When you meet another believer, you have more in common with that person than you do with any other single person on this planet. This is the big idea that Don Carson really wanted us to get as he expounded upon Philippians 1:1-11 during The Gospel Coalition’s 2012 Regional Conference. The gospel connects us more deeply and more profoundly than anything else. It should guide how we approach others, because it is to be the center of our relationship with others. “What this is talking about is joint commitment to a common purpose,” Carson explained. “It’s putting the gospel as the shared goal of both parties.”
This is something that I fear many of us have forgotten. Or perhaps never come to realize in the first place.
We too quickly either fall look for the thing that is going to be reason for putting someone outside the camp, shooting first and asking questions later—or, we settle for a lowest-common-denominator theology, trying to figure out what is the bare minimum upon which we must agree in order to have fellowship. I know of a publisher, for example, that requires its authors to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, but doesn’t require them to agree upon a meaning (which, for the life of me, I can’t understand). On the other side of the spectrum, I know of folks who believe that you can’t be a self-respecting Calvinist unless you’re a pretrib, premil, dispensationalist (and if you don’t have any idea what I just said, you have been given a great gift from the Lord).
But why do we do this? Why do we put up unnecessary barriers that prevent genuine partnership in the gospel—and why do we settle for something as repugnant as setting our theological bar so low a snail could jump it?
Lowest-common-denominator theology always leads to lowest-common-denominator preaching, as Carson put it. It leads to mission drift. We become more about being relevant than being salt in the world. Instead, we need a robust, well-defined center—we need to get the gospel as right as we are able, by God’s grace. Because when our unity is rooted in the gospel, we can partner with others in so far as they understand the gospel and are working it out.
No mission drift. No unnecessary barriers. Joint commitment to a common purpose.
Question: What do you consider central to gospel-partnership? Where can you have room for open debate and where can there be none in order to partner?