Plug For "The Deliberate Church: Rebuilding Your Ministry on the Gospel
There was a time more than a century ago when the thinking of many denominations began to wane because they trusted in the worldview of the secular establishment, especially with regard to it naturalistic presuppositions. In order to share the â€œgospelâ€ with the world, these churches felt they had to conform to the world and its cosmology, so they read materialistic beliefs into the Scripture, and adopted the worldâ€™s agenda. Democratic values were often imported into the church, that is, the determination of truth from the 51% vote, not Godâ€™s word. Liberalism and neo-orthodoxy were born and the church quickly went into decline. This was due to (1) abandoning Godâ€™s revelation and (2) because who wants to go to a church where people do not believe anything real about the historic Jesus. Why bother?
But now we see the same phenomena repeating itself in much of the Evangelical church. Seventy-five years ago, the churches of Evangelicalism were the last hold outs when most went liberal because they strongly maintained their stand in the truth of the Scriptures. But now, it appears that evangelicals have often become like political lobby groups, have their hopes fixed in a political kingdom, using marketing, money and business savvy to advance the cause, rather than the simple gospel. While affirming the Bible as true in word, our ideas and actions often deny it for we no longer seem to think that Christ alone as revealed in Scripture alone is sufficient for the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of unbelievers and edify the saints.
Instead we use methodologies, entertainment and therapy groups. We, like the liberals before us, exchange the true meaning of the text to a modern secular meaning. For example sin often is cited as a lack of self esteem and salvation portrayed as bringing us wholeness and feeling good about ourselves. Our gospel presentations are more like pep-talks, telling people to emulate their spiritual heroâ€™s behavior in the Bible rather than see their utter bankruptcy in it and need of Christ. In church the gospel is often replaced with â€œhow toâ€ sermons on finance and happy marriages, with sermons barely mentioning Christ, if at all. Our personal happiness and prosperity is stressed with little regard to suffering in the world, except perhaps to remind ourselves that we are better than they because we are moral and they are not. Such a ridiculous notion means that we have no idea what grace is -- that we are no different than others, except for Godâ€™s mercy. Also the amount of people on Christian radio talking about taking back the country for Christ is staggering. What they mean by this usually is to get our own people into political power to change the laws and make the country more moral. But peopleâ€™s hearts do not change their love of sin simply by imposing laws. The worldâ€™s impression of Christians therefore is often just as another political lobbying group who are trying to get power. We forget that God has affirmed a promise to us in the gospel, that the cross is the only thing that will change the desires of hearts. While laws may restrain sin, they do not save anyone and gives the impression to the world that we believe salvation is by behavioral modification. We should take these things to heart; implicate ourselves, confessing our corporate sin to a holy God that we have trusted in idols of our own making.
Well, with this as an introduction, let me say at the outset that Mark Deverâ€™s new book, The Deliberate Church does not spend time, as I have above, trying to deconstruct the obvious problems with The Purpose Driven Church or other methodologies. Instead he offers a positive alternative as to what a true church should look like if it is faithful to Godâ€™s Word. I was surprised to find how well-written the book was and heavy on the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is saturated with the idea that God wants us to participate in His redemptive purposes. Dever says,
â€œThe Gospel itself is Godâ€™s constructive power for building the body of Christ (Isa 55:10,11; Rom 1:16; 1 Pet 1:2325). The Word builds the Church. Our power is not in having small groups, or having the felt needs met of our target audience, or using the right evangelism program, or having funny skits â€¦ or targeting our ministry to postmoderns. Our Power is in our unique message â€“ The Gospelâ€¦not in our innovations.â€ (From Introduction).
This is one of the better contemporary books I have read and I highly recommend it to any staff or elders of a church which is struggling to get a grasp on direction and structure. Even if you are not struggling, get this book. It is for those who recognize the emptiness of most of the seeker methods of the last decade and want to worship Christ by holding the gospel high. It is for those who understand that numbers is no substitute for quality. The book is saturated with grace, is gospel-centered and Christ exalting.