I recently had the joy of meeting Chris Castaldo and his family in Naperville, IL. I also preached in his church, Naperville New Covenant Church. It was a really enjoyable day. After visiting, Chris asked me for a blog interview for his blog: ChrisCastaldo.com (which is well worth checking out, along with his books). This is the link to the original interview, and the text is below:
1. Peter, what would you say is your driving passion in ministry?
I think the consistent thread in the ministries I’ve been involved in has been the desire to help people enjoy the Bible, and then from that, to enjoy relationship with Christ and spill that love to others. So, if I am preaching a sermon, or teaching in a seminar, or training preachers, I always want to help people catch that delight in God’s Word. I am convinced that God is a great communicator, and we just need to help people to see that.
2. That sounds great, but isn’t that what every Christian wants?
Maybe, but it doesn’t always appear to be the case. There certainly are many people whose ministry passion overlaps and complements what I have described. Sometimes people have a passion for a particular doctrine, or for a particular ministry or people group. But I have seen that in some circles the God that is preached is a scaled down version of the real God, and what results from that is effectively a thin gospel.
3. You mentioned the idea of a “thin gospel” in conversation before; can you say more on that?
Sure, when I refer to a “thin gospel” I am referring to a presentation of the good news of Jesus that may be technically true, but substantially lacking at the same time. Sometimes the gospel sounds like a 2-dimensional statement of truths, when it should be a 3-dimensional presentation of a person. The truths are true, but the person is largely missing. Or perhaps the truths are true, but several truths are missing.
For instance, I’ve often heard the gospel presented as being essentially a matter of sins forgiven because of what Christ did on the cross. True. And the rest? Don’t hear me wrong, if having our sins forgiven was the entire gospel then it would be reason enough to worship God for eternity with utter amazement – we do not deserve to have our sins forgiven through what Christ did at Calvary. However, the New Covenant promises we read about in the Old Testament, and repeatedly in the New Testament (New Covenant), are not restricted to having sins forgiven. God also promised to do a work in our hearts – living hearts replacing dead hearts, the law written on our hearts … a new affection for God and for good. And the Holy Spirit is given to each one of us, giving us eternal life as we experience genuine union with Christ and therefore fellowship with the Father. The New Covenant that we are brought into is not simply a matter of having our sins forgiven, it also involves the beginning of our transformation from the inside-out, all wrapped up in our fellowship with the Trinity. When that gets stripped back, then we end up with a thin gospel.
4. As well as preaching and offering seminars for believers, you also do a lot of training with preachers – what would you want to teach preachers in terms of countering this “thin gospel” concern?
I think one of the tensions that preachers should be feeling is the tension between the big idea and the big story. That is, the big idea is all about understanding the text you are preaching and making sure that you communicate what the text is actually saying. The big story is the whole Bible redemptive plan of God that every individual text is serving in some way. The tension preachers should be feeling is how can I make the good news of Jesus clear without abandoning my commitment to showing the right meaning of this particular text that I am preaching. Too often we start in a text, handle it fairly well, but then abandon that project to switch over to some gospel statements in order to make sure we have done that part of our job too. Often the gospel that gets tacked on is very thin. Sometimes we may even get creative to make a link that really isn’t there – thus undermining trust in our handling of the text for the sake of proving our gospel-integrity.
One of the things I like to teach is that preachers not only can preach both the big idea and the big story with integrity, but that they should do both well. It’s back to that initial thought that God is a good communicator and we get to show that to people! I want to help preachers understand and show how the text they are preaching offers genuine redemptive hope to their listeners, and to do so in a way that stirs their listeners not only to enjoy their Bibles, but to really enjoy Christ!
5. If a reader is interested in finding out more about your ministry, where should they go?
Thank you. If anyone wants to receive our family and ministry updates, then they can sign up via this link – http://eepurl.com/bpH9b My blog may be helpful: www.BiblicalPreaching.net and my books should be easy to find on your book retail website of choice – look for Pleased to Dwell, Lost in Wonder, Foundations, as well as two devotional guides to Galatians and John’s Letters.