Today saw the official launch of The Gospel Project, the new curriculum from Lifeway Christian Resources. To kick off the curriculum, Trevin Wax, Matt Chandler, JD Greear and Ed Stetzer spoke on the purpose and need of the curriculum. Below are my notes, much of which is paraphrased:
Introduction—Trevin Wax: The purpose of the Gospel Project
For many years now, churches have been asking Lifeway to produce an in-depth curriculum. But the problem is what does in depth mean? For some it means information? So let me go into a small group and come out with new information. Of course information is necessary, but it’s not all there is. The last thing we want to do
For others, going deep means immediate application—just give me something to do. We should seek transformation, or we’re like those James warned about. The Bible is not a self-help book.
Not information, not immediate application but gospel-centrality. So there is information, but it’s connected to the big story of the Bible. There is application, but it’s grounded in the gospel. Going deep is immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ.
Session 1—Matt Chandler: The Explicit Gospel
The providence of God is a pretty spectacular thing… A number of years back, during a baptism service, I heard a number of testimonies that went like this: “I went to church, I went to sunday school, I went to VBS… and I’m here to say that I’ve never heard the gospel and now I want to be baptized.”
The first time you hear that, it doesn’t really unsettle you, but when you hear it a bunch of times… hearing people say, I grew up in church but never heard the gospel, it hits your heart in a really heavy way. And because the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let go of me on this, I settled it by going back to these people and asking them to go through their journals and finding out whether or not they really ever heard the gospel. Some came back and said, “yeah, I did hear it but didn’t understand it,” but more came back and said that what they found was a checklist of dos and don’ts—of moralistic therapeutic deism. And so it exploded in my heart that I couldn’t assume that people in the church have heard the gospel.
In Paul’s letters, you see him in nearly every letter, preaching the gospel to people who know the gospel (Rom. 1:8-15, 1 Cor. 15:1-5, Gal. 1:6-9).
So what we need to do is to remember that we need to bring this back into life off the stage—we need to help take the lenses off and see how the Bible is gospel-centric. We need to help our people become attached to the Word of God and see how it’s about Christ. So there’s a right way and a wrong way to read the Scriptures and we need to connect everything to Christ—to the big story of what God’s doing in reconciling all things to himself in Christ. We can do this with typology—we can look at David, Joseph… and the Spirit shows us the typology and we can use these as illustrations. So we can see that Joseph is playing a role that is like Christ’s. David is playing a role like Christ’s. We can’t assume that people have understood the gospel and been transformed by it.
People understand rules—don’t do this, don’t do that. That’s easier than understanding that you’ve been bought by Christ’s life, death and resurrection and we never need to stray far off of that. You have to teach biblical morality within the framework of the gospel. We have to draw our people into the Scriptures and give them the lenses to see God’s reconciling work from Genesis to Revelation.
Good hermeneutics are: being faithful to the original author’s intent, the history behind it, the context behind it and working our way to Christ.
If we don’t draw our reading back to the gospel, there are a number of errors that can happen. Ultimately the stories become children’s stories and moralistic tales. “Noah doesn’t have anything to do to me,” “Be like David…” etc.
The connection between the gospel and holy living: What you want is something you can’t ultimately control. What regenerates hearts is not “here’s the rules, try to obey them.” What regenerates hearts is, “You’ve fallen short, but God’s made a way in Jesus Christ.” Regeneration gives you a new heart that frees you up to love the Law. We feel the weight of the Law because we don’t quite understand the gospel.
Session 2—JD Greear: Gospel Application
I want to talk to you about the need to ground our application in the gospel. the basic gist is this: The gospel is not the diving board that we jump off of to get into the pool of Christianity; we start there and move on. But if you look at the epistles, you see that the gospel is the pool itself. It’s not just the thing that brings us into the Christian life, it’s the thing that allows us to grow in the Christian life.
The great commandment has a dilemma in it: the dilemma is that love is not something that can be commanded. When you are commanded to love something that your heart resents, you begin to hate that thing. When we are commanded to love God with a fallen heart, it doesn’t produce the thing that God wants most. It’s like a heated metal bar—I can try to bend it and when I let go, it’ll snap back up into its original form, or it will break in half. And to be commanded to love God without the heart to do it is ike that. It may create resentment and even hatred, but not
It’s learning of God’s love for us that produces in us love for God says 1 John. And when our hearts change, our behavior changes—because we want to change. We want to pursue righteousness because we love righteousness, we pursue God because we desire God. It’s the expulsive power of the new affection—and any application that we want to last must be grounded in the new heart given in the gospel.
