Included in the Gospel Coalition’s founding documents are very clear statements around the distinctive roles of men and women in church and home:
God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.
Now ofcourse groupings such as these have the right to include and exclude any one they like from their membership. What saddened me was that Tim Keller speaks very highly of the work of Intervarsity and IFES and in fact I have heard him talk about the fact that his theological and apologetic formation happening through such groups. IFES has always taken a clear distinguishing line between first and second order issues and never sought to make views on gender roles an issue that would exclude others from fellowship or ministry. So as one of the founders of GC I was surprised that Keller would include this in his list of entry requirements.
When I had the privilege to spend some time with Keller I asked him if he thought views on the role of women were part of the gospel, he said they weren’t but that they were very important. I came across this video recently on the GC website where along with Don Carson and John Piper he goes a lot further. To say I found this video discouraging is an understatement:
Very recently I commended Keller on some fantastic rules of engagement he had produced on how to deal with views that he didn’t agree with. Particularly:
- Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.
- Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
1. Having a non-complementarian view of gender roles means you have a “loose approach to scripture.” (Keller)
2. Trajectories (John Piper)
Piper’s line of reasoning here is that to take a different view on gender roles will lead to changes in view on homosexuality. This seems to contradict Keller’s rule “never attribute to your opponent a view they do not hold” or even more explicitly never “attribute to antagonist no opinion that he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” It is true that some egalitarians have argued that the church should change its views on the role of women and our views on the practice of homosexual sexual intercourse. But it is also true that some have argued that male headship in the home is license for domestic violence against women. Neither of these views are “necessary consequences” and so Keller is wise to argue that you shouldn’t assume the worst when engaging in conversation. But this is precisely what Piper does. As an egalitarian I believe that leadership roles are available to men and women in the church, this does not lead me to change my views on homosexual sex.
Perhaps there is a contextual issue at stake here. Perhaps things are different in the US? Two examples from the UK. The first UK denominations to ordain women were the Salvation Army (c.1870 ) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain (c.1920); neither are liberal today. (Thanks to Steve Holmes for this information). Perhaps a wider contextual awareness may help. But the bigger point is – just because some egalitarians change their minds on homosexuality -doesn’t necessitate that all will. For example just as many complementarians end up becoming AngloCatholic doesn’t mean all will.
3. Egalitarians apparently dont know the difference between men and women – we have nothing to say to 8 year old children on the issue of gender (cf John Piper).
This is a straw man/woman (!) argument. To argue that men and women both have the opportunity to lead in the church does not mean that all egalitarians see no differences between gender. It is true that we may not agree with some of gender differences that some complementarians attribute to men and women – mainly because we think that those differences owe more to culture than biblical exegesis. I have heard a number of complimentarians argue that all women want to be “rescued” and lead by strong men. But this leaves little room for biblical women role models such as Esther, Deborah or Priscilla.
4. Gender is an issue of this time ( baptists and paedobaptists used to argue but this is not the issue that is addressing our culture) (Carson)
5. Confusion on Gender is part of what is at the heart of what is wrong with our culture (Carson)
6. Lack of courage (Piper) “If you arent willing to stand against the tide on this issue you will cave on other issues – gospel issues.”
This doesn’t seem to be portraying egalitarians in their strongest terms. It also contradicts Keller’s fifth rule of engagement “Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.” Writing off egalitarians as cowards is hardly a theological critique. I would like to understand why Piper and Keller who participated fully at the Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization seem so completely unaware of its commitment on the issue of unity across views on gender roles:
We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men. We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:
7. We are not listening to what scripture says on its own terms “it is not listening to what God says” to take a contrary view on this is “not to tremble at God’s word” (Carson)
Michael Green is a living legend. He breaks the stereotype that an evangelist has to be a pragmatist or that theologians dont care about mission. I have been enjoying Michael’s work since I was a student. I have found his expository approach to evangelism absolutely central to my preaching. But now well into this eighties Michael is still as passionate and vigorous for the gospel as ever. Michael gave the first talk at our recent confidence in the gospel event and was outstanding. Give 18 minutes of your time to hear his challenge to us to be faithful to the Apostolic Gospel. Then click on to the Evangelical Alliance’s website for some study questions. You may be surprised at what he asks us to hold on to.
