The Gospel Coalition Australia

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This is not an outline of our doctrinal beliefs (see the Confessional Statement), but a statement of how we intend to discharge Christian ministry and interact with our culture in biblical and theological faithfulness.

I. How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth? (The epistemological issue)

For several hundred years, since the dawning of the Enlightenment, it was widely agreed that truth—expressed in words that substantially correspond to reality—does indeed exist and can be known. Unaided human reason, it was thought, is able to know truth objectively. More recently, postmodernism has critiqued this set of assumptions, contending that we are not in fact objective in our pursuit of knowledge, but rather interpret information through our personal experiences, self–interests, emotions, cultural prejudices, language limitations, and relational communities. The claim to objectivity is arrogant, postmodernism tells us, and inevitably leads to conflicts between communities with differing opinions as to where the truth lies. Such arrogance, they say explains, in part, many of the injustices and wars of the modern era. Yet postmodernism’s response is dangerous in another way: its most strident voices insist that claims to objective truth be replaced by a more humbly “tolerant” and inclusively diverse subjective pluralism—a pluralism often mired in a swamp that cannot allow any firm ground for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Such a stance has no place for truth that corresponds to reality, but merely an array of subjectively shaped truths. How shall we respond to this cultural crisis of truth?

  1. We affirm that truth is correspondence to reality. We believe the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets also indwells us so that we who have been made in the image of God can receive and understand the words of Scripture revealed by God, and grasp that Scripture’s truths correspond to reality. The statements of Scripture are true, precisely because they are God’s statements, and they correspond to reality even though our knowledge of those truths (and even our ability to verify them to others) is always necessarily incomplete. The Enlightenment belief in thoroughly objective knowledge made an idol out of unaided human reason. But to deny the possibility of purely objective knowledge does not mean the loss of truth that corresponds to objective reality, even if we can never know such truth without an element of subjectivity. See CS–(2).
  2. We affirm that truth is conveyed by Scripture. We believe that Scripture is pervasively propositional and that all statements of Scripture are completely true and authoritative. But the truth of Scripture cannot be exhausted in a series of propositions. It exists in the genres of narrative, metaphor, and poetry which are not exhaustively distillable into doctrinal propositions, yet they convey God’s will and mind to us so as to change us into his likeness.
  3. We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God. Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God.
  4. How this vision of truth shapes us.
    1. We adopt a “chastened” correspondence–theory of truth that is less triumphalistic than that of some in the older evangelicalism. But we also reject a view of truth that sees truth as nothing more than the internally coherent language of a particular faith–community. So we maintain, with what we hope is appropriate humility, the principle of sola Scriptura.
    2. Though truth is propositional, it is not only something to be believed, but also to be received in worship and practiced in wisdom. This balance shapes our understanding of discipleship and preaching. We want to encourage a passion for sound doctrine, but we know that Christian growth is not simply cognitive information transfer. Christian growth occurs only when the whole life is shaped by Christian practices in community—including prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and the public ministry of the Word.
    3. Our theoretical knowledge of God’s truth is only partial even when accurate, but we nevertheless can have certainty that what the Word tells us is true (Luke 1:4). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the words of the gospel in full assurance and conviction (1 Thess 1:5).

II. How should we read the Bible? (The hermeneutical issue)

  1. Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.
  2. Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46–47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  3. How this reading of the Bible shapes us
    1. Many today (but not all) who major in the first of these two ways of reading the Bible—that is, reading along the whole Bible—dwell on the more corporate aspects of sin and salvation. The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood–bought status in Christ received through personal faith. In this imbalance there is little emphasis on vigorous evangelism and apologetics, on expository preaching, and on the marks and importance of conversion/the new birth.
    2. On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.
    3. We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.

III. How should we relate to the culture around us? (The contextualization issue)

  1. By being a counter–culture. We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit. (See below, point 5c.)
  2. For the common good. It is not enough that the church should counter the values of the dominant culture. We must be a counter–culture for the common good. We want to be radically distinct from the culture around us and yet, out of that distinct identity, we should sacrificially serve neighbors and even enemies, working for the flourishing of people, both here and now, and in eternity. We therefore do not see our corporate worship services as the primary connecting point with those outside. Rather, we expect to meet our neighbors as we work for their peace, security, and well–being, loving them in word and deed. If we do this we will be “salt” and “light” in the world (sustaining and improving living conditions, showing the world the glory of God by our patterns of living; Matt 5:13–16). As the Jewish exiles were called to love and work for the shalom of Babylon (Jer 29:7), Christians too are God’s people “in exile” (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). The citizens of God’s city should be the best possible citizens of their earthly city (Jer 29:4–7). We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about our cultural influence, for we know that, as we walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents, we will receive persecution even while having social impact (1 Peter 2:12).
  3. How this relationship to culture shapes us.
    1. We believe that every expression of Christianity is necessarily and rightly contextualized, to some degree, to particular human culture; there is no such thing as a universal a–historical expression of Christianity. But we never want to be so affected by our culture that we compromise gospel truths. How then do we keep our balance?
    2. The answer is that we cannot “contextualize” the gospel in the abstract, as a thought experiment. If a church seeks to be a counter–culture for people’s temporal and eternal good, it will guard itself against both the legalism that can accompany undue cultural withdrawal and the compromise that comes with over–adaptation. If we seek service rather than power, we may have significant cultural impact. But if we seek direct power and social control, we will, ironically, be assimilated into the very idolatries of wealth, status, and power we seek to change.
    3. The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over–contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under–contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub–culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.

