Doctrines of Grace and Mission

Small Talk — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

This afternoon I want to talk about grace. It’s fitting to talk about grace because we’re talking about the Scriptures, and the message of Scripture is God’s grace — the fact that God accepts us and he welcomes us into his presence, not because we’ve earned it or because we deserve it or are entitled to it, but because he gives it freely at Christ’s expense.

A Fresh Take on the Doctrines of Grace: PROOF

Now, there are many pictures of grace throughout Scripture. Grace is pictured as a father taking a beeline to grab his son who’s rebelled against him. It’s pictured as receiving riches that we never earned or don’t deserve. And throughout church history, there have been different historians and pastors who have articulated grace. A movement called the Reformed movement did a great job of articulating God’s grace, and it’s called The Doctrines of Grace.

Do we have any Reformed brothers and sisters out there? Any tulip-loving, John-Calvin-is-my-homeboy people out there? I love Calvinism and Reformed theology, but to be frank, I can’t stand the culture oftentimes. Can we talk? Reformed people are arrogant, mean, and oftentimes not self-aware. Reformed and self-aware, does that seem to go together? Typically, it doesn’t. Typically Reformed people are self-righteous in their zeal to have right theology, and they become somewhat misguided and build these walls of righteousness around their theological systems.

Planned Grace

So I see the need to reframe and re-envision The Doctrines of Grace, not just to parrot the past, but to do what we do with the Scriptures and do good historical exegesis and ask ourselves and seek to answer this: how can we articulate afresh The Doctrines of Grace in the here and now? And that’s what PROOF is about. PROOF is an acronym that re-frames and re-envisions TULIP.

TULIP is a nifty mnemonic device, but I want to argue that I don’t think it has been the most helpful mnemonic device for The Doctrines of Grace, so PROOF is a new acronym. P is for planned grace, and it replaces “limited atonement”. Planned grace is seeking to communicate that God maps out our salvation from beginning to end. Don’t you love a great engagement story? Don’t you just love it when the guy gets everything planned right? He gets the flowers, he gets the ring, he gets the jewel set, and he plans and he prepares. Don’t you love that?

And what you love about a good engagement story is when it all works out. What we find in the Scriptures is a beautiful engagement story of the Father’s plan, the Son’s victory, and the Spirit’s guarantee of our salvation. God has mapped out our salvation from beginning to end. It’s a definite mapping out and it’s effective.

Christ didn’t just make us saveable 2,000 years ago. He didn’t just make us winnable. When Christ was crucified 2,000 years ago he won our salvation. Now, no doubt, we need to surrender our lives to Christ to experience that salvation. But God is not waiting for our surrender to declare victory over Satan, sin, and death. That’s planned grace.

Resurrecting Grace

Resurrecting grace replaces “total depravity”, which sounds like a metal band. Resurrecting grace speaks to the reality that apart from the resurrecting grace of God, we would remain dead in our sins and transgressions. We see in the Scriptures that Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1–5:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . .

So what we see in Scripture is that we don’t see CPR, so to speak. We don’t see God coming to cadavers or corpses and reasoning with us or throwing apologetics at us. What we see is God speaking life where there is death. God speaks life where there is death. The best way to picture our paradoxical nature apart from Christ is the metaphor of zombies. Any zombie fans out there? Desiring God and zombie culture maybe is not the best mix. It would be an interesting conference though, wouldn’t it?

But what are zombies? Zombies are the dead seeking life. That’s us, apart from God’s grace. We are the living dead, the walking dead.

Outrageous Grace

We’re at the P-R-O. Are you guys following me? Outrageous grace is a re-envisioning of “unconditional election”. It’s that God welcomes us and he accepts us into his presence, not because of anything we’ve done. And this is a scandalous grace. When grace is really preached, it’s scandalous. And I fear that oftentimes when we’re articulating the kingdom of God, when we’re articulating the life and work of Jesus Christ, that is the gospel. But in order for people to experience the full, whole-counsel proclamation of God’s gospel, we need to press into the reality that it’s free grace for anyone and everyone who responds.

A Personal Illustration

Let me give you an illustration. Let me give you two days in my life. All right, we’ll get personal.

Day one: I wake up and the hills are alive. Do you know those days? I wake up before the alarm goes off, hit that alarm, and I have plenty of time to help my wife. I have four kids — 11, nine, six, and four. I get up, get dressed, help my wife get all the kids ready for school, and I have some time to talk with my wife and ask her about her day before I go. And since I have so much time, I’m like, “Hey, how about I take the kids to school this morning?” She’s just like, “This is great!”

So I’m driving the kids to school and on the way she texts me, “I love you so much. You’re such a good husband.” And I’m thinking, “I know, I’m such a great husband.” I get to the office with plenty of time to get into the word of God. I have time to meditate on the Scriptures, and I have enough time to not only meditate on the Scriptures, but to preview my day in advance and lay my fellow coworkers and neighbors before the Lord and just ask for God’s grace and mercy upon them.

