What Is Gospel Culture and How is It Developed?

In this week’s episode of the Theology for the People podcast, I speak with Tim Chaddick.

Tim is the Pastor for Preaching at Reality Ventura and Founding Pastor of Reality Church London and Reality LA. A native to California, Tim’s first ten years of church-planting ministry started as the Lead Pastor of Reality LA in 2006, a thriving church in the heart of Hollywood, before planting Reality London in the UK in 2016. In 2021, Tim returned to California to take up the Pastor for Preaching role at Reality Ventura.

In this episode we talk about culture in general, and “gospel culture” specifically. What is “gospel culture” and how is it developed amongst a group of people, whether that be a church, a family, a staff, or elsewhere? 

Tim’s first two books, Better: How Jesus Satisfies the Search for Meaning and The Truth about Lies, were projects which came from lessons learned while living and pastoring in urban areas. Pastor Tim and his wife Lindsey care deeply about the ministry of the local church and seek to devote themselves to helping churches begin and flourish in their mission to share and reflect the gospel.

Tim and I will both be speaking at the Calvary Chapel / CGN International Conference in Orange County, California, June 26-29. More information and registration can be found here at conference.calvarychapel.com

If you find this episode interesting or helpful, please share it with others and leave a rating and review on your podcast app, as that helps other people discover this podcast and its content.

Click here to listen to the episode, or listen in the embedded player below.

What is Gospel Culture and How is It Developed? Theology for the People

Tim Chaddick is the Pastor for Preaching at Reality Ventura and Founding Pastor of Reality Church London and Reality LA. A native to California, Tim's first ten years of church-planting ministry started as the Lead Pastor of Reality LA in 2006, a thriving church in the heart of Hollywood, before planting Reality London in the UK in 2016. In 2021, Tim returned to California to take up the Pastor for Preaching role at Reality Ventura. In this episode we talk about culture in general, and "gospel culture" specifically. What is "gospel culture" and how is it developed amongst a group of people, whether that be a church, a family, a staff, or elsewhere?  Tim and I will both be speaking at the Calvary Chapel / CGN International Conference in Orange County, California, June 26-29. More information and registration can be found here at conference.calvarychapel.com Tim's first two books, Better: How Jesus Satisfies the Search for Meaning and The Truth about Lies, were projects which came from lessons learned while living and pastoring in urban areas. Pastor Tim and his wife Lindsey care deeply about the ministry of the local church and seek to devote themselves to helping churches begin and flourish in their mission to share and reflect the gospel.

What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?: How Should Christians Relate to Ideas and Practices Which Originate Outside of Christianity?

In this episode of the Theology for the People Podcast, Michael and I discuss the topic about which I wrote my BA dissertation: How should Christians relate to ideas and practices in our culture and society which have their origin outside of Christianity?

Some good examples would be:

  • Can Christians practice yoga? (Origins in Hinduism)
  • How about martial arts?
  • What about Christmas? (December 25 was originally a pagan solstice festival which Christians “took over,” detached it from its pagan origins, and infused it with new meaning and made it all about Jesus)
  • What about psychology?
  • How about certain instruments, like drums?
  • What about rock music and electric guitars?

This discussion of how Christians should relate to ideas and practices which originate outside of Christianity can be traced all the way back to a historical argument between Tertullian and Justin Martyr, early Christian apologists and theologians, and can be summarized by Tertullian’s classic question: “What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?”

In this episode, Michael and I discuss the relevant principles from the Bible we should follow as guides in navigating these matters.

How does the redemptive narrative arc of Scripture affect how we relate to these practices? How about what Paul says about meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14?

Check out our discussion in the embedded player below, or by clicking here: What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?: How Should Christians Relate to Ideas and Practices Which Originate Outside of Christianity?

What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?: How Should Christians Relate to Ideas and Practices Which Originate Outside of Christianity? Theology for the People

In this episode Nick Cady and Michael Payne speak about how Christians should relate to things which originate outside of Christianity, such as yoga, psychology, Christmas, drums, or rock music.  This discussion can be traced all the way back to a historical argument between Tertullian and Justin Martyr which can be summarized by Tertullian's classic question: "What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?" Visit the Theology for the People blog site at nickcady.org – where you can ask questions or submit suggestions for future episodes.

My Top 10 Books of 2020

I read 35 books in 2020 (including the Bible!). Here are a few of my favorites (other than the Bible), in no particular order:

  1. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson

I read this book as part of my research for my Masters dissertation, which was on the topic of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and whether belief in this concept was novel to the Reformation period, or if it had precedent in the patristic period as well.

2. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, Nathan Hatch

Great short essays about the history of thinking about the Bible in America, particularly in regard to radical individualism and the rejection of tradition and the church in the interpretive process. Sadly, it is out of print, but used copies are available to order.

3. On Christian Doctrine, Augustine of Hippo

A true classic, written between 397 and 426 AD. The main topic of this book is about how to interpret and teach the Bible.

4. Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, Kim Phuc Phan Thi

The autobiography of the woman from the famous photo of a girl burning in napalm in Vietnam, and how she became a Christian.

5. The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus, Arthur Chichester

An engaging travel log through the area hit by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by one of my favorite YouTubers.

6. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K.A. Smith

Theologian James K.A. Smith gives a biography of Saint Augustine while retracing his steps from North Africa to Italy and back.

7. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse teaches at Wheaton College, an evangelical divinity school in Illinois. This book gives and important framework for understanding the issues related to gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective, including much of the research that has been done on the topic, and advice for parents and those who seek to minister to people and families.

8. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, Kevin DeYoung

An accessible study of what the Bible teaches about the Bible.

9. How to (Not) Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith

This is a thinking person’s book about culture in our postmodern age. Smith uses terms like “epistemic pelagianism” to describe the idea that people can figure out everything on their own without the help of God. He discusses Charles Taylor’s idea of the “imminent frame,” i.e. the present world, and its shortcomings. So many important thoughts in this book, although it’s not the easiest read.

See also: What is Epistemic Pelagianism?

10. Légy Jó Mindhalálig, Móricz Zsigmond

A few years ago I decided to read the required reading for Hungarian secondary students. This is a classic novel about a student in Debrecen, Hungary, a city where I lived for over 3 years.

Cancel Culture, Sarah Silverman, and the Hope of Redemption

Sarah Silverman — Armchair Expert

Years ago I was telling my dad about the moral failure of a high profile Christian leader which had disqualified him from ministry. I concluded the story by saying something to the effect of: “Well, I guess he showed his true colors.”

My dad’s response was: “What if that’s not who he is at the core, but a mistake that he made?”

There I was, judging this man based on one of his worst moments, and saying: “That is who he IS!” My dad was willing to say that while what this man did was wrong, he should be given the opportunity for redemption rather than being forever dismissed and defined by his worst moment.

This isn’t to say that people are not sinners or that sinful actions are justifiable, or can just be chalked up as an “oops” that doesn’t count against us. No.

And yet: What do we do with sinners? Do we write them off and condemn them, standing upon their fallen frames in order to make ourselves appear that much taller? Or do we believe that redemption is possible and desire to see it take place?

I don’t pay much attention to Sarah Silverman, but I stumbled upon this clip of her talking about cancel culture and how it labels people as irredeemable. She makes a great point: Don’t we want to see people change? If so, we should encourage and celebrate transformation rather than self-righteously writing off people forever who have made mistakes.

This is what made Jesus so incredible: he showed love to those whom his society considered irredeemable: prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners. Far from affirming their sins, he offered them redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny.

Here is the clip from Sarah Silverman:

Sarah is not a Christian, but she is touching on something that is core to Christianity.

May we as the church be those who champion redemption, who provide a place where people are loved and are shown that they are not irredeemable because of Jesus!

In him, fallen people like us have had our sins dealt with before God, and therefore we can receive forgiveness, redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny. That’s good news.

Where Does Our Sense of Morality Come From?

Is morality something that people intuitively know, or is it something we need to be told or instructed about?

Why is it that what is considered moral changes over time in different societies?

Pastor Mike and I discuss these questions in this week’s Sermon Extra video, in which we look at 1 Timothy 1:8-9: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners”

The book we reference about people who considered murder and lying to not be wrong and treachery to be a virtue is Peace Child by Don Richardson, which I highly recommend.

We also discuss the question of how much of a Christian’s self-understanding should be determined by the recognition of their sinfulness versus their having been redeemed by Jesus.

Hulk Hogan, Idols, and the Name of God

Recently Hulk Hogan posted this on Facebook, which garnered a lot of attention, and a reader asked me to comment on it.

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church”
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.

Matters of the Soul and the Body

I agree with Hulk’s statement that we should take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival.

I agree with his call to repentance, prayer, and seeking the Lord from 2 Chronicles 7:14.

I don’t see why this repentance and revival would exclude the need for a vaccine however, but just as Jesus said: “What does it benefit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?”, (Mark 8:36) that question could easily be applied to our current situation: “What does it benefit a person if they survive the COVID-19 crisis but lose their soul?”

Personally, I have seen a significantly greater openness to the gospel and to prayer in many people during this crisis, and I praise God for that. I believe that God is more concerned with the well-being of our souls than with our physical comfort. At the same time, it is also the call of the people of God to relieve suffering when possible (see Matthew 25:31-46), as we look forward to the end of sickness and death forever for those in Christ because of what He accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.

The Human Heart is an Idol Factory

Hulk claims that “in three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship.”

The thing is, just taking away people’s money doesn’t make them stop worshiping money. Oftentimes it is not what we have that we worship, but what we want – that’s what it means to covet.

One of the things I learned working with refugees and the impoverished Roma population in Hungary, is that some of the people who worship money the most are those who don’t have any of it. They seek after it, believing that if they had it, they would be content and fulfilled. Some of the most materialistic people I have known are people who lacked materially. On the contrary, I have known many wealthy people who were incredibly generous – having learned firsthand that money and possessions will never fill the God-shaped void in one’s soul.

Martin Luther stated that “the human heart is an idol factory.” In other words, even if God did take away these idols, (which are all clearly still here, with the exception of sports) the underlying problem would still exist, and we would just make and find new idols to worship with our time, energy, resources, and attention.

What we need is something deeper: regeneration, new birth, a transformation from the inside out, which is the work of God in our lives.

The Name of God

I find it absurd that Hulk uses the name of God as his personal motto: “I am that I am.”

The name Yahweh derives from the Hebrew word for “to be” – which is why God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that “I am who I am” if Pharaoh asked the name of the God who had sent Moses.

To use this name as a personal motto is borderline, or perhaps blatant blasphemy, in my opinion.

In Conclusion

While it is a bit ironic that Hulk Hogan, a celebrity, is calling out the cultural idol of celebrity worship, and his point about God taking away our idols is dubious at best (if God shut down stadiums to stop our worship of athletes, how does he then reason that the shutting of churches is to be understood as punishment for people not going to church???), his core point is a good one: rather than just waiting for this to be over, we should take this time to refocus on our relationship with God and repent where necessary of giving other things the place in our hearts which rightly belongs to Him.

What Does Peter Mean by Adding “Virtue” to Your Faith?

parthenon greece landmark

This past Sunday at White Fields we began our study of 2 Peter, as part of our “Pilgrim’s Progress” series. The sermon “Make Your Calling and Election Sure” looked at 2 Peter 1:1-15.

In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter urges his readers to make every effort to add to their faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

All of those seem pretty straightforward, except perhaps one: Virtue.

How Does Peter Understand “Virtue”?

“Virtue” seems like a pretty broad term, and one that different people might define in different ways.

However, keep in mind that Peter is writing to people throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). This is stated explicitly in 1 Peter 1:1: “To those…in…Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” These are the historical regions of Asia Minor, which at this time was a predominately Greek-speaking, Hellenized region. Hellenization wasn’t only about the Greek language, it also included the proliferation of Greek social norms and philosophical ideas.

Greek philosophy included the thoughts and writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the most influential and prominent stream of Greek philosophy being Stoicism.

The Stoics were very focused on the idea of “virtue” and held that there are four “cardinal virtues”: Wisdom, Morality, Courage, and Moderation.

Keeping this historical and cultural setting in mind, it would seem that when Peter uses the word “virtue,” he does so with the expectation that his readers will associate that with the Greek philosophical teachings on virtue, particularly that of the Stoics.

Without Faith, Virtue Avails Nothing

It is significant that Peter speaks of “adding” or “supplementing” your faith with virtue. In other words, faith in Jesus and his finished work is the baseline upon which we are encouraged to add these virtues.

So, while Peter is affirming that the Stoics were right that these virtues are good, to have these virtues apart from faith in Jesus will avail you nothing before God. These virtues might help you in life and in relationship with other people, but they will not do anything to improve your standing before God.

CS Lewis on Virtue: the Bible vs. the Stoics

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. 

You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love. 

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.  If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. 

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 

This week Mike and I sat down to discuss this question of what it means to add virtue to your faith for our weekly Sermon Extra video series:

Is the Term “Evangelical” One We Should Embrace or Avoid?

man wearing black crew neck shirt reading book

In a recent post, I reviewed Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossiblein which he takes aim at “biblicism,” which he claims is particularly prevalent amongst evangelical Christians.

This brings up an important question: What exactly is an “evangelical”?

Popular Usage

Recently a friend from church approached me before service one Sunday morning. He pointed out an article in the New York Times about evangelicalism in America, and asked what exactly an evangelical is, and whether our church was evangelical.

Another friend recently posted online about two Christian leaders who had written a book about their support for a particular political issue, and my friend’s comment was that the divide between evangelicals and Jesus is widening all the time.

Obviously my friend is speaking of evangelicals as if they are a single, united group of people, who for the most part do not only hold certain religious beliefs, but also certain political and social positions.

Again, it begs the question: what exactly is an “evangelical”?

Origin of the Term

The word “evangelical” means “of the gospel” or “about the gospel.” It comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means a proclamation of good news.

See also: The Gospel of Caesar Augustus, & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and what He has done in order to save us, redeem us, and reconcile us to God, is the core message of Christianity. Thus, an “evangelical Christian” simply means: a Christian who is about the gospel, or a gospel Christian.

Co-Opting of the Term

Since the gospel is the core message of Christianity, one would assume that all Christians would be people who are about the gospel! Unfortunately, some political groups have attempted to co-opt the term evangelical to give the impression that theologically conservative Christians all agree with particular political, social, and economic positions and support certain political parties.

This has led some Christians to feel that they should abandon the term evangelical, as they feel it is no longer helpful in identifying them because the term may be associated in some people’s minds with certain political positions, thus creating an unnecessary barrier for some in approaching Christianity.

So what is an evangelical?

Defining Evangelicalism

Theologian and historian Mark Noll says: “the groups and individuals making up the postwar evangelical movement unite on little except profession of a high view of scripture and the need for divine assistance in salvation.” [1]

Another definition states that evangelicalism is “a transdenominational movement that has sought to transcend its differences in order to work together toward certain common activities and goals, particularly evangelism, world missions, and ministries of mercy and justice.” [2]

Nathan Hatch explains that evangelicals cannot be spoken of as if they are one united group of people who all share the same core beliefs, nor is there one leader who represents or speaks on behalf of evangelicals as a whole. He states, “In truth, there is no such thing as one evangelicalism. [It is made up of] extremely diverse coalitions dominated by scores of self-appointed and independent-minded religious leaders.” [3]

Thus, for my friend to say that “evangelicals are moving farther away from Jesus every day” is to suppose that certain leaders speak on behalf of a movement which is united in both their theological and political views, which is absolutely not true. Nevertheless, many people obviously hold this opinion, partly because of “self-appointed” leaders who act as if they do speak on behalf of evangelicals as a whole, which is the reason why many Christians are considering whether it would be best to distance themselves from this descriptor.

Not an American Movement

One of the problems with associating the term evangelical with Christians who hold certain political positions is that it fails to recognize that evangelicalism is a worldwide movement, not an American one, and evangelicals around the world hold a wide variety of positions on social and economic issues. Even in the United States, evangelicals are not united in their political views or affiliations.

Should We Embrace It or Avoid It?

Words are only helpful until they are not. Furthermore, the helpfulness of words depends on context, because in different contexts, the same words can be associated with different things. If a word carries a lot of baggage in a particular context, it might be better to find a different word.

