How to Prevent a Gospel-Centered Fizzle Out

candle outWe are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.

Recovering Means it was Once Lost

The reason why this whole thing is newsworthy today is because these doctrines were relegated to the back page in previous decades. In other words we are susceptible to seeing the same thing happen before our eyes. Imagine for a second those young people back in the mid-90’s listening to Piper or Sproul for the first time. Their theological synapse start firing at a rapidly joyful rate. They suddenly get a big God complex and can’t stop talking about the greatness of the gospel. Twenty years later they look around at a conference and there are nearly 10,000 other people who have likewise come to the same gospel boasting session. Amazing. Look ahead 40 years later. Someone in their 20’s writes a book about what happened a half-century ago. They marvel at how quickly this gospel wildfire was lit and spread, but also they observe how quickly it went out. After a couple of generations it’s history. This, in my view would be tragic.

It would also be preventable.

We Desperately Need Hermeneutics

My chief concern today is not primarily a matter of theology but hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation). What the gospel-centered movement needs in order to persevere is a commitment to teaching people how to read, interpret and rightly apply their Bible.

Let me give an illustration. When my wife and I go out to eat we have somewhat different experiences. I (happily) eat the food but, in addition to eating the food, she studies the food. She is able to taste what is in the dish. Then, if it is a particularly enjoyable meal, she comes home and makes it herself. She is able to cook it up herself and serve it to the family. I could never do that. I’m a happy consumer of it but I could never make it myself. My concern with the gospel-centered movement is that we seem to be very good at consuming but not particularly good at cooking.

We are very good at buying books, reading blogs, listening to sermons and tweeting out quotes. We excel at catching John Piper’s passion for a God-saturated, joy-effusing, expository exultation (not to mention his penchant for hyphenated descriptors). We devour Keller’s new books as soon as they come out. We read the old guys too; Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon, Owen and the rest. We have theological comprehension.

But how did we get there? Did we simply read the right books, listen to the right sermons or go to the right conferences? Do we even know how to come to these conclusions on our own? Can we see the Solas arise out of the Bible before they pop off of Calvin’s Institutes?

It’s one thing to have been able to say you have been to the restaurant and eaten a meal, but, if you don’t know how to get there yourself then you’ll never be able to eat that food again, much less take someone else out to enjoy the same experiences. My concern is that too many have been piling into Sproul’s theological minivan to go eat a feast but never learned how to actually find their way to the meal.

The danger here should be obvious. Without a hermeneutical base to undergird our theological conclusions we are susceptible to losing this thing as fast as we have recovered it. If we are just fan-boys then we may follow a new theological band someday. If we are just fan-boys then we can’t train a new generation to discover and delight in these truths themselves.

How tragic would it be to lose something that is so gloriously precious? We must pass down both the theology and the hermeneutic that teaches us how to discover the theological truth. The White Horse Inn’s slogan is helpful here: know what you believe and why you believe it. Because as history tells us, if we don’t have a firm grip on the “why” then we will become less passionate about the “what”.