If you want a written version of this talk – you can find a lot of it in Michael’s excellent book “Evangelism and the Early Church.” Michael as a New Testament scholar offers an implicit challenge to us to be faithful to the scriptures more than our traditions.
Enjoy this video, you may need a pen and paper handy as the gems come thick and fast…
We had our first confidence in the gospel consultation at St Paul’s Onslow Square on November 20th. It was an excellent day with a broad range of speakers and participants coming together to talk about the gospel. Some of my friends think getting together to talk about the gospel is a waste of time – we should just be out there doing the gospel in words and actions rather than sitting in a room talking about it. I share some of their activist spirit, but sometimes it is important to reflect on what we are doing – so that we don’t accidentally deform the gospel in our rush to spread it.
When I ask atheists to describe the God that they don’t believe in they describe Satan rather than the Trinity @mike_reeves
When our gospel is not robustly Trinitarian we are not specifically and robustly Christian #confidence
In a bid to provoke and challenge each other to be faithful to the gospel we have produced a series of short videos from the day. If you have 9 minutes – why not watch the following video – and then either click through to the EA website where there are some questions for groups or church leaders to help you process what you have just seen- or join in the comment stream below…
So here is Mike Reeves – who is a friend from my time at UCCF. He has written a new book on the Trinity – so I asked him to provoke us to examine how Trinitarian our gospel is. Strangely I have found even my charismatic friends particularly shy of speaking about the Holy Spirit when they do evangelism. I have to admit I am often so concerned to talk about Jesus I often neglect to talk about the transforming presence of God. How about you… How does this short talk provoke you ?
We had an excellent time at the first “Confidence in the Gospel” National Consultation. We looked at the issues around “A faithful gospel” and talking about how we make sure that the gospel we proclaim sticks closely to the Apostolic gospel. Watch this space for some excellent videos that were made on the day. But we are already pulling together the details for the next event which will look at the issue of “Contextualisation.” How can we make sure the never changing gospel is communicated in our ever changing cultures?
I’m looking for input into the issues that are facing us in terms of helping connect the gospel with our culture.
1. Where are the toughest places to make the gospel heard?
2. What do you think hampers our contextualisation of the gospel ?
3. Who are the best practitioners of a contextual approach to evangelism?
I was honoured to spend time with the St Miletus students today as they have their first day of lectures at their brand new St Jude’s site.
I was lecturing on an “An Introduction to a Theology of Mission.” I have uploaded my slides for the students: (they might not make a lot of sense if you weren’t there as I am firm believer in the interactive teaching method.)
If you want to find out more about the gospel I was talking about see here.
You have got to be careful how you search for Matt Chandler’s new book “The Explicit Gospel.” It’s an interesting choice of titles. It has a commendation from Mark Driscoll whose most recent book could certainly have used the term explicit in the title as it had a lot to say about sexual positions for married couples. Chandler’s book has the most racy name but attempts to make the gospel clear.
Why does this book matter?
The list of commendations let you know a little about the circles this book has come from: DA Carson, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever are conservative evangelicals from North America connected with the Gospel Coalition network of churches and leaders. Perhaps Chandler’s book could be described as the gospel that the Gospel Coalition espouses. This book is a big deal not just because of who commends it, but because it comes with its own branded tour bus with a multi city itinerary. The rock star imagery is noted by Chandler Its also the first chance to see what the new head of the Acts 29 network (Mark Driscoll recently stepped down from leading this) thinks about evangelism. Mark Driscoll gave this book a rave review:
“Matt Chandler is one of the best Bible preachers on the earth…”
Those of us in the UK know about the high standards Pastor Mark has for preachers so I guess from this commendation Driscoll believes Chandler to be a brave and truthful preacher. I am not sure how well Pastor Mark has researched his comment that Chandler is one of the best preachers on the planet – but perhaps he is better acquainted with the preachers of Sierra Leone, Albania, Tasmania and Nepal than I give him credit for. It was encouraging to see the inclusion of Rick Warren with the following commendation “If you only read one book this year, make it this one. It’s that important.” I know Rick reads copiously so this is high praise indeed. So it was with eager anticipation that I dived into my review copy from the generous team at IVP UK.