For example, in Hungary, where I pastored for several years, the word evangéliumi (literally: of the gospel) was a helpful and positive term which gave people a sense of who we were and what we were about. In England, where I have done my theological education, the term evangelical does not carry heavy political connotations, and is therefore helpful in describing a certain kind of Christian who is active in their faith, takes the Bible seriously, and is engaged socially. John Stott, an Anglican, is remembered in England as the face of the Evangelical Alliance, a group of churches that works together beyond denominational lines to further the gospel.

In the United States some Christians, including myself, have opted for using alternative monikers, such as “Gospel-Centered,” which retains the idea of being focused on the gospel, while not using a term which has come to be associated with many things other than the gospel in American society. As I often say: as a Christian, the only controversy I want to be known for is the controversy of the gospel.

Rhode Island & Walden Pond: How They Shaped the Way Americans Think About Church

person sitting on bench under tree

It has been said that there are two men who did more to shape the American psyche and culture than anyone else:

#1: Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island

Roger Williams moved from England to Boston in the 1600’s to be part of the Puritan colony of Massachusetts

The Puritans’ goal was to create a pure church, free from politics, corruption, and compromise.

Roger Williams loved this idea… the only thing was: after a while he noticed some things in the church there in Boston that he didn’t really like. Things such as how baptisms were carried out, and how the church was managed.

So, do you know what he did?   He left.

Roger moved down south of Boston and established his own colony, with its own church, in what is now Providence, Rhode Island.

But then, guess what happened… After a while, Roger found some things he didn’t like about this new church, and some of the people there (the very church he himself had founded!). And so, Roger Williams left that church as well, and established another church nearby.

And then he left that church too…

Every church he started, he eventually left – because he found things he didn’t like… and they never completely matched his vision for what a perfect church should be, which is particularly interesting since he was the leader of these churches.

Roger Williams ended up alone, still having faith, but completely withdrawn from Christian community.

#2: Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau was a writer, who famously encouraged us to “march to the beat of our own drum.”

He lived in a hut, next to Walden Pond, and would write about going for walks in the forest alone.

Thoreau expressed a very powerful theme for Americans: we take care of ourselves, we work for ourselves, we answer to ourselves — and when it comes to church, we do that for ourselves too.

Thoreau shaped American culture by putting the self at the heart of the American psyche.

His biographer put it this way:  Henry David Thoreau “stands as the most powerful example…of the American mentality of: self-trust, self-reverence, or self-reliance.”

But here’s the thing:  if you look at Thoreau’s life, you don’t find a happy person. He struggled to engage in long-term, meaningful relationships with others, and at the end of his life he had no friends.

Rugged Individualism + Personal Religion = Selling Us Short

The “rugged individualism” of Thoreau plus the “personal religion” of Roger Williams shapes American culture to this day.

Like fish in water, it is hard for us to imagine things any other way, but thankfully God’s Word gives us God’s vision for what the Body of Christ, the gathered, redeemed People of God, AKA: the Church is intended to be and called to be. And when understood, it becomes clear that our culture of rugged individualism + personal religion is selling us short. God has something better for us!

See the article: A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It 

I love this quote from Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson:

We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.

This Sunday at White Fields Church in Longmont, we will continue our Vision series by looking at God’s vision for the church. If you are in the area, we would love to have you join us!

For more on this, check out the book: A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together by Scot McKnight

Most Popular Posts of 2019

macbook pro beside spiral notebook

Thank you for reading and subscribing to this blog. 2019 saw continued growth in readership.

I wrote 101 articles this year, which were viewed 58,000 times, a 70% increase over last year. Subscriptions increased by 35%.

Most Popular Posts of 2019:

  1. The Gospel of Caesar Augustus & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

  2. Joaquin Phoenix is Playing Jesus, but Refused to Reenact One of His Miracles
  3. Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?
  4. Augustine & Disordered Loves
  5. Why is Satan Going to Be Released at the End of the Thousand Years
  6. Jordan Peterson & the Bible
  7. What Does it Mean to Live “Coram Deo”?
  8. Why Gossip is Like Pornography
  9. New Zealand, Nigeria & New York: Religious Violence, Refugees & Reporting
  10. Is Christianity About Denying Yourself or About Being Happy?

If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do!

Have a happy New Year, and may God bless you in 2020!