Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jay Adams and "Gospel Only"ism: an exercise for World-Tilting Gospel readers (and others)

Brother Chris recently called attention to a Jay Adams essay titled Preaching the Gospel to Yourself. It's a brief essay, and characteristically pointed. Give it a read.

Adams' point is that many Christians are stressing the Gospel to the exclusion of other truths relevant to

Christian living. Here are some quotations from Adams' article to set us up:
Doubtless, this idea seems strange to many Christians today, yet it is the rage in some circles. Such ideas as going deeper into the Gospel and that the Gospel is the means of sanctification, all bundled up together with a half dozen other such statements can be found—not in some backward-thinking, offbeat fundamentalist weirdo church—but in the preaching and writings of a number of big guns as well!

It seems as if one writer is attempting to outdo the next in getting in his licks on the subject... When asked about the matter of biblical obedience, we are told such things as “Oh, it’s hard work getting into the Gospel more deeply.” Such “hard work” replaces biblical obedience to Scriptural commands.

There is a kind of Monkish mysticism in this idea. Think of all that Jesus did for you on the cross—over and over (“Preach the Gospel to yourself every day”)– and somehow or other you will be sanctified thereby. Sanctification no longer is a matter of becoming more and more like Christ by putting off sinful ways and replacing them with biblical ones. Though most mysticism is difficult to articulate, it seems that what is being said is that Gospel immersion automatically makes you a better Christian without learning and doing what God commands by His Spirit’s wisdom and power.
I know for a fact that Adams is considering a very real problem, so let's us discuss it a bit ourselves — but with a twist.

I know that The World-Tilting Gospel has only been available a few weeks, but I also know that a number of you have already read it. (Hey, even in Honduras!) The Scripture studied and expanded on in WTG will fully-equip any reader to respond to what Adams is talking about.

So I am focusing on you who have read the book: how would you respond to Adams' concerns? Some would respond by saying that he is downplaying the Gospel, it really is central and all-sufficient in the sense that sanctification will come almost automatically as we simply preach the Gospel to ourselves and meditate on Christ and His salvation. Others might say no, the Gospel tells us how to become Christians. Then we shift our attention to God's commands, and to obedience. That is sanctification and discipleship, and it has no relation to the Gospel, which is introductory doctrine.

WTG fully equips readers to evaluate and respond. How would you? Feel free to quote or cite.

(Others can chip in too, of course, but I'm really encouraging WTG-alumni to start using what they've learned.)


Barbara said...

Saw the name "Jay Adams"... haven’t read WTG yet, but plan to. Have read a good bit from Dr. Adams, though (I’m in the midst of NANC training).
Short answer: I agree with Dr. Adams’ statement there, but I think his position would be more clarified by reading his books. A Theology of Christian Counseling: More than Redemption is a good start, along with The Christian Counselor’s Manual. While I do sometimes cringe under what I perceive as just a touch of Americanized moralism here and there in his books, the overarching bent of what he writes about is the active discipling of people in the Word - recognizing and emphasizing that the Gospel does not leave you enslaved to your sin but by the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling you, you now have the power to break free of its bonds in day to day life – with a new root, you can now break the sinful, self-serving habits that were founded in the old dead root and instead, through being a hearer AND a doer of the word, you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind as you die to yourself daily in order to love one another biblically (and when it comes to putting 1 Cor 13 into practice it radically changes how you deal with people).
I agree with him on that. The fact remains that our Father scourges every son whom He receives (Heb. 12) and that's not just a once-and-done thing. It's daily. My instructor speaks often of how just striving to put into practice that which we are commanded in the Word will cause "sin to bubble up to the top" so that it can be recognized and dealt with - through the grace of the Gospel, at the cross, enabling and empowering us to continue to bear the fruit of repentance, thereby increasingly bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
I think, too, that Peter had much to say on the subject of what we strive to "add to" as we are called to be diligent to make our calling and election sure. You can look at the Cross all day long, and it is great comfort when that sin bubbles up to the top, so that we aren't condemned as we see how short we have fallen, but if that doesn’t change how you live your life and go forward from there, then as it is written, one must be exhorted to examine the fruit of his heart as it is working itself out in his life.

Stefan said...

I will be acquiring your tome, Dan, but in the meantime, I'd agree with Barbara's assessment. Passively waiting for sanctification doesn't work; and while thinking, reading, praying, and meditating upon the Gospel is of paramount importance, it won't beget sanctification without actually applying our knowledge of the ways of God to everyday life.

