The criticism of the church, and churches, today seems non-stop. Churches are too political (especially of the right-wing variety). Churches are too patriarchal. Churches are inbred. Churches are losing millennials. Churches are not relevant. Church music and worship are – well, you either love it or hate it.
Criticism may not be one of the spiritual gifts cited in the New Testament, but it has certainly been a cottage industry for a long time.
So it’s somewhat refreshing to read a work like “The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ” (2014) by Ray Ortlund. Criticism has its place in the church, as it does in all other aspects of life. But the idea of building a healthy church – what it is, what your own responsibility is – is just as important, if not more so. And that’s Ortlund’s aim – to help us see what a healthy church is and what we can do to build it.
Not surprisingly, the lens he uses is the Gospel message – and what kind of job the church does in both teaching it and living it. “The test of a gospel-centered church is its doctrine on paper plus its culture in practice.” Healthy churches have both. Healthy churches need to have both. And thus this book, which focuses on the gospel in our churches, “the gospel that must be fully believed and embraced by our churches.”
Ortlund considers the implications of the gospel for the individual, the church, and for all of life, and then what the implications are for the church. “The gospel does not hang midair as an abstraction,” he says. “the gospels creates something new in the world.” He looks at barriers to the gospel in the church (which may seem a non sequitur but isn’t) what can be expected as the church moves further into gospel doctrine and culture. And then he suggests a path forward.
Ortlund is pastor at Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tenn., and president of Renewal Ministries. He is also a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He received a B.A. degree from Wheaton College, a Th.M degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, and an M.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of “A Passion for God: Prayers and Meditations on the Book of Romans” (1994), “When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today” (2000), “Proverbs: Wisdom That Works” (2112), “Isaiah: God Saves Sinners” (2015), “Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel” (2016), and other works.
“The Gospel,” part of the 9Marks Series for Healthy Churches, isn’t a long, theological book or treatise replete with numerous footnotes. It is a highly accessible book and an important book. It’s not so much a prescription for what ails us as it is a blueprint for going forward.