5 things to enjoy
1. Personable and engaging
I have listened to quite a bit of Chandler’s preaching and there’s lots to like. He often has a very fresh use of language – he has a very down to earth turn of phrase that I find refreshing and often heflpul. He also has a pastoral heart – part of me wonders whether his own experience with cancer – which he talks about openly and often has given him a deeper and richer experience of God and of the church. You get the idea Matt would be a good person to hang out with, someone you could trust.
2. Willingness to think bigger
The book is divided into two sections – Part 1 “the gospel on the ground” and Part 2 “the gospel from the air.” The gospel from our point of view and the Gospel from God’s vantage point if you like.
Chandler describes the difference between the two in an interview with Ed Stetzer:
Chandler states the “gospel on the ground” looks at the gospel up close (individual salvation) and then the “gospel in the air” pulls way back and looks at our faith from 30,000 feet (meta/mega-narrative). Whenever you de-emphasize one you take what is robust and awe inspiring and make it smaller than it is. I think this is harmful to people and to the church.
We’ll dial into the gospel on the ground later in this piece, but the “gospel in the air” that Chandler presents is a helpful corrective to a lot of the “gospel” preaching I hear from the conservative stable. If you compared this book with Mark Dever’s “The Gospel and Evangelism” you would find the gospel in the air offers a wider canvass. A more expansive vision of the gospel – one that I and many others have been championing for a while now. The structure is Creation, Fall, Rescue and Consummation but there is mention of the new heavens and the new earth and resurrection that is often missing in the gospel according to conservatives. In many expressions of the gospel creation and the church are completely ignored and Chandler’s “gospel in the air” helpfully seeks to address this.
3. One degree shifts
When you read a book I guess trying to work out whom the intended audience are is a key part in assessing its success. I get frustrated when I get a review of one of my books where someone says they don’t like it because it didn’t scratch where they were itching – often the fact that the book was aimed at someone else could go half way to explaining that. If Chandler’s book helps to lift some conservatives out of an overly pietistic and individualistic approach to evangelism then in my mind it has succeeded. I can think of many friends for whom what Chandler is saying will be a one degree shift they might be willing to make that will help them engage with a fuller and deeper gospel.
4. Not guilt by association
Chandler moves in circles where pastors discourage their congregations to read books that come to difference conclusions on things like social justice or the social implications of the gospel. Chandler recently spoke at the together for the gospel conference alongside Mark Dever who at the same conference in previous years has argued pastors ought to protect the flock by discouraging them from reading books on social justice. I have written elsewhere on how controversial Tom Wright seems to be in Gospel Coalition circles but Chandler cites NT Wright at length. This is a brave move for someone in his position and is to be commended.
5. Passion for evangelism
There is an unmistakable passion for evangelism present in this book . Chandler believes the gospel is worth sharing clearly and often. He has an infectious enthusiasm for preaching the gospel and as an evangelist I enjoy reading that. Chandler is the leader of a huge US church which is seeing conversions and for this we can only rejoice. He is very keen that the gospel we preach does not lead to “moralistic therapeutic deism” that Christian Smith and Kenda Creasey Dean analyse as having a major influence over the teens of the US church.
5 things to be frustrated about
1. Inter Tribal warfare
For a book about making the gospel clear Chandler managed to find a way to make explicit his views on: the role of women and on creation. He played up to my stereotype of the US conservative right wing by bashing people who hold to an egalitarian position on the role of women in church leadership.For all his protestations he has made it part of the explicit gospel. For me that is a key problem we are facing in evangelical circles at the moment – we have made a whole range of issues a test of orthodoxy which previously were not considered to be part of the gospel.
2. Unexamined presuppositions
Chandler’s first section on the gospel on the ground uses the well worn pattern of
- Man (a masculine term deliberately chosen instead of humanity)
No explanation or justification is given for this structure. It is an assumed evangelical shorthand. Surely one of the ways that we “guard the good deposit” is that we have the courage to make sure the gospel we are preaching is the same as that the apostles preached. But Chandler’s exegetical method leaves him wide open to allowing the cultural assumptions of the west and the particular evangelical subtribe he lives in to edit the gospel down to size.
