A Primer on the Gospel

We cannot exhaust the beauties of the Gospel, but we can provide a bigger picture of the Gospel than what is typically presented in the Church today. The hope is that we would grow ever more grateful for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the Gospel?

First, the Gospel is about Christ. The clearest Bible passage is found in I Corinthians 15 where the Apostle Paul says, “The Gospel, which he preached, is about Christ and his death and resurrection.” In Romans 1, Paul says he declares a Gospel about the Son, who was descended from David. Later in Romans, Paul makes a powerful connection between the Gospel and Christ’s incarnation. The Gospel must be about Christ. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ embodies the Gospel in his life, death, and resurrection. Everything that makes the Gospel beautiful is beautiful because of Christ. So when we think about the Gospel, one fundamental facet of it, perhaps the most central of them all, is that the Gospel is about Christ.

Let’s unpack that a bit more.

The word “Gospel” is not just a word we use in the Christian world. In fact, the word was used in the ancient world for various reasons. For example, the word Gospel was used when Caesar would have a Son, or if he won a great military victory, or a new Caesar ascended the throne – the proclamation of that news was called gospel, and his heralds would announce the gospel in all the empire.

The Christian community adopted this language to proclaim a different message; not a message about Caesar, but a message about Christ. The Gospel is about Christ because Jesus Christ is King. The most basic confession of faith is Jesus is Lord. The Gospel is good news because it announces what God has done in Christ.

Secondly, the Gospel is about History. One pastor put it this way: “The Gospel was planned in eternity, and executed in history.”[1] The passage we read today from I Corinthians 15 says that the Gospel is a historical event. The late Christopher Hitchens was once interviewed by a liberal pastor. The pastor asked him, “Christopher, why do you keep debating these radical Christians? “What do you mean by radical?” the famed atheist inquired. The liberal pastor said, “Well, I mean those Christians who believe the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. I am a mainline pastor. I don’t believe that Jesus rose literally as the Bible says.” This is where I think Hitchens shined. He told this liberal pastor: “The reason I debate these so-called radicals is because they actually believe in the historical claims of Christianity unlike you.”

If you do not accept that the Gospel is what God has done in history, then you might as well pack your liberal suitcase, close the church doors, and never again refer to yourself as a Gospel minister. Every time you come to Church on Sundays and confess the Nicene Creed you are making historical claims. What does the Creed say? “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” Now, Pilate was not a high-ranking political figure. He was a mid-level bureaucrat. The Creed and the Bible mention him because it’s a way of anchoring the Christian Gospel in history.

Thirdly, the Gospel is about the Church. In our definitions of the Gospel, this is one area where I am convinced many simply overlook or miss altogether, which means they are proclaiming an incomplete Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is never just Jesus and “me,” it’s Jesus and “we.” The Gospel creates a new community.[2] The Gospel gives us a new way of being human. And the way we can be most human is by proclaiming the institutional Church as integral to the Gospel from beginning to end.

Far too many Gospel presentations leave the church out altogether. The Gospel becomes only about “How do I get saved’” So let me phrase this provocatively to make my point. It’s not, “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” but “God has a wonderful plan for his Church.” If you want to be a part of that wonderful plan, then be a part of the Church. The Gospel is most clearly seen within the gates of Zion where we meet together as a people. It is in her that we hear the word and taste of the Gospel in bread and wine.

Therefore, when we talk about the Gospel, we are talking about a lot more than simply how I was saved or where I am going to go when I die, but we are talking about the Person and Work of Christ; we are talking about the historical realities of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and we are talking about the Church.

What we are trying to communicate as a Church is a powerful Gospel that encompasses so much more. We are teaching a Gospel that transcends the claims of Nero or Pilate. We are proclaiming a Gospel from another world; a Gospel that came down in human flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate and gave himself for the Church. A Gospel that says less than these things is still the Gospel, but it is a weak Gospel. Most of the problems we have with the Gospel today is that we have found our pet doctrine, and we tell the world, “Unless you believe that the Gospel is only about this, then you are forsaking the Gospel.” But the breadth and depth of the Bible teach us that the Gospel is more than one mere idea. The Gospel is the promise that our Lord and King, Jesus, is calling us to participate in something greater than ourselves. And this is good news! Believe this and rejoice!


[1] Rich Lusk. Sermons at Trinity Presbyterian. I generously took from Rich’s brilliant sermon. You can find his sermons here:
http://trinity-pres.net/

[2] Lusk.



