Aspect 5(b): A Mission Driven by Biblical Theology (Christ, Spirit, Man)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

We believe theological and missiological method must be tethered to the doctrine of Christ. It is said that a Hindu once asked Dr. E. Stanley Jones, ‘What has Christianity to offer that our religion has not?’ He replied, ‘Jesus Christ.'” Indeed, Jesus Christ is central to Christian belief and practice, and he is the driving force in our missiology. He stands at the center of the universe, at the center of the Scriptures, and at the center of our missiology. It is part and parcel of the church’s mission to proclaim the Scriptures, which proclaim none other than Christ himself. Both the Old and New Testaments are Christocentric-Christ himself is the axis of the testaments, the linchpin of the canon. The purpose of the Scriptures is to present Christ (Luke 24:27). One implication of this doctrine is that our Bible teaching and preaching should be Christocentric. We should preach both the Old and New Testaments and should preach them both with Christ at the center. It is very possible to preach expository messages, verse by verse through the Bible, that are not, in any meaningful sense of the word, Christian. Instead of being distinctively Christian, our messages are often moralistic and legalistic, differing very little from the moral exhortations of a Jewish rabbi or Muslim mullah except that we attach an “appendix” about Christian salvation at the end of the message.[1]

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit also is not incidental to the church’s mission. In addition to the Spirit’s agency in teaching, convicting, illuminating, empowering, and restraining, the Spirit also gives gifts to each person (1 Cor 12:11) and enables believers to bear fruit (Gal 5:22-23). These gifts and fruit are most fully put on display in the harmony that is found among a community of believers. An implication of this truth is that church planting is often best done in teams, as the multiple members of a team use their spiritual gifts together, and bear fruit together one with another. The result is that those who are watching will see more clearly what Christ intends for his church. Another implication is that a new convert can immediately be considered a “new worker,” a part of the team, as he is surely already gifted by the Spirit and capable of bearing fruit. Immediately he can give testimony to Christ and edify fellow believers.

In the biblical doctrine of man, we learn that God created man in his image and likeness, so that man would worship and obey him. The creation narrative teaches us that Adam was in a rightly ordered relationship with God, with Eve, and with the rest of creation. At the Fall, however, Adam and Eve rebelled against their creator, setting themselves up as autonomous. In so doing, they became idolaters. We, Adam and Eve’s progeny, have rebelled against our creator, setting ourselves up as autonomous-we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, seeking goodness and happiness on our own, apart from him. Our relationship with others is broken-rather than loving our fellow man, we find our relationships marked by gossip, slander, abuse, rape, war, murder, and other symptoms of the Fall. Our relationship with the created order is broken-rather than unbroken harmony and interdependence, we experience pain, misery, and natural disaster. Our relationship with ourselves is broken-we are alienated even from ourselves as we use our capacities inappropriately (spiritual, moral, rational, relational, creative, etc.) to perpetuate our idolatry rather than to worship the living God. The effects of the Fall are profound and comprehensive, penetrating man at all levels of his being.

Upon recognition of the horror of the Fall and its effects upon man, we must plant churches that seek to glorify God and minister to man at all levels of his being. These churches will realize the deep and pervasive effects of the Fall on the human heart, and preach a deep and powerful gospel message that is the human heart’s only hope. They will use all of the God-given capacities they possess (moral, relational, rational, creative, etc.) to minister to fallen man. They will proclaim the gospel not only when the church is gathered (the church’s corporate worship) but when it is scattered (through vocation and through the various dimensions of human society and culture). They will seek to minister not only to the common man, but also to the educated, the affluent, and the powerful. And in doing these things, in proclaiming and modeling God’s gospel to His good world, they are glorifying him and enjoying him now and forever.

[1] This is Graeme Goldsworthy’s point in Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). Goldsworthy observes that many pastors and lay people find it difficult to preach meaningfully, and Christianly, from the Old Testament. He applies biblical theology to the task of preaching Christ-centered sermons. Other helpful texts for preaching the OT canon are Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) and Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

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