A Cross-Shaped Gospel: Reconciling Heaven and Earth

A Cross-Shaped Gospel: Reconciling Heaven and Earth

by Bryan Loritts

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802400659
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Publication date: 10/01/2011
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 172
Sales rank: 1,294,748
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

BRYAN LORITTS is the Lead Pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church, a multi-ethnic church ministering to the urban Memphis community. Bryan has a Master¿s Degree in Theology and is currently working on his PhD. In addition to serving the community of Memphis, Bryan¿s ministry takes him across the country as he speaks to thousands annually at churches, conferences, and retreats. He is the author of God on Paper and A Cross Shaped Gospel. He was also a contributing author for the book entitled Great Preaching. Bryan was recently voted as one of the top thirty emerging Christian leaders in the country by Outreach magazine. He serves on the Board of Trustees at Biola University. Bryan is married to Korie, and is the father of three sons: Quentin, Myles, and Jaden. You can follow Bryan on twitter @bcloritts.

Read an Excerpt


Reconciling Heaven and Earth

By Bryan Loritts, Jim Vincent

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2011 Bryan Loritts
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-0065-9



At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out ... in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the cross. Tertullian

Albert Einstein was boarding a train one day, clearly preoccupied with something. While the other passengers were settling into their seats and preparing for the journey ahead, Dr. Einstein was frantically scanning the floors, lost in a search. One of the train crew noticed this and asked the brilliant scientist what he was trying to find. Albert responded that he had lost his ticket. The conductor waved the renowned Einstein off, assuring him that he need not look for his ticket because he knew exactly who he was. This was the man, after all, whom Time magazine would eventually label "the man of the twentieth century." His discoveries in physics would astound the world and change how we view the universe.

But still, Dr. Albert Einstein continued his quest for the ticket, looking between the seats and down the aisles, ignoring the conductor. Some moments later this same man reiterated that Albert didn't need to worry about finding his ticket, because again, everyone knew who he was, and surely this world-famous professor and Nobel laureate would not try to scam his way onto a train. "Relax, Dr. Einstein, we all know who you are," the conductor said.

With a frustrated sigh, Professor Einstein responded, "It's not that I don't know who I am, I know exactly who I am. I'm looking for my ticket because I don't know where I'm going."

The "Who Am I" and "Where Am I Going" Questions

Einstein's response to the train worker unearths for us two fundamental questions that every human being must face: (1) Who am I? and (2) Where am I going? Identity and direction lie at the core of humanity's soul. Fail to find the answers to these core questions, and life will be devoid of any possible meaning or satisfaction. Humanity's problem is not that men and women aren't looking for the answers to these questions; it's that most of them will spend their lives filling the blank spaces of their souls with the wrong answers.

So where can the right answers be found? Saul of Tarsus, a devout Jew, realized later in life he had been pursuing the answers for identity and direction in the wrong places. A well-educated man and very religious, he had been proud of his status as being from the same tribe of Israel that birthed her first king. As a religious Pharisee, he no doubt thought his identity could be found in his pedigree, education, and religion. He says so in Philippians 3:4–6. Yet later on Saul realized Jesus was the Christ, and he would become the humble apostle Paul. That brought about a remarkable change in attitude. His identity was no longer in himself. He wrote, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7–8).

Paul admits that he had spent his life pursuing the wrong answer, yet on a dusty Damascus road one day all of that changed when his life was transformed and revolutionized by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now in Christ he had found identity. That's why he told the Corinthians that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The gospel of Jesus Christ answers all of the questions and longings of our soul. Who am I? I am a child of God in relationship with the creator of the universe (John 1:12) because of the gospel. Where am I going? My direction and aim in life is found in the gospel.

Moving toward the Zoe Life

Since the gospel addresses our most basic needs and essential questions, God is most honored and life becomes alive when we have as our sole operating system the gospel of Jesus Christ—or what we will call in this book, the cross-shaped gospel. This is what Jesus taught His disciples when He announced that He had come "that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

The Greeks had two primary words for life: bios (we get such words as biology from here) and zoe. Bios has to do with pure existence; you know, inhaling and exhaling. Zoe, on the other hand, refers to life on a qualitative level. Zoe describes a life rich with meaning, value, and significance. One of the great tragedies of life is that most people have bios life but not zoe life. According to Jesus, zoe living is found in Him and therefore in the gospel.

