Jared Wilson delivered a message in a breakout at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference titled “The Gospel-Driven Church,” sharing principles that can be found in his book by the same name. In the session, Wilson addressed the gospel-recovery movement of the last decade or so, expressing delight in the desire of churches and leaders to set aside the attractional model of church in favor of a more biblically sound one.
Wilson warned, however, that even those who have bought into a gospel-driven focus must be careful that it not become simply nomenclature attached to the same old practices. He then delved into four practices of gospel-driven churches and encouraged leaders to “continually slough off the baggage of doctrinal add-ons and distractions, cutting out the ever-rising innovations, theological and otherwise. Let us keep contending, keep trusting, keep returning to the ancient marker of the cross.”
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Jared Wilson: What I’ve tried to do with the book, The Gospel-Driven Church, is develop on some of the themes that I’ve been speaking and writing on for the last 10 years or so, related to gospel centrality, specifically transitioning from an attractional or pragmatic, consumeristic mode of doing church towards greater centrality around the gospel. About four or five years or so ago, I had a book published called The Prodigal Church, which was largely a critique of the attractional paradigm.
I tried to do it in a winsome, gentle way, just think about these things, consider these things, has some historical research, statistical research, those sorts of things, but really just stumping for a rethinking or a revaluation of the attractional model. But there’s really only one chapter in that book that said, “Okay, well, what next?” I think it was titled the way forward or a way forward. Since the publication of that book, I’ve just been asked by readers of that book, “Is there a way to practicalize or turn the misnomer, the misunderstanding of gospel centrality is that it’s against application and those sort of thing?” It’s a very impractical theology. It’s not.
But there are church leaders who are wanting to know, “Okay, I’m sold. I’m bought in. What do I do? How do I do this?” The Gospel-Driven Church is really my attempt at a leadership manual. We have the basics of gospel centrality there. There is the basics of critique of pragmatism, consumerism, and that sort of thing. But in general, what the book is is a positive applicational way of reevaluating your church. If you’re familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s leadership books, he does what he calls the leadership fable, where he tells a fictional story throughout the book that illustrates the principles that he is examining.
As you go through each chapter, revisits, picks up in the story. Then the rest of the chapter amplifies the principles relating to what I say. That’s what I’ve done in Gospel-Driven Church. As I tell the story of a pastor who is trying to transition his large church to gospel centrality, and all the little sticky things I can come up in their children’s ministry, student ministry, worship arts, all of that deal. If you’re interested in like, “Okay, what does it look like? What does it smell like to actually try to do this?” My hope is that the book would be of help to you.
I’m convinced for some time on the precipice of fumbling, what has, I think, likely or … yeah, known as the gospel recovery movement. Over the last 15 years or so, the gospel recovery movement, the new reformation, whatever you want to call it, the gospel renaissance isn’t 15 years old, is building on a foundation that was laid at least a generation ago. It didn’t begin with the confluence of conferences and social media and podcast culture and websites and all that sort of thing. But we have been enjoying this renaissance, I think you could say, of gospel centrality. We are now reaching a stage, I believe, where we are in danger of fumbling what that actually means.
We’re looking down the exhaust of a generation of church ministry that has tried to win the world in worldly ways. Along the way, we have endangered ourselves of losing the gospel of Jesus altogether. What you and I need essentially as ministers is a willingness in the face of criticism, and pragmatic ministerial wisdom, in the midst of a noisy culture of church growth strategies, and practical vision casting, and clever programming, and attractional maneuvering is to commit to the primacy, to the centrality of the gospel. We’ve been recovering this. But we’re on the verge, I think, of assuming the gospel, which is only a ramp down to denying the gospel.
In essence, I think we’re in dire need right now of recovering the gospel recovery movement, if that makes sense. I’m noticing that many are using the gospel center jargon. It’s on all the books and everything. Perhaps that’s a grown thing for you. You just roll your eyes whenever you see the gospel center this or the gospel-driven that or what have you. I too, I’m seeing a lot of gospel-centered nomenclature without really an apparent grasp of the gospel-centered rationale. There are many who appear to have the biblical vocabulary, but they utilize gospel centrality as itself just another trend in the evangelical stream, just the latest cool modifier to throw onto every noun. Here comes all the adjectives; gospel-centered, gospel-driven.
What happens though, when without understanding of what that actually means, we simply make gospel an adjective. I think it can open the door to gospel confusion. Is everything the gospel? I suppose, is what we could ask. In his little exposition on the book of Philippians, Basics for Believers, Don Carson writes this, he says, “In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the periphery. My colleague, Dr. Paul Hiebert, springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless.”
“One generation of Mennonites,” he says, “believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following generation denied the gospel. The entailments became everything. Assuming this scheme for evangelicalism,” this is still Carson, “one suspects that large swathes of the movement are lodged in the second step, with some drifting towards the third. What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? Today, there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another; abortion, pornography, homeschooling, women’s ordination, for or against, economic justice, a certain style of worship, defense of a particular Bible version, and countries of course, have full agendas of urgent peripheral demands, depending on the context.”
“Not for a moment,” still Carson, “am I suggesting we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time, and passion, each of us must ask, in what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?”
I don’t want to follow the rabbit trail too far, because it’s outside really the scope of this talk. But I believe we are seeing this play out in a lot of public conversations right now, particularly on social media. This conversation where the implications of the gospel begin to, in some ways, eclipse the gospel itself. The adjectiving of gospel can be the first step toward a conflating of gospel with law, or muddling of gospel with law, which is something that Martin Luther called “The supreme art of the devil to muddle gospel in law.”
