Preaching: The Foundation and the Superstructure

Dear Church Family,

In last week’s reflection, we considered how we might arrive at a more full-orbed definition of the gospel. The gospel is about more than the good news of justification, it is the good news of the kingdom of God! Thus, the gospel includes what Christ, as the King of God’s kingdom, has done in history: how Jesus brought the kingdom (inauguration), how Jesus rules the kingdom (continuation), and how Jesus will bring the kingdom in its fullness (consummation). And, the gospel includes the application of what Christ has done for us as members of God’s kingdom: how we enter into the kingdom (justification), how we live in the kingdom (sanctification), and where we are going in the kingdom (glorification).

Jesus Christ and the Doctrines and Commandments of God (1 Corinthians 3:10-17)

When it comes to preaching the gospel (and hearing the gospel preached), it is important to keep these things in mind. All preaching – if it is true gospel preaching – ought to be Christ-centered. Yet, some Christians, and some preachers among them, propose that true gospel preaching ought to be Christ-centered in such a way that each and every sermon is about the doctrine of justification. While every sermon ought to be at least implicitly evangelistic, this view promotes the notion that every sermon ought to be explicitly evangelistic.

As we’ve noted, part of the gospel is the good news of justification, but to reduce the preaching ministry to preaching sermons only about justification by faith alone in Christ alone imposes a particular grid on Scripture, distorts the purposes of preaching, and does a disservice to God’s people. Yes, everyone needs to hear and be reminded about justification by faith alone (believers, as well as unbelievers); yet, while believers and unbelievers both need to hear about justification, there is more to “preaching the gospel.”

Consider how the Apostle Paul describes his preaching ministry to the church in Corinth:

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.  11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,  13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.  14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.  16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Corinthians 3:10-17)


As a pastor and preacher, Paul describes himself as a “wise master builder” (v 10) who in his preaching has laid the essential foundation of Jesus Christ (v 11). In the following verses, he proceeds to describe what it means to build upon that foundation – what we might call the ‘superstructure’ of his preaching ministry. This superstructure, which is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, may be comprised of either gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and straw.

But what does Paul mean by use of this imagery? In condemning the Pharisees, Jesus said, “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:7-8). Simply put, the gold, silver, and precious stones are the doctrines and commandments of God; the wood, hay, and straw are the precepts and traditions of men. Both may be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, but only one will survive the fires of judgment on the day of Christ.

Concerning this superstructure, John Calvin writes:

…by gold, silver, and precious stones, he means doctrine worthy of Christ, and of such a nature as to be a superstructure corresponding to such a foundation…by wood, hay, and straw is meant doctrine not answering to the foundation, such as is forged in men’s brain, and is thrust in upon us as though it were the oracles of God. (John Calvin, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 3:12)


The Lord calls pastors to feed His people primarily through preaching the word (WSC 89). The faithful preacher lays the essential foundation of Jesus Christ and builds upon that foundation with the doctrines and commandments of God.

More than repentance from dead works and of faith toward God (Hebrews 6:12-6:3)

The writer of Hebrews addresses this same issue:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,  2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.  3 And this we will do, if God permits. (Hebrews 5:12-6:3)


Commenting on Hebrews 6:1, Calvin writes:

To his reproof he joins this exhortation, –  that leaving first principles they were to proceed forward to the goal. For by ‘the word of beginning’ he understands the first rudiments, taught to the ignorant when received into the Church. Now, he bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous. For as the foundation is laid for the sake of what is built on it, he who is occupied in laying it and proceeds not to the superstruction, wearies himself with foolish and useless labor. In short, as the builder must begin with the foundation, so must he go on with his work that the house may be built. Similar is the case as to Christianity; we have the first principles as the foundation, but the higher doctrine ought immediately to follow which is to complete the building. They then act most unreasonably who remain in the first elements, for they propose to themselves no end, as though a builder spent all his labor on the foundation, and neglected to build up the house. So then he would have our faith to be at first so founded as afterwards to rise upwards, until by daily progress it be at length completed. (John Calvin, Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:1)


You see, when “the gospel” is defined simply in terms of justification by faith alone (“repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” – Hebrews 6:1) the household of faith is taught to lay again the foundation, over and over again. Should we revisit and inspect the foundation? Of course! Is a proper understanding of (and reminders about) the foundation essential? Yes! But, to quote Calvin, to be always engaged in laying it and never proceeding to the rest of the building would be to engage in “foolish and useless labor.” Yet, this is precisely what happens when the preaching of the gospel is limited to the preaching of justification.