One of the key lessons that I've had to learn over and over again is that two-step cycle of hearing and doing, trusting and acting, believing and repenting, faith and works, etc.
Although they are strictly chronological (faith precedes and begets works, etc.), you cannot have one without the other. Of course, works without faith is false religion; but also, faith without works dead.

You need to believe in the promises of God, but then act upon those promises and in light of His commandments, in order to see how He does in fact fulfil His promises to His people, which in turn strengthens our faith and makes it easier to act biblically in the future.

Or to put it yet another way, one of my pastors explained it to me as the way that Philippians says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," which I'd always puzzled over. I don't know if this is a valid translation of the Greek or not, but he suggested to think of "working out" not in the sense of a mental challenge or thought problem (work out next year's budget), but "working out" in the sense of exercising: applying our muscles to work so that they don't atrophy. "Work out your salvation" by applying the principles God has revealed in His written Word (and put within us) to the practical challenges of everyday life (including living out our faith in everyday life).

But praise be to God that the only reason we sinners have any desire or ability at all to serve Him at all is because He has forgiven our sins and covenanted to save us through the shed blood of His one and only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

JR said...

So Adams is pitting himself against Jerry Bridges, John Piper, CJ Mahaney, jack Miller, Tim Keller, etc... ??? All proponents of intentional gospel reflection.

Isn't rightly celebrating the Lord's Supper a Scripturally prescribed practice in preaching the gospel to yourself?

Seems like another case of the condemnation of something simply because it has become somewhat popular.

But I am out of bounds cause I haven't read WTG...yet.

Donn R Arms said...

Hmmm, so listing names proves a point? Yes, Jay stands against what these men teach on this subject and stands with R C Sproul, J C Ryle, Machen, Hodge, Warfield, J I Packer, and Horatius Bonar, which therefore proves he is right.

Rachael Starke said...

Well I've read it, and one of the reasons I love it is because of how you tackle this very thing. Frustratingly (only in a way), I have lots of Gospelly stuff I'm rushing out the door with my kids to do and can't say more than chapter 11, on Muzzy Mysticism, hits this issue squarely. Gospel-only thinking is really just a more seemingly-intellectually-robust form of it. Ironically, it dilutes the very gospel it's claiming to emphasize.

And FWIW, I don't know that Packer's hitting all those guys directly (and there are more), but rather the ones who've studied under them and are now over-magnifying and under-emphasizing. The original guys are themselves offering some needed correction. But now people are over-correcting.

Tearing myself chapter 11!!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

"There is a kind of Monkish mysticism in this idea. Think of all that Jesus did for you on the cross—over and over (“Preach the Gospel to yourself every day”)– and somehow or other you will be sanctified thereby."

This statement stands out to me. It reminds me of the spiritually delusional man (in James 1) who looks intently in the mirror, and sees his filthy rags, walks away, and forgets what kind of person he is. Perhaps instead he never walks away from the mirror, but is stuck staring at his filthy self rather than putting off sin and putting on Christ's righteous garments (like in Colossians 3) and then going and doing.

There's the humiliating side of the gospel--the recognition of our sinfulness and need for a savior, the admission of our guilt and throwing ourselves at the mercy of the Lord. Then there's the middle part--the forsaking of our sin, the full assurance of Christ's forgiveness. And there's the other side of it: the victory over sin, the ability to live in faith and honor the Lord. (I picture it like a 2-faced coin.) I think that wallowing on the one side of the coin devoid of the middle or the other side devalues it as a whole, and renders it out of circulation.

(I'm sheepishly admitting that while I have a copy of WTG, I haven't yet devoured it. I'm a slow eater. But I'd better get cracking!)

DJP said...

RachaelThank you for engaging the post and relating it to WTG.

Rachael was in a hurry and surely meant to say "Adams" instead of "Packer." But in so erring, you complimented both men; nicely done!

DJP said...

JR and Donn cancel each other out in not engaging the post or WTG per se.

Adams grants that big names do something like this, and Donn correctly points out that names in either direction prove little.

The whole of WTG does speak to the very concern Adams has in mind, and I'd commend it to both of you.

Always Reforming said...

Any Gospel that doesn't produce action is not the true Gospel at all. Jesus called people to repentance. He called them to bearing their crosses, not just looking at His!

Always Reforming said...

