In Appreciation Of Jack Miller (2): A Fresh Hearing of the Gospel

New Life was founded by the vision and drive of a remarkable man of God—Dr. C. John Miller, or as most knew him, Jack. There were many others who came alongside Jack, including Rose Marie, his wife, whom we still think of as the “mother” of our church. But as part of our celebration of our 40th anniversary I want to try and capture something of what compelled Jack forward in a ministry that included the starting of New Life Church and World Harvest Mission (now Serge).

One of the phrases I hear attributed to Jack Miller is, “we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Jack didn’t originate that phrase (I think he said he read it in Martin Luther’s works), but that captures one of the most important ways he is remembered. It is certainly a statement that got my attention.

I got to know Jack in the mid 80s when he and others from Philadelphia joined with a group from southern states to form a new mission (World Harvest Mission, now Serge). I was pastoring a church in the Washington, DC area, which was mid-point, so we met in our building. As I heard more from Jack and those surrounding him, the language of “gospel” kept jumping out. Wasn’t gospel the good news that unbelievers needed to hear in order to find salvation? Then what did the gospel have to do with Christian living and personal renewal? Gradually I began to appreciate the scriptural truth that gospel, embodying all that we have in Jesus, was never intended to be just good news for the lost. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who is believing it” (Romans 1:16, note the sense of progressive believing, not a one-time faith).  Through my own journey to faith and constant discovery of my own weakness and failures I had come to be a passionate preacher and teacher of grace. But I found, and continue to find, that a shift to language of gospel has a greater “punch” and serves to continually drive us back to Christ himself and the work of his death and resurrection.

To speak of “living out of the power of the gospel” and being a “gospel-centered church,” and many similar expressions has been the DNA of New Life and those we have influenced. When you look out into the world of Christian ministries and organizations, it is common to see groups like “The Gospel Coalition,” or blogs devoted to “Gospel-centered Discipleship.” Books on church renewal are constantly calling for a return to “gospel-centered living,” etc. and new books about the gospel seem to appear almost daily. So the challenge of our day is not the need to introduce the idea that the gospel is for the believer as much as the nonbeliever, but the need to keep that vision alive and vibrant. “Gospel” can just become another word we use, virtually a mantra, just like I began to see “grace” used.

It has occurred to me, as I have become part of this gospel renewal movement in the last several years, that every generation needs to stop and rediscover the gospel. One way to view the Reformation would be to see it as Martin Luther and others finding the gospel again, and as a result finding the power of the gospel in life and ministry. Luther was no doubt a firm believer in Jesus while he floundered in attempts to live for Christ in his own strength, but finally understanding that Christ was his righteousness put his life on a footing that enabled him to change history. John Wesley, similarly, was a zealous Christian but totally powerless to see change in himself and others until he rediscovered the gospel and Christ his righteousness (He was actually awakened to this truth while hearing a reading of Luther’s works by some Moravians). If you read Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality you will read of a man whose whole life and trajectory of ministry changed as he recovered what he called, “the present value of the blood of Christ.” In other words, he realized that the gospel applied to his present life as well as the forgiveness of his sin.

The challenge therefore, for we who claim the heritage of Jack Miller, is not to lose his vision for renewal through the gospel. Forty years marks a generation so part of our 40th Anniversary celebration is to ask ourselves if we are hearing the gospel with receptive ears and hearts.

NEXT: Orphans Vs. Sons