For instance, as one, I’ll put my cards on the table. I am quite interested in the entailment, or the implication of the gospel for social justice. Yet, when people say things like, “The social justice is the gospel,” or “Orphan care is the gospel,” my spidey sense goes off, because the gospel isn’t anything that we do. The gospel is what Christ has done, the announcement of what God has done in Christ. The gospel has become a talisman of sorts, an abstraction around which we rally our troops and then through that denounce others. We need to recover the recovery of the gospel. This is what gospel-driven churches do as a regular pattern of being, recover the gospel.
First Corinthians chapter 15, this isn’t exposition, but if you have a Bible, you could turn there. We’re going to look at the first four verses. We’ll just keep consulting that text as we go along. First Corinthians 15, beginning of verse 1, now I would remind you brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received in which you stand and by which you are being saved. If you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as a first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the word of the Lord.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this word, we ask that you would bless our time together, may this be fruitful and helpful, not just to our minds, but to our hearts as well. Help us to see a glimpse of the glory of your son even as we wrestle and wrangle with applying his finished work to our churches, practically. May this be a great work of affection for you and also for your church. It’s in your son’s name that we pray this. Amen.
Okay. Why the Gospel-Driven Church? Why Gospel-Driven Church? The first reason is this, because gospel-driven churches are constantly reminding. Gospel-driven churches are constantly reminding. This is because people, us, we are constantly forgetting. We need reminding, first of all, that the gospel isn’t anything that we do, no matter how important. I want to reset Christian Twitter every morning. What we do is important. Many of the things that we do are commanded. We are to obey God. But remember what we do is not the gospel. The most important thing is what Christ has done.
The gospel is the announcement, the newspaper headline that God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You cannot do or be the gospel. It is the announcement of something that happened historically, that has ongoing implications by the power of the spirit. What is the gospel? Paul here has given us this nutshell version of it. Of course, he says more here, and he says more elsewhere. There are so many gleaming facets of the one diamond that is the good news. But here we have the essential message that even a child can legitimately believe and be saved for all eternity that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
There’s a lot more that could be said, but this is the irreducible complexity of the gospel. You will notice that it is not advice and it’s not commandment. It is an announcement. It’s news. We need constant reminding, because we have a tendency to forget what the gospel is. We need constant reminding, because we have a tendency, in fact, you forget what the gospel does. This is one of my larger concerns with even the way we talk about the entailments and implications of the gospel. How is it that people are empowered to do what the gospel calls us to do, to obey the commands of God? Is it through the power of grace? Or is it through our own religious strength?
Now, I would remind you brothers, Paul was saying, which is very interesting, his 15 chapter … Oh, he isn’t always writing chapters. But he’s 15 chapters in. In the middle of the letter, I would remind you brothers of this, why was God constantly reminding them of this thing he had done in the past? You and I do not wake up in gospel mode. I don’t know about you. But when I wake up, the first thoughts that are in my brain, the first thoughts that are in my heart really revolve around the phrase “My day.” What’s my day going to look like? What’s going on in my day? How’s my day going to go? You may not think that consciously. But just think of the way your day proceeds and the way other people infringe on your day.
If you have a commute, I have a commute. It’s about 20 minutes long, 30 minutes, depending on when I leave. I have to drive into my office. Of course, there’s other people who are making their commute as well. Have you ever noticed that everyone is driving too fast or too slow? Discovered this? Everyone is going too fast or too slow, why is that? Because you are the standard by which everyone should drive. Maybe you even thought this that they would just drive like I drive. You know what would solve this problem, the traffic situation. Why? Because you’re the standard. That’s just a subconscious way.
Maybe you stop at the coffee shop or you got to run an errand at the grocery store, whatever it is, and you choose the express lane. You ever choose express lane. It’s the biggest lie from the pit of hell that has ever been foisted on. I always hear Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap.” The express lane is never express. There’s always someone in front who has more items than is allowed. They want to pay. They’re bartering. I don’t know. They’ve never been to a grocery store before. I don’t understand. Except Shells. It’s been a long time. I’m just frustrated back there. Why? Because this person is infringing on my convenience, on my hurry. They don’t understand that this is my day.
What happens, especially just in the relational tension or conflict that we have in our homes and our workplaces, and in our churches, is we run into other people who think that the day is their day. You’re infringing on their self-sovereignty. They’re the star of the show, and everyone else is a supporting character. When this happens, why? Well, we have forgotten. We have a kind of gospel amnesia. We don’t realize that the Lord has made the day. That it belongs to him. We begin with this law mode, where everyone must measure up to our expectations and meet our needs. We are not set to grace because we forget that it’s his day, and we belong to Him. We have to be reminded of what is the first importance.
Secondly, gospel-driven churches are constantly reprioritizing, constantly reprioritizing. Paul delivered this message. He says, “As of first importance.” It seems clear to me that he does not mean initial importance, but central importance. Why? I think because of the expansiveness that he is in just in these few verses applying to the good news. I mean, if you just look at how he describes the gospel, or what he says the gospel does, you received it, verse one, you received in which you stand, verse two, and by which you are being saved.
If you just look at those three clauses, you see something really eternally fascinating about this good news, which you received, okay past tense, in some way, shape, or form, you were converted in your hearing of the gospel. The Holy Spirit worked through that announcement to awaken your spiritual senses, to behold the glory of Christ in such a way that you desired him above all else. It could be that you answered an invitation at a worship gathering. There was a public invitation given and you answered the call to go forward. Maybe a parent, or a friend, or some other family member shared the gospel with you. Maybe a stranger was doing evangelism and they shared the gospel with you. Maybe you read it in a book, or just saw it in the Bible, or on television, whatever it was, you heard the message. You didn’t believe before you did. Then you did believe you received the gospel.