Genesis 3 Parenting

Dear friend,

I have so enjoyed our conversations on parenting. I do think parenting is always more profitable done together. I am sharpened by your comments and I hope you find benefit in what I say. I do, however, want to follow up on a few thoughts, if I may.

The entire premise of parenting is based on a theological truth: we are all fallen. However you parse it out, we are fallen from feet to forebrain; belly-button to bones. Since this is the truth, we have a whole lot of work to do; not the kind of meritorious work, but the kind of work with grace-saturated breathing. What this theological reality means is that the way to raise healthy children is by having a clear picture of their unhealthy natures as sons and daughters of Adam. While we should have a robust picture of Psalm 127-128 and the role of positive redemptive parenting (more on this in another letter) we also need to have a robust picture of Genesis 3. The parental picture is incomplete without considering the effects of our first parent’s failures.

If our parenting forgets Genesis 3 due to a faulty starting point or naive optimism, we will certainly idolize our children overlooking their little deceits as acts of cuteness, treating their good grades as acts of godliness, and their disrespect as acts of self-confidence. Therefore, we need to be ever aware that their endeavors are filled with glimpses of the fall. They too will find alternative voices more appealing than Yahweh’s.

For this reason, we need to be in a constant exercise of remembrance with them: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return; remember you are sinful and you need a Savior; remember you are prone to wander and you need to be found in Christ.

I will have more to say on this later.

Yours truly,
Pastor Brito

INdwelt by the Psalms

Dear friend,

You should read the Psalms like a balm for your soul. I don’t mean work your way through it like a textbook, I mean to dwell in it like a home. Athanasius spoke of the psalms in such poetic terms that he seemed almost hypnotized by its marvel. For him, it “yielded special treasure” again and again. It was like a “garden that grew every kind of fruit.” Further, the Psalm writers were so indwelt (there is that word again) by the Spirit that they couldn’t help but to speak and sing of the harmonious message of all the Bible that Israel’s God reigns forever and ever.

You have probably heard me talking about singing the Psalms and at this point, if I make another reference to singing the psalms I am afraid you will unfriend me or curse me with imprecations. So, I will spare talking about how psalm-singing changes and forms us into better human beings, flourishing in the poetic garden of Yahweh; I will spare you the talk about how singing the Psalms heal our souls in times of grief, and I will spare you the conversation about how singing the psalms with friends bind us together in a more profound way than anything I’ve ever seen. Again, I don’t want to bother you with my fascination for the Genevan Psalms. I simply don’t want you to think about how the psalms frighten demons in the Bible. That would be too much to talk about and as I said, I don’t want to be that guy that annoys people with all this psalmic talk. It would be too much for you to bear such a friend. So, I won’t say any of those things.

Your friend,
Uri

Cage Stage Calvinism

Dear friend,

You may remember there was a term they used for folks like us in our college days: cage-stage. I still recall the enthusiasm that ran through my veins when I first came to the doctrines of grace. I had so much faith in my own abilities and arguments, but the Calvinism business crushed the quick Sunday School answers I always had ready. But then you would think that it would humble me deeply. But it actually had the opposite effect. I was just telling you that story recently because it reminded me of how quickly a theological truth can turn on its head. Think about it: we affirmed as kids (I mean we were only 19) that God was absolutely sovereign over all things, even our wills, and furthermore, that his power to save is incontestable and irresistible. And then once we came to that remarkable biblical truth we wanted the whole world to come to the same conclusion overnight. They called it “cage-stage” because our zeal was too great, even arrogant at times.

But thankfully, we had enough sense to come to our senses. Even better, I had the opportunity to tell all my friends how idiotic I was and how deeply sorry I was for offending them. So, you see how I feel when I see these folks on Facebook alerting the world that they either accept their interpretation of Romans 9 or face mortality in ignorance all their days. I know they don’t put it that starkly, but that’s how I read it, and I already drank the kool-aid 20 years ago.

So, here is the statement I propose to those who have just read their first R.C. Sproul, John McArthur, or Michael Horton book and are persuaded beyond a shadow of a doubt of those interpretations of the Bible:

By the grace of God, I intend to live as if the doctrines of grace are true in my life, and not just in theology books.

I will to the best of my ability to contend for these truths with gentleness and humility.

I will use my social media platform to invite fruitful conversations and to not humiliate or score cheap points against those who hold to other positions.

I will affirm that those who hold to alternative viewpoints love the Bible as much as I do and may often see truths that I overlook.