For example take a look at what is included under these different headings:
God – the all sufficiency of God – lots of quotes from Piper and Romans 11 – this feels like a condensed version of “Desiring God” by John Piper rather than an exegesis of what the Bible has to say is important about the nature of God in the gospel
- strangely Chandler is virtually silent on the Trinity
- there is no mention of the idea that people may be aware of the presence of God through general revelation – something even Calvin had space for in his doctrine of revelation.
Man – the sinfulness of humanity is highlighted as if this is the only aspect of biblical anthropology – is the only thing that the gospel has to say about human beings is that they are sinful? No one is asking that sin be minimised but what about human dignity as being made in the image of God. What about though we are evil we still know how to do good?
Rescue – the death of Christ is presented in isolation from the story of Israel, the birth, life and teaching of Jesus and even the resurrection. Jesus is explicitly reduced as a means to an end.
There is no critique of this gospel on the ground. It is presented as a valid expression of the gospel – the fact that it is drawn almost entirely from the book of Romans – Chandler very deliberately describes the process as throwing well known Romans verses at his readers. Is this really true to central thrust of the book of Romans? Is it the intention of the book of Romans to present a timeless gospel message? In order to get this gospel message from Romans you have to fillet out vast chunks. This presentation focuses on what many of us knew as the Roman road Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9 with the extra bonus of Romans 11:35-36 to underline the sufficiency of God. Chandler does not engage with the gospels at all. Which is very telling for a book about the gospel.
3. Lack of integration
Now as I recognise, perhaps politically Chandler almost has to expound this version of the “gospel on the ground” in order to be able to say the things he wants to say in the second half of the book. Because unless he has said these things and proved his orthodoxy it is possible in his desired audience will listen to the rest of what he has to say. If that is his strategy I understand. But because there is no critique of the limits of the gospel he has given – I think readers will assume you can take your pick between the gospel on the ground or the gospel in the air. Chandler does not integrate his gospel from above with his gospel on the ground.
Interestingly the gospel from the air uses:
Another four point structure. But once again the entire history of Israel is absent from the gospel message. The chapter on creation spends no time on thinking through what creation stewardship might mean and a lot of time expounding his particular views against evolution theory.What is Chandler’s advice to evangelists – which gospel should we preach Gospel from above or on the road or both? Why does one sound completely escapist and other only marginally less so? This may be a one degree shift for his audience but he has still left some big holes.
4. Missiological Naivety
Now that Chandler has made his two alternative gospels explicit – he does not explain to us why it doesn’t sound a lot like the gospel preaching that we encounter in the early church. Chandler’s gospel can’t be found on the lips of Jesus or in any of the evangelistic sermons in Acts. The rigid four point structures seem a lot less fluid than the contextually aware preaching of Jesus. The parables of Jesus for example don’t fit. Paul’s preaching in Areopagus or Peter’s at Pentecost don’t fit. The premise behind the book seems to be the nailing down of what is to be essential to the gospel – but to be honest the book is weak on the role of the Spirit, the missional task of the church, the place of repentance, even the atonement is not adequately explained. Not a single non-western theologian or thinker or evangelist is referred to. Perhaps Chandler “one of the best preachers in the world” – (I know he didn’t write that about himself but authors get to make a call as to which commendations are printed on their books) could use spending some time with believers from across the globe to have his explicit gospel unpacked by Christians who might be able to make his cultural assumptions, his theological bias and his inter tribal warfare made explicit to him to see the impact it is having on his gospel.
5. Less Explicit UK version
Despite my strong reservations there are many positives – I hope this book is widely read by the audience it was attended to help and that it becomes the starting point for a further conversation about the nature and essence of the gospel for our late modern western cultures.
We still have a huge problem in the church seeing young people grow up to become adult members of our churches. This month in Christianity Magazine, Youthworker and IDEA magazine we have opened up a discussion about what needs to change in order for young people to be discipled into adult believers. The headline statistic is that:
1523 out of 2228 passengers and crew were drowned during the sinking of the Titanic – a loss of 68%. But according to Peter Brierley’s research of every class of 10 nought to nine year olds in Sunday School in 1985 only 3 were still connected with church in 2005. That’s a loss of 70%. You had a better chance of survival on the Titanic than a child’s faith has in our churches.
This has got to be one of the highest priorities for us to sort out as churches across the UK (and I am hearing across the world). It’s a bigger problem than any one church, tribe or denomination can solve. We need to work together on this one. I have been asking questions about this subject for a while now.
