Rankin Wilbourne grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Mississippi and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is now the senior pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles. Rankin believes that “union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.” In fact, he says that “nothing is more basic or more central to the Christian life than union with Christ.” If the latter is true, then the former must be addressed.
On a recent edition of Hank Unplugged, Hank and Rankin discuss the Gold Medallion–winning book Union with Christ. We truly believe that this conversation could change your life, and we pray that it leads you closer to union with Christ. Here is a snippet of their discussion on the two songs of Extravagant Grace and Radical Discipleship.
Hank Hanegraaff: Something very interesting in your conversation on Union with Christ is this metaphor of songs. We have these songs that are playing in our minds. One of the songs is one of radical discipleship and the other of extravagant grace. But, these are half-truths. Explain how these two work together? If it is radical discipleship, on the one hand, you get burnt out just thinking about it, but if it is extravagant grace, you can get into the corridor of cheap grace; yet, union with Christ gives you the power to be a radical disciple or a radical disciple-maker or a reproducing disciple-maker.
If you think about the problem that you have in church, and you probably understand this better than most, the church is bleeding out. There was a book that came out called The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare by John S. Dickerson, and as I looked at this in macro terms, there is a bleeding out of the church in general. The millennial generation is walking away from the church by the time they go to college, and most of them, quite frankly, do not come back. You have this bleeding out of the church, and the church’s task is to make disciples, but when you think about making disciples, where does the energy come from for doing that very thing, unless you have union with the Vine?
Rankin Wilbourne: Exactly! Hank, you put your finger on why I got so interested in this idea, this biblical theme, twenty years ago. If you just stop and ask the big question: What is wrong? What do God’s people need to hear most today? Not just God’s people but what is the message that our culture most needs to hear today?
As a young seminarian, I started to see there were two different songs. One is what I call the song of extravagant grace. People really need to understand that the gospel is a gospel of grace. It is not about moralism. It is not about earning and working our way to God. It is not the good people are in and the bad people are out. It is the humble are in. The church really needs a message of grace. Brennan Manning and Henry Nouwen are wonderful expositors of this. Yes, that is true.
On the other hand, there are other writers just as pious and devout, who were putting the diagnosis in a different light. Dallas Willard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were really saying very similar things — what is ailing the church today is not that we do not understand grace; rather, it is we do not understand discipleship.
My little mind was trying to put those voices together. We know biblically both voices are important. We know biblically that neither should cancel the other out.
Yet, experientially we tend to hear one song or the other. We tend to hear one song louder than the other. Even with many churches — this is just a generalization — it is either an extravagant grace church or a radical discipleship church. It is hard to find both voices. It is hard to find.
I got interested in the question: Why is that? How can I hold both of these truths together without compromising either? I want to be very careful here, Hank. I do not think there is anything original in my book. I am just excavating an old forgotten treasure. This old forgotten treasure is that the gospel is union with Christ. The Good News is that we are united to Jesus. One of the old theologians put it: from Jesus flows a double grace, a double grace of the biblical words justification and sanctification. We are declared right with God, and we can pursue holiness as we have been declared holy. These are distinct, and yet like light and heat from the sun, they are inseparable.
When I read that, I thought, “That’s it!” The gospel is union with Christ. It is what allows us to hold these songs together. Union with Christ allows us to sing of a grace that asks nothing of us to love us — amazing grace — but at the same time, demands everything from us — “Love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.” Union with Christ holds those songs together.
Listen to the full interview here.
To request your copy of Rankin Wilbourne’s Union with Christ, click here.