But now Paul says, “The gospel is not just the thing, past tense. It’s also the thing now. It’s the thing in which you stand your present status before God is not based on your performance after your conversion. It is still based on the good news, the finished work of Jesus Christ.” This is supremely important for our assurance in Christ. In Galatians, when Paul chastising what has happened to Judaism heresy is having begun by the spirit. Are you being perfected by the flesh? In a lot of discipleship cultures, and a lot of churches, the implicit answer, not explicit, but the implicit answer is “Yes.” The gospel gets you in. But now you’re on to bigger and better things.
In the church cultures that I grew up in, we called them deeper things. You move on to deep teaching. It was all important things that the Bible certainly does speak to, eschatology, the soteriology debates, Calvinism, Arminian, all of that stuff. That was the deep stuff. It never seemed to occur to anyone, or at least it was never taught that, actually, there’s nothing deeper than the gospel. Angels long to look into the gospel. It must be eternally fascinating.
Your presence status before God is not a probationary status. It’s not you get in by the gospel and you stay in by the law. You get in by the gospel, you stay in by the gospel, and you are being saved. The picture here is not just the justification, it’s also sanctification. We are becoming more Christ-like the more that we behold Christ, Paul in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3, there about in verse 18, it’s by beholding the glory of Christ with an unveiled face that you are being transformed from one degree of glory into another into the same likeness, and this comes by the spirit.
Obviously, the gospel is bigger than we thought it was. In this one little verse, we relearn that the good news is obviously bigger inside than it is outside. It’s like Aslan’s barn. Okay. One Narnia reader in here? No? There you go. You get inside. It’s bigger inside, ain’t it? Maybe you prefer this illustration. Have you ever seen the Russian nesting dolls, matryoshka dolls? You’re taking a smaller doll inside and taking that smaller doll, it just goes down to this itty-bitty doll. The gospel is like that. But you start with the itty-bitty doll. You can look at it. You can understand it. A child can legitimately believe in that gospel. But you open it up and a bigger doll comes out, and then a bigger doll, and a bigger doll.
There is a cosmos of blessings in Christ that come through this message of his burial and resurrection. The gospel is the power and grounds for our justification and our sanctification. In fact, the gospel is the power for us to obey. You won’t outgrow your need for it. Romans 1:16, Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” In Ephesians 3:7, Paul says, “The gospel was given to him by God’s power.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, he says, “The gospel is accompanied with power.” In 1 Corinthians 1:18, he says, “The message of the gospel is the power of God.”
The gospel is so powerful, so versatile, so resilient, in fact, that Paul has no trouble leaning on it for all of his journeys, all of his sufferings, all of his persecution, all of his preaching, and we are tempted to think that it must be safe for special occasions. That it won’t preach every week. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2:2 “I’ve resolved to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul is in effect, saying, “I’m not moving on from this message. I’m not departing from this message. You can depart from it all around me. But I am not departing from this message.”
When I was first sorting out what this might look like, in a church environment, I was coming out of an attractional church paradigm. I was trained for ministry. What we used to call the secret church, the secret sensitive church, I ate, slept, and breathed that paradigm of ministry, and then the Lord intervened in my life in a very powerful way at a moment of profound brokenness and deep hurt for me, awakening me in a sense to the centrality of the gospel. Because before there was a TGC, or at least that I was aware of it. I didn’t know there was a tribe. I didn’t know there was a movement. I didn’t know about any of that stuff. All I knew is the Lord woke me up.
I’m trying to figure out how do you do this in a church and there wasn’t gospel-centered books out there. There was no gospel-driven church book out there. It didn’t exist. I remember I was in attractional megachurch in Nashville, Tennessee, and I was leading the young adult ministry at this time. We were brought together by the creative arts director, who was essentially … I mean, it felt like in his mind, he was assembling, he trying to create a young adult worship service. He was trying to assemble his Avengers or something like that. Everyone had their special skill. I was the teaching guy. It became very clear from the beginning that in there my teaching was just a feature of the thing.
The teaching doesn’t drive the thing. It teaches just like one of the things that we do. I remember sitting in this brainstorming meeting with these other leaders that he had assembled. A few of them were like, “I mean, this could be anything we want it to be. Yeah.” They start talking about in their dreams, their vision casting about what the worship service could be. They’re talking about things like having pottery wheels, and painting stations in the middle of the worship service and all these things. I’m just like I’m about to freak out. But I don’t know what to say, because I’m just the teacher. Eventually, I raised my hand and say, “I really don’t think it can be anything we want it to be. I think the Bible is pretty clear on what a gathering meant to exalt him, as opposed to look like.”
As I understood it then, more than 10 years ago, what gospel-centered ministry looked like? A lot of it was because I was still trying to articulate it. But a lot of it was also, this is a completely foreign idea. It doesn’t sound sexy. It doesn’t sound real. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to attract people, all these sorts of things. People began to bail out. I was under a lot of pressure. Here’s why. Because it felt like to me, and I think it felt like to them, I was holding the ministry hostage. Essentially, I was saying, “If it’s not this, I’m not doing it. If I’m not doing it, then they’re out of teacher.”
Was I willing to embrace that conflict and embrace the confusion? Was it worth it to me? In the end, I decided that it was. Part of it was because the Lord had grabbed hold of me in a very real way. I didn’t discover it in a magazine. Here’s a new thing, gospel centrality and think, “Oh, that’s a good paradigm. We should do that.” It was the Lord saved my life. I’m not moving on from this. Leader after leader, religious consumer after consumer not getting it. Even as I began to progress and develop more of my understanding of what it looks like to do a gospel-centered church. You probably have already encountered this. There are people that they just don’t understand it.
They seem bored by it. They seem frustrated by it. They don’t get the resilience. They don’t see the beauty. They don’t see the multifaceted strength of the grace of God. Shouldn’t you be more creative? No. The message is non-negotiable. Maybe you could talk more about politics? No. This is non-negotiable. Why don’t we be more front loaded applicational? No, this is non-negotiable. You know not every text is about Jesus. No. The whole Bible is about Jesus. This is non-negotiable. Those are all things I’ve heard, by the way. Not just imagined examples. If you devote yourself to the centrality of the gospel, you will confuse and even sometimes lose Christians from your ministry trajectory.
