WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The grand narrative of God’s redemption through Christ is the story of Scripture and must be the story of Bible-centered preaching, Baptist theologian and academic leader Robert Sloan told students in a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service.
Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, defined “what the Gospel is and what the Gospel is not” by preaching through various passages in the New Testament, giving a broad exegetical message to the Southeastern community.
“What you win them with is what you win them to. If you preach the prosperity gospel to them, that’s the set of expectations people will have when they join your fellowship,” he said.
Sloan advised the gathered believers to faithfully preach the full Gospel.
“I think it’s imperative for all of us to be crystal clear,” he said. “We would rather talk about psychological estrangement than true moral guilt.”
However, it is the true moral guilt addressed in Romans 8:17 that Sloan said clarifies the true Gospel.
“The world has desperately gone wrong. The entirety of creation groans, having been placed under a curse, for redemption,” he said in his Feb. 11 message. “Any time you exposit a text, you have to see that there’s a larger story here — the world gone desperately wrong. The world is now fractured, not just the physical world, but the invisible world as well.
“There is a cosmic rebellion against God and for anyone to deny it is lunacy,” said Sloan, a former president of Baylor University and founding dean of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary.
Although Sloan said there is a certain political incorrectness about speaking of the world as “this present evil age,” it is the truth and must be discussed.
“How can we look at a Stalin or a Hitler, at the genocide in Uganda or even our own inner hatred and rages and dispute that this world is fractured and broken?”
“You have to have an explanation of this world. If you don’t, you can’t preach the Gospel,” Sloan said. “But, then you have Jesus. It’s the story of the great reversal. All who are in Christ now participate in this new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come. But Christ has come and I was halted at the height of my rebellion. Now, He has made all things new.”
Because of this new life that abounds from the full proclamation of the good news, Sloan said believers must recognize that they are ambassadors for Christ. Quoting from 2 Corinthians 5:20, he said, “‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though he himself were begging us.’ Paul begs on behalf of the God who Himself pleads that we would be reconciled to Him.”
Sloan said God pleads with His creation to come home.
“We too, in faithfulness, must be willing to be humbled to beg those to come home to Christ. We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be recompensed for the words uttered in the darkness and the things we have done,” Sloan said.
COLLEGIATE CONFERENCE ADDRESSES CULTURE — In sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with dying men, the problem is not only a culture that does not want to hear the Gospel message, but Christians who do not understand the Gospel and thus don’t preach it or live it out, speakers said at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference.
The conference explored the topic “A City within a City: Church, Culture and Counter-Culture.” Speakers Daniel Akin, Matt Chandler, J.D. Greear, Clayton King and David Platt discussed the Gospel and its implications for all aspects of life.
Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, opened the Feb. 5-6 conference. Chandler, who has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, was unable to attend the conference, but he prepared a video message to be delivered on the chapel screen.
“What’s happening, that so many could grow up heavily involved in church and then walk away for a decade?” Chandler asked, referring to a study that showed the alarming numbers of young adults who have walked away from church after years of being involved. “Here’s what we discovered. By and large, for that generation, the Gospel was assumed and it was not explicit.
“The leaders and preachers and ministers assumed [knowledge of the Gospel],” Chandler said. “People get confused on what saves them and what doesn’t save them. They get confused, thinking Christianity is works-based and they push it together with all other world religions.”
Chandler sought to explicitly state the Gospel in two ways, what he calls “the Gospel on the ground and the Gospel in the air.” One approach sees the Gospel message as it articulates the relationship between God and His creation on the individual scale — God, man, Christ, response.
The “Gospel in the air” looks at it on a broad scale — creation, fall, reconciliation, redemption. Chandler cautions against picking only one approach and focusing solely on it.
“If you look only at the Gospel on the ground, it becomes very individualistic — ‘God came for me and died for me.’ It’s a reduction of the Gospel in its entirety. You forget that God is doing something monumentally bigger than saving you,” Chandler said. “However, on the other hand, if the Gospel becomes just social justice, it is not the Gospel. You taking care of the poor is not the Gospel, and that does not save you.”
Teaching from Romans 12, Akin spoke on how believers should respond to the Gospel.
“To have a city within a city which looks distinctively like heaven, you have to have a specific kind of citizen, and Romans 12:1-2 gives you a portrait of what those individuals will look like,” Akin said.
Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, said the Christian life should be characterized by consecration, transformation and satisfaction. First, looking at the idea of consecration, Akin said believers should follow Paul’s command to “present your bodies as living sacrifices.”
“If you’re going to give yourself to Jesus as a living sacrifice, that is a volitional decision you and only you can make for yourself,” Akin said. “In the Bible, a sacrifice is almost always something that is killed and dies. How can a sacrifice be both a living thing and a dead thing? When you live out this Gospel as a city within a city, you would sacrifice for those things that mean everything to you.”
Akin said transformation will come through the renewing of minds.
