Category: church

Neo-docetism and the Judgment of God

JesusHealingIf one asked the average American Christian why ancient Israel was punished by God and sent into captivity, the usual response would probably center around the nation’s disobedience to the covenant, or its idolatrous tendencies, or some combination of both. Rarely, if ever, would one expect to hear anything about the failure of the nation to seek after social justice or care for the poor.

However, the Holy Spirit of God speaks very clearly to Israel through His prophet Isaiah that a failure to look after the poor was a major component in the broader picture of judgment upon the nation:

Is. 1:10 (ESV) Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!  11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.  12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly…. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause (emphasis added).

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An Introduction to Grace Church of Philly


The dream for Grace Church is to see God create in University City a Christian Church which clarifies what it means to be “Christian.” We know we live in a culture that has witnessed many misrepresentations of both the Christian life and Christian message and that, consequently, finds neither Christians nor the church very attractive.

The term “Christian” has come to mean just about anything in our time. Everyone who is even remotely connected to Jesus in any way calls themselves a Christian. From Mormons to Roman Catholics; from Liberals to Conservative Fundamentalists; from people involved in New Age belief systems to people who call themselves “born again.” The word “Christian” has become a meaningless term.

Our desire is to bring clarity and re-infuse this term with its proper, biblical meaning. Our desire is to get out of the way so that the Holy Spirit of God can minister to people through the faithful proclamation of His Word. The preaching of the Word will be accompanied by deeds of love and mercy in outreach to the community. Such deeds can only be empowered by the love of Christ that has been poured into our hearts at the new birth. Our prayer is that skeptical attitudes will be changed about the Christian faith, and that it will begin to look attractive to unbelievers who are alienated from God and have never had a saving conversion experience with Jesus Christ.

We believe that Christianity is the most joyful, beautiful, and attractive belief system and worldview that this world has ever seen. We need to stop making this beautiful, precious thing so utterly unappealing to so many.

We want to teach, embody, live, and faithfully represent Christianity before a world and culture that has totally rejected the Church and everything she stands for. We believe that a good amount of the hostility and skepticism that outsiders have toward Christianity is not so much a rejection of the pure, biblical faith of Jesus and His apostles, but is a rejection of the misrepresentations and distortions of the faith that many churches have gotten hung up on.

Many unbelievers think that the Church is filled with arrogant, prideful, materialistic, uncaring, legalistic, homophobic, bigoted people who are primarily focused on promoting a political agenda or party. And unfortunately, their observations are not without merit. We believe that when outsiders look at the Church, they should see love, mercy, and grace rather than hatred, hostility, and hypocrisy. Our desire is to fully embody and incarnate the love, mercy, and grace of God before others.

Acts 2:42-47 tells us that the early Christian community was so filled with people who had humility, confidence, understanding, courage, generosity, sincerity, and joy that they had “favor with all the people” of the surrounding community. There was a beauty resting upon the church (Keller & Thompson, p. 183). Our dream is for this type of Holy Spirit-empowered beauty to rest upon Grace Church of Philly.

Acts 2:47 states that the early Christians in Jerusalem had “favor with all the people.” We want to be a ministry that has “favor with all the people” in University City and in Philadelphia.

We want to be a church that has an “outward” stance toward the world rather than a church that is “inward” in its focus. An “inward” church is one that pours all, or nearly all, of its energies back into itself and the saints present in that ministry. Churches with that are inwardly-focused usually have a hostile stance toward unbelievers and the world. We desire to have an “outward” stance, dedicated to engaging our culture for Christ, faithfully and lovingly bringing the saving Gospel to unbelievers whom we love and who desperately need our Savior.


We have chosen the word ‘grace’ for our church as a starting point in clarifying and communicating the essence and simplicity of Christianity.

Grace is that undeserved, unearned blessing of God that meets us where we are and transforms us. Grace is what we want to show to others, indiscriminately serving them and loving them in the name of Jesus.

We ask you for the opportunity to share life together with you in an environment marked by grace. At the outset, we confess the imperfections of our grace and our need for more grace, but we desire to meet you as you are and to grow with you in understanding and living the magnificent grace of God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


•We gather each Sunday to worship our great Lord and Savior in spirit and in truth.

•We grow through small group Bible study and fellowship to lead grace-filled lives of genuine significance for the glory of God with other believers.

•We give our resources and time to support the work of God and to love our community with acts of kindness.

•We go to intentionally make disciples both locally and globally in announcing the Good News of God’s grace to all peoples without regard to ethnicity, gender, or social standing.


