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Monday, October 13, 2014

"Gospel Centered Teaching" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2013, (128 pages).

In Churches and Christian communities around the world, many groups meet together as Bible study groups. In order to sustain and to enable these groups to flourish, the leader is critical. Whether one calls this person a facilitator, a Bible study leader, or a coordinator, the fact remains that one or more persons are needed in order to lead the discussion. Recognizing this, author Trevin Wax has put together a guide to enable such leaders to lead in a "gospel-centered" way.

Five chapters comprise this guide to "Gospel-Centered Teaching." The first points out the deficiencies happening in many groups. There are groups that are so inward-focused in their studies that Wax calls them, "missional apathy." Such groups do not give members a sense of mission toward outside causes. There are also those that smack of "biblical illiteracy" in which even after years of Bible study, members do not seem to grow. This leads to a third concern which is "shallow" Bible studies. Wax also makes an interesting observation about how young kids in Sunday School learn all the "do's" and when they reach high school levels, they start learning all the "don'ts." The cry for depth sometimes lead people to think that it is more information or more application. Wax disagrees. It is actually more of the gospel. This is further developed in chapter 2 which moves away from Bible studies that focus on information gathering or theological discussions that one misses out the Person of God. I like how Wax summarizes what the Bible is about via a particular Baptist leader's words.

"The Bible has one central theme: God’s redemptive purpose. It has one central figure: Christ. It has one central goal: God supreme in a redeemed universe. The Old Testament sounds the messianic hope. The Gospels record Christ’s incarnation. Acts relates His continuing work through the Holy Spirit. The Epistles interpret His person and work. Revelation proclaims His final triumph and glory. The Bible points forward to Christ, backward to Christ, and again forward to Christ in His glorious return and reign. Forward, backward, and forward. Everywhere you turn, there is Christ."

Thus, the purpose of all Bible studies is to know God through Christ. It is not Bible study that will change our lives. It is knowing Christ. This is not simply declaring that "Jesus is the answer" for everything. It means the gospel declaring the power of God unto salvation; for sanctification; and motivation for mission. In chapter two, Wax defines the gospel with three angles:
  1. The gospel as announcing the Reign of Jesus Christ
  2. The gospel as a narrative of the whole story of the Bible
  3. The gospel as building a missional community.
Chapter Three helps us join the dots. With the gospel as the focus, one can start reading the Bible by asking the question about how one's study fits into the Big story of the Bible. This is important so as to gain a biblical worldview; to discern the truth and false worldviews; to properly understand the gospel; and be focused on Jesus. This can be done with a systematic Bible reading plan. Wax also notes that one should not shun away from teaching young ones "big words." His argument is that such terminologies do not stumble but helped them to remain on the quest to find out what they are. Interesting and practical tip for Sunday school.

Chapter 4 brings in the application after the gospel has been presented. These applications come in the form of questions such as:
  • What is a Christian?
  • How did the Old Testament point to the Person of Christ?
  • Is it possible for "Jesus" to be mentioned and still not be gospel-centered?
  • Is the teaching able to help unbelievers see the difference between mere morality and Christian faith?
Chapter 5 deals with the third aspect of the gospel: Mission. In fact, this is a clue on effective Bible studies. We must never let studies become an end in itself. They must lead to sharing the good news with others outside, after the studies.

So What?

I am thankful for this brief but extremely helpful guide on how to do better Bible studies. Wax has enabled us to understand three aspects of the gospel, to ensure that we be clear about our faith. That is needs to be centered on Christ; that the whole Bible must be asked and referenced with regards to how the whole Scriptures tell the story of Christ; and how the gospel compels one to share the good news with all. Wax has given us three reasons why Bible study groups stagnate after a while. It is true that people tend to be too caught up with information cramming and application gathering. It is also true about the inward-focus as well as the shallow and biblical illiteracy. There can be several more, such as groups that are therapeutic-centered; personality-infatuated; group-think-infected; and other narcissistic pursuits. At the same time, there is also a place for groups to cultivate spiritual formation and disciplined growth. Not all groups are the same. Some groups meet more frequently while others are not so frequent. Even leaders need to be trained so that they are able to lead effectively.

I feel that this book ends abruptly. Some sample studies with application helps would be ideal so that whatever that was shared can be visualized. I want to caution the use of "gospel-centered" teaching as a one-size-fits-all solution to all Bible studies. While I appreciate the simple and systematic approach to having Christ as center of all focus, it is important to bring in genre awareness as well. Certain books of the Bible are more easily Christ-centered (eg. the gospels, especially John) while others can be quite difficult to link to the Person of Jesus (eg. Song of Solomon, Judges). Some books also require more theological expertise compared to others. I would recommend that beginning leaders use the easier books to be "gospel-centered." Training must also be used to supplement the Bible study leader.

Nevertheless, I warmly recommend this book for all involved in small groups. You do not have to be a leader in order to benefit from this book. In fact, this book can also help us in our individual Bible studies too. Thanks again Trevin Wax!

Rating: 4 stars of 5


This book is provided to me courtesy of B and H Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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