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The Gospel Awakening

Is the American church in the middle of a transformation?  Over the last couple years, there are an increasing number of pastors who are rethinking church and Christianity.  Many of these shifts were recently expressed by The Gospel Coalition.  These three shifts will radically change the face of the church (quotes from The Gospel Coalition):

1. The Bible as Story (Normative) – The Church is being transformed to see the Bible as a redemptive story, which competes with the cultures worldview.  It is holistic and involves all of someone's life.  Compartmental Christianity doesn't work if this is being taught.  This type of reading positions itself against individualism and consumerism, two of the biggest idols of our culture.

To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot-line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. 

2. The Gospel as bigger than an salvational entry-ticket (Existential) – Could the "10 Tips of Being a Better Husband" era be coming to a close?  Will the gospel be seen as a solution of more than an individual's personal problems?  The Church will begin to expand it's vision of God's redemptive plan both in terms of how this shapes a person's motivation and how they see the plan of redemption.  The grace-renewal of this radically changes a person's desires and how they live.  This type of gospel battles the idol of religion & legalism, common in our churches.

This gospel fills Christians with humility and hope, meekness and boldness, in a unique way. The biblical gospel differs markedly from traditional religions as well as from secularism. Religions operate on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted,” but the gospel principle is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both irreligion and religion. You can seek to be your own “lord and savior” by breaking the law of God, but you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation.

3.  A Missional posture towards the culture (Situational) – The idea of being missional is now everywhere.  People realize, sin is not a disease we can catch.  We are called to be in not of the world.  (Yet if #1 & 2 aren't what drive the mission, it will have less or little impact.)  Being on mission also moves past the self-obsessed depressive culture we swim in to be radically other-centered.  It is a natural outflow of the first two points being lived out.

We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit.

A church that embodies all three of these is part of the Gospel Awakening that is taking place.  The Gospel Coalition states (Also read The Error of the Uniperspectival Church ):

"The ministry we have outlined is relatively rare. There are many seeker-driven churches that help many people find Christ. There are many churches seeking to engage the culture through political activism. There is a fast-growing charismatic movement with emphasis on glorious, passionate, corporate worship. There are many congregations with strong concern for doctrinal rigor and purity and who work very hard to keep themselves separate from the world. There are many churches with a radical commitment to the poor and marginalized."

More and more, churches and leaders will be challenged to re-think how they are being the church through the broader lens of the Gospel.  Is it part of a larger transformation that will lead to The Gospel Awakening?  Only time will tell….

7 Comments

  1. Drew,
    Great thoughts. I have been reading all the docs from the GC site and have been pleasantly surprised. I think breaking these down into Norm/Sit/Exis is also helpful.

  2. What a great summary of these three thoughts, thanks!

  3. Once again a great post!

    As we discuss the transformation that is taking place (I agree that there is one or perhaps that we are in an “in between” time) I think we need to add a fourth shift (and I don’t know maybe GC speaks of this, I haven’t read any of their stuff yet) that speaks of the Kingdom or God’s activity in the world verses in the church.

    While it is related to thinking missionally, there is a shift from seeing the church as the primary location of God’s activity in the world to seeing the world as the primary location of God’s activity. This in turn raises the question of how the church is to act as missionary to the world.

  4. D. Goodmanson

    July 10, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Brad,

    I don’t know if GC speaks about that. As the church we are limited in our participation in the Missio Dei to how God has designed us to point to and participate in the Kingdom as the church. I believe there is more talk about God’s plan, but the church is not fully involved in all of God’s activity. Yet, the church as central to God’s plan. I touch on this more here: Missional – Missio Dei, Missionary or Mission.

  5. The Reformation listed three marks of the church: 1) preaching of the word, 2) sacraments, 3) discipline.

    I think the new gospel awakening suggests a 4th mark might be appropriate: mission.

    That is, a truly healthy church will be characterized by mission, where the believers go out of the church and into the world, and unbelievers in turn come out of the world and into the church.

    This going out and coming in is fundamentally incarnational – if we participate w/ unbelievers in the things of God that they love (city, art, beauty, community, justice), they will end up participating w/ us in the things of God that we love (worship, truth, fellowship). This participation is not contingent – we don’t demand they change first and then participate; on the contrary, we meet them where they are and invite them as they are. We love them as Christ loved us (sinners first, saints later).

    This is the kind of thing we’re working on here in Missoula, and its exciting to see it resonate with the unchurched folks we’re meeting.

  6. Drew,

    Great post – I just wanted to throw in a perspective from outside the USA.

    In Australia our whole culture was traditionally influenced by the UK, but in recent decades the influence has shifted to the USA. This applies to churches for sure; some of the really awful bestselling books are bestsellers here too.

    Must of this gospel centrality is beginning to influence the Australian landscape, but perhaps a bit more slowly. In our city there are small churches I know that are influenced heavily by Keller, Acts 29, Desiring God (all USA), and New Frontiers (UK).

    The Internet has opened up so much of this possibility. We are so much less isolated when we can watch the GC guys on video, access books through Amazon etc. Certainly in my neck of the woods we would never have come to grasp the whole gospel/mission thing without these kinds of resources – we’ve spent years having our minds progressively blown as we’ve come to know Christ more and more fully through the influence of so many thinkers that we would otherwise have been isolated from.

  7. Great post. I always wondered why the reformers didn’t have ‘mission’ as one of the hallmarks of a healthy church. Seeing the Bible as an unfolding story has rightly helped us to see ‘mission’ as the central thrust of what God is doing. All these changes are welcome. I just wonder what our ‘blind spots’ will be as we venture into this new territory? With this renewed interest in the ongoing transformation that takes place in the Christian’s life could we possibly underplay the one off event that happens at the cross and at regeneration?

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