The Evangelical Alliance Council will meet on 1st of March to discuss the topic.
We will be drawing on expertise from a range of speakers including:
“Almost Christian” Kenda Creasey Dean Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture
Department of Practical Theology (on video)
“Stop cutting families out of children’s formation” Alan Charter (Chair of Children Matter)
“Is church toxic to children’s faith?” Kay Morgan Gurr
What can we learn from Redeemed churches Bajo Akinsanya (Jesus House)
“How can youth agencies work more effectively with families?” Hannah Field & Matt Summerfield
“Reshaping a church around intergenerational ministry” Jason Gardner & Carolyn Skinner
“How can we help young people develop confidence in the gospel? Ruth Hassall & Krish Kandiah
Debate : This house believes we should scrap Sunday schools and youthworkers
For: Scrap the Sunday School Benedict Mwendwa (Salvation Army Youth Advocate)
Against: Scrap Sunday Schools John Kee (Director of Summer Madness)
For: Scrap: youthworkers Jason Gardner (Youthworker and FUSE Director)
Against: Keep youthworkers Sarah Wynter (Youthwork Magazine Editor)
What can we learn from Abundant Life Dave Niblock and the youth team
We will put the videos online as soon as possible after the consultation.
This issue is so important we need as many hands on deck as possible, so if you have any suggestions, ideas of questions you would like to share please drop me a line below and the best of them will be fed into the council proceedings.
I am looking for great stories of churches that have unusual high retention rates of children and young adults.
I am looking for wisdom from parents on passing the faith on to children
I am looking for churches that have experimented with intergenerational ministry
I am looking for theological and biblical wisdom
I am looking for stories about what went wrong
I am looking for comments from young people for their perspectives and ideas on the way forward
So please drop me a line.
In the articles I drew on a number of books including:
David Kinaman’s excellent book is the most often quoted piece of literature in our office at the moment. Kinaman’s expert analysis of the US scene is very instructive for the UK audience too. He has called on the help of a number of significant thinkers and practioners to come up with a book which is strong on analysis and practical ideas for helping 20somethings stay connected.
Kara Powell and the Fuller Youth Institute have done a great job of promoting intergenerational thinking for churches.
This book offers some great practical advice for churches and youth ministries. It’s well worth the read . Check out their website for some excellent resources and videos.
Care for the Family have been touring with Rob Parsons and his excellent primer on this subject. Packed with the usual Parson’s story telling. Parsons has an incredible ability to challenge without guilt and inspire without daunting his readers. Well worth a read.
This book is based on serious research of the US youth scene. There are of course a number of differences with the UK situation, but this book should be a wake up call to the UK church to stop relying on US models of youth discipleship.
Tim Keller is visiting the UK at the moment, leading a mission at Oxford University. Its an exciting time. One of the guys that I am mentoring sent me the following report: ‘The mission is fantastic thank you, 500 at Lunchtimes and 750 in the evenings – thinking it is going to get bigger as well.’ And also after I said we’d pray for him ‘Please do, the more prayer the better. We are starting to see some angry pushback from people who don’t like it, but that’s cool. The Town Hall overflowed yesterday evening (first evening) and so St Aldate’s Church is being cleared in the evenings for us to use as overflow (another 500 seats max) very exciting! I had the chance to spend some time with Tim last year. My friend John Bowen made the following video that we showed at the Evangelical Alliance Council meeting . It’s well worth giving 10 minutes to watch it as he provides some wise gems for helping us as individuals and churches think about growing in confidence in the gospel. It makes a great conversation starter in a house group meeting.
This is part of an ongoing project I am doing with my role in the EA. Any insights you have as to how we help develop confidence in the church for the gospel I would love to hear from you – so do leave me a comment.
As part of a group of leaders I am going to be meeting with Tim tomorrow. What question would you like me to ask him? I’ll report back on the blog tomorrow.
A student ministry leader asked me recently for my advice about follow up from a university mission. So here are my thoughts, as usual very open to your suggestions and ideas. The more I think about this subject the more urgent that we get this right not just for the new Christians but for everyone. We are still seeing huge losses in terms of 20-30s from the church and some would argue student ministry needs to take seriously its responsibility not just to help students do evangelism at university but equip young disciples for the rest of their lives.