I will affirm that respect in Christian dialogue is often more important than shouting truth or losing friendships.

I will remember that harshness repels and the Gospel draws us near to one another.

Brother, feel free to pass this on to that young friend if you see any value in this.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Brito

Three Things I would Stress to a Young Man

Dear friend,

You asked about priorities to stress to your teenage son as he begins to think about marriage one day. I know these are not exhaustive, but it should help you form an outline. I would stress three things:

First, I would stress “savings.” Eating out with friends is a luxury, not a habit. As for clothes, I would encourage him to have a couple of nice suits for special occasions. Look for quality, but don’t allow them to be drawn by the idiotic commercialism of the day. Also, if he doesn’t have a bank account, he needs to open one up now. If a man comes to me one day and says, “I would like to date/court your daughter,” but has nothing in his savings account, I would like to kindly encourage him to come back later when that scenario has changed. How much savings should he have? Enough to show his competence. Situations will vary, but that’s a good starting place.

Second, I would stress “skills.” If your son’s skills are limited to a box in his room, you need to have a conversation. Let’s assume he has no idea what he wants to do. There are aptitude/career tests he can take. And I would certainly encourage him to talk to a pastor or teacher who may know a bit more about his abilities. If he does have something specific in mind he wishes to pursue, like engineering or business, he still needs to have an additional skill to fall back in the interim. There are always gifted people in your local church from whom he may learn or even do an internship.

Finally, I would stress “service.” If your son is not engaged in helping the local church or if he is merely a consumer at home, that needs to change. If he is to love his future wife, sacrifice for her, serve her in sickness and in health, and yet, has no interest in serving right now, that is problematic. A service-oriented husband is not created in one day.

Much more could be said, but I hope this helps you direct your son in the right direction.

Yours truly,
Pastor Brito

The Spirit in Reformed Life

We can talk about the Father, we can speak of the Son, but the Spirit is often left out of the equation as a mystical presence reserved for special occasions when we are feeling extra emotional. At that point, we say, “Yes, the Spirit is in this place.” One famous scholar observed humorously, “The Catholics have the Father, the Presbyterians have the Son, and the Charismatics have the Spirit, and none are letting go of their God.” Well, thankfully the Triune Godhead is not bound to denominational labels.

We need to liberate the Spirit from self-imposed denominational boundaries. The reason Reformed theology is not regarded as a tradition that is Spirit-filled is that we fear that if we talk about the Spirit, we will suddenly start speaking in tongues or forsake the Christo-centric nature of our theology. But the Reformation never operated under such assumptions.

The Reformed writings of John Calvin would probably shock many Calvinists. Arminian writer, Roger Olsen concluded:

Calvin was no charismatic, but he was closer to it than some Reformed people readily admit.

Calvin was known as the theologian of the Spirit. He spoke clearly of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church, in the means of grace and His indwelling power in each believer. Let me urge you not to allow abuses to dictate how the Spirit operates. Let God be God. Let the Spirit be Spirit. Believe in Him, trust in him, pray in his name, commit your labors to him, depend on him, lean on him, be satisfied in him and let him be your guide to heaven this morning for Christ is only known by the power of the Spirit.

Jonah, Introductory Notes

If we are to understand the Book of Jonah rightly, we need to see Jonah as a theologian in Israel, a faithful pastor, and one deeply committed to God’s people. We often view this prophet as an ignorant prophet; an ancient Pharisee. But God is doing something spectacular in the Jonah Journey. He consistently asks Jonah, “Jonah, do you love me?”

This question is answered throughout these four chapters in various ways. In the end, Jonah becomes a scholar of paradox whose silence is itself the answer to Yahweh’s question.

Fatherhood Trinitarian Style

Fatherhood functions best when it is served in Trinitarian style.

Our Father in heaven is the great Maestro, guiding the world with compassion; earthly fathers are called to lead their children with a compassionate spirit; to musicalize the home by tuning their children to the tune of heaven.

But earthly fathers also need the sacrificial life of Jesus. Healthy and honorable fathers sacrifice for their own; they give of themselves when there is little left to give; they cherish a life of faith when no one around them is seeking the welfare of the city. Fatherhood is Christocentric. It gives and gives and gives.

Finally, earthly fathers function best when they are abiding; being present in the life of those around them. Fathers who imitate the Spirit are more concerned about intentional being, than just being. Our presence, men, must daily reflect the presence of the Spirit in our lives who is unchanging. When our children say, “We’re never here,” it’s an indictment on our Un-Trinitarian ways.

