The Gospel

The Gospel by Ray Ortlund

It seems like  every few minutes there’s another book, article, or message being released with “gospel” in the title. Usually it’s followed by a hyphen: “The gospel-driven life,” “gospel-centered ministry,” “gospel-influenced driving…” It’s not that any of these are bad (well, except the one I made up), but sometimes I wonder if we’re in danger of turning the gospel itself into a modifier for the thing we’re really talking about. When that happens, we risk leaving the gospel assumed.

And you know what happens when you assume, right?

Ray Ortlund is a man who doesn’t assume the gospel. The pastor of Immanuel Nashville, Ortlund is one of those guys who you read or hear, and think, “Wow… he really believes this.” He gets that what we believe about the gospel shapes us and the culture of our churches, that “gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture” (117). But what does that look like? This is what he aims to show readers, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ.

Individual and expansive

Loosely divided into two parts, The Gospel begins by exploring the deeply personal and epically cosmic purposes of the gospel. The gospel is about the eternal fate of individuals—but it is also about our churches and the world as a whole. This “both/and” Ortlund strikes is so necessary in our day when we need to introduce the God of the Bible to people with no frame of reference. People who have no concept of either an intimately personal God or a transcendent Creator who holds the universe together with but a word.

So how does this shape our culture? “We see how massive God’s love really is, and so we give up our aloofness and come together to care for one another in real ways, even as God wonderfully cares for us” (37), and we see that it “creates churches of bright, resilient, rugged hope. It creates churches that face life as it is and are not defeated” (62).

Is that not what the people of this world desperately need? I can’t help but think about the social awareness and action culture that’s sprung up around the millennials, a generation with just the right mix of naïve optimism and arrogance to believe they can truly change the world. After all, they’ve been told this their whole lives. And this is the driving force behind so much of our social (network) activism, cause-creation, and all of these things—it’s all about living up to the ideal. (Or is that idol?)

Is it any wonder that people are beginning to experience something called compassion-fatigue?

 

The gospel, though, has so much hope for them (just as it does for every age generation). In the gospel, millennials (and, again, all people) find the answer to the problems of the world, which aren’t external factors to be managed, but internal realities that need to be transformed. That we’re not good people who need to think more positively, but bad people who think too highly of ourselves. And when we get this, we are free—free from the demands of (man-driven) performance, free to let go of the unwieldy burden of trying to make a better world, and give it to the One whose job it actually is.

Faltering steps toward a new kind of culture—and a longing for something greater

If that last paragraph made you squirm a little, you’re not alone. The idea of letting go of the pressure to perform, to “fix” the world, is scary. Simply because we struggle to believe it’s true. The gospel seems too good to be true, and embracing and building a gospel culture is intimidating. It means we’re constantly examining our own culture to see how it conforms to Christ, to see what assumptions we’re making and uproot areas of unbelief. We will meet resistance from within and from the world. We will face rejection and self-doubt… But even our faltering steps forward give the opportunity for something beautiful to spring to life.

If we have suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ—no egos to protect or scores to settle—we are free to receive his power, courage, and love. They outperform everything in this world, because they come from beyond this world. How compelling for our churches to say: “We’re not taking one more step without the power, courage, and love of the gospel for the glory of Christ alone. No more status quo!” (104)

Though particularly aimed at pastors and church leaders, The Gospel is valuable for any reader. It is not a how-to for ministry; it is a rallying cry for revival. It leaves you with a desire to see the kind of culture Ortlund talks about (and has nurtured at Immanuel) birthed in your own life and church. What we believe shapes how we live, and how we live reveals what we believe. And what I want—and what I hope shows increasingly with time—in my own life and in my church is a culture where grace is freely given and joyfully received. Where even as some are hardened to the gospel, others are softened and welcomed into God’s family. When that happens, when our gospel doctrine leads to a gospel culture, it’s a wonderful thing indeed.


Title: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
Author: Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Jesus is not like Willy Wonka

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Do you remember the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory? (I’m talking about the old freaky one starring Gene Wilder, not the new freaky one starring Johnny Depp.) After our heroes Charlie and Grandpa Joe have survived an arduous tour of the Wonka Chocolate Factory, they go to collect the grand prize that’s been promised to them: a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate. But there’s a surprise at the end. Willy Wonka, the factory owner, denies Charlie the prize based on a technicality.…

Here is the misunderstanding to guard against: Jesus is not like Willy Wonka. Our God is not a God who delights in keeping people in the dark, only to pull the rug out from under them in the last minute and deny them the rewards he promised. He is not a miser looking to withhold blessings on a technicality.

