Ongoing controversies over the nature of the Atonement (substitutionary or Christus Victor?), the historical Adam (creation or evolution?), the afterlife (heaven and hell or universalism?), the nature of the authority of Scripture ("inerrant" or "infallible" or "trustworthy"?)—among other debates—show how relevant doctrine remains. But the debates also reveal how confused many Christians are about the basic truths of the faith, a confusion that will worsen if we don't respond to two pressing realities.
First is an increasingly post-Christian world. The rich ideas contained in words like creation and fall, judgment and forgiveness, grace and obedience, crucifixion and resurrection, church, final judgment, and Trinity are little known to most people. In fact, many outside and inside the church are either hostile to traditional Christian teachings or mix belief systems, religious and not, to create their own.
Second is the challenge of internet technology. Secular and pluralistic worldviews were prevalent before the Internet, of course, but now every idea and worldview, every philosophy and religion is a click away. We are electronic neighbors with atheists and theists, Hindus and Muslims, terrorists and pacifists, secularists and agnostics, New Agers and rationalists. Every idea imaginable is now at the fingertips of every Christian who has internet access. The average Christian toys with an unprecedented range of ideas today, arguably more ideas and worldviews than did Augustine, Calvin, Cranmer, and Wesley. Needless to say, encounters with our electronic neighbors are both fascinating and bewildering.
Add to this the ongoing need to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13, ESV), so that we might more fully love God and neighbor. It's clear as ever that we need a deeper grounding in Scripture and the great teachings of the faith. We believe this is the crucial challenge of the 21st century; without being grounded in the gospel, we simply cannot live it out for long.
J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett recently completed Grounded in the Gospel, a fresh argument for teaching the faith (traditionally known as catechesis). As Packer put it, "Ongoing learning is part of the calling of the church. It has to be taught in all churches at all times." Recovering an emphasis on careful, lifelong instruction in faith "will be totally uphill all the way. We shall be challenging the dominant trends in our culture, and it won't be easy."
With this issue of Christianity Today, we embark afresh on such an enterprise. We are calling it the Global Gospel Project (GGP), resources for a full-orbed discipleship of heart, mind, soul, and strength.
To date, nearly all catechisms have been written with one tradition or another in mind—Reformed or Baptist or Catholic and so on. Given the realities of contemporary worldwide evangelicalism, we also need discipleship resources that embrace a broad, centrist, and historic understanding of the faith, one that recognizes the gifts of our various traditions yet focuses on the gospel message and mission we share. Our mission to spread the gospel in word and deed can only be strengthened as we understand and grow together in what is core to that gospel.
The GGP resources will not replace the catechisms of our different traditions; it will not be able to drill deeply in the unique teachings of these traditions, which bring such richness to worldwide Christianity. But the GGP does have seven emphases that will, we believe, help it contribute to all churches:
Biblical: Every doctrine will need to be set firmly in Scripture. In a world of many holy scriptures and sources of authority, it's critical that Christians re-ground themselves in the Bible.
Broadly evangelical: Especially in an age featuring a plurality of competing ideas, it is important to show that Christians have a variety of ways of thinking about life's deepest questions. The GGP resources must be useful to American evangelicals, Latin American Pentecostals, the Reformed, African American churches, Korean Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Mennonites, Methodists, Baptists, independents, underground churches, official churches—to name a few! There is much we agree on without question or debate: the divinity of Christ, the hope of his second coming, the final authority of Scripture. When it comes to matters upon which we disagree—baptism, church structure, the relationship of grace and faith, and so forth—the catechism must show charitably and fairly how different traditions have taught on such matters, and the essential truth beneath our disagreements.
Set in the local church: The GGP resources will repeatedly drive people into the church as the community where the fullness of Christ is taught and lived, however imperfectly.
God-centered: One evangelical strength has been our ability to answer practical questions like, What does this Bible verse mean for me today? What is Christ calling me to do today? What we need in addition to that are more resources that help us think about the biblical truths upon which we ground our work. So in the GGP, we will put an emphasis on who God is and what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Jesus Christ—the objective realities of the gospel.
Question-driven: People will not sign up for a class on "The Doctrine of Revelation," but they will flock to one on "How We Can Know Who God Really Is." People are interested in doctrine, they just don't know that they are. When you find the question they are wrestling with, you have found the entrance to a discussion of a doctrine or two. So GGP resources will try to answer the questions people are currently asking, but do so from the foundation of a biblical theology.
Global: If the world is a global village, the church is a global parish. Especially considering how the church's growth in the past century has been driven by developing-world evangelicals and especially Pentecostals, the GGP will welcome the insights and guidance of Christians from across the planet.
Joyful: We evangelicals, with a heritage of warmhearted piety, have sometimes shied away from doctrine, which seems to us dull, dreary, and dry. But English essayist and novelist Dorothy Sayers reminded us that doctrine isn't the problem:
We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.
The gospel is good news, and the GGP will keep this in mind from start to finish: that we are learning about the most astonishing and electrifying story the world has ever known, a story that has its source in the goodness and love of a great and glorious God.
The series, which begins with Michael Horton's article on Jesus as the revelation of God, will continue for five years (God willing). We'll look at a biblically based theology through the lens of the classic creeds, ethics through the Ten Commandments, and spirituality through the Lord's Prayer, as well as the nature of teaching (beginning in this section of the issue). From these articles, we will develop more resources—curricula, video small-group studies, podcasts, a blog, eBooks, and whatever else we think of!
We trust this will prove to be a helpful resource as the 21st-century church continues to "make disciples of all nations."
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Check out the first articles in the Global Gospel Project, "Why We Need Jesus" by Michael Horton. "Learning to Read the Gospel Again" by Anthony D. Baker will be posted next week.
December's Inside CT also addresses the launch of this series.
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