Life Theology

My Theological Journey

Over the past several months, I have reflected on my journey toward a gospel centered, Reformed theology.  It’s fascinating to me to listen to other people’s conversion-to-Jesus stories. But I also love hearing stories of theological development, particularly, what God used to draw them to one theological persuasion or the other. That’s what this post is about: my theological journey, or conversion, if you will.

In the summer of 2006, I went on a mission trip to San Diego (rough place for a mission trip). Before that, I would have never called myself a Calvinist. I grew up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, had a healthy fervor for “free will,” and generally had no knowledge of what Reformed theology was all about (but knew it was wrong, obviously!). On that fateful mission trip everything changed. I was given a copy of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your LifeThis book came with a weight of glory that is still hard for me to describe. I was also given a CD (yes, a CD) of a Piper message from Passion 2000. The book and sermon motivated me to be centered on the person and work of Jesus in everything. I wanted to hear more from this Piper guy, so I dug into his blogs, sermons, and other books when I got home. Desiring God showed me that glorifying Jesus by treasuring him was the point of Christianity. God Is the Gospel opened my eyes to see that the gospel is not just about the gift of forgiveness, but about the gift of getting God himself. If you know anything about Piper, you know everything he writes or says is saturated with Bible and God’s glory and sovereignty. I feasted on it. By God’s design, John Piper is the main reason I am persuaded by Reformed theology and Christian Hedonism.

During my senior year of college, 2006-2007, I was preparing to join staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Our campus director, Bill Kollar, encouraged me to buy a book to help me understand the grand narrative of the Bible. I loved systematic theology–I had been given a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem earlier in the year–but this idea of biblical theology (big picture narrative stuff) was foreign to me. The book was by Vaughn Roberts, a British Anglican. I had thought Anglicans were weird (and wrong), and Brits even more so. The book was called God’s Big Picture. I devoured it, finding joy in one-plot storyline of Scripture. Today, it’s probably one of my most-recommended beginner resources.

As I shopped for Roberts’ book on Amazon, I found one in the “related” section called Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by another Anglican, this one an Australian named Graeme Goldsworthy. I was intrigued by this “gospel-centered” phrase, thinking, That’s what I want to be. So I bought the book. Yet unlike with Roberts, I was devoured by Goldsworthy. I couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t until some four years later in 2011 that I finally finished–and loved–the book. Happening upon Goldsworthy’s text was the first time I had seen or heard the term “gospel-centered.” The Gospel Coalition had not been founded yet; but Goldsworthy, as I found out, was one of scores pastors and scholars, dead and alive, who were “gospel-centered” before it was cool. I wanted to learn from them. Luther. Calvin. Edwards. Spurgeon. Stott. Lloyd-Jones. Packer. Sproul. Bridges. Keller. Carson. And, of course, Piper. 

Finally, two major things shaped me during my short time as a Campus Crusade staff. First, my Cru staff team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We weren’t a “Reformed” campus ministry, but we might as well have been. This team was committed to a high view of God and a low view of man, deep theological reflection, and a greater understanding of the gospel and conversion than the Four Spiritual Laws (what Cru is often known for).

Second, I was asked to write a series of Bible studies on 1 and 2 Samuel. Crusade (now called Cru) was making a theological shift at the time to be more Christ-centered in their discipleship material. Keith Johnson, director of theological education and development for Cru, Tim Henderson, Cru director at Penn State, and Bill Kollar, were so gracious to disciple me to see Christ and his gospel as the solution to every Scripture passage. Keith had me read a few chapters in Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preachinga book that changed my whole approach to preaching a teaching. In the end, writing those studies proved to be one of the richest theological and practical exercises I have ever done.

By the time I went to South Africa with Cru in 2009, I was at home with Reformed theology, and the gospel-centeredness was beginning to settle. This gospel element, thankfully, taught me to not be a Reformed jerk (I am not immune, but I am growing!). It was either immediately before or after that trip (I can’t remember), that I read Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God and Counterfeit GodsBoth books were helpful for diagnosing the heart-source of my jerkiness and gave me biblical, gospel-centered ways of dealing with it.