Our flesh yearns for more, something else, but we must with laser-like focus fix our eyes on the gracious Christ as he is both the author and the perfecter of our faith. We must resolve like Paul to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. We need constant reprioritizing. Thirdly, gospel-driven churches are constantly repenting. Gospel-driven churches are constantly repenting. If you’ve seen the cover of the book or seen some information about the book, you probably maybe raise an eyebrow about the phrase, “The metrics of grace.” What exactly does that mean? Are we measuring grace?
What it means in a nutshell is simply this. What metrics would the lens of grace have us look at in our church that go deeper than simply counting how many people are there, or how many dollars are given? Those are important things, but they don’t tell you everything. What I do in the book is I talk about some things that we can measure. I draw historically, from Jonathan Edwards, and his Distinguishing Marks of a true move of the Spirit of God. Deborah will give you nine marks. Edwards only gives us five. Those are the five that I go with. They hold up really well.
But one of the marks that Edward says, this is how you know the Spirit of God is moving that you have a fruitful church. There’s a discernible spirit of repentance in the place. Now, obviously, that’s really difficult to measure. The book aims at helping you maybe look at some things that might help you discern if there is a spirit of repentance there. You probably have a gut feeling about it already. But what are some things you can look at to determine that? You and I know that our central problem, and the central problem of the people who file into your churches every weekend is not primarily a lack of self-esteem. It’s not a lack of self-fulfillment. Therefore, our central solution cannot be a program of self-help or self-actualization. Which, by the way, is what law carried out in our own power is.
Our central problem is that we have rebelled against a Holy God. Our central problem is that we have disobeyed His righteous commands. We’ve attempted to usurp his sovereign authority. Our central problem is that we have fallen short of the glory of God. Why after all of this ink spilled towards the Corinthians problems does Paul at this point say, “Now I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you?” Because Paul knows that every behavior problem is fundamentally a belief problem. We disbelieve our way into sin. We have to believe our way out. The only antidote that can generate the power to supplant the idolatry at the root of every sin is the power of God’s grace in the gospel.
Now I’ve remind you, of what, that Christ died for our sins. Now what does this prompt us to do, first of all? When Luther nailed those 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg, the first thesis declared, of course, the Christian life is one to be of continual repentance. The Roman Church had prioritize law over grace and lost the plot devolving into the false gospel of works, religion, and everything that that implies, including the satanic idea that we can manage our sin through our religious exercises. But Christ calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily. We need constant repenting.
Brothers, this is why if your church services are aimed at lost people, giving them four steps to applying Christianity every week is a lost cause. You’re giving religious busywork to the unsaved. What can that possibly do? At best, what it does is create a moral pagan. But it’s still Pharisaism, even if it doesn’t look fundamentalist, or whatever. We have to give them the gospel. The gospel is big enough. It’s strong. It will hold. It is big enough to save the lost and grow the saved. That’s the beauty of gospel centrality, actually. Lost people come into your church. They’re beginning to see that Christ is the center of the universe. They’re hearing the message by which they can be saved.
But the found people who come into your church when they see that Christ is the center of the universe, they’re hearing the message by which they can be sanctified. The gospel is a reminder that we essentially need not a new religion but a new heart. The law cannot give us that. The law can reveal our sinfulness. It can convict us of our sinfulness. Sometimes it can even exacerbate our sinfulness when we bristle against it. But it cannot save us. Only the grace of God can do that. Law dominant churches do not have a spirit of repentance in them. They have a spirit of performance. But a grace-dominated church begins to oxygenate the air. It creates a light in which people can bring forth their sin. It becomes an unsafe place for sin, but a really safe place to be a sinner.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of writing a Bible study on Paul’s Letter to the Romans for Crossway. This little series they did call Knowing the Bible. The series editor on that was J. I. Packer. I was really impressed by that. I was really glad for that. But I thought, I mean, how much work is he really doing? I mean, he’s like 150 years old. He endorses every book. I mean, you suspected that Packer has a ghost endorser, someone who’s … I just thought he’s a figurehead. He’s given the series some credibility, which is good. The thing came out, did arise, people were happy with it.
I was seeing on social media, my friend, Matt, Matt Capps, who wrote the entry on Hebrews. I don’t know if he was Instagramming or something. But he showed a photo of that Crossway had sent Matt, J. I Packer’s edits, his manuscript with Packer’s edits on there. I thought, “Well, why didn’t I get my manuscript?” Of course, my paranoia, like I’m very … I have active imagination, I thought, okay, either he didn’t edit mine, or more likely, is he did and it was so terrible that Crossway … They didn’t want to embarrass me or hurt my feelings by sending it to me.
But eventually, I worked up the courage. I messaged those folks and said, “I saw Matt got his manuscript. That’d be cool, if it’s all right, if you have it,” that sort of thing. Dane Ortlund, who is editor, was so sweet, and so kind. He overnighted this manuscript to me. As I came the next day, and I’m there in my office at Midwestern and I open this thing up. I was relieved at first. It didn’t look like someone had been slaughtered inside. There wasn’t red ink everywhere. He’s a very light, at least. His role with this series is a very light editorial touch. He was changing a few things here and there and tightening things up. It was all very nice.
But there wasn’t anything that stood out to me as super profound or meaningful until I got to a particular passage, and I was commenting on Romans 2, in particular, verse 4, and a little section that they call gospel glimpses in the study, I had written this reflecting on that verse. Yet another wonderful affirmation of where the source of power to change is found. Paul reminds us in Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Not his law, not his berating, not his exasperate, but his kindness, period, end of thought.
