This is a difficult one, and perhaps more difficult than you perhaps know. Let me begin with an analogy from within the soterian model. An increasing number of seminary graduates are among the New Calvinists. They are entering churches that are nondescript evangelicals, and by that I mean the churches are not robustly Calvinist and neither are they consciously Arminian. They are what my former colleague, Grant Osborne, often called “Cal-minians.” They embrace a form of free will and they embrace eternal security. Then along comes this new pastor, a good and godly bloke, and he’s a died-in-the-wool, enthusiastic, Piper-quoting and Carson-quoting and Wells-quoting and Schreiner-quoting Calvinist who is so enthusiastic about his Calvinism … well, you get my picture.
What I hope such young Calvinists are being told is what I would tell you.
1. Theological orientation is not the gospel. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. So, preach and teach Jesus Christ. Yes, I know, for some this means Calvinism or Tom Wright’s kingdom or Jimmy Dunn’s New Perspective or Roger Olsen’s Arminianism or Miroslav Volf’s embrace. It is not any of these; the gospel, as is seen in 1 Cor 15, is first and foremost about Jesus and who God is through the revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I have made my case, as you know, in King Jesus Gospel.
2. Build your case over time. If you are persuaded of a theology, and you are persuaded that King Jesus gospel is the gospel taught in the New Testament, then I would urge you to do a series on Acts and the Sermons in Acts, with regular forays into 1 Corinthians 15. And I’d urge you to spend some time preaching from the Gospels — and if you have a lectionary you can do this even easier because each Sunday a Gospel is read. Do you realize how the Church has historically responded to the reading of The Gospel? By standing. Not by sitting as is done in the other readings. The Church has honored the reading of The Gospel, because it is the Story of Jesus, in ways that ought to draw our attention. I’m not saying just preach the Gospels; the lectionary reminds us to preach from the whole Bible. But if you find you are only preaching Genesis or Leviticus or Psalms or Isaiah or Luke or John or Romans or Galatians or Ephesians or Hebrews or Revelation — then you are lopsided and will produce lopsided teaching.
This means setting out an ordered teaching; it means implementing it in various teaching contexts. If you think folks are going to listen to your sermons and change their minds and go along with you ten months later when you bring this up … it ain’t gonna happen. Over and over, setting after setting, make it clear. But keep Jesus Christ front and center.
3. Live a Christian life that compels others to listen to the gospel. If you are a pain in the arse you will be looking for a new church in a few years. If you are loving and wise and godly and good, you will have a better hearing. I know, there are some churches so big that folks have no idea what a pain the teaching pastor really is, but that’s rare. Paul told Timothy to be an example as Paul himself was an example. Follow Christ first and lead others into following Christ.
4. Listen to the congregation. You must not coerce or badger; nor should you be asking people to leave if they don’t agree with you. It is highly likely that there are some good and godly and wise folks in your church who will say, “Young man, you need to settle down a bit.” Listen to them.
5. Take your time and let God do the real changing. The gospel will win out because the gospel is about Jesus, and Jesus — like our friend Aslan — is the kind of lion that makes us want to climb up on him and take him for a ride.