Last month, Dane Ortlund, an editor at Crossway Books, wrote this blog on 'Do We Need All These Books on the Gospel?'
Well, coming from an editor at a publisher of books, one would expect the answer to be, 'yes'. After all, they sell those books at a profit, which is the reason the publisher is in business in the first place, right? Right.
But it's not that simple.
First, just because a book is published does not mean that it will sell. And if it doesn't sell, it costs the publisher much more than not having published it in the first place. In other words, the books need a market that has a demand for that particular product.
Dane gives us the reasons why such a market with such demands exists. I'd summarize his points like this-
1. The gospel is of first importance.
2. We default to law, not gospel.
3. Our culture disputes what exactly the gospel is.
4. The church is always one generation from losing the gospel.
5. There are a lot of other books which distract us from or obscure the gospel.
6. The gospel is the central message of the entire Bible.
Maybe you can roll point six into point one for brevity. I like what he says in his second point best, because it hits home the hardest:
"Because you’re going to roll out of bed tomorrow a functional Pharisee. The instincts beneath your instincts, the impulses way down deep inside you, are law, not gospel. A good night’s sleep, not a heretical sermon, is all it takes to forget the gospel of grace."
This whole thing is a good reminder of how so many contemporary churches and denominations have moved away from the centrality of the gospel toward a more 'practical' form of preaching and theology. This is the result of our own innate humanism, even when we make it look like an application of our religious beliefs.
I like to look for 'keys' or 'fall-backs' when I teach. I have used these for years in my secular calling (college professor) successfully, and I am finding them more-and-more useful in my Sunday School class lately. As an example, most of us are familiar with the 'Sunday school answer' of Jesus to any question we don't know the answer. This one is a bit silly, but the principle is valid. In my adult SS class, I've started having the class members fall back on God's sovereignty when they are dealing with a difficult passage of scripture that is hard to understand and apply.
This innate humanism is a perfect example of what happens when we fall back on the wrong key. Any theological disposition which has us (mankind) at the center will always fall back on some humanistic mis-interpretation of scripture, including the purpose of the gospel. If we think the gospel is primarily about us getting to heaven, our theology will shift toward a humanistic interpretation of everything we find in scripture. But if we keep God at the center of the gospel, we don't find ourselves slipping down the slippery slope of self-glorification.
I'll have more to say on this later.