But Packer had added one thin vertical stroke to the period and turned it into an exclamation point and he underlined kindness on there. Brothers and sisters, I stared at it and I began to weep. I’ll tell you why. Because many years before that, this gospel awakening moment that I’ve referenced, if you had come to me in that moment, and said, “Someday J. I. Packer is going to edit one of your manuscripts, it would have made me angry, I would have thought that you were being cruel to me, making fun of me.” I could not have foreseen in those days, the moment in that time, and just the context of it. It’s not God’s kindness you’re on that leads us to repentance. It’s his kindness that leads us to repentance.
I was once lonely and broken and hopeless and suicidal. God’s kindness reached out. I was broken by the law. I knew that I was burying the rotten fruit of my sin. But it was not the law that brought me back to life. It was the message of grace. I love you and approve of you in Christ. Like The Prodigal Son in the Pigsty, the lights came on. I came to my senses. In those days when that happened to me, I had a notebook full of sermon outlines on how to be a better Christian, and none of them solved my problem. I was in a dark hole and the Lord was exceedingly kind to me.
If you fast forward to that day, I held that manuscript in my hand, I thought of all the kindness of God that led me to that moment, to that point despite my sin, despite my failure, despite my weakness, despite all of my baggage and brokenness, despite my struggles and my doubts, what I had at the end of my rope was God’s kindness. Exclamation point. I didn’t need to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I needed to repent and believe the gospel. Gospel-driven churches are constantly repenting, because the gospel actually empowers the pursuit of holiness.
Fourthly, and finally, gospel-driven churches are constantly reforming, constantly reforming. Nobody drifts toward the gospel. It makes too little of us and too much of God. We have to nail this thesis to the door of our own hearts. “Hold fast,” verse two Paul says, “Hold fast to the word I preach to you, unless you believe in vain, to the danger and gospel departure is that it’s a symptom of unbelief,” actually. Back in Galatians. In Galatians chapter two, when Paul recounts confronting Peter about his hypocrisy there in the cafeteria, there was a lot that Paul could have said, and probably there was more that he said that he just didn’t reference that he said. But he could have brought to the surface.
Man, Paul was really hurting a lot of people’s feelings, because he was. He could have brought up all the commandments that Paul is breaking because he was. A misunderstanding of the covenantal storyline, he could have brought about all of those things, the confusion that he was causing, all of which was true. But the primary thing that Paul saw was that the conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel. Sometimes we’re told, “Look, it’s time to move on. Hasn’t this movement played itself out already?” Some men and women fought long and hard to facilitate the gospel recovery movement.
Right then began with Colin Hansen’s article in Christianity today. It began with faithful preachers. Some of them well-known, but most of them not, who just faithfully, for decades even took up the mantle of the Puritans and the Reformers, calling us back to make manifest in our ministry what Paul says in Philippians 3:12, “I only want to lay hold of what laid hold of me,” or four verses later, “Only let us hold true to what we’ve already attained.” Sometimes we’re told that moving on from the Gospel is the right next step in the Gospel movement.
As we cling doggedly to the theology our fathers fought for and passed down to us in good faith, the doctrinal dilettantes of the day say to us, “Whatever happened to always reforming, semper reformanda?” As if always reforming means always morphing, a flexible orthodoxy, a malleable gospel, a junk drawer gospel. In 2011, there was a New York Times article that came out related to the devastating tsunamis that had taken place recently at that time in Japan says, “The stone tablet has stood on the forested hillsides since before they were born. But the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face. Do not build your homes below this point.”
Residents say, “This injunction from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami last month that wiped out hundreds of miles of Japanese coast and rose to record heights near here.” The wave stopped just 300 feet below the stone. “They knew the horrors of tsunami so they erected that stone to warn us,” said Tamishige Kimura, 64, the village leader. Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation.
But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck. The ancestors knew what they were talking about. They’d learned the hard way and they erected those markers “Don’t build past this point.” But we are arrogant. We know better. We’re more enlightened. We’re smarter. We have to accommodate more and more people. We ignore the markers. We have to be reminded that always reforming means in essence always returning to the gospel. It doesn’t mean that the faith that is delivered to us is always changing, progressing into something better.
What it means is to be continually sloughing off the baggage of doctrinal add-ons and distractions, cutting out the ever rising innovations, theological and otherwise. To be always reforming is to keep going back to the ancient markers in the face of constant opposition, temptation, even sometimes taunting from those who would have us play with heterodoxy ever newly. Let us keep contending, keep trusting, keep returning to the ancient marker of the cross. The church that is always reforming is always returning to the gospel, always conforming its message, its ministry, its methods even to the gospel. The church understands that sinners who are one to the gospel are kept by the gospel.
Therefore, it is not enough for the gospel to be tucked away in the face statement on the website, or save for special occasions and special events, or dished out in small doses as an afterthought to the sermon. An assumed the gospel is a methodologically denied gospel. We have to stop off coursing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the scriptures in the spirit who breathe and call us to be gospel-driven. Holdfast to the word I preach to you, because only the gospel will hold.
Okay. Let me pray. Then if we have some questions, we can do that. Heavenly Father, thank you for these brothers and sisters. I pray this had been a fruitful time for them. The biggest fear I have, Lord, is that I would have wasted anyone’s time. But I know that even hearing what I already know, especially when it is about your grace, is the most important thing that I can rehear. I pray this will have been of service to them through your graciousness, by your spirit, and in the name of your son, we pray these things. Amen.
Okay. Here’s how it is. We have a little bit of time left. If you have a question, feel free to raise your hand. I’ll call on you. Please make it a question if that’s okay. I’m sure you have lots of great things to say. You really do. But that way we can accommodate more people. Okay. That makes sense? Yes, sir.
