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/

Calvinist and Egalitarian?: Theological Resources for the Young, Restless, and Reformed

In my discussions with many Reformed people, particularly as I listen to certain podcasts like Reformed Pubcast and others, I am struck by their adherence to complementarianism. Of course, this is not to say that one cannot be both Reformed and complementarian. Rather, it is to say that I find it odd that the default position among the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) is complementarianism. That is, women and men are equal in dignity and worth before God, but have separate and distinct roles in the church and in the home. In my context at Fuller, where I've studied under Oliver Crisp and other Reformed theologians, this sort of default complementarianism seemed odd.

The purpose of this brief post is two-fold. First, I want to offer resources to challenge this seemingly common trend of interpretation, as many Reformed theologians are egalitarian and it seems John Piper (among others) has been given a bigger megaphone than others. Second, in a brief discussion with some YRR brothers on social media, I was struck by the lack of accumulated resources that could benefit people who were sincerely interested in exploring this debated issue. Many of my YRR friends, and I say this with love, seem content to go along with their favorite Pastor (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, etc) and not actually go to the word of God, as least in terms of primacy. This can also, of course, be flipped around if one comes from an egalitarian background (i most certainly don't). So the challenge is not in of itself exclusive to the YRR, but in this post it is directed to them. In love.

Second, I want to offer some resources to challenge my YRR brothers and sisters. The purpose is not necessarily to change your mind (although that is certainly deeply desired). Rather, it is to in essence break down the walls of miscommunication and to promote additional resources one is not likely to get from the footnotes of the latest Gospel Coalition blog post. 

Dr. Roger Nicole was a founding member of the major egalitarian organization, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). He also taught at evangelical seminaries such as Gordon-Conwell and Reformed Theological Seminary. The man was as Reformed and as Evangelical as one could be, even being a staunch biblical inerrantist. He wrote this in his article for Priscilla Papers (the academic journal of CBE, which has published one of my own articles, I am humbled to say!)

It is very instructive to consider what we may know about the women who are mentioned in connection with St. Paul’s ministry. There are eighty-nine individuals listed, some of them by name, in Acts and St. Paul’s thirteen epistles, as his companions. Out of these eighty-nine, twenty are women! In Romans 16:1-15, there is a mention of Phoebe, and salutation to twenty-eight persons, not counting mentions of church, household, brothers, and saints with others. Out of twenty-eight individuals, eight are assuredly women: Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother (who was also a mother to Paul), Nereus’ sister, and Julia. The name of Junia must be added to these. Furthermore, some women must be assumed to be included in “the church that meets in Prisca and Aquila’s house” (v. 5), the “household of Aristobulus” (v. 10), of Narcissus (v. 11), and “all the saints with Nereus and Olympus” (v. 15). The names of Patroba[s], Herma[s] and Olympa[s], with their accusative form, –an, could possibly be those of women, although being masculine is not ruled out. We know nothing whatsoever about these except that St. Paul greeted them. Apart from those three, there are sixteen masculine names, and, of these, only Urbanus is identified as a coworker of Paul…

… Surely St. Paul would not, in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, condemn on the basis of Genesis 1-3 what he had so freely commended in Romans 16. Some claim that the solution is to posit that 1 Timothy is not authentically written by Paul, a desperate expedient that is wholly unacceptable to evangelicals and that would raise serious questions about Timothy’s place in the canon and even as to its inspiration…

Inasmuch as the view outlined here has not achieved an almost universal recognition among evangelicals, as the inappropriateness of slavery has achieved since the nineteenth century, it is paramount that all evangelicals should strive to provide, particularly in the church, opportunities for our sisters to exercise the gifts of the Spirit that they have received, even where it is not thought permissible by Scripture for them to exercise the office of pastor or teacher. Thus, the church would not lose the benefits that God’s gifts were intended to provide, nor would our sisters be compelled to hide their light under a bowl (Matt. 5:15).

 For Dr. Nicole's article, see here. Lest one deny Dr. Nicole's credentials, he wrote a seminal article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25.4 (1982) on John Calvin and Inerrancy. You do not get more Reformed or Evangelical than that! He also contributed a chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (2005), one of the standard egalitarian academic textbooks,  called "Biblical Hermeneutics: Basic Principles and Questions of Gender." A very worthwhile essay from a master theologian, who was known to be both humble and irenic. He also wrote, "Biblical Authority & Feminist Aspirations," in Women, Authority & the Bible (IVP, 1986), 42-50.

