Me, Myself, and I is not Gospel Community

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gospel community

“In a post-modern world, all issues eventually revolve around the self,” asserts R. Albert Mohler (He is Not Silent, 121). Contemporary preaching too often mirrors the American cultural triumph of the therapeutic. Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi critiques the individualistic focus of the American church and defines individualism as, “a cognitive framework that sees only the individual at the center of everything.” He adds, “Unfortunately, I believe that our Western individualism has caused us to misperceive and misunderstand the gospel in a way that blunts the gospel’s world-transforming force” (Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World, 17).

Christ-centered and kingdom-focused expository preaching remedies the contemporary fetishizing of the individual and it foregrounds Christ, Kingdom, and the church. As New Testament theologian Herman N. Ridderbos argues, the “eschatological, the Christological, and the ecclesiological point of view are never separable in the preaching of the Kingdom.” According to Ridderbos, “three ideas—of the Kingdom, of the Messiah, and of the ekklesia—formed an integrated unity in the original gospel” (When the Time Had Fully Come, 22-23).

Apostolic hermeneutics and preaching was both Christ-centered and Christotelic (“telic” from telos, goal or end). Richard Hayes also describes apostolic hermeneutics as, “ecclesiotelic” because the apostolic use of Scripture focused on the person of Christ and the body of Christ (‘‘On the Rebound: A Response to Critiques of Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul,’’ in Paul and the Scriptures of Israel, 77-78). Christocentric, kingdom-focused expository preaching will inevitably reject the radical individualism that is so prevalent today. There is no room for such individualism in the church; preaching should offer an alternative conception of the individual, one that locates the individual’s identity and value in Christ and his Kingdom. Christ, Kingdom, and church are inextricable.

The New Testament goes so far as to say that Christ does not even reckon himself complete apart the church. Ephesians 1:23, describes the church as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” John Calvin explains the implications of this verse:

This is the highest honor of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete! Hence, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, when the apostle discusses largely the metaphor of a human body, he includes under the single name of Christ the whole church (The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, in vol. 21 of Calvin’ s Commentaries, 218).

Since Christ does not even reckon himself complete apart from the church, faithful expository preaching will never frame the text as if its truth could be appropriated in an individualistic manner. Myopic, hyper-principalizing approaches to expository preaching encourage an unhealthy individualized focus and work against the cultivation of kingdom community. Approaching the biblical text as if the sum of preaching is restating the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths is an anthropocentric hermeneutic—reading the Bible in light of self. Christocentric, kingdom-focused expository preaching lifts hearers above self-focus; it attacks the hermeneutical presupposition of the primacy of personal need.

The individual believer is a citizen of “the kingdom of his beloved Son” and is a part of a community of believers who are called to fight the spiritual battle together, not as isolated individuals (Col 1:13, Eph 6:10-18). William H. Willimon, in his characteristically blunt style asserts,

If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better.

The problem is, we’re starting with our current definitions of our problems. Maybe the Bible couldn’t care less about our problems, as we define them.

The Bible doesn’t want to “help people.” It wants to help people in the name of Christ. Christ has a much different notion of our problems than we do. The Bible doesn’t just want to speak to us; it wants to change, convert, and detoxify us.

The psychology of the gospel – reducing salvation to self-esteem, sin to maladjustment, church to group therapy, and Jesus to Dear Abby – is our chief means of perverting the biblical text.
(Been There, Preached That: Today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals, excerpts from Leadership Magazine, Fall 1995).

Christ’s Kingship is inextricably tied to the church—the Kingdom community. Effective expository preaching will not allow congregants to envision living the Christian life outside of Christ or his kingdom outpost—the church.

By |August 19th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today