Most of us will live longer than the disciples did here on earth. By today's standards, these men died relatively young. Very few of us, however, will have truly lived like they did, having that zoe life of value and significance. These men whom Jesus handpicked were so consumed by the gospel that they changed cities and their world. Along the way, they established churches that didn't just exist from season to season but communities of people who were all plugged into the zoe life that the gospel provides. Like their fathers in the faith, these churches would turn the world upside-down for the glory of God. I want this for myself, and I hope you do too.

When it comes to living the cross-shaped gospel—a zoe life of significance that both worships God and helps those around us—most Christians are only halfway there. One part of the church of Jesus Christ has removed the horizontal beam of the cross and focused solely on the vertical—their relationship with God. Others who claim to love Jesus have detached the vertical beam, focusing instead on the horizontal beam — their relationship with others. Like a surgeon with an injured hand, both sides have discovered that their ability to engage their world for the glory of God has been severely impaired.

What we need is a two-part gospel—a holistic gospel, a gospel that loves both the Father and His Son, the Redeemer Jesus, and at the same time declares that love as it seeks the souls of the lost. We need to serve God and our fellow man. We need that two-part harmony!

Where Did We Go Wrong?

If asked to present the gospel, how would you go about that? When I'm asked to give the gospel, someone expects me to give a clear presentation followed by an invitation for people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Now, I don't want to diminish this at all. In fact, the apostle Paul says that this is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). Our soul's deepest longing is to be in relationship with God.

However, what I want to suggest is that this is not all that is meant by the gospel in the Scriptures. Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles knew that the gospel had profound social implications as well, creating bold new paradigms for both how people related to one another and how they engaged their world as well. Yet church history has revealed that the force of the gospel has been severely blunted, and lives negatively impacted when we have divorced the horizontal dimensions of the gospel (our need to love and engage others) from the vertical (our need to love and engage God through His Son, Jesus Christ). Unfortunately, this separation has become the norm. It was Charles Spurgeon who once said that "One recurring tragedy of the Christian church ... has been the separation of social ministries and spiritual, evangelistic ministries."

George Whitefield and the Gospel

One of the greatest proclaimers of the gospel in church history was the English evangelist George Whitefield. Before Billy Graham, it can be argued that no one preached the gospel in America and the United Kingdom to more people than Whitefield in the eighteenth century and D. L. Moody in the nineteenth century. Whitefield's influence on how we view the gospel today is both positive and negative.

Possessed with Spirit-given abilities, Whitefield's spellbinding dominance over his audience was such that masses of people flocked to hear him. In fact, so many people came that he could no longer preach in church buildings; he had to take to the fields. Over the span of his ministry, it is estimated that he preached over eighteen thousand times to millions of people. A person of his stature would go down as one of the greatest men God has ever used, but at the same time there was a severe blemish on his earthly record.

George Whitefield owned slaves. To be sure, he was not the only preacher of his time to do so. Jonathan Edwards, a man called America's greatest theologian, did as well. What makes Whitefield stand out, though, is that it was because of this preacher of the gospel's influence that Georgia legalized slavery. Using his friendship with General James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, Whitefield lobbied to have slavery legalized. In a letter written to Oglethorpe and the trustees of the Colony of Georgia, Whitefield pleaded his case:

"My chief end in writing this, is to inform you ... that I am as willing as ever to do all I can for Georgia and the Orphan House, if either a limited use of negroes is approved of, or some more indented servants [are] sent over. If not, I cannot promise to keep any large family, or cultivate the plantation in any considerable manner."

Whitefield's biographer, Arnold Dallimore, remarks at the close of this letter, "Such was Whitefield's urging of the Trustees to allow slavery in Georgia, and as stated earlier, we can but deplore both his attitude and his action.... In 1750 the British Government submitted to the wishes of the majority of the people of Georgia; Oglethorpe's slaveless society was done away with and slavery was made a legal practice in the colony."

Tim Keller reminds us that we must always look for the sin beneath the sin, and when we examine George Whitefield's desire to have slavery legalized in Georgia, we are forced to conclude that racism is not the ultimate issue. No, there's a far greater problem. What kind of gospel did Whitefield preach that would allow the proclamation of Jesus Christ to millions of people—a man who died because God so loved the world—to coexist with lobbying for the legalization of slavery? Whitefield's problem was not a race problem; it was a gospel problem. Whatever he may have purported to believe about the gospel, or to have preached, what is obvious for Whitefield is that in practice he understood the gospel to be almost solely in terms of my relationship with Christ to the exclusion of my relationship with others.

In fairness, Whitefield did preach to the slaves, which in that day was not very common, for it was thought among many white Christians that they did not have souls and were therefore not worthy of preaching to. Whitefield disagreed. And certainly god used many other deeply flawed Christian leaders. Yet Whitefield—and many believers to this day—compartmentalized the gospel, emphasizing salvation while neglecting God's call to care for those in need.

