07 April 2010

Too 'Gospel-Centered'?

. . . I delivered to you as of first importance . . . --1 Cor 15:3

There has been a wave of books, blogs, messages and movements in recent years calling, in various ways, for the church today to be (more) 'gospel-centered.'

Publically, I think of Ray Ortlund, Zack Eswine, Tim Keller, Sovereign Grace, Acts 29, the Gospel Coalition, Jared Wilson, Joe Thorn, Jonathan Dodson, Paul Tripp, David Powlison, Jerry Bridges, Mike Bullmore, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, Covenant Seminary, Tullian Tchividjian, and many others (see e.g. here). Privately, I think of friends like Brian Martin, Nate Conrad, Dan Orr, and Jim Lane, who have personally helped me understand the gospel as the engine (keeping us going), not the runway (getting us off the ground at conversion and landing us in heaven at death but unnecessary in between), to life and theology.

In more recent days, though, some are raising the question of whether this is getting a bit out of hand, asking whether we can emphasize the gospel to the exclusion of other things, and, perhaps most of all, simply expressing a general cynicism about the current trendiness of being gospel-centered (whatever 'gospel-centered' means--I use the phrase here to refer to viewing the gospel not as something beyond which Christians graduate but which rather remains the heartbeat of life, to be not only confessed doctrinally and evangelistically but also appropriated emotionally and psychologically, the non-negotiable of all non-negotiables, summed up best biblically in 1 Cor 15:3-4).

There are three possible responses to the current trendiness of being 'gospel-centered.'

1. Uncritically dismiss it due to its trendiness.

2. Uncritically absorb it due to its being embraced by others we know or respect; vicariously feed on others' excitement without personally digesting it ourselves.

3. Consider what it means, and whether it is biblical; ponder what is true in it; ask why it is trendy.

The last option is the way of wisdom. Before either dismissing it or absorbing it, let's consider it, test it, and, if we find that in fact deeper awareness of sin and sin's healing in Christ is indeed the place to start and end every day happily and humbly, pass it on.

Remember, trendiness is not bad in itself. Justification by faith alone was suddenly trendy among significant church circles in the 1520s and 30s. Thank the Lord for all those who neither uncritically dismissed it nor uncritically absorbed it but personally wrestled with it, saw it in their Bibles, found fresh liberation, and passed it on.


Darren Larson said...

Great post, Dane.

I'm looking forward to catching up some day. Derek Lehr mentioned some future possibilities in the mix for you. If you have any questions, drop me a line sometime.

Looking forward to keeping up with your blog, too! Best of luck finishing up at Wheaton. There are days I miss it there; and then I remember the winters.

Murf said...

Hmm...the gospel is getting TOO trendy? Methinks that someone needs to disconnect from a certain corner of evangelicalism. I've heard a lot of things in my life, but I've never heard the gospel described as "trendy."

In the broader culture the gospel is not, has never been, and never will be, "trendy." It is a stake to the heart, always.

Tattoos? Trendy. Dressing down to preach? Trendy. Ministering to hip, urban, self-absorbed twenty-somethings? Trendy. Gospel? Not trendy.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2 ESV).

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for the comment Murf.

It's the notion/phrase 'gospel-centered-ness,' not the gospel itself, that is currently trendy.

Bless you brother.

Seth said...

I really think that this was very well put, and I believe I understand where you're coming from. Perhaps we've come through a time where "the glory of God" became a bit trendy? Though I believe that it is indeed supreme (another trendy word?) through my study of the Scriptures, it doesn't take much for these phrases to begin losing their punch when they start to get thrown around. Sometimes an easy (but not necessarily that helpful) way of avoiding this is to come up with lots of good synonyms...ah, we Christians can be such a goofy bunch!

A counter-cultural Canadian brother said...

Soren Kierkegaard has said,"In the New Testament, Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon a man, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything--and now the clergyman has perfected himself in introducing Christianity in such a way as it signifies nothing, and when he is able to do this to perfection he is regarded as a paragon. But this is nauseating!

I like to think that some of the writers you have mentioned don't think of the gospel as trendy. Instead, like Kirkegaard, they see it as a profound wound.