Be like the Trinity, Fathers! Orchestrate, sacrifice, and abide.

How to Explain the Death of a Loved One to a Child

Dear friend,

You asked me about how to talk to your child about the death of a loved one. I have given this some thought. Here are a few ways to approach the subject of the death of a loved one with your little children:


First, make this a family affair. Gather the children as soon as possible to explain that a loved one has died. Conversations of such magnitude need to take place in a safe environment. If a child hears about the death from someone else it might lead to confusion and even anger.


Second, death is a horrible human reality. One of the consequences of the Adamic sin is death (Rom 5:12). We will all die, and likely we will see and witness many friends and family members die before we do. It is helpful to explain that death is an ugly thing and that as Christians we hate death. Taking our little ones to that familiar story of death in the Garden is a healthy way to contextualize the news to them. Death is first and foremost a theological issue, even if explained in the language of a three or four year old.


Third, do not be afraid to use the word death. If you say that such a person has “passed away” or “gone to sleep forever” this may cause confusion or fear in the child. A child might go to sleep at night fearful that he will never wake up. Clarity is fundamental. Tell the child that death means we will never see grandpa or grandma again in this life.


Fourth, do not be afraid to weep with them. Sometimes children do not understand mom or dad’s feelings after the death of someone. Feel free to explain your feelings to your children. “I am crying because grandma died. I am going to miss her.” If they begin to cry, join them in their tears and comfort them.


Fifth, when children discover that a loved one has died, they may assume that you will die also. They may ask questions like: “Are you going to die too, mommy?” At this point, it is important to let the child know that most people die when they are really old or very sick. And then let them know–if it is the case–that mommy or daddy are not sick and are still full of youth. If someone close died of a very young age, let them know that it is not very common, and then point out the young people around him that are alive.


Finally–and I am aware that much more could be said–inevitably, little children will ask questions about what will happen to grandpa or grandma, or mom and dad after they die. As Christians, we need to stress that Jesus overcame death at the cross and resurrection. He died and was raised so that we might live forever. This is a wonderful time to remind them of the promises of Jesus. “Grandma is now in heaven with Jesus. She is at peace. One day when we die we will join her in heaven. Jesus says that when we go to heaven we will never die again; we will live forever.”


Our children do not need a fairy-tale narrative about death. They need a compassionate, biblical approach that is sensitive to their thinking as little ones and faithful to the narrative of the Bible.
There is a lot to navigate here, but I think this question is an important one.


Sincerely,

Pastor Brito

God in Three Persons

Sometimes it is easy to go back to our early days in the Christian faith. Back then everything was so simple. We believed in Jesus, everyone believed in Jesus, and life was simple. Of course, we then grow up and we learn more about the Scriptures, and we discover that Jesus is one with the Father, that He sends the Spirit, and then we hear the language of the Trinity. It’s in our confessions, our creeds, and in every Systematic theology. And then we learn that if we do not embrace the Trinity, we are not true Christians. But why can’t we just believe in Jesus, after all, He is the answer to every question we can’t answer?

It’s good to grow up; it’s hard to grow, but it is ultimately our goal. And part of growing up means we become more mature in the language of the Bible. We come to know that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. The Jews and the Muslims criticize the doctrine of the Trinity by saying that any doctrine that cannot be reconciled logically is not true. How can there be Three Persons and One God? Thomas Jefferson expressed the frustrations of many when he said that the doctrine of the Trinity should be abandoned altogether:

“When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three…when in short, we shall have unlearned everything, which has been taught since His day, and get back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”[1]

Thomas Jefferson, of course, is part right and part wrong. “He was correct in the sense that Christians needs to focus on Jesus more,” but he was sadly mistaken that this would bring us back to simple doctrines and away from the Trinity. The reality is that at the precise moment we begin to focus on Jesus we are led directly to the doctrine of the Trinity. It was precisely through Jesus that the disciples knew the Trinity; it was precisely through Jesus that they learned that all authority has been given to Him! By Whom? The Father. Through Jesus they learned that the paraclete, the Spirit, would be sent after His ascension, and through Jesus they learned that the baptism of the nations, young and old, must be done not only in Jesus’ name, but into the Name, notice, not NAMES, but into the NAME=One God, Father, the Son, and the Spirit= Three Persons. God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.


[1] Quoted in Darrel Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity, pg. 12-13

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship