ABOVE ALL: WHERE THIS BOOK IS HEADED
What would happen if we returned the gospel to its rightful place in our lives and churches?
I’m convinced we’d see a renewal of God’s presence and power through this people. That’s how it happened in the nation of Israel. When they “remembered” the kindnesses of God to them, the nation awakened and experienced God’s blessing. When they forgot, they descended into chaos (for example, see Deut. 4:9, Judg. 8:34, and Isa. 65:11).
That’s what this book is about—helping us remember.
We want to remember the greatness of the gospel in such a way that it becomes of first importance, above all else.
Here’s what I think that will look like in practice—our roadmap for the remainder of this book.
The gospel will not be presented as merely the entry rite of our faith journey but the focus of our faith for the entirety of our Christian life. People will not leave our worship services or Bible studies overwhelmed by all the things they need to do for God but in awe of what he has done for them and promises to do through them.
Making disciples will be the central, defining mission of the church. The list of good things Christians and churches can do is long, but good things can divert us from the one central mission Christ gave his church: make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). We won’t cease doing everything else; we’ll just bring every other assignment into service of our central commission.
The focus of our ministries will be empowering ordinary members to be the tip of the gospel spear in their communities. This is what characterized the early church and what has been true of the church whenever and wherever we find it expanding rapidly.
The gospel compels eternal optimism. Not the facile, whimsical, personality-driven kind but the deep-seated conviction that God’s plans for the world are as hopeful as the empty tomb declares they are. The future, William Carey said, is as bright as the promises of God. When the gospel is above all, hope for and excitement about the future will define the church, no matter how dark the day seems to us.
Those who truly believe the gospel become like the gospel. When the gospel is above all, the generosity of our spirit will match the graciousness of our message. Our teaching should merely explain with words a grace that people already see modeled by our lives. This generosity of spirit not only shapes the way we relate to people on the outside; it impacts how we treat one another too.
Gospel above My Culture
If the gospel is above all, we find a unity in it greater than the myriad of things from our heritages that might divide us. We’ll always feel a natural affiliation with people of our own ethnicity and culture, with those who share similar backgrounds to us, and with those whose way of life is similar to ours. But the gospel will be larger in our hearts than even those things, and thus we’ll feel more kinship, a deeper affiliation with believers whose culture differs from ours than we do with people from our own culture who don’t share our passion for the gospel. This should empower the church to achieve a unity between ethnicities that our society longs for but is unable to obtain.
Gospel above My Preferences
When the gospel is above all, we will eagerly sacrifice our preferences for the sake of the Great Commission. Like Paul, we’ll wear our preferences like a garment we are ready to shed for the sake of the Great Commission whenever necessary. The question we bring to church will not be, What kind of church do I prefer? but, What type of ministry best reaches the people in this community?
Gospel above My Politics
And just when you thought the book was salty enough, we’ll ask how the gospel being above all should transform our approach to politics. We’ll see that when the gospel is above all, every other agenda—especially political ones—take a distinct secondary place to it. This is not to say that politics aren’t important or that Christians shouldn’t engage in them, nor is it to say that Christians should avoid controversial issues and “just preach Jesus.” Quite the contrary—the gospel often compels us to speak out. But when the gospel is above all, we’ll do so in a way that keeps the gospel central.
We’ll find that when the gospel is above all in our churches, just as Jesus gathered disciples of different political persuasions, so will we. And we’ll see that if that’s not happening, we have good reason to question whether the gospel really is as prominent in our churches as we think it is.
J. D. Greear, Above All: The Gospel Is the Source of the Church’s Renewal (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2019).