The Dancing Puritan

Friday, March 14, 2014

Define and Declare: A Call to Faithful Gospel Preaching and Witnessing

Photo from The Christian Index

Dr. Johnny Hunt (pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA) is well known for his evangelistic zeal and his warm and generous heart. Earlier this week he spoke at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service. Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of the seminary, posted a quote from Hunt's chapel message:
I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.
I have not had the opportunity to read the transcript from the sermon but I do find the quote compelling. My guess is that pastor Hunt may have been referring to the discussion/debate within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over soteriology. I would not be surprised if many folks on both sides of the soteriological discussion have been "so focused on defining the Gospel" that they have failed to share the Gospel faithfully.

That being said, the Gospel must be defined before it can be declared. What is the gospel that is to be declared?
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, . . ." (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
Paul delivered what he had received. What he had received was a specific and defined message.

Jude writes in his short letter:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Notice that Jude writes of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." He is referring to a specific and well-defined body of truth. Jude's message was not a fuzzy declaration about a general Christ.

As Christians we are to be specific in our proclamation.  The faith that we profess and proclaim is referred to as "the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). It is essential that we communicate an accurate gospel.
But if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
We must never be content to ascend to our ivory towers or descend to our musty basements because we are enamored with theological precision to the neglect of faithfully obeying Scripture. We must also never charge out into a lost world proclaiming a generic and biblically undefined Jesus. Definition is necessary to declaration.  I know that Dr. Hunt would agree.

If you are reading this and imagine that I am criticizing pastor Hunt, nothing could be further from the truth. His statement is convicting, thought provoking, and challenging. When he served as president of the SBC (2008-10) he served faithfully and as a godly statesman. In recent years he has consistently demonstrated a graciousness and respect for people on both sides of the soteriological debate within the SBC. His example is one worthy of imitation.  We should hear the challenge evident in his statement:

I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.

Amen! Let us never be guilty of stroking our theological beards while a lost world sprints to hell. Yet in the name of action let us not be found unfaithful by declaring an unclear message. There are far too many people proclaiming a Jesus that is but a faint resemblance of the biblical Christ.  It is really both/and isn't it. We must go to the study, allow our hearts to be saturated with the biblical gospel, come to grips with "the faith that was once for all delivered," get our hearts hot with a passion for Christ, and then go into the world and proclaim the "gospel of the glory of the blessed God" (I Timothy 1:11). We can do no less. The gospel is a sacred trust. Definitions are vital in our preaching and witnessing.