I go into my first meeting and there are like 20 agenda items. I meet with a lot of the staff, and we just start tackling agenda item after agenda item — boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s like an hour and a half and we are done. And I say, “Let’s all go out to lunch.” So we go out to lunch. We go to a local place around the corner and the waitress says, “Are you guys pastors?” I’m like, “Do we look like it?” And she’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Yeah, then we’re pastors.” And she goes, “Well, can I come to your church?” So I pull out my nifty Sojourn invite card, and I’m like, “Here you go, you can come.” Then she comes back with her manager and our food and she says, “Can my manager come as well?” And I’m like, “Touchdown for Jesus.” It’s just one of those days.

I get home early, and my four kids come running down the hall to me, saying, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” I pick them up and swirl them around. My wife fixes me a wonderful meal. And after we have this big feast, my middle child says, “Can we watch a movie together?” So we all sit on the couch and we watch a movie together. And when the movie is over, my oldest says, “Can I lead us in a family devotional?” I’m like, “Right on.” So we say a prayer, we read the Scriptures, we say, “Amen,” and all my kids go skipping off to bed. I’m cuddling with my wife about an hour later doing some other things we can’t talk about here. And I end my night with a prayer, “God bless everyone.” That’s day one.

Day two: I wake up an hour late for work. My kids have been up, and my wife snaps at me on the way out, saying, “Thanks for the help.” She leaves with my four kids and takes them to school. So I rush, put my clothes on, and get to work. There’s no time for the word and no time for prayer. I go into the meeting, and it’s the same 20 agenda items. My coworkers, my fellow pastors, are barking at me, “What about this? What about this?” And I’m like, “What?” I end the meeting early after about three hours of getting absolutely nowhere, and I go try to lose myself in emails. I get these emails from members, saying, “The music is too loud,” and, “We don’t like you preaching.”

So I decide to take one of them and just let them have it. I spend three hours writing a 10-page response, and then I realize I can’t send it, so I push delete. I’m so stressed out that I decide to go running. And so what do you do? You listen to John Piper. So I put on John Piper, and while I’m running and listening to John Piper, I realize I’m the worst preacher in the world. I can’t preach at all.

So I go home, I open the door, and my four kids, like little demons, come running after me, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” I’m like, “Get back. I haven’t eaten yet.” So I sit down for dinner, I inhale my food, it puts me in a food coma. I’m laying on the couch and my middle child decides to use me as a human trampoline, and it pushes me over the edge. I say, “Go to bed, everybody.” They’re like, “It’s five o’clock!” I’m like, “I don’t care. Go to bed.” And that’s when it just really hits me — the shame and the guilt. I’ve been a horrible husband, pastor, and father. At the end of the day, my wife tries to gently correct me and I don’t want to hear it. I end the day and I pray, I cry out to God, “Lord, help me to do better tomorrow.”

Now the question is, “On which day am I most loved and accepted by God? The reality of God’s outrageous grace is that I’m just as accepted on my bad day as my good day. Because grace is not simply some transaction where God gives grace. Grace is a person. Grace is God. God is the gospel. And I’m in a living relationship with God, who never leaves me and never forsakes me. That’s outrageous grace.

Overcoming Grace

Now, the second O is overcoming grace, which is a re-envisioning of “irresistible grace”. This speaks to the reality that God overcomes our resistance not only at salvation, but throughout the entire process of sanctification. And this is an encouragement to us. This is a comfort to us. This is the confidence that we have, not only as we step forward in our lives of sanctification, but as we step forward in missions. We can be confident for the sake of the elect. We can be confident that God will bring about salvation. Salvation belongs to the Lord.

Forever Grace

Finally, forever grace is a replacement of the “perseverance of the saints”. This is about how God’s grace not only preserves us, but that he gives us the grace to persevere to the very end. What I want to argue is that TULIP may be a helpful confessional framework, like, “Here we stand.” It’s very defensive. But to do church well, you need defense and offense. We not only need theological confession, but we need theological vision. We need to help people see. And that’s what PROOF does.

It stands for planned grace, resurrecting grace, outrageous grace, overcoming grace, and forever grace, I would argue it gives us the ability to envision a different kind of future.

Finally, I would argue that for good ongoing reform, we need to add to the Solas, which might sound like blasphemy to you. I’m just saying we need to add to Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and God’s glory alone. I would argue for five additional Solas. First, I would argue for mystery. There needs to be more silence instead of speculation in regards to a lot of our theologizing. God’s paths are beyond us tracing out.

Second, paradox. Paradox is an essential category for good theological reflection. Is God wholly sovereign, or am I wholly responsible? Live in the tension.

Third, beauty. Yes, we need to argue for truth, but I think the church and the world needs the church to show forth the beauty of who God is. What’s so much of the genius behind John Piper? Yes, there are good arguments, but he’s a man that displays the beauty of God in his teaching and in his living.

The last two would be community and mission. I would argue these are essential for ongoing reform. There’s not going to be good reform apart from the doctrines of grace being rooted in local communities, not some blogosphere, but local communities where the word is being preached and lived and declared, week in and week out.

And finally, mission. Let’s not abstract the doctrines of grace from the mission of God. Thanks for your time. Love you guys. I think I made my 10 minutes, but I’m not living by the law, I’m living by grace. That’s right. Peace.