Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

The Dangers of Being Gospel-Centered

I love being gospel-centered. The ‘new Calvinists’ did not invent the emphasis on being gospel-centered, but it is a renaissance I’ve been thankful to experience.

Like anything that becomes a movement, we must be wary of the potential drawbacks. As I see it, there are at least two dangers in being gospel-centered, and they are both rooted in this one reality: In the past, whatever the fad, it typically became popular because of the promise it offered. Being Purpose-Driven or Seeker-Sensitive or Emerging or whatever held people’s attention only so long as it could promise power (power to draw numbers, power to help people change, etc.). But when those movements were unable to deliver the promised goods, people flocked away from them as quickly as they had flocked to them.

What is at stake in the gospel-centered movement, however, is much, much more serious. If we preach the gospel as the answer to everything, but people don’t find the fulfillment of the promise, then they will flock away. But this time they won’t be flocking away from a celebrity pastor or mega-churches or coffee-house-gatherings, they’ll be flocking away from the gospel itself, more convinced than ever that they must add something to the gospel in order to find ‘the good life.’

Since there is infinitely more at stake, the risk and the danger are greater than ever.

1. There’s More Danger Now Than Ever in Not Being Practical

We simply cannot afford to preach in ethereal, abstract categories. If the gospel is going to be the answer to everything, it must be applicable to everything. People can understand the concept of being gospel-centered easily enough, but are we actually helping them figure out how the gospel applies to individual scenarios in their own lives? Simply telling our people to ‘be gospel-centered’ is no more helpful than simply telling our children to ‘be good'; it’s devoid of any real meaning or power.

If the people in our churches can speak the rhetoric of gospel-centered but can’t explain how the gospel relates to their marriage, we have failed. If the people of Grace Fellowship Church are not able to apply the gospel in very practical ways to their work, the structure of their home, and the type of friendships they have, then I have failed as their pastor. If the gospel has all the power and I’m not equipping them to use it, I’m setting them up for frustration.

Without reducing to one practice we must give our people categories to know how to engage the story of the incarnation, righteous life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus in their grocery shopping and mothering and everything else so that it is ultimately practical. If we fail our people here, we set them up for Satan’s temptations to disbelieve the power of the gospel.

2. There’s More Danger Now Than Ever in Being a Hypocrite

More than teaching about how the gospel is practical, we must ‘set an example for the flock’ (1 Pet 5.3). Being gospel-centered is something that must be caught as well as taught. If people do not see us deliberately engaging the gospel in the way we serve, love, forgive, deal with sin, deny ourselves our freedoms, and pursue fellowship, they will have more reason than ever to disbelieve the power of the gospel.

If we are hypocrites here, proclaiming gospel-centered power and freedom, but living as unchanged and unchanging people, we make the gospel seem like a lie. More than discrediting ourselves, we’re discrediting the God who claims that the gospel is his power (Rom 1.16-17).

With so much at stake, we must remember to be those who carefully watch both doctrine and life so that both we and our hearers may be saved (1 Tim 4.16).

What else?

What else am I missing? Are there other dangers that you see?

7 Comments

  1. It is not up to us as Ministers, to be "everything to everyone" in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Gospel is all about Jesus Christ! We are called to preach His Gospel which will introduce unbelievers to their salvation in Jesus Christ! We cannot rewrite the Word of God nor reinvent Christ to our liking, in the name of serving His people! We must allow God to work His plan of salvation and spiritual growth in the lives of those He calls to be saved. If we are faithful to our "great commission", it is incumbent upon God's indwelling spirit to do the rest of the work of ministry. Pastors are attempting to do everything and be everything in the church, but what they were called to do! It is not put upon us to be a Marriage Counselor; a Drug and Rehabilitation Counselors; Psychologist or Psychiatrist, in order to Pastor the Body of Christ! The reason we have "Pastor burn-out", is they attempt to micro-manage everything in the church and wear hats that they were not called to wear! God provides believers in the Body of Christ to handle all other aspects of ministry to the church.

  2. I can hear the criticism already: how could being Gospel-centered ever be wrong, especially in today's theological climate when truth is being challenged from both within and outside the church?

    But I think that question misses the point of your article and I appreciate your critique of this movement. I think for churches that already have a commitment to gospel-centeredness it would definitely not hurt to always be talking about all the different ways the Gospel changes everything down to the bottom of our feet. Truth without the real love of a heart changed by Christ is one step away from Pharisaism.

  3. Julian

    23 February, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Louis, as per usual, I completely agree with you. The only thing I take issue with in your comment is that you spelled 'neighbour'' wrong. ;)

  4. Julian, I'm very late in reading this post. This is very good, and as someone who lived for a long time with what I consider to be "gospel amnesia," reclaiming gospel-centeredness has brought a spiritual renaissance to my life and to our family. However, you are absolutely correct in saying that all those thoughts and all the talk should/must come out of our fingertips also.

    Many thanks.

  5. CHURCH OF CHRIST

    24 June, 2012 at 1:16 am

    hallo Julian, thanks for the article, but however, i don't know if your readers might be able to make head or trail out of it. i am finding a considerable difficulty following you write-up. do you believe the bible? it seam that you are confused as your article is a mixture of truth and untruth. I must warn you not to triffle with the gospel. perhaps you may need to read these passages to clear your confussion I Cor. 2: 3; 1Co 1:18; 15:1-2; Gal. 1: 6-11; 2Ti 1:8 apart from Rom. 1:16-17

  6. Thank you Julian for this insightful reminder on the dangers of being gospel centered but devoid of change in our lives.

    I believe the ultimate purpose of hearing the gospel is to be led to the living person of Christ through faith. One danger is to think the battle is only intellectual, and slowly being deceived into relying on our own understanding of the gospel but losing Christ. Many times I struggled with this, only to realize the root of all my sin and struggles is my lack of faith in Christ.

    • Julian

      14 November, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Amen! The gospel is the good news of us being reconciled to God, but reconciliation is good because it restores relationship — not independent individual strength. If the gospel isn't bringing us into closer communion with God himself, we're clearly missing the essence of the gospel entirely!

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