@DJP: Thank you for addressing Muzzy Mysticism in your book. I encountered it at a church my wife's family had been attending. They just kept on talking about "letting Jesus live your life through you". I know something was awry, but I couldn't quite define it. Thank you for bringing it to light.

Geldie said...

I haven't read WTG yet!! I want to. But I have just finished Milton Vincent's book, " A Gospel Primer for Christians:Learning to See the Glories of God's Love" - which is a primer to read the truths of Scripture so that you are constantly preaching the gospel to yourself. This book has quotes from Jerry Bridges & CJ Mahaney saying the same thing. Wasn't it Spurgeon who said, "preach to yourself?" Wasn't it Luther that said, "you need to pound the gospel into your head?" I've been listening to Elyse Fitzpatrick's teaching she did on "Gospel Centered Counseling" in 08' @ WDW through the Master's College. She's saying the same thing! We have forgotten the gospel and we need to preach it to ourselves daily. The Israelites forgot and in forgetting what God did for them they worshipped other Gods. I don't want to be a rule keeper! I want to be a gospel lover! I don't ever want to forget what Christ did because only in that am I justified, not in any of my abilities. Quote from Elyse - "Any obedience not modivated by love for Christ is simply penance!"

Sir Aaron said...

I'm not even sure where to start quoting? Chapters 10 and 11 both speak to this, IMHO. But I decided to pick the following nuggets:

Page 224 (Kindle edition): "The cross is everything to the Christian: It is God's saving power to uus, it is how we were reconciled to God, it is how our sins were forgiven and done away with; it is why we are free from sin's bondage." Page 225: "our response is to believe it, and live on the basis of it."

Then you go onto to discuss the apostle's instruction to us about how we are to present ourselves as we work towards sanctification:
(Page 227) "Listen up, and listen well:" (then Romans 6:17-19 quoted).

WTG makes it clear that the cross happened, we are to believe it, and in response to that we are to obey the commands given in Scripture. That isn't to say it isn't valuable to remind ourselves daily of God's incredible saving grace, but meditating on it cannot take the place of following orders.

DJP said...

Thanks, Aaron.

Just Jules said...

Note to self: Order TWTG on Kindle this afternoon.

Geldie said...

Just ordered WTG on Kindle IPHONE...couldn't handle it anymore! Need to read it now. @Don R Arms...are you sure about Horatius Bonar? Here is a quote from him, "Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. No gloomy uncertainty as to God's favor can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, & withers all its branches. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this." its from his book - "God's Way of Holiness" Are you a follower of Christ or of these men that you listed? Only Christ is infallible.
I am seeing comments alloting to the fact that just preaching the gospel to yourself is the sanctification process...that's not what is being said. Preaching the gospel to yourself reminds you that its His love for you that paid for your way to justification (as if I never sinned) and in that love is what modivates me to work out my salvation - and my good deeds are modivated by what Christ has done for me - not a way for me to work them out on my own. That's self righteousness - its only Christ's righteousness and His work on the cross that sets me free. If you aren't modivated by the gospel than we are no different than any works based religion - Mormonism, Catholicism, even Muslims. God uses the reminder of the gospel in my life so that my sancification is based on His love not my works based righteous. I feel like a broken record (just aged myself!) but what is the modivation behind why you love your neighbor? Your enemy? Because HE FIRST LOVED US! Its ONLY the gospel that can lead us in sancification.

David Regier said...

I found this on p. 252 pertinent:

1. Here's some truth.
2. So do this.

We are always in danger of leaving out one or the other of those, or reversing their order.

BTW, my wife, the English major and former seminarian, read the first page of TWTG and said, "Wow. He's a good writer." No small praise.

WV: impho (In my prodigiously humble opinion)

Sir Aaron said...

@DJP: Hopefully, I "got it." If not, feel free to correct.

I do have a confession to make. I did not buy your book because I thought I would enjoy it or even learn from it. I overlooked it in great anticipation of your book on Proverbs (a book that has literally kept me from sin by the grace of God). In truth, I bought your book out of loyalty. Part of the reason I first overlooked WTG was because it is very common to hear that you need to preach the gospel to your kids and yourself everyday, to constantly meditate on the wonderous gift of salvation. I thought to myself this will be a good book but it will be like the other 100 books on the subject. (And there's obviously nothing wrong with that, if that were the case.) It wasn't until I started getting into your book that I realized that WTG isn't like these other books. In fact, it relates the glory of the cross but reminds us that it happened; i.e, it is past tense. We cannot mystically experience the cross or try to recreate it (unless you are Catholic). We believe it, rejoice in it, and then start following our marching orders. In WTG, you give a little anecdote that somebody else told you about a kid who reveled in what the parent said but never actually did what he/she was told to do. The former became a reason for disobedience rather than an act of worship. That is exactly the message we need to hear today and I'm glad I purchased the book, even if it wasn't with the enthusiasm it deserved.

DJP said...

Thank you so much Aaron; both touching and encouraging.

DJP said...

Megan Boneski emailed me and asked me to post these as her comments, as the web site isn't cooperating with her phone:

Two paragraphs in chapter 11 stand out, to me, that address the issue. Location 4260, 72% in the Kindle for Android app is where Dan states that we are to present ourselves to God as slaves to righteousness which leads to holy living. He cites Romans 6:19. Slaves submit, obey, and *take orders* The next paragraph says, "That is what vibrant, living, biblical faith does. Faith submits. Faith obeys. Faith takes orders. (Gal. 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:3; James 2:14, 18, 26)."

It seems to me that some folks mistake "doing in obedience to faith" with "doing to gain God's approval and be saved", so doing nothing is "safer". By doing nothing, one can't be accused of trying to earn his salvation by works.

Additionally, mystical "navel-gazing" puts *self* ahead of God. Jesus didn't say, "Sit around and wait for something to happen." He said, "Go, preach, make disciples."

The natural outgrowth of biblical faith is obedient action.

RT said...

As I mentioned in my review of TWTG (and I am ever fond of quoting myself) only by the Gospel "can hearts be set free to practice Christian virtue," the which I derive from your treatment of Romans 6:17 and from the whole tenor of St. Paul's soteriology. Your book is quite clear that having been "set free" we are in fact to "practice." Gazing rapturously at the cross may be an understandable response to the overwhelming gift of God's grace and the commencement of a Christian life, but it is neither the point of the gift nor the denouement of the life.

Rachael Starke said...

Geldie -

First - MWAH!! (That's me giving a big kiss to a really dear friend from my college and Grace Community days. :) )

Second - Much as I love me my sister Elyse, lately she seems to be another one who is veering ever so slightly into the territory Adams (I think I mentioned Packer because my hubby was at that moment working on his book for Sunday School) is warning about. Namely, all we need to do is just keep talking to ourselves about the facts of the Gospel.

The question a lot of Christians have is, naturally, "but how does that work? How does telling myself the Gospel help me overcome laziness or lust or anger??" Inherent in that question are acknowledgements of our fleshliness and the many times we fail.

What's great is that in the very next two chapters of TWTG, Dan anticipates and answers that very question. Specifically, beginning on page 244, he titles a section "The Only Counter to the Flesh is the Holy Spirit." In it he describes how the Holy Spirt (the One who made us alive and who now indwells us) works to both apply the cross to the flesh, and produce fruit in us. (Galatians 5) The Holy Spirit is the one who not only helps us remember and think on the truth of the gospel, but also live it out.

DJP said...

David RegierBTW, my wife, the English major and former seminarian, read the first page of TWTG and said, "Wow. He's a good writer." No small praise.

Very nice, thank you.

But did she keep reading?


Stefan said...

There are some great comments here today.

Megan's assessment of the mistaken idea of doing nothing in order to avoid the suggestion "works righteousness" is exactly where my headspace was at for a while.

And David's quote from page 252 of your book actually summarizes (in 6 words!) exactly what I was trying to say in my comment.

And oddly enough, the pastor at my church who succeeded in getting this through my thick skull last winter was a dispy '70s Talbot grad with a degree in Practical Theology, who summarized the concept in very similar terms!

Canyon Shearer said...

A verse that I think could correct most problems in the church is Philemon 6, it says, "I pray that in the sharing of your faith you become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." There is a call for the sharing of our faith, mainly vocally, but also through love (Philemon 5), it is not a 'sit around and wait for something to happen' faith.

From TWTG: "bless those who curse you, serve one another, go out from the unclean, love your wives, love one another strenuously, flee immorality, work out your salvation, train yourself for godliness, keep yourselves in God’s love, hold fast what you have . . . Does any of that sound like 'Let go and let God'?" (loc 4112)

Or as Charles Spurgeon said so eloquently, "Do Something."

Thomas Louw said...

My mouth is dry.
My palms are sweaty, oh where is my WTG?
I loved the quote of Horatius Bonar, excellent stuff.