A Gospel Hermeneutic for Community Engagement

One of my pastimes is listening to podcasts. I listen to podcasts while sitting outside in the warm sunshine while going on walks while folding laundry, and when I am driving. I listen to podcasts as often as I am able. I began listening to Robby Gallaty’s Making Disciples podcast while driving patrolling the NOBTS campus a few years ago. Last week, two episodes[1] challenged me to hold myself accountable for personal reading and writing. I am going to try a new commitment to my blog. I am setting a new goal for myself to write one post a week here. This is the first post in my renewed commitment to write about what I am reading.

One’s worldview impacts every area of his life. Everyone has a worldview or a foundation for understanding reality. Worldview thinking has captivated my mind since the time of my undergraduate studies at Welch College. In early March, I listened to a talk Bruce Riley Ashford gave on Abraham Kuyper and cultural engagement. After I listened to Ashford speak, I felt compelled to immediately visit the conference bookstore and purchase one of his works. In God’s providence (and the generosity of Logos Bookstores), Ashford’s works were discounted because he was a keynote speaker, so I purchased two. [2]

This post is a reflection of my reading. Ashford quotes Leslie Newbigin as stating, “The only real hermeneutic of the Gospel is a congregation which believes it.” [3] I have reflected on that sentence since I read it recently. Ashford includes that statement in a section where argues that the Christian mission is first a theological mission. He reminds believers that the core mission is to set individuals free from idolatry. He continues inviting believers to give a compelling witness to the world by believing and embodying the Gospel story. In this post, we will consider what a Gospel hermeneutic is, what could potentially happen in our neighborhoods and cities through the church, and some practical ways to embody the Gospel story in our daily lives.

A Gospel Hermeneutic

Before we consider what a gospel hermeneutic is, we need to consider what is meant by hermeneutic. My friend Andrew Hollingsworth provides a helpful clarification on the term hermeneutics when he says, “Hermeneutics refers to a branch of philosophy that concerns itself with the totality of human understanding.” [4] His definition is distinct from a definition of biblical hermeneutics which centers on exegesis of the Biblical text. I adopted Hollingsworth’s definition for my purposes here because it provides a broader and fuller linguistic range of meaning. The totality of human understanding is impacted by one’s understanding of the Gospel of Jesus.

Recall Ashford’s statement again.

“The only real hermeneutic of the Gospel is a congregation which believes it.”

Hollingsworth’s definition and Ashford’s concise statement provide us with much to contemplate. An authentic New Testament church will seek to understand how the Gospel impacts every area of life-social, political, and relational. A gospel hermeneutic is a way of understanding reality transformed by Jesus. A biblically-centered gospel hermeneutic will drive the church to engage her community in ways that completely transform children, families, neighborhoods, and social systems. Numerous possibilities await the Christian who seeks to live out a gospel hermeneutic.

Potential Results

One possibility of an applied Gospel hermeneutic is a renewed social setting. People are fundamentally relational. Humans are relational because the Triune God is relational among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A Gospel hermeneutic makes possible the application of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Our world would be a much better place to live if those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples would live out the Sermon. No, perfection will not be attained until the parousia, but a Gospel hermeneutic eliminates excuses about ethical living and motivates us to improve our social interactions.

Another possibility of a gospel hermeneutic is an increased evangelistic witness. Believers must embody and believe the truth to see a spiritual awakening. If there has ever been a time our world needed genuine, Gospel-centered revival it is now. A gospel hermeneutic will guard against mere emotionalism and will ensure that revival is based on Truth.

Another possibility of a gospel hermeneutic is greater effectiveness in disciple-making. Jesus’ last words to the original eleven disciples are found in Matthew 28:18-20.

8And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A gospel hermeneutic will seek to include a total personality approach to ministry. F. Leroy Forlines articulates the need for holistic theology when he says,

“A system that proposes to explain the whole of reality (or a worldview) must prove to be satisfactory to our total personality as thinking, feeling, acting beings. Logic cannot divorce itself from life and become an accurate judge of a system.” [5]

Discipleship impacts the total person. A gospel hermeneutic provides a solid foundation for this discipleship to occur.

Practical Ways to Embody the Story

Adopting a gospel hermeneutic enables the Christian to embody the story of God. God’s story begins at creation, continues with the Fall of humans into sin, culminates in the redemption offered by Jesus, and anticipates the climactic return when the Kingdom will be established on earth as it is in heaven. Here are some practical ways for local churches to embody the Gospel story:

  1. Strive for excellence in public worship gatherings. The Church exists to represent Christ to her community.
  2. Engage with neighbors relationally. Be authentic in relationships and look for natural opportunities to insert hope found in a gospel hermeneutic.
  3. Deploy church members into meaningful ministry assignments. A gospel hermeneutic is believed at the local church level but evidenced in the servant-leadership of ordinary Christians living out their faith at work, while shopping, or while raising children.

Conclusion

The local church is called to replicate incarnational ministry in her community. We cannot expect to completely transform social, political, or economic structures yet we must engage our world with the Good News of Jesus. The Gospel is concerned with the afterlife but also the life here and now. Let us embody and believe the truth so our communities will be radically attracted to Jesus and will experience a transformation that is out of this world.

16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Tim. 4:16, NASB)

[1] Episodes # 98 and # 99. “How to Grow as a Leader While Stuck at Home” and “How I Wrote a Book in One Month in my Spare Time”.

 

[2] The works I purchased were Every Square Inch and The Gospel of Our King.

 

[3] Bruce Riley Ashford and Heath A. Thomas, The Gospel of Our King: Bible, Worldview, and the Mission of Every Christian, (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids MI, 2019), 130.

[4] Andrew Hollingsworth, God in the Labyrinth: A Semiotic Approach to Christian Theology, (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, Oregon, 2019), 110.

[5] F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times, (Randall House: Nashville, Tennessee, 2006), 18.

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