From my earliest days as a Christian, bad Bible teaching frustrated me, but it was all around me. A steady diet of “how-to” sermons and “what does this mean to me” Bible studies left me feeling twitchy. I wanted to “go deeper”—even though I had no idea what that meant.
Initially, I thought it was all about technique. So I started a Bible study where we more or less just focused on the Bible. We covered the basic questions pretty well: “What does the text say,” and “what does it mean?” But what I missed pretty consistently was “How am I to live in light of this?” The people in our group wound up getting their heads filled with knowledge, but not necessarily having any sort of heart transformation come as a result.
I continued to stumble along through our Bible study, slowly figuring out that going “deep” isn’t just about good information, nor is it about good application. It’s about helping people see Jesus clearly in all of Scripture, and how we might become more like him as a result. But you know what would have helped me get there a lot faster? Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax.
In this book, Trevin cuts to the heart of the “going deeper” dilemma by providing a succinct analysis of the problem at hand (our lack of depth and failure to see how everything centers on Jesus in the Scriptures), a powerful exposition of the gospel itself, followed by three practical chapters on what it looks like to show Christ in the Scriptures, from exposition to application to mission.
The word “show” is key—as Trevin himself notes, “The way you help your people understand that the gospel is for all of life is not by telling them the gospel pervades everything, but by showing them in how you teach” (42, emphasis added). This probably doesn’t seem like that big a deal; if anything, it’s kind of obvious. Yet, it’s where so many of us fall. We talk about the gospel being the A to Z of the Christian life—but we struggle to take people on the necessary journey to see how this is true, connecting the passage you’re studying to the larger story of Scripture, while teaching it in a distinctly Christian way.
This last point is probably the most important element of Trevin’s entire book. In order to do this right, we have to understand what it is that makes our teaching Christian. ”Is your lesson or Bible study ‘Christian’ simply because it mentions Jesus,” Trevin asks. “Because it has the Bible as its base? Because it leads to spiritual application?” (77)
No. The issue isn’t any of those things—it all comes back to how your teaching is centered on Jesus and the gospel. In other words, if a faithful Jew, a Mormon or your average unbeliever could affirm your teaching, it’s not distinctly Christian. There’s something missing. On this point, I love what Trevin shares in the following passage:
Ed Stetzer often says that he never wants to preach a sermon that could be true had Jesus not died and been raised. I love that. It immediately gives clarity to the way we talk about Jesus. It not only ensures that Christ is present in the lesson, but that He is present as Savior and Lord. It turns the focus away from ourselves and makes Christ the Hero. It keeps us from presenting Jesus as if He were merely a life coach, someone to help us along in the live we’ve chosen for ourselves. Instead, it puts forth a sovereign King who, out of love for us, requires our obedience and then gives His life to purchase our salvation. We must make sure we do not present Jesus only as a moral example, but that we present Him as the only Savior, the One who calls for repentance and faith. (83)
This, again, hits the nail right on the head—not only in terms of my preferences (because, well, obviously I enjoy this), but because it rings so true with Scripture’s teaching.
Paul in 2 Corinthians describes himself and his fellow workmen as “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
Why does he do this? It’s not because they have body odor issues—it’s because of the message they bring. The gospel is the aroma of death to those who are perishing; if we’re preaching Christ faithfully, the unbeliever will naturally find it offensive, regardless of our delivery. But to those who are being saved, it is the scent of life. It is good and pleasing because it shows us our Savior in all his glory.
And this is what our congregational ministry, our small groups—our entire world needs. And if we have this message at our fingertips, how can we be content to settle for something as trivial as “five steps to better finances,” or some such silliness?
Gospel-Centered Teaching is the kind of book I’d love to see be required reading for small group leaders. It’s short, accessible, and saturated with good, gospel-centered theology, and thoughtful, practical application. If you’re a leader who’s struggling to figure out how to “do” small groups well, or a pastor looking for an excellent training resource for your lay leaders, this is the book for you.
Title: Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scriptures
Author: Trevin Wax
Publisher: B&H Publishing (2013)