There’s so much more, but I am sure 900 words is enough for you. God has been so gracious to lead me theologically (and practically!) and the journey is not done–which is the most exciting part of all!

What about you? How has God shaped you theologically, and what did he use to get you to that point?


What Are You All About?

What are you all about? If you are a church leader, what is your church all about? If you had to give a one-word answer, what would you say?

As Paul begins his letter to the Romans, he writes that he has been called to be an apostle, “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). In other words, all of Paul’s life and ministry revolves around the gospel. That’s Paul’s “what-am-I-all-about-in-a-nutshell” word (see Rom. 1:16-17, too). To Paul, the gospel isn’t simply some piece of “helpful” information he throws to people on his missionary journeys, as if it’s a pill they swallow or a membership they sign up for to get eternal life. Paul’s whole existence is centered on the gospel, so it is gospel he’s going to give to saints that they might be more like Jesus and to unbelievers that they might come to Jesus (see Rom. 1:15).

Why is his focus on the gospel? First, God promised the gospel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Rom. 1:2). Paul, like the other New Testament authors, read the Old Testament “christologically,” that is, the Old Testament promised and foreshadowed Christ’s incarnation, redemption, and restoration. The gospel does not exist in a vacuum–it is grounded in the history of God’s people Israel.

Second, the gospel does not just promise Jesus, it reveals who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus’ life and work is the content of the gospel. As it has been said before, he is the gospel. In Romans 1:3-5, Paul’s writes that Jesus is revealed in the prophets (the Old Testament) as the Son of David and the Son of God. He is the One who has ushered in the new creation through his resurrection and the one who has given us grace and the mission to make disciples of all nations.

Discipleship, mission, sacraments, doctrine, and other things are vital to our lives as Christians. But none of them can be the main thing. The gospel gives unity, meaning, and purpose to all those things. In his book, Center Church, Tim Keller writes, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one ‘main thing’ of a church” (37). Would that it be so for our churches and our own lives!

Ministry Theology

A Youth Ministry Reader

I recently posted a Gospel-Centered reader, and I thought it would be helpful to post a youth ministry reader with several articles from The Gospel Coalition as well. Though I am not a youth pastor, I lead a high school small group at our church and I often have the privilege of preaching to high school students. So from time-to-time I think about youth ministry from a gospel-centered,  theologically-informed, and culturally-engaged perspective. Whether you are a pastor, youth pastor, small group leader, or a parent, I hope these articles will be helpful.

  1. Give Up the Gimmicks, Youth Pastors – Brian Cosby
  2. A Brief History of Youth Ministry – Dave Wright
  3. MTD: Not Just a Problem with Youth Ministry – Brian Cosby
  4. Youth Ministry’s Tendency Toward Legalism – Cameron Cole
  5. Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix – Cameron Cole and Dave Wright
  6. Why We Need Youth Ministry – Paul Martin
  7. Two-Dimensional Youth Ministry – Dave Wright
  8. Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up – Jon Nielson
  9. Family First in Youth Discipleship and Evangelism – Jon Nielson
  10. Youth Ministry Done Well for the Benefit of the Church – Jon Nielson
  11. The Millennial Generation’s Acceptable Sin – Barton Gingerich

A Gospel-Centered Reader

Those of you visit this blog often know that I write about the gospel a lot. To reinforce what I write, I wanted to start building a gospel-centered reader as a resource for people to find gospel-centered material. A “reader” is a compilation of shorter works on a particular subject. Most of these come from Tim Brister’s blog, but I will add to it as I find other resources. If you know of material that would be a worthy addition, please let me know.