IV. In what ways is the gospel unique?

This gospel fills Christians with humility and hope, meekness and boldness, in a unique way. The biblical gospel differs markedly from traditional religions as well as from secularism. Religions operate on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted,” but the gospel principle is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both irreligion and religion. You can seek to be your own “lord and savior” by breaking the law of God, but you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation.

Irreligion and secularism tend to inflate self–encouraging, uncritical, “self–esteem”; religion and moralism crush people under guilt from ethical standards that are impossible to maintain. The gospel, however, humbles and affirms us at the same time, since, in Christ, each of us is simultaneously just, and a sinner still. At the same time, we are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope.

Secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic. Religion and morality in general tend to make people tribal and self–righteous toward other groups (since their salvation has, they think, been earned by their achievement). But the gospel of grace, centered on a man dying for us while we were his enemies, removes self–righteousness and selfishness and turns its members to serve others both for the temporal flourishing of all people, especially the poor, and for their salvation. It moves us to serve others irrespective of their merits, just as Christ served us (Mark 10:45).
Secularism and religion conform people to behavioral norms through fear (of consequences) and pride (a desire for self–aggrandizement). The gospel moves people to holiness and service out of grateful joy for grace, and out of love of the glory of God for who he is in himself.

V. What is gospel–centred ministry in Australia?

It is characterised by:

1. Weekly gatherings of God’s people

We are brought near to God through his Son, our Saviour and high priest, and through his substitutionary sacrifice for our sin. We joyfully gather as God’s people to meet in his presence, to hear and receive God’s word as the Bible is read and preached; to pray for ourselves, our church, our nation, and our world; to confess our sins and be assured of God’s forgiveness through the death of Christ; to proclaim the gospel; to encourage each other; and to praise our God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Word is of crucial importance in our gatherings. The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, should be read and preached. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centred (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach, but to lead the hearers to worship in every part of their lives.

2. Evangelistic effectiveness

Under God we pray and strive for evangelistic effectiveness in ministry as we preach, teach and explain the Biblical gospel message of the atoning death of Christ and his victorious resurrection to enquirers and unbelievers. For effective communication of the gospel, we who speak must love those to whom we minister, must embody the message of God’s grace, and must pray for God to act to open blind eyes and soften hard hearts. Christians and churches will work hard at taking the gospel to their communities, work-places, and neighbourhoods. In short we will seek to become all things to all people so that by all possible means we may save some. A truly gospel–preaching church should be filled with members who winsomely address people’s hopes and aspirations, and challenge their sins and sinfulness with Christ and his saving work. We have a vision for a church that sees conversions of rich and poor, from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds , men and women, old and young, married and single, and all races. Because of the attractiveness of its community and the humility of its people, a gospel–centred church should have people in its midst who are exploring and trying to understand Christianity. It must welcome them in hundreds of ways. It will seek to be inclusive but always on God’s terms.

It will exercise a costly flexibility in the hospitality that it shows to outsiders, aiming to eliminate every unnecessary barrier that might prevent men and women from encountering God in the gospel. Gospel ministry will be done by churches, individuals, and para-church ministries.

We encourage the planting of new churches as an effective means of evangelism, as well as the revitalisation and energising of existing churches for evangelism, encouraging those with special gifts of evangelism, and training and equipping all Christians for personal evangelism in their families, with their friends and associates, at work, and in their local communities.

Our aim is to reach our nation and our world with the gospel of Christ.

3. Trust in and use of the Bible

We receive and trust the 66 books of the Bible as the Spirit-inspired word of God; true, trustworthy, authoritative, powerful, sufficient, and universally applicable to all people. The Bible is the revealed mind of God expressed throughthe wordsof God. We use the Bible as the chief instrument of gospel ministry in teaching, preaching, counselling, discipling, training, mutual exhortation and encouragement, and evangelism. We read each part of the Bible in its God-given human context, and find in it a transcendent message for all people in every age. We evaluate all claims for truth by the Bible, both within the church and in our society. We interpret every aspect of human life and society in the light of the Bible. We support the translation and publication of the Bible. We encourage teaching elders and ministers of church in expository preaching of the Bible; we encourage evangelists to preach the word; we encourage all believers to read and study the Bible and to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, that the word of Christ may dwell richly among us.