Instead, God delights in saving his people. Jesus says that he “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). That is why he came to earth, to save us from our sins. If he didn’t want to save us, he would not have come in the first place. Jesus is not a cheat. He is not a swindler. He is not an inhumane monster. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mike McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, pp. 24-25

My favorite books of 2013

That season has come around once again, where top ten lists abound! As you know, reading is one the few hobbies I have, regularly reading well over 100 books a year. With that much reading, it’s no surprise that there’s a range of quality. Most are in that “good, but not earth-shattering” category, a few were so bad I’m not sure how they were even published… but a few were legitimately great. Here are the ones that made the cut this year:

Jesus on Every Page by David P. Murray

Jesus on Every Page by David Murray

From my review:

One thing is clear as you read Jesus on Every Page: Murray’s excitement for the subject matter is palpable, particularly when he shares 10 ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus can be found in creation, in the characters we meet, in the Law itself, in the history of God’s people, in the OT prophets, in the work of Israel’s poets… Christ is everywhere—even showing up in person on occasion.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Death by Living by N.D. Wilson

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From my review:

N.D. Wilson’s writing is an acquired taste. His writing isn’t entirely linear. He follows the rabbit trails of his mind wherever they lead. He leads you to conclusions in a way that’s sometimes so subtle it’s easy to miss. But, if you follow him where he leads as he celebrates lives lived well, you’ll see this important truth: our lives are meant to be spent. As much as we lament time passing us by, as much as we loathe the idea of death, we can see even death as a gift.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Boring by Michael Kelley

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From my review:

For years, a number of authors keep saying they want to write about why it’s okay to be “ordinary.” I’m glad one finally did. Boring is a much-needed book, one that is sure to be a relief for many weary Christians who are exhausted by the unrealistic expectations of the radical, even as it calls us to a greater demonstration of faith: being obedient right where we are.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

From my review:

Too many of us struggle to understand how to ask questions well or even understand the purpose of a question. But Anderson gives us a framework for asking the right questions in the right way that I’m sure will be valuable for years to come. This book is a wonderful gift to readers of all stripes; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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This book, written for kids five and older, is a wonderful love letter to reading, and a fantastic reminder that regardless of how you read, it’s story that really matters.

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sound Doctrine by Bobby Jamieson

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From my review:

Jamieson’s book is thoughtful, helpful, and packed full of wisdom. It succeeds in reminding us that sound doctrine truly is for all of life—and it’s a book you can’t easily walk away from without feeling at least a touch of conviction. Indeed, we all too easily take the implications of our doctrine for granted.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Five Points by John Piper

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From my review:

Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people.Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

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From my review:

…the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover even the worst of sins. Homosexuals aren’t a special class of sinner outside the reach of the grace of God. In Is God Anti-Gay?, Allberry does a tremendous job of equipping Christians to think biblically about homosexuality and, Lord willing, to use what they know to reach the homosexual community with the love of God and see them, like all sinners, “repent and believe.”

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

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The second non-traditional entry on this list (scary, isn’t it?). If you were proto-emo in the 90s, you were a fan of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy comic, The Sandman. This book is not The Sandman. Instead, this is a fun, quirky story for kids 8–11 where the only angst comes from wondering when Dad’s going to get home with the milk. I really enjoyed it (even if my daughter didn’t).

Learn more or buy it at Amazon.


Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

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From my review:

Sensing Jesus, by the author’s own admission, is meant to be a slow burn. If you blast through this book, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. “Apprenticeship needs meditation and time,” as he puts it (27). Readers would do well to take Eswine at his word. Read slowly and thoughtfully. Make lots of notes. Be willing to recognize where you see yourself in its pages, and consider how God might challenge you through it to recover the humanity of your ministry.

Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.


And just for fun, here are a couple of honorable mentions:

  • Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris (my review)
  • The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson (my review)
  • Crucifying Morality by R W Glenn (my review)

See what made the cut in years past:

So that’s my list—what were a few of your top reads this year?