Audience: At my church, we’re pursuing more of this, this gospel centrality. What are some recommended resources …
Jared Wilson: Okay.
Audience: … you could teach it to the people? As a team, we mostly get it.
Jared Wilson: Yeah.
Audience: But to teach the rest of the church habitually …
Jared Wilson: Yes.
Jared Wilson: Yes. The question is what are some resources you would recommend to the church, to the congregation in essence? The team is on board, how do we resource the church to adopt this paradigm? Well, I mean, it depends on really your context, the kind of church you are. If you’re having issues about how the gospel impacts the structure, the order of your church, policy, those sorts of things, some churches in making this transition have now had to rethink, “Oh, man, we have church policy completely wrong. We got to reorder those things.”
For me, of course, the nine mark stuff is … as a Baptist, right, I’m sorry. But as a Baptist, I like their stamp of approval on policy, those sorts of things. But I think the thing that that steers the ship, the thing that actually doesn’t just tell people, “Hey, this is the program, and here’s how to get with it.” But actually, you bring them along, so you’re trying to go after their affections as much as you are trying to inform them about this idea, or whatever it is, is just the preaching. It’s the steady diet of gospel-centered preaching, upholding the glory of Christ and his finished work. Over time is what begins to shape the congregation.
You can give everybody, even the right books. What you’ve got is them all reading the right books. But until you’ve actually have their heart yearning for this, and that is often very slow process and a time taking process, the preaching. But now, if you’re looking at, for instance, I recommend Trevin Wax’s little book, Gospel-Centered Teaching, especially as a resource for teachers, children’s ministry, Sunday school teachers, all those sorts of things, because it’s short, and it’s very clear. It just lays out really the basics of what gospel-centered means.
What does it mean to center on the gospel? The implications for sanctification, how we do Old Testament moralism, all those things that for a lot of us was like, “Oh, yeah. We’re now into gospel centrality 3.0.” But for our people, those reminders of how to even teach in a gospel-centered way are really important. That’s, I think, how you begin re-steering the ship, in a way. But there’s a whole lots of other Yeah. Yes, sir. Over here. Please.
Audience: Follow up, what if your lead pastor is the stumbling block?
Jared Wilson: He’s not here, is he? You got a space between you. Man, that’s a deep question. I get it a lot and I got it a lot from readers of the Prodigal Church. My aim with the Prodigal Church was that it would land in the hands of a lot of lead guys, and would help them rethink. That didn’t quite happen. What happened was enlightened in the hands of a lot of second third chair guys who … the messages that I tend to get are things like, “I knew something was off and there was some of the edges. But this helped me articulate what is going on.” My advice to those guys is always the same, which is you’re not there to cast vision. Put yourself in the shoes of a lead pastor.
Imagine you were the lead pastor of a gospel-centered church, and it was exactly as you would want it, and it was a church that revolved perfectly around your ministry philosophy, and you had a youth guy or associate pastor or what have you, who didn’t get that. How would you want them to try to influence you towards change? Probably constant nagging. You should read this book. Don’t be legalistic about gospel centrality. That’s not going to win their heart over. What I’ve learned, I think, over the long-term is that it is not likely. I mean sad to say, it’s not likely for that direction to change from the bottom up. It is typically something has to happen, a sea change of some kind in the heart of that lead guy to change that.
The story that I tell, the fictional story that I tell in Gospel-Driven Church is like that. Essentially, it’s an attractional megachurch planted by a guy and two friends. Over the last 20 years or so, the two friends have left and there’s one guy left, and he has this crisis of faith and decides he’s done, banging his head against bigger, better. He discovers gospel centrality. But he’s changing the game on everybody else. But he can do that. I talked about the dynamic of the youth guy’s been champing at the bit, and just biding his time, and is so happy that this has happened … but when that doesn’t happen.
Typically, what I would say is just learn what you can, serve humbly, faithfully, do what you can in your sphere of influence, but generally probably over time, meaning to find another church, actually. Yeah. Over here in the back.
Audience: [inaudible] is Christ-centered and gospel-driven go hand in hand, are they different terms?
Jared Wilson: Yeah. The question is what is the relation between the phrase Christ-centered and gospel-centered? The answer as Chapell expresses it is, yes, it’s essentially synonymous. But I’ll tell you why I prefer gospel-centered. I use Christ-centered worship in the residency that I directed our church. I’m affirming all the content and those things, super helpful. But the reason I prefer gospel-centered is because it’s specific about Christ. Some of you discovered this. Just the gospel-centered nomenclature is so pervasive now.
You’ll talk to people say, “Yeah, we’re a gospel-centered church, or we do.” You listen to the sermon you’re like, “There’s nothing.” What they meant was we did an invitation at the end or something like that. It’s more gospel caboose to then gospel-centered. I say gospel-centered because someone could, theoretically, and it’s not outside the bounds of possibility, someone could preach a message about Jesus. That’s essentially Jesus was nice, so you’d be nice. Jesus served others, so you serve others. As Jesus has moral exemplar, and because there’s lots of Jesus, then go, “I’m Christ-centered. I talk about Christ all the time,” but how you talk about Christ. Jesus is our moral exemplar. I’m not saying that he’s not.
But what makes Christianity Christianity is not do what Jesus did, but believe what Jesus did. I say gospel-centered not because I’m against the language of Christ-centered, what Chapell means by it, I mean by it. But I prefer a gospel-center because it’s something that’s specific about Jesus. Yeah. Yes, sir.
Audience: You can be attractional. At first, you can be attractional without being gospel-centered, gospel-driven. But then it [inaudible] to be gospel-driven without being attractional. [inaudible] the attractional dynamic being to the gospel?