Yes, the good news of the gospel includes the doctrine of justification: it is one of the central aspects of the gospel. To limit our definition of the good news by saying that it is merely about justification, however, would be to reduce the grand plan of God, and the richness of a life that is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

One of Jesus’ favorite ways to describe “the gospel” was with the descriptor, “of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 16:16). Isaiah’s messenger of good news – the one who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation – does not come, saying, “You’re justified!” He says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). Implicit in the reign of God is, of course, justification – but the effective reach of God’s will through the kingdom of His beloved Son is about so much more than the justification of His people. It’s about His making all things new!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Preaching: What is the gospel?

Dear Church Family,

In recent weeks, the confluence of several parts of pastoral ministry have caused me to re-examine and meditate upon the important role of preaching. First, at the beginning of the year, we began a new sermon series in the book or 1 Corinthians in which we have seen the Apostle Paul’s emphasis on both the primacy and the purpose of preaching. Second, in our Men’s Discipleship Group, we just finished reading and discussing T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. Third, in preparing for the next lesson in the adult Sunday school class on “Turning Points in Church History,” I have been wading through the issues and wrestling with the applications of a controversy about preaching from the eighteenth century in the Church of Scotland which has come to be known as ‘the Marrow controversy.’

As I’ve been turning these things over in my mind – and discussing them with others – I thought that I might endeavor, over the course of the next several weeks, to write about preaching. Though I have a tentative outline in mind, I don’t know how many weeks we’ll spend on this topic; however, my hope is that through this series of weekly emails, we all would grow in our understanding of the gospel, the preaching of the gospel, the relationship between the law and the gospel, the means and power of sanctification, how to read the Bible, how the Mosaic covenant and the Ten Commandments are related to the covenant of grace, etc., etc., etc.

So, let’s just get started and see how this goes.

Various definitions of “the gospel”

In applying Isaiah 61 to Himself, Jesus taught that He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit to “preach the gospel” (Luke 4:17-21). In the book of Acts, we read that the Apostles traveled about continuing to “preach the gospel” (Acts 14:7). The Apostle Paul attests that Christ sent him to “preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Apparently, according to the word of God, “preaching the gospel” is important.

But what is “the gospel”? Well, if you were to ask several Christians this question, you might get some varied answers. Some would give a strictly objective and historical answer: “the gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners.” Others might give a more subjective and personal answer: “the gospel is the good news that I am saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work.” I’m persuaded that both of these emphases are appropriate, as long as you don’t hold to one definition to the exclusion of the other.

In my personal experience as a pastor, however, I have found that an increasing number of people answer this question by saying, “the gospel is the good news of justification” or simply speak of “the gospel of justification.”

If you think about it, that’s actually an odd phrase. It’s odd because it takes something that is so glorious and so grand, and reduces it to just one of its parts. Granted, justification is at the heart of the gospel, but it is most certainly not the whole of the gospel. You will never find this phrase – “the gospel of justification” – in the Bible, and yet I hear it thrown around as if it were an accepted descriptor. What’s worse is that there are people who define the gospel in this way, and don’t even recognize that they’re doing it.

Toward a better understanding of “the gospel”

In actuality, one of the primary ways in which the gospel is spoken of in Scripture is with the term “kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 16:16). As Michael Glodo has written, “Biblically, the good news is the good news of the Kingdom of God/heaven.”

With the understanding that the gospel is “the good news of the kingdom of God,” I’ve arrived at two, three-fold ways of talking about this question. From the historia salutis (“the history of salvation”), the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom: how Jesus brought the kingdom (inauguration), how Jesus rules the kingdom (continuation), how Jesus will bring the kingdom in its fullness (consummation). From the ordo salutis (“the order of salvation”), the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom: how one enters into the kingdom (justification), how one lives in the kingdom (sanctification), and where one is going in the kingdom (glorification). For those who are familiar with John Murray’s work, you will see how this fits nicely into the structure of “redemption accomplished and applied.”

