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The Confessional Statement of The Gospel Coalition is, in my opinion, strikingly wise.  (Needless to say, I didn’t write it.)  On the one hand, the Confession does not call us to unity on a slender theological basis, to increase the numbers of people involved.  On the other hand, it does not pressure us to agree at such a level of detail that we might jeopardize denominational identifications.  The statement is theologically maximalist within a gospel framework.

I think of concentric circles.  Stepping from outside the circle altogether into the outermost ring, I go from being a non-believer to being a Christian believer.  Then, moving into the next ring, toward the center, I go from being a Christian in some sense to being a Protestant.  Then the next step toward the center moves me from being a Protestant to being an evangelical.  Then the next step includes me among the Reformed.  Finally, the innermost circle locates me personally within Presbyterian theology.  But I could also be reformed Baptist, Anglican, etc.

The point is this.  Defining our theology as gospel-maximalist makes unity a conviction, not a concession.  I am not compromising the gospel by aligning myself with a reformed Baptist, for example; I am demonstrating the gospel.  My ministry at The Coalition — and at Immanuel Church — is not defined by my own personal beliefs at the level of that innermost circle but at the next circle, the Reformed circle.  I am not watering anything down.  I am humbling my own personal views for the sake of the “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3ff) gospel we all share together.  And that is a conviction.

This strategy builds theological density and seriousness, while including a broad range of gospel-intense men and women.

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5 thoughts on “Theologically maximalist unity”

  1. DRT says:


    While I can understand why you would build your concentric rings as you do, I feel that you approach is exactly what is wrong with Christianity these days and should be eliminated and changed.

    The center of Christianity has always been and must be Jesus, not your denomination. Your view places you and your people in the center, and as that is replicated across sects the divisions become quite obvious.

    Further, you put Catholics outside as being barely Christian.

    As I said, I can see why you would do this, but I respectfully ask that you change this approach because the underlying message that you are sending is clearly not a Christian message and it is a self serving message.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      That innermost circle is my way of honoring Jesus personally.

      The next circle is my way, and our way, of honoring Jesus together, corporately, rather than in a denominationally fragmented way.


      1. DRT says:

        Fine, but that model makes it seem like your perspective is the one that is most closely aligned with Jesus. Instead, you could think of it as a pie with Jesus as the center and each slice of the pie is an avenue toward him, yet all have equal access to him. Even the atheist slice could have a path that gets closer.

        And putting Catholics at the outside is just plain insulting.

        Your model seems to be putting up walls, not bringing unity.

  2. Ian says:

    I’d suggest that the only thing that matters in the sight of God is that we are inside the outer circle, the one that divides Christians from non-Christians. Anything that separates people who are inside that outer circle from one another is, I believe, a sin against God and contrary to Ephesians 4:3-6. We can have our own convictions, but if we look down on those Christians who don’t share them, then there’s something wrong.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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