James K.A. Smith is a Christian Philosopher who teaches at Calvin College. He has taught at Fuller, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent. He writes he embraced egalitarianism because of a "Reformed Hermeneutic" (p.94). In essence, his theology is not dictated by the Fall and the Curse (Gen 3:16), but by redemption in Christ (c.f. Col 1:20). Creation, therefore, trumps the Fall. 

You can find the quote in his Letters to a Young Calvinist p.93-95.

Dr. Jamin Hübner is a Reformed New Testament scholar and systematic theologian who has been on our podcast (episode here) and we discussed John Piper. It was a good romp and Jamin has written some rather definitive pieces of literature, and he operates from a Reformed perspective. He wrote a short book called A Case for Female Deacons while at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has also written several articles including

  • "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What Do the Extant Data Really Show?," Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015): 41-70. In this article, Jamin shows that the rare Greek verb in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not support a hierarchicalistic interpretation.
  • "Revisiting the Clarity of Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59.1 (2016): 99-117.
  • "Translating αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Priscilla Papers 29.2 (2015): 16-26.

Jamin's doctoral thesis was also centered on arguing for a Reformed Egalitarian view, which includes exegesis of the relevant texts and the broader New Testament. He writes in the conclusion of his doctoral thesis

Finally...the power of tradition must never be underestimated. There are many “closet-egalitarians” who believe that women can be elders. But, due to their faculty positions at (for example) Southern Baptist seminaries or pastoral positions at PCA churches, they do not voice what they believe is true. Jobs would be lost and relationships would be broken. It would be easier to fall in line with the local/historical traditions than to earnestly contend for the truth. One can only pray that more brave men and women will see themselves as historical persons that have a story—one that their children and grandchildren will remember and tell, and that their story will speak of a person who did not compromise when it came to proclaiming the gospel in every area of life, including the area of gender equality and the role of church eldership.

Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon is a New Testament scholar teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a PCUSA school. He has written the definitive traditionalist book on homosexuality called The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Many complementarians are willing to cite the book positively (c.f. God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines - the contributors to the volume are, of course, deeply complementarian), but are strikingly quiet about Gagnon's support for the ordination of women.

Michael F. Bird is a Reformed Anglican New Testament scholar in Ridley College in Australia. He wrote a short book, with a lovely title, called Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry. He writes

Yet I have changed my view on women in ministry, and some of my friends have shaken their head in disappointment, thinking that I have sold out to the cultural tide of feminism by adopting a fashionably left-leaning version of evangelicalism...in my early theological education I took to a patriarchal view very naturally. I was greatly influenced by complementarians such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and Wayne Grudem - men I still admire and respect even if I must now depart company from them on this issue.

N.T. Wright is Reformed. He writes

I have shown where I think the evidence points. I believe we have seriously misread the New Testament passages addressed in this essay. These misreadings are undoubtedly due to a combination of assumptions, traditions, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. We need to change our understanding of what the Bible says about how men and women are to relate to one another within the church. I do wonder sometimes if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to sieze upon misreadings of what the Bible says about women as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Unfortunately, plenty of Christians have given outsiders plenty of chances to draw those sorts of conclusions. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction. I hope and pray that the work of Christians for Biblical Equality may be used by God in exactly that way.

See his article "The Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church," Priscilla Papers 20.4 (2006): 5-10.

Dr. Aida Besançon Spencer is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an ordained PCUSA minister. You can see some of her presentations here and here. The first presentation concerns "Women, Silence, and the Church" and the second one is on the differences between Biblical Equality and Radical Feminism. Both are stellar and I commend them to you.

T.F. Torrance, a deeply influential Reformed theologian from Scotland, wrote a stimulating article about Christology and gender, and it is worth your time. He wrote

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We conclude that in spite of long-held ecclesiastical convention, there are no intrinsic theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament; rather, there are genuine theological reasons why they may be ordained and consecrated in the service of the gospel. The idea that only a man, or a male, can represent Christ or be an ikon of Christ at the Eucharist, conflicts with basic elements of the doctrines of: the incarnation and the new order of creation; the virgin birth, which sets aside male sovereignty and judges it as sinful; the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus Christ who is of the same uncreated genderless Being as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; the redemptive and healing assumption of complete human nature in Christ; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which he has offered once for all on our behalf, in our place, in our stead.

You can read his entire essay here.

As one can clearly see, one need not be both Reformed and Complementarian by default. Rather, the presence of Reformed Egalitarians ought to be a primer for the YRR movement to reconsider the cultural link between Reformed theology and patriarchy, and exhibit the spirit of the Reformation.

Beer!

Sorry.

Reformed and always Reforming.

NQ