Billy Graham Leads the Way

Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century, understood the importance of preaching a gospel for all people. While some early crusades in the South were segregated, Graham quickly came to see that God wanted the walls between the races torn down—literally and figuratively. On March 15, 1953, just a few days into his crusade meetings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he personally removed the ropes that separated the black and white sections of the audience. One year later, after the US Supreme Court ruled (in Brown v. the Board of Education) that separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional, he began to practice integration, both in his crusades and on the platform. His crusade team included a preacher from India and later an African-American associate evangelist, Howard Owen Jones. Yet his emphasis was not civil rights but the gospel itself, that people would find salvation through Christ: "The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross." Unfortunately, much of the evangelical church lagged behind Billy Graham in those days.

Jesus and the Gospel

Like the evangelists of the last three centuries, we must be careful to retain the gospel as presented by Jesus Christ. In Matthew 4, Jesus is facing hordes of people, all trying to get this new miracle worker's attention. He calls upon them to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17). Clearly, this is Jesus appealing for all to turn from their sins and follow Him. Repentance, as Jesus defined it and the likes of Whitefield and Finney understood it, was the need to surrender your heart to God and live a radically different life. But notice what happens next:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. (4:23–25, emphasis added)

Later on in chapter 9, Matthew would note the same thing about the ministry of Jesus:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (35–36, emphasis added)

Both passages intentionally say the same thing. No communicator repeats without wanting to drive home a point. In these two passages, Matthew is grabbing our collars, wanting us to understand something very important about the ministry of Jesus.

That is: Jesus aids the oppressed and afflicted as well. In other words, the gospel according to Jesus is spiritual with physical implications; it attends to both the needs of the soul and the needs of the body.

"You Feed Them"

In the middle of Matthew 14, Jesus is attracting a huge crowd, and many are seeking healing. The crowd is hungry, and the disciples petition Jesus to send them away so they can get their own food. Jesus, the one who should most be weary of the crowd, tells the disciples that they need to feed them. He orders the crowd to sit down, and taking five loaves of bread and two pieces offish, He feeds them. As thousands finish their meal, Jesus slips out the back, hops in a boat, and takes off, with not one word being said.

Not one stanza of Just as I Am is sung. No one comes to the altar for salvation, because no one's been asked. But if I discard my twenty-first-century evangelical understanding of the gospel and look at it through the lens of Jesus, I'm forced to conclude that Christ's feeding the thousands who were gathered that day was very much a part, a demonstration if you will, of the gospel.

Something in us is uncomfortable with this. We want to call this social justice or compassion ministry. However, the model Jesus leaves is that the kingdom of heaven exists to bring order to chaos—to transform lives, spiritually and physically. This is the gospel in action.

Paul: Reworking Relationships

Outside of Jesus Christ, no one had more influence on the trajectory of Christianity in its formative years than the apostle Paul. Writer of close to half the New Testament and planter of many churches, his fingerprints on the church can still be felt. Study the ministry of Paul and you find something curious. Whenever he comes to town he always asks two questions: (1) Where's the local synagogue? and (2) Where do the Gentiles hang out? He wanted to spend time with these two groups of people who wouldn't dare do life with one another. Paul would begin by preaching to the Jews, and then he would spend a lot of time preaching to Gentiles. If he's in Ephesus he goes to the lecturew hall of Tyrannus to find the Gentiles (Acts 19:9), or in Athens he's at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22).

By going to both the Jews and the Gentiles, Paul eventually faced a challenge. Some Jews would convert to Christianity and so would some Gentiles. But now what? Does he start a church for the Jews on the north side of town and a separate church for the Gentiles on the south side? This makes sense, especially when you consider that the social norms of the day meant that Jews and Gentiles just didn't mix—it was too messy, especially for the Jews and all their dietary and ceremonial standards. The easy and most efficient thing to do, most could argue, was to keep them segregated.


Excerpted from a CROSS-SHAPED Gospel by Bryan Loritts, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2011 Bryan Loritts. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: From the Shadow of the Cross,
1. The Gospel in Two–Part Harmony,
2. Reaching Out by First Reaching Up,
3. Donkeys and Elephants,
4. The Gospel and O. J. Simpson,
5. The Other Side of the Tracks,
6. The Gospel and the Glory of God,
7. Declaring the Whole Truth,
8. Getting Comfortable with a Life of Dis-ease,
9. Finishing Well,
10. A Change Is Gonna Come,

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