The girl in my church who has lost her virginity, the guy hooked on pornography… they need to hear about God’s love for them. If you want to produce generosity, you’ll hear different things—some traditions use greed, others use guilt. When Paul wants to motivate generosity, he doesn’t use either of those—he uses grace. 2 Cor 8-9. The gospel shows that God himself is of more value than money. He’s a greater treasure… When we boast, we ask, why do we boast? Because we want people think well of us? And why do we want people to think well of us? Because we care more about their opinions than God’s. But if we understand that we have God’s approval, then we don’t need to worry as much about the approval of others.
We are idolators and the only way to correct our problems is to change the heart that desires idols. We worshipped our way into sin, we need to worship our way out. So how do we do that? How do we correct the idolatrous heart? It’s what 1 John says: We love God not because we are commanded to, but because he first loved us. That’s why in our preaching and teaching, we must always be pointing to who God is. It’s why Paul keeps praying in his letters that our eyes would be opened to see the goodness and glory of Christ.
On frustrations with children’s curriculum: More often than not, my kids would come home with to-do lists—”I need to love people more, stop lying, etc”. We need curriculums that help children understand that there are these stories and characters, but that ultimately this is about worship and grace and that it’s about what God has done for us, not what we do. We can learn from the characters, but we need to point to what they teach us about Jesus, too.
On being gospel-centered: Don’t try to be more gospel-centered than the Bible. Don’t try to be more gospel-centered than Jesus. He’s got it down, so follow his example and you’ll be fine. Being gospel centered means not just that the gospel is important to you, but that you see that the gospel is more than the entry into the Christian life, but the means by which we grow in the Christian life.
Session 3—Ed Stetzer: Gospel, Theology and Mission
Gospel, theology and mission matter because they’re things that we need to focus on in our churches. Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” This is captured by Paul in 2 Cor 5, when he shares how God has reconciled us by the gospel and we are sent out, just as Christ was. Theology deeply matters and the desire to engage with biblical truths—how we get into this grand story and with the gospel proclamation. But Satan is not frightened and the world is not upset by people who learn how to understand theology but don’t do anything—theology consumers who are not missional co-laborers.
As a pastor, I never want to preach a message that would still be true if Jesus had never died on the cross or else I’m just giving advise. I recently wrote an article explaining how we do that in the Gospel Project, and offered some questions:
1. What is distinctively Christian about this passage that drives people to the gospel?
2. Is there anything here that a faithful Jew would be uncomfortable with? Why—because I want to drive people to the gospel.
3. Is there anything that a non-Christian would be uncomfortable with? Why—because I want to drive people to the gospel.
We don’t want to find info junkies, but missional co-laborers. And one of the reason I’m excited about this curriculum is that we’re pushing people to join Jesus on his mission. In going deep, we don’t want to confuse minutia for meat. Your church and mine, in pointing people to Christ, will help people to share Christ. If we’re raising up well informed people who aren’t sharing the gospel and caring for hurting people, we’ve failed.
Sometimes those who speak much about theology, are less engaged in sharing the gospel with others. We don’t want to help you just go deep, but help you go out. In pointing people to Christ, ti will help people to share Christ.
In pointing people to Christ, it helps us join Christ in his mission. In Luke 19:10, Jesus says he came to seek and save the lost. And so we join him in this as he saves people from all nations. And he came to serve the hurting (cf. Luke 4:18 and following). So we join him in gospel proclamation—and this must be important above all—but we also join him in gospel demonstration, caring for widows and orphans as James says.
The church must constantly evangelize as well seek the welfare of the city by living out the implications of the gospel so that we might offer a verbal defense and visual demonstration of its power.
An important part of this is community. When people come together in community and study this, to as Hebrews says, spur one another on in love and good works (Heb. 10:24), it changes everything. It allows us to grow together and become agents of God’s mission together. We want people to know theology, to understand the gospel, and then be able to live as agents of God’s mission. Ultimately, we will help people to be gospel-centered, theologically informed and missionally driven.
Why it’s so important to be missionally-driven: I think that one of the things we’ve under-emphasized is the fact that we’ve been sent as ambassadors. We join Jesus in his mission and I don’t want is for us to help people go deep and not go out. We can’t miss this theme throughout the Scriptures; I wish people would act less like they’ve arrived and more like God has sent them.
On going deep but being accessible to the non-Christian: We don’t have to avoid depth with new or non-Christians, but we do have to explain our terms. People are not afraid of depth, we just have to make sure that they understand what we’re talking about.
Session 4—Panel Discussion
For this session, I’ve chosen to share a few of my favorite quotes from the discussion.
JD Greear: If we’re not going deep, we’re not relevant.
Ed Stetzer: The point of The Gospel Project is not just to produce learners but also teachers & leaders.
Matt Chandler: I think the peril for this [the gospel-centered movement] is that a lot of the people are using the word “gospel” are not finding their identity in the gospel… We need the Holy Spirit to do shop on some people who know their Bibles well but want to argue and divide over nuance.