"We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to fully conform to the Scriptures." So begins the Foundational Documents (pdf) for The Gospel Coalition, a new group that held a one-day conference this past week.
The Foundational Documents continue:
We have become deeply concerned about some movements within traditional evangelicalism that seem to be diminishing the church’s life and leading us away from our historic beliefs and practices. On the one hand, we are troubled by the idolatry of personal consumerism and the politicization of faith; on the other hand, we are distressed by the unchallenged acceptance of theological and moral relativism. These have led to the easy abandonment of both biblical truth and the transformed living mandated by our historic faith. We not only hear of these influences, we see their effects. We have committed ourselves to invigorating churches with new hope and compelling joy based on the promises received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
The documents continue with what one person calls "a robust confessional statement" and much more:
In the foundational documents there is a robust confessional statement along with a theological vision for ministry. The concerns in the later document touch many of the important issues facing the church in our day. Epistemological issues relating to truth, issues dealing with contextualization and culture, how we read Scripture, and the uniqueness of the gospel and gospel centered ministry. The focus on issues of justice, integrating faith and work, as well as the church living in culture as a counter-cultural community provides much needed wisdom for our day.
What to make of all this?
For years, a lot of us have sensed that something's wrong. Two of the most vocal groups have been the emerging and Reformed movements, who have shared many of the same concerns over evangelicalism, but who have come up with very different solutions to the problems they see.
There's a lot to like about the Gospel Coalition's approach, which comes from the Reformed side of the equation:
- It's deeply theological and focuses on both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. If the church is going to find its way, it's going to be because of a robust theology that's lived out. This is a huge step in that direction.
- This statement addresses the issues of today, unlike so many of the confessional statements that were written to address the issues of long ago. It's refreshing to read a statement that tackles issues like epistemology and contextualization.
- I love the focus on gospel-centered ministry. If you haven't heard Tim Keller on this subject then you really need to.
- It's the most helpful statement I've seen of what effective and biblical ministry could look like within evangelicalism. It focuses on empowered worship, evangelistic effectiveness (churches that reach secular and postmodern people, not just cultural conservatives), counter-cultural community, the integration of faith and work, and the doing of justice and mercy.
I'm not naive. Some have histories with some of the people involved - D.A. Carson, who has been a sharp critic of the emerging church, and Mark Driscoll, who always seems to be in the middle of controversy. On the other hand, some may suspect Tim Keller since he's so widely respected, even by some in the emerging movement. Can he really be Reformed and orthodox with such fans? Some won't be able to see past issues like complementarianism. Some will say that the document isn't radical enough, while on the other side some will suspect it of going too far.
As for me and my house - well, at least me and the dogs - we're encouraged. I've long had this dream that older and newer forms of the church could join together in tackling the issues of effective Christian ministry in our day, and this document makes an important contribution.
Will it be accepted within evangelicalism? Not by everyone, but I hope its impact is felt. We could use more churches like Redeemer. Will it be rejected by newer forms of the church? Maybe - but I hope they see lots of common ground and don't reject it prematurely. There's too much that's really good in this to pass by it too quickly.
Churches that combine gospel centered ministry, winsome but theologically substantial preaching, effective evangelism and apologetics, cultural engagement in arts, business, scholarship, government, and a passion for justice and social action? Bring it on, and then some.
Update: The original PDF has been taken down. Steve McKoy has been kind enough to post the documents, and Tim Keller has confirmed that it's the latest revision.