Jared Wilson: I am glad you asked that question. Yeah. The question is, if you’re gospel-centered or gospel-driven, doesn’t that somehow become attractional, or isn’t that in itself attractional, or create an attractional force or whatever? I say no, because, well, depends on how I define. I define attractional to mean, essentially, a paradigm of ministry that seeks to attract people, yeah, to the service. It doesn’t mean that the gospel is unattractive. I think it’s a perfectly good word for what the gospel does. When people are centered on Christ, and they’re serving their neighbors, and they’re loving each other, that is attractive. But it’s also repellent to some. The gospel isn’t always attractive. It is a stumbling block. It is an offensive scandal. It attracts some and doesn’t others.
To me, when I’m saying attractional is basically we make the attraction the point. When you do that, when you make attraction the center, you’ll begin to do all things to get people in the door. I see attraction as a paradigm. It’s very similar to I nuance, pragmatic, and practical as well. Most people say every church is pragmatic or what have you. What they usually mean is there’s things to do. That’s just practicality. The Bible is eminently practical, lots of things to do, lots of practical implications. Pragmatic is when you take the practical and make it a formula. If we do this, we will get that. Just that mindset is … I make that distinction there.
I know Keller in Center Church, he uses attractional differently. But how I’m seeing it used now on blogs and everything, people are siding with me. I just take that as a victory that attractional has become a bad word. It’s good. Yeah. I appreciate that. But he just means attractive. I don’t disagree with what Keller is saying. But when I read him saying gospel-centered church is attractional in Center Church, what I’m hearing him say is it’s attractive. Because a community that’s gracious does attract people. Yeah. It’s welcoming. It’s hospitable. Yes, sir.
Audience: Someone in my shoes, this gospel-centered, gospel-driven movement you’re talking about, you started 15 or so years ago, and now you’re trying to recover it. Someone in my shoes, I feel like I’ve just discovered this within the last couple of years, and this is all new. I’m really trying to learn a lot about it. It’s hard because a lot of people talk, like you said, assumed. A lot of people are assuming that all this stuff is known already around where do they get this information? Is there a way you can maybe just provide some resources for someone like me, and quite others being here in this room go back and learn some more about just the fundamentals of this group …
Jared Wilson: Oh my. Yeah. The question is, if I’m new to the idea, or to the movement itself, what are some basics and fundamentals that would get me up to speed? You are living in the heyday now. Again, it didn’t begin 15 years ago. That’s when the media stuff began to help us identify as a tribe. If you’re looking at the modern forerunners, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, to some extent, Tim Keller, I mean, these guy had been preaching the exact same way for 30, 40, 50 years. I mean, they were holding the mantle when it wasn’t cool through the secret movement, all that sort of thing. It didn’t begin, like I said, with TGC, or what have you.
What we are seeing is this literary or media renaissance. This is the best time to get it. Because when I was getting in, I didn’t know there was a movement. I didn’t know there was a tribe. There’s were no books. When I was trying to plant a church in Nashville, Tennessee, Acts 29 wasn’t there. I mean all these things that we have now it’s a boon. Rather than just list some titles at you, go browse the bookstore. Apply gospel centrality to what? The blessing we have right now is because of everything that everybody else rolls their eyes around, we’re able to see with all of the publishing, just how versatile the gospel actually is. If it is the skeleton key, it will open a million doors.
What does the gospel-centered marriage look like? You can find that book in the bookstore, I bet. What does gospel-centered shepherding look like? You can find that book, I bet. Just depending on the subjects that you’re interested in. But in terms of just the basic, I would go back to Trevin Wax’s book. The reason why I do that it’s not like it’s the seminal gospel-centered, what have you or anything like that. But Michael Horton has written a few books on gospel-centered life, Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life, some of those things, do the basics, the foundational stuff. But the reason I like Trevin’s book is because it’s very shareable. It’s not a textbook. It’s just this little practical book that deals with the basics of gospel centrality, sanctification, justification, all those things, and then how you might share it with others.
Yes, sir. Back here.
Jared Wilson: Yeah. The question is, how can I navigate or any advice for those who are in a cage stage about gospel centrality? It’s the same for the cage stage of anything, which is put yourself in the shoes of you, before whatever it was that convinced you of this. It likely wasn’t because somebody was nagging you, or pressuring you to be gospel-centered. That tends to push us away from things. If that’s not how you got in, I mean if it is, I’ll be interested to know actually. But don’t treat others how you wouldn’t have wanted to be treated when you were in their shoes, essentially.
I think this is a helpful, I mean, whether you’re a cage stage reformed guy, or whatever it is, it’s almost like this gnosis, this special knowledge, we got it. But how did you get it? Somehow you were convinced, but it probably wasn’t because somebody was twisting your arm or treating you like a jerk. That’s not how it’s going to spread either. I think just be patient with people. Remember that if you are gospel-centered, it’s not this abstraction. To be gospel-centered as a person means that you’re going to be gracious with people, whether they’re gospel-centered or not. You being gospel-centered means you’re going to be empathetic and patient and kind with them. Yeah. Yes, sir.
Audience: How do you stay in gospel-driven as a pastoral team amidst secondary issue if it’s spiritual gifts and their role in your gospel-centered church?
Jared Wilson: Yeah. The question is how do you stay gospel-driven amidst debates or conversations related to secondary issues?
Audience: Amongst the pastoral …
Jared Wilson: Among pastoral team. Okay. I tread lightly just because I don’t know the situation on the context. You mentioned spiritual gifts. Maybe I have some idea of where this go. But this is why I think biblical exposition is so helpful. Because when you’re doing gospel-centered exposition of the scriptures, you begin to see all these secondary, tertiary issues which are not unimportant. But you see them in their biblical context, but also just in the context of the gospel. What’s the point of spiritual gifts that we would build up the church and glorify Christ? It’s not for self-fulfillment.