“If Satan can’t keep you from getting saved, he’ll work his hardest at making you ineffective once you’re saved. The Bible says if we’re not careful, we can start to look a whole lot more like the world than like Jesus. How do we combat this? By the renewing of our minds,” Akin said.
Saturday’s speakers, amid breakout sessions on several topics, articulated the Gospel again to the conference-goers. Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, defined ways in which the Bible says the Christian faith should be lived out.
Holding the Bible in his hands, Platt said, “There are over 4.5 billion people who, if this book is true, are without Christ and headed to an eternity in hell. There is vast spiritual need. Add to that a vast physical need. God has chosen to measure, in part, the integrity of His people’s faith by their response to the poor.”
Platt challenged students to live radically for Christ.
“I want to call us to forsake it all in radical abandonment to Jesus Christ. I want us to envision what it looks like when the church is a radically Gospel-centered community that is spending ourselves for the spread of God’s glory.”
Platt said this Gospel-centered community should be marked by two distinctions — a radical concern for the needs of the world and a radical commitment to Jesus Christ.
“Those who are most effective at reaching the many are those who are most passionate about reaching the one,” Platt said.
Mentioning several ways in which his church is striving to be involved in changing the lives of people in Birmingham, Platt said love should be the earmark of all they do.
“I want to encourage you in a culture and church that, in an increasing sense, does not trust His Word or rest in His authority,” Platt said. “No matter how wide, tall or high the walls are that the culture sets up against the Gospel, they all come crashing down in the face of Jesus.”
Platt said no human effort can merge the two ideas.
“The name of Christ and the needs of the world coming together — this is Gospel-centered community. Christ alone can bring this picture together,” Platt said.
In the culture in which the American church finds itself, Greear said there are a myriad of objections to the exclusivity of the Gospel message.
“Nobody objects to you following God or saying you love God,” Greear said. “It’s when you say Jesus is the only way to God that people object. You will be pushed to compromise, and you cannot do it.”
Naming some of the cultural objections to Jesus’ claim that He is “the way, the truth and the life,” Greear said most see this approach to God as archaic or arrogant.
“It’s not being arrogant, but being convinced that Jesus is who He says He is. There can be just as much arrogance among the people who say Jesus isn’t who He says He is.”
Greear said many claim a more postmodern approach, saying whatever works for each person is fine for them.
“To say that religion is subjective and has no objective truth doesn’t make that true,” Greear said. “We can’t just define God as we want Him to be — He is what He is. You don’t get your own personal Jesus. He gets to define Himself.”
One of the most widely-used excuses may be that Christianity is divisive and unfair.
“All religions are exclusive, but the Gospel of Jesus is unique. It’s not based on what we have done but what Christ has done for humanity.” Greear said. “The Gospel, if you really understand it, doesn’t lead you to exclusivism. It leads you to grace.”
King, an evangelist to youth and college students, said that to be salt and light in the world, Christians need to examine their own hearts and then be intentional about speaking the truth of the Gospel into the lives of those around them.
Looking to the example of Paul in Athens in Acts 17, King said Paul was concerned with the idolatry of the city, as well as bold in speaking the truth.
“Are we bothered by the idolatry of our culture? Are we bothered by our own idolatry? Sometimes the idols we bow down to are good things that we allow to be a god in our lives,” King said.
Recognizing the idols, but not condemning the idolators, King said Paul “honors the influential thinkers and movers of the city he hopes to affect with the Gospel. Why do we think we can win the lost to Christ when we make fun of them and mock them? We can’t win people to Jesus when we’re mean and cantankerous and ugly to them.”
King also said Paul exhibited a thorough knowledge of the culture he hoped to affect with the Gospel, being familiar with customs and traditions.
“When you do ministry among another culture that may not be your home culture, you have to learn the culture,” King said. “It’s easy for us to go to the places we are comfortable in and talk about things we are familiar with.
“It’s easy to stay where we feel comfortable intellectually, socially and even theologically,” King said. “Being a city within a city, we should indeed find community with people we’re like-minded with. However, if that’s all we do, we form little Christian ghettos and we withdraw from culture and the culture begins to crumble around us.”
AKIN EXAMINES MARKS OF A HEALTHY FAITH COMMUNITY — During the first chapel service of the spring semester, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin addressed the gathered student body about the marks of a healthy community of faith.
Akin spoke about the signs of faithfulness laid out in Hebrews 13 that should characterize the body of Christ.
“What will it look like to run the race well? How will it flesh out in the local community of faith?” Akin asked.
Beginning with the command to love one another, there are a number of other imperatives in Hebrews 13:1-25, he said. These directives are instructions that will become distinctive of a healthy community of faith. Unlike many sections of the New Testament, Akin said this chapter of Hebrews teaches not how to get saved but how the saved live in response to Christ Jesus.
