JD Greear, Paul Tripp identify No. 1 issue facing the Church and how pastors should address it

J.D. Greear and Paul Tripp appear on The Gospel Coalition podcast
J.D. Greear and Paul Tripp appear on The Gospel Coalition podcast | YouTube/The Gospel Coalition

Paul Tripp and J.D. Greear said that identity is the “number one issue” facing the Church today and challenged pastors to have “joyful courage” while speaking biblical truth to a generation that has “abandoned these fundamental categories.”

“I think that the number one issue [facing the church] is identity,” said Tripp, pastor, author and head of Paul Tripp Ministries, to Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, during a recent episode of the Gospel Coalition podcast.

“I think the further we get away from a biblical worldview, the further we get away from these wonderful categories that God has given us that help us make sense of who we are and who we are in relation to one another, who we are, gender, sex ... you have this horrible loss of those categories and then people grabbing for categories.”

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“I think it’s one of the reasons why we have all the tribalism that we have now because being part of a tribe gives me identity. This is who I am. This is what I’m about. This is the meaning of my life. ... I just think we have to do better at talking about that issue in the way that really speaks to the lostness of people,” he added. 

Tripp called the loss of identity “terrifying,” adding: “I think we’re going to see that in families, younger children. I think we just exploded things that are fundamental for understanding life, and the church better be ready to deal with that.”

When it comes to dealing with the issue of identity, Tripp advised pastors to “quit assuming that people come into our churches with that in place.”

“I think you go back 50 years, you could make that assumption: People sort of knew who they were. They knew where they fit in God’s economy,” he added. “People just don’t anymore. And there’s a way in which, say you’re preaching through a passage of scripture, you have to have that in your background. That passage may assume things that you can’t assume of your congregation. You have to fill things in, in order to make this particular moment in preaching make sense because of what the people you’re preaching to have brought into the room.”

Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, noted that many large churches and seeker-friendly ministries have a tendency to “dumb down Christianity to practical life lessons.” But it behooves pastors, he said, to preach the “whole counsel of God” while also equipping and empowering people to go out and become “disciple-making disciples.”

“I think that dichotomy between deep preaching and relevant preaching is you’re going to see that go away, not just in the minds of theologians but in the minds of the seekers themselves,” he said. 

Tripp urged pastors to have “joyful courage” as they address a “generation that has abandoned these fundamental categories.”

“Whatever that person is experiencing, it’s addressed by this incredible Gospel story,” he said. 

Greear added that the Church is going to be challenged to “decide who they really are in terms of identity themselves.”

“Christians are Gospel people, and that means that there’s a lot of important things that have to give way to the most essential thing,” he said. “And I think, ... you’re just going to find churches that are going to group together around certain political advocacy, certain political things that, again, are good, but they’re just not the most essential Gospel thing.”

A recent study from Barna found that two-thirds of teens and young adults (65%) agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018. Additionally, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Mark Clark, founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada, said that in light of these statistics, the onus is on Christian parents and teachers to have a “clear, full picture” of Jesus, as the next generation is going to “reject Christianity based on how Christians live their lives and the hypocrisy and divisions they see in the church.” 

“Depending on our ideological bent, we'll home in on different aspects of Jesus and then ignore other aspects,” he said. “Yes, Jesus was all about the Golden Rule, but He was also about the scandalous idea that you have to give up your family life if it’s an idol in order to follow Him. We focus on Jesus saying, ‘I'm the truth’ and forget that He loved, served, and gave His life for the people and loved the poor and the marginalized and that Christianity actually flourishes among the margins.”

“We need to see Jesus clearly and fill in the pieces we’ve gotten wrong."

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