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.