Dear Church Family and Friends*,
If your ears are attuned to the Christian lingo of the day, you may have noticed a subtle shift over the past few years. Though previous generations of Christians often used the word “Gospel,” a new phrase has entered our conversation. I think it probably started within Reformed circles but has gradually become more common in Baptist and more broadly evangelical camps.
The phrase is “Gospel-centered,” and it is now used to describe everything from preaching to parenting, counseling to committees, and worship to window-washing.
But as I have watched the spread of this good idea, I have become increasingly concerned that people are using a phrase without knowing what it means.
I recently heard a pastor defend his ministry as “Gospel-centered,” because, as he said, “We spread the Gospel.” He went on to describe his church’s evangelistic actions as proof of his “Gospel-centeredness.”
And I’ve heard others use the phrase almost as a shorthanded way of saying, “We believe the Gospel.”
But despite these good intentions, believing and sharing the Gospel is not the same thing as being Gospel-centered. Indeed, it is quite possible to share the Gospel in a way that is inconsistent with the Gospel itself!
And that’s the key word: consistency.
If I tell you that I am “Gospel-centered,” it means that I am trying to live every part of my life in a way that agrees with the truth I claim to believe. I want you to imagine my life as a wheel, with the Gospel as the hub, connected by spokes to everything I say and do. Does my preaching, parenting, counseling, conversation, and community engagement agree with the truth that we are all sinners incapable of saving ourselves, dependent upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to save us, forgive us, justify us, transform us, and empower us for service?
See, we can share the Gospel as a way of trying to make ourselves right with God. We can raise our children as if obedience to rules and authority were the highest goal. We can counsel people to just stop doing bad and start doing good. We can attend conferences on self-improvement. We can judge people’s spirituality by their outward appearance. We can perpetuate the myth of the self-made man or add to our church rolls through the flimsiest professions of faith or hope the next GOP candidate will turn the USA around.
But all of this contradicts Romans 12:1-2, which teaches that our only hope is inner transformation flowing from God’s mercy in Christ’s work on our behalf – in short, the Gospel. When we look to God to capture our hearts first and then to transform our lives, that’s when we begin to understand what it means to be “Gospel-centered.”
It’s an important phrase, and a good one. But I fear that without proper understanding we will end up missing what it was coined to provide and embracing what it was coined to avoid.
We will claim Christ while completely ignoring his work. And we won’t even know it.
How do you see “Gospel-centered” misused or misunderstood today? Tell me in the comments – let’s figure this one out.