How important is doctrine in the church and for the church in an increasingly hostile, post-Christian culture? Obviously it is important enough for the major stalwarts in evangelicalism to found and foster a conference dedicated to the end of doctrinally sound and theologically informed churches. For three days, pastors and future pastors gather to think through some vital issues in the church and culture, as well as be encouraged to return to their respective fields of ministry to tend the flock and gather the sheep. We are a company of shepherds singing praises to and receiving grace from our chief Shepherd, who is also the spotless Lamb who died for us.
The theme this week at Together for the Gospel is evangelism, and the conference title is “The Unashamed Gospel.” We are being encouraged to be unashamed in our proclamation of the good news of God’s saving grace in Jesus. We are also being convicted of the shame we appear to have toward the gospel in our ignorance of the lost in the world. I have been reflecting some on the impact of sound doctrine on evangelism and the answer to our lackluster evangelistic efforts. Here are a few of those musings sparked by the messages at T4G 2014 by Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Al Mohler.
Why do we fear evangelism? Surely it is fear that keeps us finding issue after issue to concern ourselves with to avoid the urgency of a lost, dying, and guilty world. Our lack of evangelism is evidence of a heart that is ashamed of Jesus. We care what our friends think. We care what our communities think. We care what our culture thinks. We want to be relevant. We do not want to be silenced. We do not want to be shut out of the public square. We want a voice that is respected, heard, and counted.
The easy answer to this dilemma is to simply forsake sound biblical doctrine in our evangelism. Let us toss out the Bible and invite sinners to a “Jesus” who takes no issue with sin. If we want droves of people to flock to our churches, the best thing we could do is abandon the gospel and develop evangelistic strategies that are doctrinally empty. Many of us are already halfway there. The personal evangelism of many pastors and Christians is lackluster at best. We fear if we stick to sound biblical doctrine we will be shut out of our friends’ homes, shunned by our communities, and silenced by our culture.
The Bible is a force that either finds friend or foe.
It is so powerful in fact, that Christians fear the worst when they consider the implications of sharing its truth with their lost friends and communities. We do not evangelize partly because we ignore God’s Word, and partly because we know what God’s Word says. We ignore the clear commands to extend the grace of God in Jesus to all people everywhere (basic biblical evangelism). However, at the same time we know that God in his Word has a tendency to say things like this, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). It would be strange for us to not approach the task of biblical evangelism with some measure of trembling. It is no light and passing thing to tell someone they are truly dead and under the wrath of God! And it is incredibly foolish, detrimental, and hateful to do such a thing if there was no Savior. Oh, but Christian there is a Savior! His name is Jesus. He is the object of our praise and the reason for our evangelism. Because he has come to ransom us from our plight, the task of evangelism is not only mandatory, but it is the only thing that makes sense.
Our evangelism must not only be a pressing and urgent mission of the church, but it should be carried out in a God-honoring way. Sharing the gospel is in vain when it is not doctrinal. The notion that doctrine is only for mature Christians or for those in academia is an incredibly naïve attempt to understanding evangelism in the church and culture. The notion that doctrine is a killjoy doesn’t understand biblical doctrine. There is no sweeter joy than the reality of biblical doctrine, because it is an articulation of the most glorious reality in the world, namely that there is a God who wants to be known and glorified. He reveals himself in absolute truth to sinners whom he redeems by the blood of his Son. What grace! What love! What joy!
The voices that ring out from our churches must resound in love and truth. We bring good news! Christ has come to save us from our sins—and save us he has! But what has he saved us from? He has died for sin and sinners. He died for our broken thoughts. He died for the mountain of pride we have built up in our hearts. He died for our sexual perversions. He died for our misplaced desires, our lies, our gluttony, and our greed. The innocent was counted guilty, that the guilty may be counted innocent, and go free.
And so, when we evangelize our friends, communities, and culture, we are preaching a Savior who died for all of the sinful things they hold dear to their hearts. We bring a powerfully offensive message of bad news, namely, if they remain in their sins they will eternally bear the wrath of God in an actual place called hell. A doctrinally uninformed evangelism is no evangelism at all. Evangelism at its core is doctrinal. We share a gospel of truth—absolute truth. We share a gospel with one Savior—total exclusivity. We share a gospel that confronts sin and conquers sin—loving offense. In the same way that it is offensive to tell a speeder that he or she will wreck and be seriously injured if he or she doesn’t slow down, gospel-centered exposal of sin is painful; but saying nothing will be far more painful.
For the sake of Christ and the truth of his Word, the gospel must go forth. But in order for the gospel to go forth, it must go forth in doctrinal truth. Without doctrinally informed evangelism, the face of Christianity in America will continue to shift into liberalism and the need for an actual Savior will be seen as unnecessary. Love your friends and neighbors and engage your culture by bringing the gospel in all its truth, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16).