The Challenges We Face: A New Generation of Gospel Ministers Looks to the Future

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The faith of Christ offers no buttons to push for quick service. The new order must wait the Lord’s own time, and that is too much for the man in a hurry. He just gives up and becomes interested in something else.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul was able to look back on his ministry and declare satisfaction that he had finished his course. Paul would be the first to insist that his entire ministry was evidence of the grace and mercy of God, but he was assured that, by grace, he had finished his race.
Paul’s statement of completion must be the goal of every Gospel minister. Our calling is not complete until we, like Paul, can know that we have finished our course. For most of us, the race still lies before us, and that makes our goal even more urgent.

When asked about my hope for the future of the church, I point immediately to the corps of young ministers now entering and preparing for ministry. One of the great counter-intuitive developments of our times is the rise of a generation of young ministers who are committed to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints,” and who are eager to run the race to Christ’s glory.

What challenges lie ahead? The race this new generation is called to run will include several unavoidable challenges that will demand the highest level of biblical fidelity and theological courage, matched to keen cultural sensitivity and a deep love for human beings caught in the maelstrom of late modernity.

The Question of Truth

Amidst the debris of postmodernism (a movement that has basically run its course) stands a great ambivalence about the nature of truth. The great intellectual transformation of recent decades produced a generation that is not hostile to all claims of truth, but is highly selective about what kinds of truth it is willing to receive.

The current intellectual climate accepts truth as being true in some objective sense only when dealing with claims of truth that come from disciplines like math or science. They accept objective truth when it comes to gravity or physiology, but not when it comes to morality or meaning.

One result of this is that we can often be heard as meaning less than we intend. When we present the gospel, it can easily be heard as a matter of our own personal reality that is, in the end, free from any claim upon others. In other cases, this generation will confront an open denial that any truth can actually be known, except by means of empirical science or similar sources of knowledge.

Beyond this, our truth claims are claims of revealed truth. The modern mind is shocked to incredulity when we make clear that we claim knowledge revealed to us in written form by supernatural revelation.

In other words, this generation will face the continual challenge of making clear that the gospel is not merely interesting, not merely meaningful, but true.

The Gospel and the Church’s Mission

Younger evangelicals are now engaged in a great conversation about the nature of the church’s mission in the world. In the main, I see this as a very positive development. But, if we are unwilling to discuss this together, we will see the development of a division within the ranks of younger gospel pastors.

Some of the confusion has to do with language. Some are speaking of the church only in reference to its congregational expression, while others are speaking more generally of faithful Christians.

The church is charged with one central mission – the gospel and the making of disciples from all the nations. But those disciples are to be taught all that Christ commands, and that requires the demonstration of the gospel in acts of justice and righteousness that reveal the presence of Christ’s kingdom.

At least some younger evangelicals indicate the temptation to redefine the church’s mission so that it no longer centers in evangelism and conversion, leading to discipleship and faithfulness. On the other hand, some seem to insist that the gospel lacks clear kingdom implications.

Thankfully, most in this generation are concerned to find faithfulness in all that Christ has commanded. This generation needs to invest deeply in conversation about this challenge, and to avoid simplistic and reductionistic arguments, much less misrepresentations of the arguments in play.

The Necessity of Getting the Story Right, Right from the Start

Some issues arise again and again, leaving no generation untouched. The continuing debates over evolution and Genesis are evidence of this pattern, with a score of generations forced to deal with the question of beginnings.

The current debates among evangelicals have reached a vital point – the intersection of Genesis and the gospel. We must affirm that the gospel requires a clear affirmation of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the historical reality of the Fall. The Bible’s metanarrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation requires the historical reality of God’s work in every movement of the story.

The Apostle Paul makes the historicity of Adam – and his federal headship – central to our understanding of the gospel. Those who insist that evangelicals must accommodate the gospel to the prevailing evolutionary dogma are actually insisting that the gospel be denied. If we get the story of the gospel wrong in the beginning, we will have what Paul condemned as another gospel in the end.

If God would have wanted us to live in a permissive society He would have given us Ten Suggestions and not Ten Commandments. – Zig Ziglar

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