Our discipleship commitments are our discipleship process. This is part of our overall “simple church” philosophy of ministry (following Rainer and Geiger). Our philosophy of ministry includes the following concepts: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.

Clarity – Our commitments and process is simple to communicate and easy to remember. It is not overly complex or complicated. We believe that the discipleship process should never be left up to chance and should never be a mystery.

Movement – Our focus is going to be on moving people through this process, facilitating their building up and edification in the faith.

Alignment – All of our ministries, from the youth programs to small groups to mercy ministries, will be aligned around this simple 4G process.

Focus – We will not be a “program-heavy” church. Our philosophy is not “more programs,” but excellence for the glory of God in the programs that we will have.


Being transformational means that we are prayerfully depending upon the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to transform any life. The grace of God means that there is no one alive who is beyond the hope of redemption and transformation in Christ Jesus.

Being relational means that we are joyfully offering love and grace to everyone, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey. First, this means we will actively cultivate redemptive relationships with believers as well as non-Christians. Second, we will be conscious of and welcoming of non-Christians in our midst. Third, we will communicate not just what we believe but why, in a way that invites questions, engages people in dialogue and take a process approach (not a crisis approach) to communication. Tim Keller observes, “Many people simply have ‘process personalities’ – they will never come to faith if they are pushed. They need to come in stages.”

Being incarnational means that we will strive to live out and model the gospel of grace within the culture. We want to be deeply involved in our communities. Ed Stetzer remarks, “We don’t back away from godless people but instead embrace godless people because we understand the hearts of lost people conquered by the lordship of Jesus builds the Kingdom.”

Being missional means that we are intentionally committed to engage those who either do not know or misunderstand Jesus. We are intentional about and absolutely committed to adapting everything we do in worship, instruction, community, and service so as to be meaningfully engaged with the non-Christian society around us. Being missional, we understand that we are co-citizens with non-Christians and seek to build redemptive relationships in the culture instead of totally separating ourselves from the culture.

Each of the TRIM values undergirds and empowers every aspect of our 4G discipleship commitments. How we fulfill out 4G discipleship commitments should always reflect our TRIM values.

Synergy of 4G and TRIM


We believe that God calls every believer to wholehearted discipleship. A church full of Christians running hard after God, living with intent as His children and using their gifts to extend his kingdom, brings God great glory and is a powerful witness to the world. We are eager to help every Christian live as a learner, minister, evangelist, and steward.

We believe that the church is a ‘glocal’ mission outpost. By ‘glocal’ we mean being missional both locally and globally. As a mission outpost, the church actively seeks ways to penetrate the community, the nation, and the world with the Gospel. Bob Roberts, Jr. states, “When we start a church, we realize we are doing so not just for the community but for the world, based out of that community. Every church you start is a church for the world” (p. 124).

We believe that effective ministry must be biblically based as well as culturally relevant. We do not need to sacrifice either biblical truth or cultural relevance. All of our ministries will be in the ‘vernacular,’ speaking directly to the immediate culture and people without compromising Scripture or theology. Regarding speaking directly to the culture: Christians, frequently, are great at speaking to each other, but not so great at communicating with the wider culture. Our desire is to speak to the non-Christians of the culture in a powerful, compassionate, Scripturally-saturated manner.


We ask you to prayerfully consider becoming part of the GCP core group for the birth phase of the church for as long  as the Lord leads you for the following:

1. To pray daily and persistently for the city of Philadelphia and for the launch and establishment of Grace Church of Philly in University City.

2. To be involved in the lives of the believers and unbelievers in that area; to build bridges with them that might serve to further the kingdom of God.

3. To maintain a consistent devotional life and consistent walk with Christ.

4. To open yourself to the Lord as to what types of ministry roles He may have for you at Grace Church.

5. To give to the work of this ministry as you are able to do so.

We want to encourage people to commit for as long as they believe that they are being ministered to, for as long as they believe that their gifts are being effectively used for kingdom purposes, and for as long as they believe that this is what the Lord wants them to be doing.

Grace and peace be with you.


Keller, Timothy J. and J. Allen Thompson. Church Planter Manual. New York: Redeemer Church Planting Center, 2002.

Rainer, Thom and Eric Geiger. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples. Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2006.

Roberts, Bob Jr. The Multiplying Church: The New Math for Starting New Churches. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Note from Launch Team Meeting (Aug 1, 2009) – What does it mean to be ‘missional’?

What does it mean to be Missional?

