95 Theses for the American Church

Just as Martin Luther offered some suggestions for the Church of his time in Germany, Jared Wilson has some ideas for us to consider.  On his blog: The Gospel-Driven Church, Jared has posted 95 Theses for the American Church.

7 Maxims of Repentance

Jesus said:

“This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  (Luke 26.46-47)

Seemingly few recognize that repentance is part of the message of the Great Commission.  But that is clearly what Luke records Jesus as saying.  Not only is a call to repentance connected to the forgiveness of our sin, but I am convinced that repentance is one of the ways in which we express “obedience” to everything Jesus commanded us. As Martin Luther postulated in the first of his 95 Theses:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He willed that the whole life of believers be lived out in repentance.

Yet, just as seemingly few are aware that repentace is part of the Great Commisson, seemingly fewer realize repentance should be a way of life for the Christian. Building upon Luther’s observation, contemporary pastor/theologian Sinclair Ferguson declares:

“According to Scripture, the Christian Life is repentance from beginning to end! So long as the believer is at the same time righteous and yet a sinner, it can be no other way.”

In his masterful book on the subject, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, Richard Owen Roberts offers a series of lists, including 7 Maxims of Repentance:

  1. True Repentance is a Gift of God
  2. True Repentance is NOT a Single Act but an Ongoing and Continual Attitude
  3. True Repentance is NOT Merely Turning From What You Have Done but From What You ARE
  4. True Repentance is Not What you Do for yourself but What You do for God
  5. True Repentance is Not Merely of the Fruits of Sin but of the Very Roots
  6. True Repentance is Not Secret but Open
  7. True Repentance is Both Negative and Positive

While I would wholeheartedly commend the reading of Roberts’ book, merely pondering this list will itself offer some rewarding insights as to the nature and benefits of repentance.  While some maxims are more immediately understood than others, all are discernable.

Never Exchange the Pulpit


With all the hubub that has surrounded Glen Beck and his aspiration to ascend to top of the Religious Right leadership, I was encouraged by an open letter written by Nancy Guthrie to the pastors of her church. 

Guthrie states that what has concerned her more than the fact that Beck is a Morman is a statement Beck made on The O’Reilly Factor:

“240 pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams on stage all locked arms saying the principles of America need to be taught from the pulpit.”

In short, Guthrie affirms her love for America, but is grateful that her pastors have refused to neglect the preaching of the gospel in exchange for preaching American principles. 

Like the Apostle Paul, I am “astonished” that so many are turning from the Gospel that they claim to have received (and are charged to preach) and are turning to another gospel – which is no gospel at all. (Galatians 1.6-9

If the ministers of the gospel turn to preach politics, who will proclaim the Word of Life?

To read Nancy Guthries thoughts, click: Open Letter

Gospel-Centered Church

Gospel-centeredness is a vital strategic principle for ministry in the 21st (and the 1st!) century. I do not simply mean by ‘gospel-centered’ that ministry is to be doctrinally orthodox. Of course it must certainly be that. I am speaking more specifically.

(1.) The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.”

(2.) Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to much spiritual deadness, pride and strife, and ministry ineffectiveness.

(3.) We must communicate the gospel clearly – not a click toward legalism and not a click toward license. Legalism/moralism is truth without grace (which is not real truth); relativism is grace without truth (which is not real grace). To the degree a ministry fails to do justice to both, it simply loses life-changing power.

Text: Acts 15:1-25

Here we see Paul, in the middle of a church-planting career, going to Jerusalem for a big theological debate. Now, why do that? Surely we ministers need to be about the work of evangelism, not going in for theological discussions! But Paul makes no bifurcation here. Chapter 15 is down the middle of Paul’s mission! It’s clarifying the gospel itself.

(1) The cause of the debate is that the earliest Gentile converts to Christianity had already become Jewish culturally. That is, many of them were “God-fearers” who had been circumcised and/or abided by the clean laws and the Mosaic legislation.

(2) Then Paul began bringing in real pagans or God-fearers who had not become culturally Jewish. And he was not demanding that, when they became Christians, that they had to adopt Jewish cultural patterns.

(3) Then a group arose (15:1) saying, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved”. They had taken cultural norms and promoted them to be matters of virtue and spiritual merit. When they did that, they lost grasp on the gospel of grace and slid into ‘religion’.

(4) The Council on the one hand in Peter, got hold of one end of the stick: v.6-11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we [Jews] are saved, just as they are.”

