What is repentance?

A long time ago I promised George that I'd do a few posts on the meaning of repentance. Over the next few days I'll post some different views on the word. Take a look and let me know what you like. After a few days we'll see if we can get to the bottom of it.

Here's a comment from A.W. Tozer on repentance:

Now I've heard for the last thirty years that repentance is a change of mind, and I believe it, of course, as far as it goes. But that's just what's the matter with us. We have reduced repentance to a change of mind. It is a mental act, indeed, but I point out that repentance is not likely to do us much good until it ceases to be a change of mind only and becomes a wound within our spirit. No man has truly repented until his sin has wounded him near to death, until the wound has broken him and defeated him and taken all the fight and self-assurance out of him and he sees himself as the one who nailed his Saviour on the tree.

What do you like? What's not clear? What would you change?

Resources on the gospel

As many have pointed out, the big question to answer is "What is the gospel?" Many of the debates going on are relatively secondary compared to this one. I've had a few discussions lately that have made me realize that it's not easy to get agreement on the answer to this question.

On one hand, we have those who quote 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 and think that the issue is settled. They're right, of course, but you still have to unpack what these verses express in shorthand. It's there that we run into problems.

On the other hand, we have many who rightly react against individualistic expressions of the gospel that are mainly about how to go to heaven. They long for a gospel that is expansive, that creates a new community of people and is concerned for creation and issues of justice.

At times it seems like the discussion gets polarized around these two very different understandings of the gospel.

I'm not going to solve this one here, except to say that I've found some really helpful resources lately that I wish I had found long ago. The trail started at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, which emphasizes both individual salvation (personal transformation) and social change, all centered on the gospel. Tim Keller explains this approach in The Centrality of the Gospel (PDF) and in many of his sermons. This approach is also reflected in the Foundational Documents (PDF) of The Gospel Coalition.

From there I discovered Gospel Transformation, a resource put out by World Harvest Mission:

Gospel Transformation is a 36-lesson inductive study focusing on what matters most—our need for the transforming power of the gospel. For small groups or personal study—it goes straight to the heart, exploring such issues as: repentance, forgiveness, the flesh, compassion, believing our justification, and much more.

Just got my copy yesterday.

I also discovered two excellent books: How People Change, which helps people understand "the biblical pattern for change in a clear, practical way," and Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, which "is a comprehensive treatment of how God uses people as tools of change in the lives of others, people who themselves are in need of change." Both books unpack how the gospel changes us.

I'm working my way through these and they look really helpful. Some good stuff here on what the gospel is and how it affects the way that we live.

Who says bibs are uncool?

Just got this off the camera from a couple of weeks ago. The evening of graduation, we headed down to Long Wharf in Boston for dinner at Legal Sea Foods. I have my favorite dish there and thoroughly enjoyed every morsel. I've had better food at the Legal in Peabody but you can't beat the atmosphere on the wharf.

This photo is just my attempt at trying to bring bibs back into style, if they ever were in style in the first place.

The Gospel Coalition

"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.

Things I learned about Wisconsin last week

I had a great time in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin a week ago. Got to meet some amazing people and had a productive week looking at the Judges and Ruth.

I've never been to Wisconsin before and learned a few things:

  • It's one of two states that doesn't require car insurance. When I rented a car, they told me I was all on my own if anything happened. Nice.
  • Motorcyclists don't need helmets either.
  • They seem to allow smoking in restaurants.
  • They don't brew much beer in Milwaukee anymore. Nor did I see one person dressed like The Fonz. Or one person who wore an L on their shirts like Laverne (from Laverne and Shirley). So much for my TV impressions of Milwaukee.