Luke 5:27-39 27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them.  30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”


Are you ready to follow Jesus in a Missional way? – By missional I mean living with an awareness that the world we live in needs Jesus and intentionally seeking ways to bring Jesus into that world.

From the call, response, and subsequent actions of Levi and the circumstances that surround him, Jesus, and the disciples, we learn a bit more about what it means to follow Jesus in a missional way.

Missional is being RADICAL and at times seemingly irrational.

Levi responds immediately to Jesus’ call to follow (literally – ‘keep following me’ and ‘he kept following him’). He left everything.

I say this act of following is ‘seemingly’ irrational, because it is truly irrational only if Jesus is not who He claims to be. If He is Messiah, Lord, Son of God, and Savior, to not follow Him fully would be irrational.

Missional people are moved by the call of Jesus and understanding who it is that gives the call.

Missional is being RELATIONAL – Following Jesus means that we remain as friends of sinners.

Usually everyone is a friend of sinners at some point in life. Though it is possible to grow up in total isolation (Christian home, church, school, friends), this is not the norm. Most people when they come to Christ have a network of relationships that include many non-believers. Unfortunately early on this network is broken.

The enemies of Jesus called both Jesus and his disciples “friends of sinners” beacuse this was an obvious reality in their lives.

For Levi, he has just answered the call. He hasn’t burned the bridges of relationships. He still has friends who aren’t followers of Jesus and he seeks a venue to which they would come and where he could introduce Jesus to them. This leads to my next point.

Missional is being RESOURCEFUL – Following Jesus means that we create opportunities for our friends to meet Jesus Christ.

I love church gatherings with God’s people but at the same time, I love the words of C. T. Studd, that brilliant young Englishman who gave away a fortune that he might go out to the forests of Africa. He put his philosophy this way:

Some like to dwell
Within the sound
Of church and chapel bell.
But I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of Hell.

Levi knew his friends well enough to know what kind of venue they would come to. I believe that all of us need to be more thoughtful, prayerful, and intentional in creating venues where we can invite our friends and neighbors and Jesus. The choice of these venues is driven by what honors Christ and what is attractive to sinners, rather than what is ‘approved’ by institutaional Christianity.

Missional is being RISKY.  Following Jesus means that we live with the risk of criticism and misunderstanding

Being missional often means that you act contrary to religious culture. This is not the intent (how can I PO other Christians), but is often the result, when your sensibilities are such that you think about pleasing God and loving and reaching people, not looking over your shoulder for approval from man.

  • Criticism arises from a false comparison (disciples of Jesus to disciples of John and Pharisess).
  • Criticism arises from the failure to see the uniqueness of Christ and His mission.
  • Criticism is based more on the fear of change than a question of what honors Jesus Christ.
  • Criticism is often rooted in a fear of loss of power.

Missional is being REDEMPTIVE

I take Jesus words about ‘coming to call sinners to repentance’ as a probing invitation to everyone as much as a rebuke to the Pharisees.

Everyone listening would have had to ask themselves the question: Am I sinner? If I don’t think so, if I think I am righteous, then Jesus did not come for me.

Being missional must always come back to the question: Why did Jesus come? Lk 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (which by the way was spoken to another tax collector).


Grace Church of Philly is looking to build a core launch team of believers who desire to follow Jesus in a Missional way – living with awareness that the world we live in needs Jesus and intentionally seeking ways to bring Jesus into that world.

Missional Thinking

Pastor John Davis delivered a short sermon on missional thinking at a pre-launch fellowship and outreach for the core group yesterday at a private residence in South Jersey.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Hold the Core, Not the Forms

The Christian Church in America is dying and has been dying for decades now. It is my conviction that one of the main factors in the descent of the Church into side-show irrelevance is that older generations of Christians have failed to adapt to the changing landscape of our culture. Frequently, I have seen elder brothers and sisters in Christ fighting just as hard (or even harder!) for their temporal religious forms and traditions as they do for the eternal and unchanging truth of the Gospel itself. Many appear to care more about the propagation of their religious habits than with the propagation of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. For some, it appears that it is more important that one look “right” in church, dress “right” in church, act “right,” speak “right,” play the “right” music, and worship in the “right” way than if one truly has a soft heart toward our Lord and serves others in a self-sacrificial way.

emptypewsThe confusion of nineteenth and twentieth-century American cultural forms with the core of the Christian faith has resulted in a movement that has lost its breath and voice in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century.