The gospel is about how God objectively saves us through the coming, continuing, and consummation of His kingdom AND the gospel is about how God subjectively justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies His people. Each one of these is a part of the good news, and all are presented and taught in the Scriptures. In fact – and here comes the application for preaching (where the rubber meets the road) – every passage of Scripture will fit into one of these six categories: (1) inauguration of the kingdom of God; (2) continuation of the kingdom of God; (3) consummation of the kingdom of God; (4) justification; (5) sanctification; and (6) glorification. Of course, there is a lot of overlap and many passages of Scripture deal with several of these simultaneously. Still, it helps to see that the “good news of the gospel” is about more than the justification of the individual believer. The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God!

Preaching “the gospel”

This is why it is inappropriate to limit “the gospel” to justification. First, it is unbiblical, and stems from a very narrow reading of the Bible. Second, in any given sermon, the preacher is to preach the good news of that passage, not necessarily the good news of justification (unless of course, justification is the good news of that particular passage).

This is the real crux of the matter and something which has continuing application for the preacher (and for the hearers of preaching, as well). If one defines the gospel as being equal to justification, the end result limits the full-orbed, milk and meat, doctrinal teachings of the Christian faith. And, when that happens, God’s people will not grow, but stubbornly cling to milk. Yet, just as children grow and mature by eating solid foods, believers must grow in faith so that they may continue to drink milk, but also eat meat.

Unfortunately, I have seen the result of those who have been fed only “the gospel of justification.” Typically, I have found that when the gospel is limited to justification and does not include the good news of God’s kingdom, believers become stunted in their growth and easy prey for the world, the flesh, and the devil.


There’s more to be said on this, and the related topics, but I hope that I’ve at least given you some things to think about as we seek to be a people who know, believe, rest in, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. And, I pray that these meditations will cause us to worship and praise Jesus Christ, the King of that kingdom.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Pursuing Semi-transcendence

Dear Church Family,

About ten years ago, my wife and I attended a conference in which we heard a presentation from the Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. One of the things that he talked about was how there are basically three ways to view reality:

(1) Total transcendence (or objectivity) – This, of course, is the view of reality that only the God who made heaven and earth is able to have. The Lord is omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (not bound by time or space), the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is perfectly righteous and holy. Thus, He is able to view reality (and all of creation) from the perspective of One who is transcendent and objective.

(2) Total subjectivity – This is the view of reality of human beings as fallen creatures. We are confined to space and time. Additionally, we are born enslaved to sin. As a result of the fall, we know good and evil; yet, unlike God who knows good and evil objectively, we know it subjectively. That is, God is like the doctor who can look at the patient and see his disease, and we are like that patient – riddled with the disease of sin. We may recognize it, but we are unable to do anything about it. Consequently, because of our sin, we view all of reality according to the fallen wisdom of the world – with total subjectivity.

(3) Semi-transcendence – When God regenerates us, gives us eternal life, and makes us a new creation, we do not become omniscient and omnipresent like Him. Yet, by the illumination of our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit, He enables us to begin to understand His Word; He teaches us and grows us in godly wisdom such that we are able to begin view Him, ourselves, others, and all reality as He does. Of course, as finite creatures, we will never obtain “total transcendence,” but there is a sense in which we may begin to step outside of ourselves and view things from God’s perspective.

Seeking True Wisdom

The reason that I’ve been thinking about these things this week is because this idea of semi-transcendence is something that is explored in the passage for our sermon this Sunday (1 Corinthians 3:18-4:7).There are at least two places in which the Scriptures touch on this idea. The word “semi-transcendence” is not used, but the idea is very similar.

First, consider these words from the first epistle of John:

19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him  20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. (1 John 3:19-20)


John is addressing the problem of when a believer doubts and lacks assurance about his own salvation due to the accusation and condemnation that comes from his own heart. And, one of the helps that he offers for the Christian whose heart condemns him is remembering that God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

You see, if God is greater than our heart and knows all things, then He is a more a reliable source than our own hearts. So, the solution is for us to learn what God says and what God knows. And the only way that we are able to learn what God says and what God knows is by reading and studying the truths of His written word. Through learning those truths, He enables us to break the bonds of our total subjectivity and obtain semi-transcendence: the ability to begin to view things (including our own hearts!) as He does.

