Truth and Lies: Kevin DeYoung on the Contemporary Church

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church and author of Just Do Something, and Why We’re Not Emergent & Why We Love the Church (with coauthor Ted Kluck), was the second speaker at The Exchange. His message addressed the Truth and the Lie in the Contemporary Church.

In his message, DeYoung asserts that there are four lies we’re told about the gospel, the Church, divine revelation and discipleship.

The Gospel

The lie: The gospel is not about doctrine, it is simply an invitation into a way of life.

The truth: The gospel is a message of historical fact plus theological interpretation.

DeYoung cites one popular author who says, “The gospel is an event to be proclaimed, not a doctrine.” Another says that orthodoxy is about how you live; that it’s a vision for a new way of living.

“You may have heard this quote from St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Preach the gospel, use words if necessary,’” says DeYoung. “This has a number of problems—first, there’s no record that he said it, second, there’s no indication that he lived by it, and third it’s a confusion of categories.”

“We want to adorn the gospel with good deed, but without the proclamation we have not shared the gospel.”

In other words, lifestyle evangelism should not be code for “I don’t evangelize.”

“I really don’t think my neighbors are going to come to me and say, ‘Kevin, you don’t swear, can you tell me about Jesus?’ or ‘You have a fair trade coffee; tell me how to go to heaven?’”

People want to emphasize the gospel as a way of life because of a veneer of cultural Christianity. It’s more than getting a doctrinal formulation correct, but it’s no excuse for turning the good news into “good advice.”

“Without doctrine, ‘It’s about Jesus,’ becomes a meaningless mantra,” says DeYoung. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:1-11:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The gospel is something you receive, it is preached. Paul says it is of first importance.

The gospel is the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us.

Christianity from the beginning tied itself to history. Doug Moo says that it “stubbornly” did so. The gospel is profoundly different from mythology.

“We need to help people see history and help them understand what history means.”

It’s very common to hear something like this as the gospel:

We were created for peace, shalom with God. But Adam and Eve broke the shalom. And God came and blessed Abraham and told him to be a blessing to others. And Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, to mediate the presence of God; but Israel failed in this calling. Then God sent Jesus, who showed us the best way to live and invites us to follow him.

But what’s missing? The cross.

We need to study the verbs connected to the Kingdom, says DeYoung. Nowhere are we told that we build or expand. All the verbs are passive. We enter, we receive…

“The message is about is not about what we can do for God, but about what God has done for us! [And] it’s so easy to slip into moralism if you lose this.”

The Church

The lie: The church is incidental to God’s plan in the world.

The truth: Jesus loves the local church, and so should we.

The church is not the hope of the world argues George Barna, Jesus is. “If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.”

It’s true that Jesus is the hope of the world; but Jesus is not present in the world in the same way as he is in the body of Christ. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all,” says Eph 1:22-23.

“The church—of which your local church is an expression—IS the hope of the world,” says DeYoung.

Quoting John Stott, he continue, “I trust that none of my readers is not that grotesque anomaly—an un-churched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of this.”

Having been around the church his whole life, DeYoung has seen a lot of good, a lot of bad and has been hurt before. And he’d be naïve to think that he’s never hurt anyone. “The church is made up of sinners, and unfortunately we sin. But the church, although we sin, has always been central to God’s plans.”

Some of the ways the Scriptures speak of the Church:

The Church is a building. Jesus is the foundation. So if you have Jesus, but no church, it’s like a basement without a house

The Church is a body. Jesus without the Church is like a head without a body; it is grotesque.

The Church is a bride. Heaven is a wedding feast—Jesus is the groom, the Church is the bride. Why is it if the church is Jesus’ bride, why do so many people think it’s cool to diss Jesus’ girlfriend?

Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for His bride. Yes, the bride is ugly at times, but, “going to your church, loving your church is good for your soul,” says DeYoung. “And I’m not talking about three guys eating fish tacos and talking about how B.A. Baracus in the new A-Team movie is a Christ figure.”

Do not fall for the lie: the church IS the hope of the world.

Revelation

The lie: We cannot truly know God. We cannot speak too confidently about God because we can know partial truths at best

The truth: God reveals Himself so that we can be confident to know Him as He is, through Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ.

Our God is a God who speaks. We know our God because He wants to be known. John 16:12-15 says,

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

We must not pit the Holy Spirit vs. Scripture—“You’re not dishonoring the Spirit by testing everything against the Word.”

There are at least three errors that we must combat as we seek to uphold the truth of divine revelation.

  1. Sincerity is the measure of truth
    • You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong; some of them crash into buildings
    • Phil 1:15-18 says, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
    • While it’s true that we should seek to follow the lead of teachers who preach the truth and live it out, Paul’s primary concern here seems to be about the accuracy of the message preached
  2. All we have are interpretations—it’s an attack on the perspicuity of Scripture
    • No meaning in the texts
    • Not everything is clear in Scripture, but the plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things
    • Language is a gift—God says to Adam & Eve, “you disobeyed what you knew I said;” Jesus approached the text as though they had a stable meaning. The issue is that we don’t believe that God communicates in a way we understand
    • If Scripture is obscure and ambiguous, what point is there in God giving it to us?
  3. Humility is uncertainty
    • If you think you can say something certainly, you’re arrogant.
    • The point of an open mind is so you can close it on something; to know something
    • Paul didn’t say to Timothy, “Dialogue the word.” He said “PREACH the Word” We’re to be heralds

We need not be uncertain of God’s revelation.

Discipleship

The lie: Radical discipleship means living a life of constant intensity from one breath to the next

The truth: Discipleship is a life of long obedience in the same direction

We need less revolutionaries and more plodding visionaries

We need zeal, we need to be radical but God’s plan is usually for days and months and weeks of small things. Young people in particular are prone to radicalism without follow through. We want to change the world but haven’t changed a diaper.

We need to figure out how to be radical and ordinary at the same time. To run the race in such a way that we finish it.

Plodding visionaries: Bring cookies, hand out bulletins, say they’ll pray and actually do.

Let us be a generation that loves and honors the generations that have come before. It takes humility because in the grand scheme we’re not going to be Paul.

“I’m not asking anyone to be average, but asking us to be steady,” says DeYoung.” Life is ordinary, often, just like following Jesus so often. It is long obedience in the same direction.”

“So find a good church. Become a member. Stay there for a long time if you can. Put away thoughts of revolution and pay attention to plodding visionaries.”

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