Greg Laurie, Mortimer Adler, and the gospel

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it.

As a powerful member of the clergy class I receive promos for new books and Bible studies from various publishers. True, the hoi polloi could get all the previews that I receive but they would need to ask for it. I get mine unsolicited. #blessed

005776124Tell Someone is a new book on personal evangelism from which Lifeway has developed a small group Bible study. The author is Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship (CA) and founder of Harvest Crusades. According to the back of his book, “more than 439,900 have registered professions of faith” at his crusades so he’s an experienced coach. From the Lifeway email blast:

 

Sharing your faith can be terrifying. But starting just takes one courageous step. In this new six-session Bible study, Greg Laurie will show you how to share your faith—simply by using your personal testimony. Once you begin telling the story of your own faith journey, you might find that you actually enjoy evangelism.

Laurie doesn’t really break any new ground unless you’ve never been exposed to the casual/conversational/relational/testimonial model of evangelism touted by previous authors here, here, here, and here. On the plus side the book–I haven’t seen the small group version–articulates the gospel clearly and accurately. And that brings me to my point.

In both the book (10 chapters) and small group curriculum (six sessions) “What Is the Gospel?” comes as the penultimate chapter/session which means the reader/participant hears why,

Tell-Someone-Sample_CONTENTS
Tell Someone table of contents (small group curriculum)

where, when, and how to share the gospel before they’re even told what the gospel is. What is the rationale behind this ordering? I imagine the forthcoming companion study, Marry Someone, in which the unwitting man-child is snookered (by the female author) into marrying his long-time girlfriend:

  • Session 1: Why Propose Marriage?
  • Session 2: When & Where to Propose Marriage
  • Session 3: How to Propose Marriage
  • Session 4: The Power of Romance
  • Session 5: What Is Marriage?
  • Session 6: Close the Deal

What then? Are we overreacting to the table of contents? May it never be! For it is written:

Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip. It is astonishing how many people never even glance at a book’s table of contents unless they wish to look something up in it. In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad to think their efforts are often wasted. . . a table of contents can be valuable, and you should read it carefully before going on to the rest of the book. -Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, 33.

And if the table of contents is by design then certain authorial implications follow. In the case of Tell Someone I take it that Laurie (et al) believes the enthusiasm gap in evangelism can be addressed by better methodology. For my part I think prioritizing methodology will, in most cases, end up perpetuating that gap. Lewis once said “just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it.”

Maybe the problem isn’t that we haven’t learned how to present the gospel but that we haven’t learned to prize it. I don’t know how that changes when the gospel is relegated to one chapter near the end of the book.

Good medicine for parents

I was skimming a sample from a new small group study, The Gospel-Centered Parent, when I came across some good reminders about how the gospel–rightly understood and applied–shapes our parenting. [theological terms added]

[Justification] Since we are declared not guilty, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We let go of the pressure of trying to prove ourselves through good parenting and right kids. We’re free simply to love our children because our worth comes from Jesus, not them.
  • We are humble, openly admitting our sins, deeply aware that we too are big sinners (just like our children) and are righteous only because of Jesus.

[Adoption] Because we are God’s children, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We aren’t consumed with building our family’s reputation or image, but instead find joy in being part of God’s family.
  • We are dependent and child-like parents, praying often as we trust our own heavenly Father for every family need.

[Sanctification] Because we are growing to be like Jesus, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We are confident and patient with our children, even when they persist in disobeying. We keep teaching them God’s ways and humbly showing them his love.
  • We use the Spirit’s tools with our children—prayer, the Word of God, and the gospel message—rather than our own wisdom or nagging.

[Resurrection & Reward] Since we have eternal life, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We don’t live for our children’s success or worldly happiness, and we teach them not to live for it. Our hope is in Jesus.
  • We are not undone by suffering or family disappointments. We know these will not last.

The gospel paradigm on the lips of a prostitute

In a men’s Bible study we just finished Joshua 2 which records the encounter between Rahab (a prostitute) and two Israelite spies. One feature in particular really grabbed me.

Rahab’s confession to the spies in 2:9-11 forms a chiasm.[1] The structural center–and the focal point of the confession–becomes what “we have heard.”

A. the Lord has given this land to you

B. a great fear of you has fallen on us

B. all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you

C.  We have heard…

C’. …and so we have heard

B’. our hearts melted

B’. everyone’s courage failed because of you

A’. the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below

Rahab’s confession of faith is centered on the report of what God had done to save His people. Rahab had not seen the Red Sea crossing or the destruction of the Amorite kings. She had merely heard a word about God’s actions and that word generated a faith that led to a confession that would save her from a coming destruction.

Rahab’s faith paradigm (i.e. faith generated by hearing a report) is exactly what Paul articulates:

Romans 10:14-17 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The “mere” word of God’s saving act was potent enough to make a believer out of a pagan prostitute. No additional signs were necessary. The potency of that word has increased in Christ. Speak it.


[1] Richard Hess, Joshua (TOTC), 99.

‘You must distinguish between novelty & freshness’

It is not needful that the preacher be original as a genius is, but only as a true believer is. What he brings to the Church is not something unheard of, and imported from outside, to revolutionize it. He has to offer the Church, in outer form, the word which is always within it, in order that the Church, by that presentation, may become anew what by God’s grace it already is. He must be original in the sense that his truth is his own, but not in the sense that it has been no one else’s. You must distinguish between novelty and freshness. The preacher is not to be original in the sense of being absolutely new, but in the sense of being fresh, of appropriating for his own personality, or his own age, what is the standing possession of the Church, and its perennial trust from Christ. He makes discovery in the Gospel, not of the Gospel.

– P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and Modern Mind

Goliath’s head

The gospel means that you are privileged to carry the weight of your sin around the same way David carried Goliath’s head. The weight of your sin is cut off and the only weight you should feel is the weight of victory.

–Doug Wilson