The Church has lost its breath in the sense that it doesn’t seem able to marshal any significant effort to impact the culture for Christ. Many churches seem like they are conserving the little bit of Holy Spirit-energy they have left so that they can pour it back into their own congregations. The Church appears utterly exhausted from the religious and cultural wars of the later-twentieth century that were fought over issues that are not central to the spread of the Gospel and the multiplication of disciples of Jesus.

The Church has lost its voice in the sense that it no longer is able to speak intelligently, or even understandably, to the surrounding culture. For so long, conservative evangelical and fundamental churches have been immersed in the safe bubble of their own suburban sub-subcultures. As a result of decades of such behavior, they have developed their own language and jargon that is not at all well understood outside of this bubble. Outsiders have a hard time understanding our religious language, which is sometimes rooted in Scripture, and sometimes not. This hinders and obscures the power of the Gospel. Christians erroneously take for granted that unbelievers have a basic understanding of even the simplest biblical terms and concepts. For the most part, many outsiders do not even share a common view of God and who or what He is, let alone a common understanding of what it means to be “born again” by the Spirit of such a God. The entirety of our faith must be explained patiently, lovingly, and graciously to those who live and move outside of the walls of our self-constructed fortresses of faith.

The Church needs to own its role in the paganization of American culture. Frequently, Christian leaders let loose on the culture itself with both rhetorical cannons, blaming it for its own demise. This is the equivalent of blaming a squirrel for climbing trees. What else would we expect unbelievers to do than to run away from God and His Word? Why do Christians get all huffy and self-righteous when they talk about the individual and corporate sins of our nation? Shouldn’t observed depravity motivate us to compassionate, missional living instead of to a nose-in-the-air moral superiority complex?

Much of this has happened because we have taken our eyes off of the ball: the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church needs to focus on the core, not on the forms, of the faith.

The following quotation is from the recent book The Multiplying Church: The New Math for Starting New Churches by Bob Roberts, Jr. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan):

Jesus movements surge from the young…. The most important ministry and focus in our local churches must be our youth ministry. Those of us who are old enough and have gained enough credibility to lead the institutions, handle resources, and become voices in the faith community must not focus merely on building the church for our generation but on extending the church to future generations. That means we keep our core but release our language, music, and methods. Emerging churches must hold on to truth in their core, but communicate to and be shaped by emerging generations. Failing to do so is why the church has become empty around the world.

Old men and women play a crucial role in the future church; it isn’t to hold on to the forms, but to hold on to a personal Jesus movement in their hearts so that young people can say of old people, “Oh man, I want to know Jesus like they know Jesus.” It is not, “I want to do church like they do church.” The only way that will work is for old folks to pour themselves into young hearts and mentor and love them so much that they would die for them. What that happens, you become more concerned about our youth than you do your tight grip (pp. 36-7, emphasis in bold added).

Grace Church of Philly – An Introduction and Invitation

GCP - Intro & Invitation Cover Page

An introduction to Grace Church of Philly in University City and an invitation to be a part of our core group for the birth phase of our ministry, or perhaps even longer. Presentation available on SlideShare and YouTube.

What is the ‘Target Group’ of Grace Church of Philly?

What is the ‘Target Group’ of Grace Church of Philly?

 One of the most frequent questions I am asked about our new church planting endeavor in Philly is, “What is your target group.” Since, I am familiar with the philosophies of church planting and the abundant literature that gives impetus to that question, I know the kind of answer they are expecting. For instance, at Church Planting Village in an article on conflict in church planting, the following representative statement is made:

Each church plant has in mind a group of people they are trying to reach. This could be a cultural group, a socioeconomic group or an ethnic group, but there is a target group of people.[1]

Admittedly, my initial feeling is a bit of hesitation, knowing that I don’t have the answer they expect nor do I have the answer that would be supported by many church planting manuals.

University City in Philly comprises a diverse demographic age wise, educationally, socio-economically, racially and ethnically. If by the question of ‘target group,’ one means which of these groups we intend to share the gospel with, baptize, and teach, the answer is ‘everyone of those to whom the Lord opens the door of ministry.’ The ultimate target group for Grace Church of Philly is simply ‘people who need Jesus.’

Now don’t get me wrong! I do believe that gospel conversations flow more naturally through ‘homogeneous networks;’[2] however, though I do support homogeneity in evangelistic strategy, I reject homogeneity as a church planting strategy in a heterogeneous context.

We do believe that “the gospel is greater than ethnic boundaries, racial boundaries, economic boundaries, and cultural boundaries?”[3] We also believe that the church worship, fellowship, and ministry should and can reflect that greatness. 

