Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax – A Review
Feeling like your church small group is lacking missional fervour? Maybe it just seems like discussions always remain pretty shallow? Or perhaps there’s just a real lack of fundamental Bible knowledge? In this short, accessible book, Trevin Wax suggests the antidote: showing Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures.
So, who’s this Trevin Wax geezer?
Given what the book’s about it’s no surprise to find out that Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a organisation based stateside which produces all-age church resources for helping people to understand the storyline of the Bible. He’s also a regular blogger for The Gospel Coalition at Kingdom People.
And who’s the book for?
Wax is unashamedly writing for those involved in any teaching and leading roles within a local church, whether that’s reading the Bible one-to-one, teaching in childrens’ or youthwork, or leading an adults’ small group. This means GCT is also a book well worth pastors considering, as one to give away/recommend to those leading these ministries in their churches.
What’s the Problem?
Wax begins by highlighting three common problems in church small-groups: the tendency to be inward-focused; the reality of biblical illiteracy; and the tendency to never get round to applying the Bible. Various fads and quick-fixes can get proposed to ‘sort these out’, but Wax reckons many of such ‘solutions’ suffer from two particular misconceptions: a) that depth is to be measured by information (“we need more knowledge”) and that depth is measured by “practical ways to put the Bible into practice”. As he says,
There’s hardly anything new in this book… my goal is to remind you of something you already instinctively know as a teacher of God’s word or a leader of a small group. It’s Jesus who changes lives, and the goal of your Bible study is to continually reintroduce people to Him.
What’s all this Gospel-centred craic?
As such Wax’s work works as both a helpful introduction and a refreshing reminder to the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the whole Bible and is to be at the heart of all ‘ministry’:
At the end of the day, it’s not enough to be “Bible-believing” or “Word-centered,” because, after all, the Bible we believe and the Word we proclaim is itself Christ-centered.
His second chapter unpacks this, outlining the gospel’s message (Jesus’ person and work and the need to respond in repentance and faith), the gospel’s context (God’s big-picture story of Scripture) and the gospel’s purpose (the community of the church birthed by the gospel). In part Wax is trying to tackle the notion that ‘the gospel’ is something to just tack onto the end of our talks or Bible-studies for unbelievers. It’s something a couple of my friends addressed in their book God Speaks. We all need the gospel, for the gospel is all we have:
The gospel isn’t the dessert at the end of the meal. It’s the salt that gives distinctive flavour to the meat and potatoes. The gospel is what makes our teaching distinctively Christian. And Jesus is at the heart of the gospel.
A Bible all about Jesus…
Wax goes on to explain being ‘gospel-centred’ requires understanding and teach the Bible’s overall storyline, and so helping people form worldviews shaped by it. I can remember being shown for the first time that the Bible contains one big story of God working out his promises. It simply blew my mind. Vast chunks of the Old Testament that I’d hardly considered before suddenly became relevant and full of wonder. It’s about God and his plan, rather than first and foremost me:
“It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama”.
I think where Gospel-Centered Teaching works brilliantly is in making explicit some of the ministry implications that flow from the belief that all the Scriptures testify about the gospel of Jesus. It counters the idea that the Bible is just a divine instruction manual, or a impersonal map for doing well in life.
Yet as Wax acknowledges, his book is definitely not a replacement for introducing people to the concept of a Bible Overview. Instead he suggests a number of foundational resources, e.g. Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan, Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture, or Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible. So for Wax’s book to really pack its punch, it makes sense that one already has some prior understanding of the Bible as one big story with the person and work of Jesus at its heart. But assuming that most of those teaching in churches will be doing so because they believe these things, then this book is a perfectly-sized gentle encouragement to let those beliefs shape and connect with one’s teaching, whatever the age and stage.
Finding our Gospel motivations…
Another small caveat: although Wax does give a handful of examples of how a gospel motivation will shape how you teach a particular topic, I wonder if actually sometimes these connections will flow more naturally when a leader has simply been taught to read the Bible well. If a leader is working hard to find the author’s intent in a particular passage (as well as its place in the Bible’s overall story), then that should naturally entail considering the particular ‘engine’ or motivation that a Bible author is putting forward in that particular Bible book. As such perhaps Wax’s book will be most profitable when those Bible-handling skills are simultaneously being nurtured. One doesn’t need to magic a ‘gospel motivation’ out of thin air! If we’re doing our best to listen to the particular tone and motivation of a Bible book, and aware of its place in the Bible’s story, then our teaching should be protected from becoming ‘gospel-flat’, with every study or sermon sounding the same, which can sometimes be a valid criticism of ‘Christ-centred preaching’.
Overall, GCT is a feisty little tonic that should get you eager to make much of Jesus and the gospel of grace in any teaching ministry you’re involved with. At 109 pages, it’s in danger of sounding like more of a tome than it really is. With a pocket-sized leaf (you’ll be surprised how small it is!), spacious margins, and helpful subheadings, you’ll probably merrily skip through the book in two or three relaxed sittings. And you’ll be in good heart afterwards.
Gospel Centered Teaching is available to buy in the UK here.
Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of the book for free, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review!