Sunday, May 04, 2008

Centrality of the Gospel

I’ve been blessed to go to a few churches during the past five years that I felt operated on the notion of the Centrality of the Gospel, but I’ve had a hard time explaining how this differed from my previous churches because I’ve never gone some place that didn’t consider Christ’s work on the cross central.

But, I think I’ve figured it out a bit better. The book of Romans makes for a nice illustration. Romans is 16 chapters, the first 11 of which are basically Paul explaining the Gospel, 12-15 are more practical instructions, and 16 is basically an extended good-bye (‘mention me to so-and-so’). So Paul basically spends 60-70 percent of the letter talking about the Gospel before he really starts giving moral instruction, and this to me is a very concrete format for how I’d like my own articulation of the Christian message to sound: the large majority of what I want to say is simply about God’s redemption of us.

However, what sometimes happens is that the Christian message starts with moral instruction and commands: for example, do not covet or lust or be an idolater or whatever, and the whole message ends up being about what to do or not do, and the meaning of Christ’s work on the cross is a footnote. When this happens, what is essentially being preached is Law: do this; don’t do that.

Law isn’t wrong; it’s just not the Gospel, and, further, the Law apart from the Gospel tends to produce guilt and condemnation, but not righteousness. And it turns Christianity into moralism.

So, I’m gravitating more and more to focusing on the message that the Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not be in want. That’s the Gospel, that God has taken care of everything and it’s not on me. It’s on Jesus, and he has done it and he will do it.

Good conduct should more or less simply flow from full acknowledgment of this fact. I’m not against moral instruction. But making the Gospel central perhaps means that it’s the primary thing we talk about, and we don’t talk about anything else, even morality, without shedding the light of the Gospel on that topic.


jason said...

Maybe you would like Westminster after all... They're really big on this concept around here, and it's been a really good emphasis I've learned from the teaching and such. Their way of describing it is that the imperatives flow out of the indicatives. Just what you're describing. And they drop the moralism bomb as well.

Funny stuff. Great stuff, but funny how you're all into this thing that is super Westminster. And don't get me wrong I think this is the core of Christianity, but it's a distinct flavor around here.

Good stuff though, I agree completely.

kennyching said...

I tend to think I'd like Westminster and/or one of its affiliates. Obviously, I'd have trouble with inerrancy and paedobaptism, but if I had to get stuck around a bunch of seminarians, I think Westminsterians would probably be high on the list.

kennyching said...

Here's a great article on Centrality of the Gospel by Tim Keller:

Anonymous said...

The link is cut off. You may need to use to shorten it for posting.

So, I know a guy who would whole-heartedly agree and then explain how this means we can get to a place of sinlessness in this life. And maybe he's just bucking against our preacher who continually acknowledges the universal truth of our fallen flesh, but perhaps doesn't mention enough the power of grace available to us.

Kenny said...

I'd have to hear the guy's specific argument, but the way Keller puts it is that "you are more sinful than you ever realized, but more loved and accepted than you ever realized too." Centrality of the Gospel has a lot to do with our imperfection and inability to be otherwise in this life, so I'd be surprised to hear it used as an argument for perfectionism.

When I copied and pasted the link I used, it took me to the article. I've never used tinyurl, but I'll give it a try:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said!