We are moving into University City believing there are people there in need of the gospel and in whose hearts God is already at work. We have no assumption about who these people are or what target group they fit into.

We seek to love and show mercy on all whom the Lord brings across our path. We will love our ‘neighbors’ indiscriminately. We will minister to all in need. We will share the gospel freely and widely. We will cast the net widely and see whom God brings our way.

I hope and expect that when we look back, we will see that the Lord built a church that was beyond our expectations and that defied our strategy and planning.

Let me go back to the original question of who our target group is. I suggest, what I think is, a better set of questions: 1) “What are the many homogeneous networks that exist in your target area and what will be your evangelistic strategies to reach each of them, and 2) how will the experience of the gospel transcend the differences and reflect that transcendence in worship, fellowship, and ministry?”



 [2] Homogeneous networks are people joined to one another by (usually) several webs of common interests and mutually beneficial relationships. These networks are called homogeneous because their members have something important in common (such as mutual ancestors, marriage ties, common work, or common disabilities). They are to be distinguished from stratified networks in which the master-servant, employer-employee, or teacher-student relationship tends to predominate. The members of homogeneous networks are sufficiently alike to allow them to trust each other’s judgment. New ideas pass freely from one person to another. (


Simple Church Model

Simple Church Model - PPT Cover Page

A revised and expanded PowerPoint slideshow by Grace Church of Philly that relates our core values and practical discipleship commitments as a Christian community in Philadelphia can be viewed in three separate locations here: YouTube, authorSTREAM, and SlideShare.

Why Plant New Churches?


Why plant new churches? 

This question is commonly asked by people inside and outside of the Christian faith. There are many misconceptions about church planting and the need to engage in this activity. 

The following quotations from Tim Keller and J. Allen Thompson’s Church Planter Manual may clarify the absolute necessity of planting new churches. 

Why plant new churches? Because it is really the only way of fully obeying the Great Commission:

Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20) is not just a call to “make disciples” but to “baptize.” In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). 

The only way to truly be sure you are creating permanent new Christians is to plant new churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a “decision” for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these decisions disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many (most?) decisions are not really conversions, but only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. Only a person who is being evangelized in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith (p. 29).

If Keller and Thompson are correct, and I suspect that they are, the church has been missing this point on a grand scale over the last several decades, having been myopically focused in a big way on the “conversion point” rather than with a vibrant discipleship that is best worked out in the context of new church plants. 

Why plant new churches? Because it is the best way to reach the younger generations.

Younger adults are disproportionately found in new congregations. Why? The traditions of older churches reflect the sensibilities of leaders from the older generations who have the influence and money to control the life of the church (p. 30).

Why plant new churches? Because it is the best way to reach people who want little to do with existing churches.

Dozens of studies confirm that the average new church gains most of its new members (60% to 80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10 to 15 years of age gain 80% to 90% of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means that the average new congregation will bring 6 to 8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.

Why? As a congregation ages, powerful internal institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns of its members and constituents, rather than toward those outside its walls…. New churches, of necessity, are forced to focus far more of their energies on the needs of their non-members and become much more sensitive to the sensibilities of non-believers. There is also a cumulative effect. In the first two years of our Christian walk, we have far more close, face-to-face relationships with non-Christians than we do later. Thus new Christians attract non-believers to services 5 to 10 times more than a long-time Christian. New believers beget new believers (p. 30, emphasis added).

Why plant new churches? Because it is the best, and possibly the only way, to effectively reach our postmodern culture today.

[In Acts 2:40] Peter urges his hearers to “save themselves from this corrupt generation.” A generation is a whole culture. Today there are lots of recognition that each generation has its own common characteristics of mind, thinking and behavior. There is the “depression generation” and the “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X” – each have their own mindset. Peter recognizes that his hearers are not just individual sinners, but that they participate in the whole mindset and worldview of their culture and generation (p. 33).

Given the radically different worldview between a modernist pastor and a postmodern believer/seeker, it is unlikely that much progress can be made in the context of holistic evangelism and discipleship. As a matter of fact, the modernist pastor’s worldview may actually drive the postmodern further away from Christ and the church by his very outlook and method of argumentation. 

I am not making the claim that a modernist pastor cannot lead someone to Christ and disciple them in the faith. The Holy Spirit and His power transcend all worldviews and cultural barriers. But surely, the most effective way to reach any culture is to enter into it, contextualizing the faith so that the hearers are not barred from entering into the gospel story because of the use of culturally inappropriate methods of evangelism and doing church. 