4. Counter–cultural community

Because Christ through his death and resurrection created one new humanity, and because through Jesus we all have access to the Father by one Spirit, we are called together to be God’s people. Because we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once for all, the people of God live in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus Christ creates a human community radically different from any society around it. Regarding sex, the church avoids the idolization of sex or fear of it. It is a community which so loves and cares practically for its members that biblical chastity makes sense. It teaches its members to exercise abstinence outside marriage and fidelity and joy within. Regarding the family, the church affirms the goodness of marriage between a man and a woman, calling them to serve God by reflecting his covenant love in life–long loyalty, and by teaching his ways to their children. It also affirms the goodness of serving Christ as singles, whether for a time or for a life and provides a compassionate community and family for all its members. Regarding money, the church’s members should share with one another, doing good to all, especially those of the household of faith, with a particular concern for those most vulnerable and the poor [Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 1:27]. We are committed to relieving suffering in this world and even more so in the world to come. Our churches should embrace people of all races and cultures.

5. Training for gospel ministry

We are called to make disciples of people from all nations. In a post-Christian and multicultural society in which many are ignorant of the gospel and the Bible, there is an urgent need for all of God’s people to be equipped to play their part in the work of the gospel, and for some to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word as their primary vocation/occupation. Those selected for full-time or part-time trained gospel ministry must be godly, stable and resilient in character, mature in faith and understanding, well trained in Bible, theology and ministry, apt to teach and ready to serve with humility, patience and love. Because reaching people in different sub-cultures is crucial to evangelism, teaching and training in Australia, they must be able to engage in cross-cultural ministry. Those in ministry need ongoing training. We need able gospel ministers in Australia: we also want to send people overseas as part of God’s work to extend salvation to the ends of the world.

6. The integration of faith and work

The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the ultimate renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. We are made in God’s image to be responsible rulers and stewards of God’s creation, and in doing this we serve the Lord Christ. Christians glorify God through their daily work, paid and unpaid, and love their neighbours through their participation in and contribution to their human community. Our ultimate allegiance, however, is to the Lord Jesus, and we endeavour to play our part in making disciples from all nations who love and serve him. We do all of this because the gospel of God compels us, recognising that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7. The doing of justice and mercy

God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. God is concerned not only for the salvation of people, but also for the welfare of humanity, and so for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not share his or her wealth with others lacks godly compassion. The gospel replaces superiority toward the poor with evangelism, mercy and compassion, and challenges the wealthy to see their spiritual poverty and their need to be converted. Christians must work for justice and peace within their neighbourhoods and the wider world, using the opportunities that God has given us to challenge abuses and injustices and promote the welfare of all, even as we call individuals to conversion and new birth. We must do good to all, and show our neighbours we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not.

We recognise that true justice will only be found when Christ returns and brings his reign of justice and mercy.We know that God’s greatest act of mercy was to save us through Christ, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. So we must offer God’s mercy in the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Christ to all. The greatest and universal need of all humans is to receive God’s mercy in the atoning death of Christ.

8. Gospel partnership

We recognise the need to promote a culture and habit of cooperation and mutually supportive and prayerful fellowship among those engaged in gospel ministry across Australia. Australia was founded as separate colonies, and we suffer from ‘the tyranny of distance’. Our churches and ministries are influenced by tribalism, and, at times, competition. We recognise the need to increase mutual support and encouragement, both within each State and Territory, and also across Australia. We are one in Christ and his gospel, and we want to encourage mutual support and prayer among believers throughout our nation.

Conclusion

Our vision is to strengthen and increase churches and ministries that embody the full, integrative Biblical vision for ministry we have outlined. And we want to promote Australia-wide cooperation in gospel ministry to our nation. We want to take the gospel to all Australians, as we also want to take our part in God’s global gospel work. This vision requires churches and ministries characterised by Biblical and theologically rich preaching and teaching, dynamic evangelism and apologetics, and church growth. This will also require repentance, personal renewal, and holiness of life in our walk with Jesus as well as training one another to do the same through discipling so that the members of Christ Body grow up together into maturity.

What could lead to a growing movement of gospel ministry? The ultimate answer is that God must, for his own glory, act among us, converting people, bringing them to maturity in Christ, and growing healthy and effective gospel ministries. We must pray fervently for God in his mercy to work in our time for his glory.