Gospel Abstraction

Grace is more than a concept. It reaches down into the depths of our sin and brokenness to offer mercy, forgiveness, and peace. Theological ideas and talk can be edifying in their proper place, but we sinners need the substance of the Gospel proclaimed and offered. There are several ways pastors can miss letting the Gospel have its redemptive power active in their pulpit ministry and our lives.

Theoretical Theology

Reducing the Gospel to accurate facts can make us spiritual parrots who can repeat the correct phrases on cue. Polly can say, “justification is by faith alone,” but Polly still needs a cracker. We may understand the historical background and grammatical subtlety. We may be hermeneutically sound. However, we need more than an intellectually robust lecture about the Gospel. We need the pronouncement of the Good News for us in live time.

I’ve heard pastors and elders go so deep that one would think they were preparing students for a theology final rather than caring for souls. When our theology lives in the realm of theory, it is an abstraction.

Philosophical Theology

Taking the Gospel and synthesizing ways to engage the culture, answer critics, and offer apologetics approaches to complex questions can leave us with informed minds and burdened hearts. When the church leans into philosophy and neglects the supernatural justification that Jesus’ dying and rising from the dead for sinners brings, lives are left bereft of peace and grace despite an abundance of theological chatter.

It’s essential to think through how our faith intersects with the spheres of society. That place is not the top priority in the sermon for God’s people gathered to be reminded once again of Christ’s all-sufficient atoning work. When our theology is primarily for synthesizing Biblical philosophy, it is an abstraction.

Practical Theology

Applying the Gospel is a beautiful way to put the love of God on display. When we overemphasize results, we buy the lie that the ends justify the means and wind up selling indulgences by another name. We aren’t selling writs of redemption for coins in a coffer, but we quickly prescribe spiritual disciplines as penance and recommend more devout service as a pathway to peace.

Intending to make Christianity imminently applicable, we relegate Christianity’s most practical application: Christ’s broken body and spilled blood for us. The litany of spiritual to-do lists can leave us with clear steps but disillusioned souls. When theology is focused on what we do, it is ironically abstraction.

Gospel abstraction is when we shift from offering sinners and saints to taste and see that the Lord is good, particularly in his death and resurrection for them, to talk about the Gospel. It’s the difference between describing, even if in eloquent and intricate detail, and serving a meal. The Gospel can be theoretical, philosophical, and practical, but the Good News is much more than information or ideas for lectures. It is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

Chris Dunn
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