Timothy J. Keller and J. Allen Thompson. Church Planter Manual. New York: Redeemer Church Planting Center, 2002.

On Holistic Ministry

I’ve written previously on the imbalance in the ministry philosophy of churches on the right and on the left. Conservative evangelical and fundamental churches on the right have the saving gospel message, but are largely ineffective in reaching our culture because they lack in genuine, Christ-like, unconditional love.

Liberal mainline churches on the left do not preach the gospel message and the need for conversion, but are much more active in reaching out in love to the culture around them. However, because their social ministries are not properly rooted in and performed alongside the gospel of grace, they lack the power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever change is wrought through such ministries is fleeting and ephemeral. Taking an eternal view, such ministries merely make the earth a better place for souls to go to hell from.

tim-kellerThe great need of our day is for the body of Christ to rid itself of the inchoate faith of the right and the biblically-uninformed, anthropocentric faith of the left and embrace a full-bodied, biblically-faithful, socially conscious, holistic Christian faith that can radically impact our post-Church society for Jesus Christ.

Following are some quotes from urban church planter, philosopher, and theologian Tim Keller (2002) on holistic ministry:

Have a counter-intuitive holistic ministry. Most people have a very powerful desire (need?) to place a church somewhere on an ideological spectrum from “Liberal/Left wing” to “Conservative/Right wing.” There is nothing more crucial than to use the gospel in the life of our church to defy such stereotypes and to (thus) become impossible to categorize. On the one hand, the gospel of Christ and justification-by-faith brings deep, powerful psychological changes. Though I am sinful, I am accepted through Christ. This discovery converts people, so they sing, “My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” On the other hand, the gospel of the cross and the kingdom brings deep powerful social changes. It defies the values of the world – power, status, recognition and wealth. The gospel is triumph through weakness, wealth through poverty, power through service. This changes our attitude toward the poor and toward our own status, wealth and careers.

Together, these two sides of the gospel’s influence create a unique kind of church. So many fundamentalist churches tend to be legalistic in their approach, even if they technically believe in justification by faith! Therefore, though they stress evangelism, they are not all that attractive or effective. Legalism does not produce reciprocal love for those without faith. On the other hand, so many liberal churches, though they stress social justice, are not all that effective at it. Their people’s lives are not electrified by conversion. They do not have deep experiences that humble them and change the way they look at the poor. Therefore, a gospel-centered church should have a social justice emphasis and effectiveness that greatly exceeds the liberal churches. Meanwhile, it should have an evangelistic fervor that greatly exceeds the ordinary fundamentalist churches. This gospel-driven, counter-intuitive combination of zeal can only come through teaching, prayer and repentance.

Jesus considered a concern for the poor to be a mark of his presence (Matt. 11:5). Increasingly, in a globalized world, we will win neither the elites nor the masses unless we embody the gospel in strong ministry to people with economic and material needs as well as spiritual. “The renewal of Christ’s salvation ultimately includes a renewed universe…there is no part of our existence that is untouched by His blessing. Christ’s miracles were miracles of the Kingdom, performed as signs of what the Kingdom means…His blessing was pronounced upon the poor, the afflicted, the burdened and heavy-laden who came to Him and believed in Him. The miraculous signs that attested Jesus’ deity and authenticated the witness of those who transmitted the gospel to the church is not continued, for their purpose was fulfilled. But the pattern of the kingdom that was revealed through those signs must continue in the church…Kingdom evangelism is therefore holistic as it transmits by word and deed the promise of Christ for the body and soul as well as the demand of Christ for body and soul” (Edmund P. Clowney, in The Pastor Evangelist)….

Jesus says that a sign of the gospel is faith. Matthew 5:4-7 says, If you “only greet your brother, what do ye more than others?” Since the Jewish greeting was Shalom! and an embrace, Jesus is saying much. We must show our uniqueness by following our Lord who always embraced the moral and spiritual outsider. Matt. 21:31 – “The prostitute and the tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you.” If you understand the gospel of grace, you treat the other: A) With respect. Grace means the non-believer may be a better person. B) With courage. Grace means the non-believer’s possible rejection of us is not so fearsome. C) With hope. Grace means you are a miracle and no one is beyond hope. No other worldview can produce this combination of humility and confidence (pp. 105-106).  


Keller, Timothy J. and J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Manual, New York: Redeemer Church Planting Center, 2002.

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