  1. Gospel Coalition Foundation Documents
  2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration
  3. Together for the Gospel Statement (PDF)
  4. The Centrality of the Gospel – Tim Keller (PDF)
  5. The Biblical Gospel – D.A. Carson (PDF)
  6. Gospel-Driven Sanctification – Jerry Bridges (PDF)
  7. The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Steve Childers (PDF)
  8. The Gospel and the Poor – Tim Keller (PDF)
  9. Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship – Jonathan Dodson (PDF)
  10. The Gospel Centered Life – Bob Thune (study)
  11. Gospel-Centered Ministry – Tim Keller (PDF)
  12. How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself – David Fairchild (Sermon MSS)
  13. The Gospel: Key to Change – Tim Keller (PDF)
  14. God Strengthens Us by the Gospel – John Piper
  15. Advancing the Gospel in the 21st Century Part 2 – Tim Keller
  16. Gospel Christianity (1.0) (2.0) (3.0) – Tim Keller (studies)
  17. The Gospel in Its Many Forms – Tim Keller
  18. How Does the Gospel Save Believers? (Part 2Part 3) – John Piper
  19. Gospel-Centered – Joe Thorn
  20. Being the Church in Our Culture – Tim Keller (PDF)
  21. Preach the Gospel to Yourself – Tim Challies
  22. What Do I Mean by a Gospel-Driven Life? (Part 2Part 3) – John Fonville
  23. The Gospel-Driven Life – Harry Reeder III
  24. The Threefold Use of the Law – R.C. Sproul
  25. Greidanus: Six Ways to See Christ in the Old Testament – Dane Ortlund
  26. I’m Tired of Hearing “The Gospel” (Warning: Mild Rant) – Thabiti Anyabwile
  27. Death and Resurrection: The Typlogical Structure of Old Testament Redemptive History – Nicholas Batzig
  28. What is the Gospel? – 9Marks
  29. Seven Assertions Regarding Justification and Sanctification – Rick Phillips
Ministry Theology

Five Reasons I’m Thankful For The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. TGC was founded by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller. In the past two years, for me, it has become the go-to place for theological insights, conversations, and resources. In addition to the general TGC blog, a host of pastors and authors blog there. I encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already.

Here are five reasons I thank God for TGC:

  1. The whole reason for their existence is to help the church universal become gospel-centered in their theology and ministry. Because their focus is on the gospel, non-essentials do not cause division. TGC consists of Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Non- and Inter-Denoms, and many others. Heck, I’m sure that there’s even a Methodist or two in there. The point is this: if someone loves the gospel of Jesus Christ and sees all of Scripture, belief, and ministry through that lens, they will find a home with TGC.
  2. TGC is solidly in the Reformed Evangelical tradition. It’s my conviction that those who are truly “Reformed” in their theology will be the most gospel-centered in their belief and practice (that’s another post altogether). TGC gets to the heart of what the Reformed tradition is all about: Jesus Christ. They put “Calvinists” in a better light and, hopefully, help win Reformed theology a fair hearing in the evangelical world.
  3. TGC produces quality stuff without being gimmicky, faddish, or cliché. Their website is pleasing to the eyes, with great graphics and high quality short videos. They also produce gobs of material quickly. That material covers more than intramural theological banter. Commentary hits pop culture, literature, history, politics, science, and, my favorite, sports.
  4. TGC review books–tons of books. As a husband and father who interns at a church and is in the midst of a master’s degree, I cannot read (or afford to read) everything I want to read. But I can read reviews. That helps me narrow down my selections, but also helps me file a title away in my notes so down the road I can check it out when the book’s issue comes up.
  5. TGC equips and helps people for real-life ministry. The blog, in particular, is not a place for mere theological speculation among intellectual giants. There is some of that, but it is very minimal. What you will find at TGC is that rich theology finds its way in the mundane nature of everyday life. Your life. Pastor or layperson. Christian or non-Christian. School of higher learning or school of hard knocks. Everyone will find something there to help–whether it’s, “Why does justification by faith matter?” or “Can a person get remarried after a divorce?”

What are you waiting for? Head on over there and dig in.