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