(5) But, wouldn’t you know it – James gets a hold of the other end of the stick. He agrees with Peter, but rightly asserts that Gentile Christians, though free from any requirements as to salvation, are not free to live as they like as members of a Christian community. They are obliged to live in love and to respect the scruples of culturally different Jewish brethren. So they are ordered (we tend to miss this) to live in such a way that does not offend or distress their brethren who are culturally different. (They are not to eat raw meat, they are to abide by Levitical marriage laws, and so on.) There could hardly be a better case study of the old Luther – proverb that expresses the balance of the gospel. We are “saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” We are not saved by how we behave, but once we are saved we behave in love.

So “religion” just drains the spiritual life out of a church. But you can “fall off the horse” on the other side too. You can miss the gospel not only through legalism but through relativism. When God is whoever you want to make him, and right and wrong are whatever you want to make them – you have also drained the spiritual life out of a church. If God is preached as simply a demanding, angry God or if he is preached as simply an all-loving God who never demands anything – in either case the listeners will not be transformed. They may be frightened or inspired or soothed, but they will not have their lives changed at the root, because they are not hearing the gospel. The gospel shows us that God is far more holy and absolute than the moralists’ god, because he could not be satisfied by our moral efforts, even the best! On the other hand the gospel shows us that God is far more loving and gracious than the relativists’ god. They say that God (if he exists) just loves everyone no matter what they do. The true God of the gospel had to suffer and die to save us, while the god of the relativist pays no price to love us.

The gospel produces a unique blend of humility and boldness/joy in the convert. If you preach just a demanding God, the listener will have “low self-esteem”; if you preach just an all-loving God, the listener will have higher self-esteem. But the gospel produces something beyond both of those. The gospel says: I am so lost Jesus had to die to save me. But I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die to save me. That changes the very basis of my identity – it transforms me from the root.

I can’t tell you how important this is in all mission and ministry. Unless you distinguish the gospel from both religion and irreligion – from both traditional moralism and liberal relativism – then newcomers in your services will automatically think you are simply calling them to be good and nice people. They will be bored. But when, as here in Acts 15, the gospel is communicated in its unique, counter-intuitive balance of truth and love, then listeners will be surprised. Most people today try to place the church somewhere along a spectrum from “liberal” to “conservative” – from the relativistic to the moralistic. But when they see a church filled with people who insist on the truth, but without a shred of superiority or self-righteousness – this simply explodes their categories. To them, people who have the truth are not gracious, people who are gracious and accepting say “who knows what is the truth?” Christians are enormously bold to tell the truth, but without a shred of superiority, because you are sinner saved by grace. This balance of boldness and utter humility, truth and love – is not somewhere in the middle between legalistic fundamentalism and relativistic liberalism. It is actually off the charts.

Paul knew that ‘getting the gospel straight’ – not falling off into either legalism on the one hand or license on the other – is absolutely critical to the mission of the church. The secret of ministry power is getting the gospel clear. To be even slightly off to one side or another, loses tons of spiritual power. And people don’t get really converted. Legalistic churches reform people’s behavior through social coercion, but the people stay radically insecure and hyper-critical. They don’t achieve the new inner peace that the grace of God brings. The more relativistic churches give members some self-esteem and the veneer of peace but in the end that is superficial too. The result, Archibald Alexander said, is like trying to put a signet ring on the wax to seal a letter, but without any heat! Either the ring will affect the surface of the wax only or break it into pieces. You need heat to permanently change the wax into the likeness of the ring. So without the Holy Spirit working through the gospel, radically humbling and radically exalting us and changing them from the inside out, the religion either of the hard or soft variety will not avail.

Conclusion: Who is sufficient for these things? Not me! But fortunately, Jesus is the great church planter! He said, “I will plant my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16) and “Therefore, go to every ethnic group and bring them to be my followers.” (Matthew 28). It’s a good thing he is really the church planter–or we’d have no hope. But since he is the church planter, we have all the hope in the world!

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Benefitting in the Benefactor

Sinclair Ferguson offers this wise insight about the gospel-centered life:

“…we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual … but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirtuality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about ourself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Secret Mystery of Francis Chan

OK, the title of this post is purely to solicit interest. It is a play on the Charlie Chan Mystery series of the 1930’s.  So far as I know Francis Chan is not hiding any secrets.

That said, many are still mystified why Chan would walk away from a successful ministry, and the newfound celebrity he was enjoying as a result of his books, in order to explore other unknown opportunities.  So, at least in that sense, Francis Chan is a man of mystery.

In this video two of Chans peers, Joshua Harris & Mark Driscoll, sit down and try to get Chan to explain his somewhat unusual departure, among other issues.  It is a good discussion.

The Connection of the Law With the Gospel

There is a common question about how the Law of God and the Grace of God relate to one another. Some seem to wonder how they even co-exist. 

Spurgeon, though, when once asked how he reconciled the Law and the Gospel, replied:

“There is no need to reconcile friends.”

Granted, there is some tension between these two great Biblical themes. But there is an answer – a wonderful, glorious answer. 

Charles Bridges, a 19th Century Anglican pastor-theologian, takes up this  issue and offers some profound and practical answers in an essay titled: The Connection of the Law With the Gospel. 

Bridges’ language is a bit archaic, but with some effort most people should be able to grasp the richness of his insights. Having found it nowhere else on the web, I post his essay below for the benefit those willing to work through it.

But I have been thinking: Perhaps one day I will edit and translate this essay to language for our day… and post it again.

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Spiritual Pride

Here is a great insight from Jonathan Edwards as relevant today as it was in his Colonial American culture:

The first and worst cause of error that prevails in our day is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment, and the main handle by which Satan takes hold of Christians to hinder a work of God. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.

Pride is much more difficult to discern than any other corruption because, by nature, pride is a person having too high a thought of himself. Is it any surprise, then, that a person who has too high a thought of himself is unaware of it? He thinks the opinion he has of himself has just grounds and therefore is not too high. As a result, there is no other matter in which the heart is more deceitful and unsearchable. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence and drive away any suspicion of evil respecting itself.

Pride takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion- when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath. Therefore, we need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great searcher of hearts for His help. He who trusts his own heart is a fool.

Since spiritual pride in its own nature is secretive, it cannot be well discerned by immediate intuition of the thing itself. It is best identified by its fruits and effects, some of which I will mention together with the contrary fruits of Christian humility.

The spiritually proud person is full of light already and feels that he does not need instruction, so he is ready to despise the offer of it. On the other hand, the humble person is like a little child who easily receives instruction. He is cautious in his estimate of himself, sensitive as to how liable he is to go astray. If it is suggested to him that he does go astray, he is most ready to inquire into the matter.

Proud people tend to speak of other’s sins, the miserable delusion of hypocrites, the deadness of some saints with bitterness, or the opposition to holiness of many believers. Pure Christian humility, however, is silent about the sins of others, or speaks of them with grief and pity. The spiritually proud person finds fault with other saints for their lack of progress in grace, while the humble Christian sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. He complains most of himself and his own spiritual coldness and readily hopes that most everybody has more love and thankfulness to God than he.

Spiritually proud people often speak of almost everything they see in others in the harshest, most severe language. Commonly, their criticism is directed against not only wicked men but also toward true children of God and those who are their superiors. The humble, however, even when they have extraordinary discoveries of God’s glory, are overwhelmed with their own vileness and sinfulness. Their exhortations to fellow Christians are given in a loving and humble manner, and they treat others with as much humility and gentleness as Christ, who is infinitely above them, treats them.

Spiritual pride often disposes people to act different in external appearance, to assume a different way of speaking, countenance, or behavior. However, the humble Christian, though he will be firm in his duty; going the way of heaven alone even if all the world forsake him; yet he does not delight in being different for difference’s sake. He does not try to set himself up to be viewed and observed as one distinguished, but on the contrary, is disposed to become all things to all men, to yield to others, to conform to them, and to please them in all but sin.

Proud people take great notice of opposition and injuries, and are prone to speak often about them with an air of bitterness or contempt. Christian humility, on the other hand, disposes a person to be more like his blessed Lord, who when reviled did not open His mouth but committed Himself in silence to Him who judges righteously. For the humble Christian, the more clamorous and furious the world is against him, the more silent and still he will be.

Another pattern of spiritually proud people is to behave in ways that make them the focus of others. It is natural for a person under the influence of pride to take all the respect that is paid to him. If others show a disposition to submit to him and yield in deference to him, he is open to it and freely receives it. In fact, they come to expect such treatment and to form an ill opinion of those who do not give them what they feel they deserve.


Adapted from Jonathan Edwards’ Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. This article previously appeared in Banner of Truth.

God’s Workmanship

One of the glories of Christianity is the assurance that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2.10). 

This statement by Paul that we are “created” does not simply refer to our physical formation, as God has, of course, created all human beings (see Genesis1.26-27). Rather, Paul is talking about being “created in Christ.” It means that every person who believes in Christ does so because she or he is the object of a process of God’s “spiritual creation.”
The word workmanship is very important; it is the Greek word poema from which we get our word “poem.” It means that every believer is essentially a work of art – God’s art!
Consider how artists work, whether they are writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, etc. They labor long and hard and with the utmost care and detailed attention. Sometimes they do very little, only a stroke here or there. Other times they make massive changes. But always they seek to bring the raw material into line with an artistic vision. Thus Paul is telling us that God labors over all believers throughout our entire lives, intervening and guiding and shaping us to bring us into line with a vision he has for us. This is mentioned also in Ephesians 2.10 -“created to… good works,  which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Thus, God has a particular set of “good works” for us to do, for which he prepares us our whole lives.
Looking at Our Lives
It is therefore of utmost importance to look back on our lives and see everything that has happened through this grid, namely that:
  • God has been at work through the various influences of our lives – “created in Christ.” All of our experiences and troubles and our family and friends must be seen as the instruments of an artist used to mold and shape us. He has been at work all of our lives!
  • God has been at work to make us something beautiful – “workmanship.” God is out to make our beings something great—to give us characters of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, integrity, humility and self-control.
  • God has been at work to make us something useful – “good works… prepared beforehand.” God is also out to make our doings something great – to make us helpful and able to serve others in special ways.
Paul uses this “doctrine of workmanship” like a pair of spectacles through which to view his entire life.
First, in Galatians 1.13-23, he shows us that he now sees God at work throughout his whole life (“God, who set me apart from birth and called me,” v.15).
Secondly, he now sees that God used the gospel to make him something beautiful. He had been a fanatically intense person who felt superior in his self-righteousness and only criticized others (“intensely I persecuted… extremely zealous for the traditions,” v.14). But God humbled him and showed him he was nothing apart from undeserved grace (“called me by his grace and was pleased to reveal his Son in me”) so that now he loves to lead people to praise and thanks (“they praised God because of me,” v.24). 
Thirdly, he realizes that though his obsessive study of the Bible and theology (“the traditions”) was originally motivated by self-righteousness and the need to feel superior, he was now, as a Christian, uniquely equipped to be a preacher, teacher and evangelist (“so that I might preach him among the Gentiles”). His scholarship and knowledge of the Bible enabled him to bridge the gap between Christianity and various pagan philosophies and religions.

-Taken from Tim Keller’s A Gospel Changed Life

Scandalous Freedom


In his book A Scandalous Freedom, Steve Brown provocatively writes:

They lied to you about being a Christian. When you first “joined the club,” they promised you’d be set free. But let’s get honest, you’re not free. In fact, you’re religious, afraid, guilty, and bound. What’s worse, now that you’ve been in the club awhile, you’re stuck pretending you’re better than you are. And worse than that, you prefer the security and rules of your self-imposed boundaries. It’s time for a change. You need Scandalous Freedom.

There is no question in my mind that Steve Brown is correct.

So many Christians are imprisioned by their own consciences.  What I think is startling about this is that most don’t even seem to be aware of their spiritual and emotional bondage.  In fact, since most people they know are in the same condition, they assume this is the norm, and that THIS is the freedom for which Christ came to set us free!  And even more perplexing is that, when faced with the radical nature of the gospel, many seem to prefer this state of existence to the freedom offered and secured by the gospel!

I see it all the time. I do it all the time.

But Steve Brown winsomely, humorously, and profoundly, calls it like it is.  And he offers us a path to freedom. It is not a path Steve has blazed. He is one, of many, who has simply labored to uncover the path for us that Jesus laid out. Sadly much of what Jesus paved seems to have been covered over by the garbage of religious tradition and fundamentalism.

Listen Steve Brown’s related podcast series: Scandalous Freedom.

10 Gospel-centered Questions


Here are 10 questions to ask yourself – and maybe those few closest to you – that help uncover rivals of Christ as the functional savior of your heart:

  1. What are you desiring more than anything else?
  2. What do you find yourself day dreaming or fantasizing about?
  3. What lies are you subtly believing that undermine the truth of the gospel?
  4. Are you astonished with the gospel?
  5. In what ways have you recently made much of yourself and little of God?
  6. Is technology stealing attention from your family?
  7. Is work replacing your spouse’s place in your heart?
  8. Where do your thoughts drift to when you enter a social setting?
  9. What fears are paralyzing your heart from enjoying God?
  10. What consumes your thoughts when you have alone time?

Notice that many of these questions assumes some level of guilt. Others are simply good guages of our priorities.  That’s what makes them good gospel-centered questions – questions that continually keep our hearts centered on the gospel.  

Remember the gospel has two aspects – one positive, one negative.  Paraprasing Jack Miller, the gospel reminds us:

  • You are much greater sinner than you would ever dare admit, even to yourself.
  • You are loved far more by God than you would ever dare dream.

Believing the gospel frees us to admit our flaws, and drives us to explore the love of God demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. So go ahead, ask yourself the above questions.