I may not know what the conversation is, or the debate is. But in some circles, it’s about intellectual debate, continuationism versus cessationism, and who’s going to win? In some places it’s do I get to use my gift here? That’s all self-focused ways of looking at it? What’s the purpose of the gifts? Well, if you see it in the context of scripture, it’s for the building up of the church, the blessing of each other. I think looking at things in context, working through the scriptures together, I mean, is Sunday school answer, but the Lord gave us his word. We need to keep coming back to it. We have time for little a few more. Yes, sir. Over here.
Jared Wilson: Good grief, man. It’s 2:27. How does the church, the American church reprioritize the gospel in the face of the entailments beginning to swallow it up?
Jared Wilson: Okay. Brother. I’m going to talk around the issue sort of, okay. I believe that social justice is an implication of the gospel, depending on how you define social justice. One of the biggest problems we have going on is you have people on what looks like two sides. Even the people on each side don’t really agree with each other. They’re just using the phrases at each other. There are people who are on the pro-social justice side, and they mean different things by social justice. For some, it means necessarily a cultural Marxism. For most of us, it doesn’t. But the phrase gets sucked up in there. It’s true on the other side as well.
I don’t think it’s going to get solved on Twitter. That’s one thing that I’ll say. I have somewhat backed off of that. Not because I don’t care about the issues anymore, but I believe it’s a community and a contextual conversation within my church, with the guys that I’m training for ministry, with my friends and family. Yeah. I think face-to-face, or just when there’s persons involved and not just avatars or personas involved. If we’re able to take things offline, I think we can approach that. But as I said in the beginning, I do share the concern.
My concern on one end is that we suggest that there’s a gospel with no entailments. That the way you solve every problem, essentially, like the gospel is magic words. There’s inconsistency in some of that, because we don’t say those things about some issues like the abortion issue. It’s possible to believe the gospel is the solution to abortion. Yet, I also want to see that there will be law. I want to see Roe versus Wade overturned. That’s not an incompatible. I’m not failing to believe the gospel is the solution if I also want to see some practical implications. I want to see laws that curtail it, or what have you.
On the other side, however, my concern is that the entailments replace centrally the gospel, or our position as the gospel. We’ve all seen where that has gone historically, the social gospel. There are people who are legitimately teaching a social gospel. That’s why I just feel online it doesn’t work. Because you agree with a guy on one thing, but then you find out he believes 10 other things that aren’t right. But you align with him because of the one thing that’s against the guy that you’re against. It’s just a mess. I think there’s so many threads, which is why I’ll stop answering because it’s not just that issue. There’s a hundred things going on.
I don’t know what the deal is, except maybe the Lord is shaking up his church. With everything else going on secularization and what have you, maybe we’ll see in the next decade, a smaller, more faithful Church, healthier even. Okay. I’ll take one more. It’s 2:30. Yes, sir.
Jared Wilson: Yes, sir. What do you have?
Audience: Personally, how do I go back knowing that the Easter egg hunt in three weeks is … almost what [inaudible]
Jared Wilson: Yeah.
Audience: Just personally what do we pray about or process, so to speak …
Jared Wilson: Yeah.
Audience: … try to make the last point?
Jared Wilson: Yeah. The question is with the Easter egg hunt coming up … I feel I constantly have to explain that. To be gospel-centered does not mean you’re a joyless puritanical. What’s the point of the Easter egg hunt? Okay. Is it the all encompassing purpose for the Easter service? If it is, you probably shouldn’t do it, or you should scale it down, or you should de-emphasize it, or what have you. If it’s just something fun for the kids to do and what have you, but the real feature is a risen Christ. I don’t know what you think about the Easter bunny. I’m not trying to weigh on Easter bunny or whether you should do that or not, the Santa Claus debate or anything like that.
But it’s not about not having a joyful implications of things, or even serving your neighbor. One thing that some have done, in fact, a friend of mine was just sharing this weekend as he’s looking to Easter. When he came to his church, he repurposed. It used to be, we would do the Easter egg hunt at the church. It was meant as an attractant. But nobody was coming. I mean, except church people. What it was, was church people having the Easter egg hunt on the church grounds. He thought, “I don’t want to kill the whole thing. What we’re going to do is actually have different families in the church host it at their home in different neighborhoods,” and reverted as an actual [inaudible].
He said, “We train those folks to be able to share the gospel.” It was a similar thing that I did at my last pastorate where we did a block party every year on the green, inflatables. I mean, stuff that a lot of churches do. But in Vermont, it was like I was saying, “Let’s burn upside-down crosses on the town green.” It was like, “Can we do this? Well, why can’t we do this? We own it. Why can’t we do that? Why would we do that?” Because we love our neighbors, and we want to … We just equip people to be able to share the gospel as they saw people coming around. Why are you doing this? What’s this for? Who you are about?
But it was a way to actually get us outside the walls, and actually bring people and that we could interact with them, because it was a very hostile environment, religiously, where we were, or culturally where we were. I wouldn’t say you put a gun in your Easter egg hunt, unless you just feel like, “Man, this has become a real idol.” But just repurpose it. What is the point of Easter? I mean, it’s the risen Christ. You can’t sell that. Is the biggest deal that you’re actually supporting that … We support a king who came … he’s Death Proof.
One thing that Carson has said that I have found really helpful is people don’t get excited about what you tell them to be excited about. They get excited about what you’re excited about. The energy of the church revolves around Easter eggs, guess what people are going to think is the point of Easter. But if your energy, “Yeah, we do Easter egg hunt.” But if your energy is the risen Christ, you’re communicating something about what actually animates you.
Okay. I know the next one’s not till 3:00, but I’ll let you guys go. I’ll hang around for a little bit if anyone would like to chat. Thank you very much for coming.