I’m that guy that opens up the hood of his car when something goes wrong and stares at everything waiting for a big on/off switch to suddenly appear. I have no idea what I’m doing. If someone came by and said I needed to to replace this filter or pump or spray this stuff or get a new whatever rod, I’d do it. I don’t understand how stuff fits together and the relationship between the parts. I am proficient at turning the key and driving (at a high-level, mind you).
I do respect the heck out of a guy who knows how stuff (technically speaking) fits together. I trust them.
When I look at some of the trends in Evangelicalism, and in particular the Gospel-Centered movement, I wonder if pastors are more like the mechanic or the mechanically challenged guy. What I mean is, are pastors just looking for the “on-off” switch or do they actually know how things fit together? Do we understand the implications of doing or saying certain things? Do we understand church history and historical theology?
Let me give you an observation of where we seem to be and then a theological proposition as to why this makes no sense.
First, the observation. “The Seeker Sensitive Movement” attempted to appeal to unbelievers by intentionally shaping ministry with them in mind. They asked the question, “What is the unbeliever looking for?” In attempting to answer the question via the church they created a ministry suited for unbelieving Harry and Sally. This was cool and trendy 10-20 years ago in the US and in some sections still is. Over time it lost its freshness and impact. It also didn’t seem to work very well. Some guys became disgruntled with the methods and looked around at what else was cool. Right about this time there was thankfully a recovery of the gospel as the center. Soon the phrase “gospel-centered” is as ubiquitous as beards and plaid shirts at conferences. In many stations today the gospel is cool (I still don’t get how this works, but we’ll go with it). In particular, churches that articulate a gospel-centered view of ministry are considered “in.”
I have seen people marry some of the seeker sensitivity with gospel-centeredness. In other words, they seem to talk, write, and think as if the two go together. I don’t think this is helpful. I don’t think they fit together. Here’s why: you can’t marry a surpassing confidence in the beauty and sufficiency of the gospel with pragmatism. They cancel each other out.
A Theological Proposition
Now, the theological proposition. The Bible is clear that the gospel itself is powerful and that it saves us from ourselves (Rom. 1:16-17). In other words, our main problem is selfishness and we don’t get saved from that by appealing to self. We get saved from that by the proclamation of the gospel.
A gospel-centered church should not be catered to a consumer-driven culture because the gospel saves us from selfishness. The heart of consumerism is the god of self. We aim to feed and satisfy the desires and demands of self. However, at the heart of the gospel is a call away from self (because self is the problem) toward Christ (he is the solution).
The threshold to the entry of the church is divinely engraved with this inscription: “If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) Quite literally this is, if anyone wants to line up behind me let them repudiate the worth, pursuit and identity he has built for himself. Let him be willing to take on the shame, rejection, and mocking that attends the foolishness of following me and my doctrine, and then let him line up behind me, even to death. This cannot be reconciled with selfishness. The basic tenets of the gospel are a judgment upon self and the provision of salvation from self.
A gospel-centered church cannot be catered to a consumer-driven society. Now, it may be the answer to one who has been tossed to the bottom of the ocean of selfishness but the gospel does not waltz with self aboard the cruise ship of our personal celebration. The gospel repudiates us it doesn’t congratulate us.
When I hear gospel-centered being dropped more and more I wonder if guys who are saying it really understand the categories. I don’t expect the church members to be the mechanics. However, the pastors, authors, conference speakers and leaders have got to have this down. This does not mean that we don’t aim to reach those entrenched in consumer-driven thinking, but it does mean that don’t forget the gospel when we try to reach them.
I know it is increasingly unfashionable to say anything negative about anybody or anything anymore, but at some point, you have got to let the implications of the gospel stand or else you do actually lose the gospel. A gospel-centered church should hopefully be intriguing and even strange but it should not be attractive to a consumer-driven culture. These two cannot walk together because they do not agree (Amos 3:3).
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