First and foremost, Akin said, the body of believers should be characterized by a consistent love for one another. Verse one of the chapter lays this out as the foundation for the body of Christ, he said.
“This love is volitional, active and personal, and it is something God commands us to do,” Akin said. “There is nothing shallow or sentimental about this love. Without love, we are a sham and send a dishonest, vague message to the world watching us.”
This love should have feet, seen not only in the love for other believers but also seen in how the body of Christ cares for those in need. In verses two and three of the passage, Akin pointed out that believers are commanded to remember those who are in need, showing them love and seeking out those who are hurting.
“Unfortunately, many today find welcoming homes of hospitality in bars, health clubs, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks. Too many churches function like exclusive social clubs that only want members who look and act like them,” Akin said. “Biblical hospitality will know nothing of racial, social, economic or cultural barriers that eclipse the offense of the Gospel.”
Akin addressed issues that have plagued the church — including slavery and divorce — that damage the health of the church body, as well as its witness to a non-believing world. These issues, he said, “are where the counterculture of the Gospel should shine brightly. Unfortunately our light has been quite dim and for some time.”
Challenging believers to hold marriage in high regard, Akin echoed the words of the author of Hebrews in verse four, reiterating the importance of marriage and sex within the context of marriage. Speaking to parents, Akin said this task begins in the home — raising masculine sons and feminine daughters.
Looking at verses five and six, Akin said the body of believers must have an unshakeable faith in God’s providence, trusting in His care and provision. Because of this faith in God’s Word, Akin said believers should also respect those who teach the Word of God, as is commanded in verses 7, 17 and 24. Because men of God speak the Word, they are providing an example and watching out for the spiritual well-being of their flocks.
“As a leader and watcher of souls, preach the Word — all of it,” Akin said. “Be an example worthy of emulation, nothing unbiblical, unethical, immoral, illegal. Be someone men and boys look up to and women and girls admire because you evidence a genuine walk with God.
“Shepherd the flock of God under your care. Lead them to respect you and to trust you.”
Other marks of a healthy community of faith include a commitment to Christ-centered doctrine and the spiritual sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving and service.
“His cross is our altar. It provides the food for grace, forgiveness and thanksgiving,” Akin said. “It sanctifies us by His blood. Verses 13-16 address our appropriate response to the great sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.”
As believers meditate on the cross, they ought to look to Jesus as the great shepherd to perfect them in good works, he said. For us to live under the Lordship of Christ as the community of believers means we have to believe the way Jesus did and let those truths transform our lives.
“We are who we are because Jesus is who He is. We do what we do because Jesus has done what He has done,” Akin said. “If Christ is superior in us, Hebrews 13 will be lived out through us.”
KOSTENBERGER WRITES ‘THEOLOGY OF JOHN’ — Andreas Köstenberger, a professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book on the theology of John’s New Testament writings.
The book, “A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters,” has been described as the first comprehensive treatment of the topic by an evangelical scholar. The book is also the first in a new series by its publisher, Zondervan, called the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series.
“I’ve studied John’s Gospel closely for almost two decades, and every time I read John’s Gospel I learn new things about God, Christ and myself,” said Köstenberger, who also serves as the Ph.D. program director at Southeastern.
Köstenberger said that while the approximately 650-page work will be used in many academic settings, it also is intended to be helpful for pastors who are preaching through John’s writings.
“My favorite part to write was the middle section where I spend close to 100 pages walking through the whole Gospel [and the Letters] section by section,” Köstenberger said.
“I’ve heard from several pastors and serious students of the Bible who said that they found this survey very useful because it looks at the broad theological themes in the Gospel — Christology, the signs, faith vs. unbelief, election and predestination, and so on. This way, our preaching can be theological preaching, looking at the individual units in light of the big picture, rather than merely taking the text unit by unit.”
Köstenberger has a rich history of writing on John’s Gospel. He has written or contributed to three commentaries on the Gospel including the volume in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.
“[This book] does culminate years of research and writing on John’s Gospel,” he said. “Writing the Johannine theology was a wonderful opportunity to integrate all of this research and put it all together in a [hopefully] coherent fashion.”
While there are several books on the theology of Paul’s works, there has been a lack of resources on John’s writings. Köstenberger said John’s theology has primarily been studied by critical scholars until recently.
“I think part of the problem is that many scholars working in Johannine studies are non-evangelicals who do not share our high view of Scripture,” he said. “They don’t believe the Gospel was written by the Apostle John, but instead credit authorship to a supposed ‘Johannine community’ who compiled the Gospel based on some of John’s reminiscences [at best].”
This work, in contrast, upholds the integrity of John’s writings as the apostle’s work and interprets them accordingly. This will be true of other volumes in the series as well, of which Köstenberger is the editor. Volumes will be coming in the next few years on the theology of Matthew, Luke and Acts, Paul, and others.
A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters is available now in bookstores and online.
Based on reports by Lauren Crane and Jason Hall of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.