Second, consider these words from 1 Corinthians which are a portion of the passage that we will be looking at this Sunday:

3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.  4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)


Paul intimates that he can’t ultimately trust his own conscience: though he’s not conscious that he’s done anything wrong, that is not the basis of his innocence (“I am not by this acquitted”). The ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, guilt and innocence, is the Lord. Others may judge us, we may judge ourselves, but in the end, it’s God’s judgment that counts! And, once again, the only way that we may know His judgments is by reading and studying what He says in His word.


Those who do not belong to Christ are enslaved to worldly wisdom and are totally subjective in their view of reality, unable to know God and unable to know their own hearts; those who are born again are enabled to begin to view reality with semi-transcendence, able to know God and to know their own hearts.

Here’s the practical application of understanding this concept of “the wisdom of semi-transcendence.” If you want to grow in true, godly wisdom (to begin to see things as God sees them), then look to His Word. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, if you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord, then, like a newborn baby, long for the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-3).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Conference on Technological Media and Their Effects

Dear Church Family,

Ask any fish to describe the effect that water has on him and he’ll respond, “What water?” Ask any of your neighbors to describe the effect that technological media has on him and he’ll probably respond the same way, “What technological media?” Of course, this is only true if you can get him to first put down his cellphone – or if you can put down yours!

Like the fish that takes for granted the water that it swims in, most of us have become so accustomed to an environment dominated by digital media that we fail to recognize how it affects us. Focusing on the content of what we take in, we don’t recognize how it’s form (the media technology of our computers and smartphones) influences the way we think and act – as individuals and as a society.

In the New York Times bestseller, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes:

Although even the initial users of the technology can often sense the changes in their patterns of attention, cognition, and memory as their brains adapt to the new medium, the most profound shifts play out more slowly, over several generations, as the technology becomes ever more embedded in work, leisure, and education – in all the norms and practices that define a society and its culture. How is the way we read changing? How is the way we write changing? How is the way we think changing? Those are the questions we should be asking, both of ourselves and of our children. (pp 199-200)


For Christians who seek to be a people of the word (Luke 1:2; 1 Peter 1:2-3), it is especially important that we ask these questions. We live in an age of distraction and a media-saturated culture that is dominated by the ubiquity of the moving image, immediate gratification, instant communication, and an obsession with the trivial. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for believers to find ways to “unplug” and to pursue sustainable habits of discipleship – as individuals and in our communities.

If you’re a fish, I encourage you to get back in the water so that you can get back to being a fish. If you’re a human being, I encourage you to get out of the technological-media-saturated water that you’re swimming in – at least briefly – so that you can get back to being human.

To help Christians to be better disciples of Jesus Christ (and to help human beings be more human!), on February 23-24, Providence Presbyterian Church will host a free conference entitled, “Christian Discipleship in a Media-Saturated Culture.” Dr. T. David Gordon, an ordained minister, professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College, and a leader in the field of media-ecology, will present a series of lectures on: the history of technology, the benefits and problems of new forms of communication, how digital technology affects the human brain, and the importance of pursuing solitude.

This conference begins at 7:00 pm on Friday, February 23rd and will run through Saturday morning, concluding at noon on February 24th. It will be held in the fellowship hall of Providence Presbyterian Church, 2900 Princeton Ave. More detailed information is available online: This information is also available on the website, but here is a list of the specific times and topics for the conference:

Friday, February 23, 2018

7:00 pm - Lecture 1: Theological Introduction and Historical Survey: Six Moments from Socrates to Facebook

8:00 pm - Lecture 2: We Make Media and Media Make Us: The Reciprocal/Dialogical Relationship Between Humans and Their Tools (including their tools of communication)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

9:00 am - Lecture 3: Digital Media and Attention: How distracting digital media disrupt human attention

10:00 am - Lecture 4: Digital Media, Solitude, and Society: Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, and how the digital world suits us neither for solitude nor society

11:00 am - Q&A

This fourth annual theological conference, hosted by Providence Presbyterian Church, is a continuing effort to bring sound, biblical, and Reformed teaching to west Texas that’s relevant to the Christian life. Providence Presbyterian Church is a confessional and Reformed church, and part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which seeks to be “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch