A common response to being made aware of one’s short-comings or being faced with threat is to try harder. We double down. In the times of our greatest need, we are tempted to turn in on ourselves for resolve to overcome.
That is not a gospel response.
This is all too common of a response in life. Let me provide a typical example. When I read on spiritual growth, too often I am cast back upon myself. What does this look like? I (subject) walk away with a list of things I am to do (verb) that will cause God (object) to transform me…..or something like that. That is not the gospel (this is actually a form of Pelagianism which teaches we can be and do better by our own efforts apart from God’s grace).
Back to gospel grammar school for me….
A Gospel Grammar*
A basic sentence has a subject, a verb and an object.
So what is a gospel grammar?
God is always the subject.
God’s redemptive activity is the verb.
All creation, human kind supremely, is the object.
This provides us our ingredients for a gospel orientation for our grammar: What God has done, is doing, and will do on behalf of all creation. Creation, including us, is in a receptive and responsive posture.
This grammar is crucial in our teaching, writing, story telling, and shepherding.
An Example of Gospel Grammar in Action
One of my colleagues found a wonderful, old (1970’s!) interview of James Torrence. The entire interview is 20+ minutes long. But fast forward to 17:30 and listen to the sweet story Torrence tells of caring for a man desperately in need. Torrence shepherds him to the reality of the Father, Son and Spirit and the gospel reality we are gathered into. Go ahead and take a moment to watch this short clip (it will open in a separate tab).
What a sweet story of pastoral kindness oriented around the gospel of our Lord! This story is also recorded as the opening of chapter 2 in his book Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (which is worth the read). Note how Torrence did not “throw the man back upon himself” in his time of deep need and profound spiritual inability. He related to the man from a Trinitarian, Christ-centered starting point. It is the gospel grammar in action. Beautiful. Torrence provides us a model for gospel orientation in caring for others. And to responding to ourselves in seasons of uncertainty (of which we find ourselves in today).
Shepherding with a Gospel Grammar
God is always previous.
He is there before we arrive. He has been working before we are aware of it.
He is always the subject. He is always acting on our behalf, on behalf of the entire world.
We are always being moved towards, invited in, wooed. Ours is always a response to his primary loving and faithful pursuit. Always.
Each of us knows others, even ourselves, who resemble the man on the beach. How is Jesus graciously teaching you to not throw yourself back upon yourself with doubling down determination? How is he teaching you to not throw others back upon themselves in a time of need?
God invites us to rest in his provident care and reflect that in our pastoral-grammar to others and ourselves.
Take the gospel grammar test: Pay attention to how you order your statements over the coming weeks. I’d love to hear what you notice.
*Credit goes to Vicar Ken Robertson at International Anglican Church, Colorado Springs, CO for introducing me to this gospel orientational in one’s grammar.