No. You are not "Gospel-Centered."

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The context for this post resides in the reality that the maple Leafs are not playing on my (Nick's) day off. Hence, the salt is real and I am annoyed at the now over two-dozen bios and sales-pitches I found on social media that wield the phrase "gospel-centered." This can also be utilized as "Christ-centered" or "Jesus-centered" or even the marketing slogan, "It's all about Jesus" or being "Together 4 The Gospel." This is not exclusively a mantra coming from the Reformed side of the Christian family. I have no doubt that this tune is applicable to many non-denominational churches so my criticisms are not directed at Reformed theology/ theologians/ parachurch ministries. It just so happens that this type of marketing is more pronounced in that side of the Christian family (and yes, they are family to me).

First, let me propose something:

Do you find the following marketing schemes to be a bit offensive or at least somewhat cynical in a modern consumerist culture?

"Gospel-Centered Coffee Filters."

"Gospel-Centered Centeredness."

"Gospel-Centered Toothpaste."

"Jesus-Centered Pumpkin Spice Latté."

"Christ-Centered Pilates Seminar."

I think you get the point. These are childish and most likely not real. Although, given time, I would not be shocked to see at least one of these turns out to be an actual thing. Now compare this to the mantra from The Gospel Coalition: "The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a Christian organization that seeks to serve the local church by providing gospel-centered and Christ-focused content." A simple look through T4G[1] will reveal this rather mundane point.

I half-expect the next article from the Babylon Bee to be riffing on this idea. In case they do, you heard it here first. If they did it before me, they did it without me knowing.

But my broader point requires a bit more analysis. The Gospel is a precious thing. It concerns the life, the ministry, the crucifixion, the death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, who ascended to glory on our behalf. The Gospel is centered on the person of Jesus Christ and what that person did for all of humanity. You can have the life of Jesus and you can even have his atoning death in some sense, but you cannot have any Christian theology or even eternal life without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. No doctrine of anthropology, eschatology, hamartiology, Christology, or pneumatology can survive—much less thrive—without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is the resurrected Lord of all things. This is a far cry from your coffee filters, your Pilates seminars, your leather-bound Bibles, and your meme-quoting, 'mic-dropping' Internet offerings from deceased slave-holding theologians.

I am not immune from this so I am willing to take my own swipe directly on the chin here.

When I look at many of your distinctives and I see secondary issues like heaven and hell, women in ministry, the mechanism or duration of creation, the mode of baptism, the debate about wine versus grape juice, going to movies or abstaining from movies and so on and so forth, elevated to the point where I am willing to exclude a large if not majority portion of genuine evangelicalism I am forced to conclude that your mission is not "Gospel-centeredness"—instead, you have elevated your narrow subset of a subset of North American protestant evangelicalism of the (usually) Reformed Baptist and occasional Presbyterian stripe. To call that idolatry is too far, but is surely demands some rethinking.

The Gospel is bigger than our ministry, our organization, and our pet theology or theologian. To exalt the phrase "gospel/Jesus-centered" is to promote a narrow subset of one's ministry or theological perspective to the point where it implicitly judges others who are just as sincere and passionate. In essence, it is virtue signaling and too many who wield this terminology are engaging in a deeply commercialistic and cynical enterprise. 

I believe I and my Reformed and Wesleyan and Evangelical brothers and sisters are seeking to be centered entirely on the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the resurrected Lord. That can emerge in very different ways but I believe this to generally true. However, when it comes to marketing and how this conviction gets expressed, it reveals a shallowness that is unChristlike. I am deeply saddened to see my fellow Christians engage in this sort of activity.

Perhaps the best way or method to promote one's ministry is to say "Wesleyan-centered" resources, like Thomas and I do with The Sinnergists Podcast. That, to me, makes a good deal of sense. I am not at all opposed to theological distinctives. Indeed, I have some of my own. What I am opposed to is the marketing process by which one's theological distinctives are elevated to the point of being called "gospel-centered." If one wants to promote Reformed theology within a certain ministry, I am entirely fine with that. But calling it "gospel-centered" or "Christ centered" simply smacks of virtue signaling and theological imprecision. Thomas and I made a point of joking about this with the Sinnergists as "the most man-centered theology podcast on the Internet." Of course, some didn't find it to be that funny but that's what happens sometimes.

In summation, brothers and sisters, we need to do better than this.

Calvinism is not the Gospel.

Wesleyanism is not the Gospel.

A view of heaven or hell or the millennium or women in ministry or creation or the Sabbath is not the Gospel. Not. Even. Close.

My own theological distinctives concerning Egalitarianism, Wesleyan-Holiness theology, Baptism, Entire Sanctification, Synergism, and others are not the Gospel. They cannot be and the instant I make them my Gospel I have trivialized and de-centralized the resurrection of Jesus to a tertiary and subordinate position within Christian theology and that—in my eyes and for myself especially—is sin. Plain and simple.

Have some pride in the Gospel.

Avoid making your distinctives on par with what God did in Christ: raising him from the dead and exalting Jesus to his right hand in vindication and glorification. All of Christian theology flows from its source in the resurrected body of the vindicated Jewish Messiah: "in him, all things hold together" (Col 1:17-20).

A modest proposal: leave aside the cynical marketing campaigns and the sloganeering and virtue signaling, and promote what you believe as what you believe. Leave the Gospel alone.

NQ

[1] https://t4g.org/about/affirmations-and-denials/