My favorite mega-pastor Matt Chandler recently tweeted, "The Gospel must not be assumed. It's to be articulated clearly and constantly...if not you get moralistic pragmatism."
This is what I get at when I write things like Pharisees with Fauxhawks or The Gospel is Not Advice or The Weird Modern Desire for Legalism (and How Some People Don't Even Know they Have It).
I got an interesting email from a reader this week asking why he doesn't hear more in churches about "the power of obedience" (his words). I wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but in my view, the majority of evangelical preaching is about the power of obedience. It just isn't put in those terms.
Michael Horton re-introduces the concept of "moral therapeutic deism" as the operating worldview of most evangelical messaging, and I agree. What we have going on is repackaged legalism. I know, I know -- it doesn't look like legalism, but that's what it is.
We have been trained to think of legalism as being stuffy, outwardly religious, judgmental, traditional, etc. But any time the thrust of our message is --
"reach your potential"
"do good works"
"help God help you"
"follow these steps"
"improve your life"
"succeed at life"
-- or anything of that sort, we've made works the center, which is antithetical to the gospel and therefore is legalistic. Even if it's not judgmental, even if it sounds inspirational, even if it's kicked off with a killer video and capped by a rockin' band. Just because it feels good doesn't mean it's good news.
The gospel must be the center. Always. The star player. The feature piece. The answer and the antidote.
The proclamation of the gospel must take precedence over exhortations to "do good;" otherwise, we will find ourselves beating upon people's wills. The gospel is the power of salvation. The gospel is of first importance.
The gospel of Christ's finished work is the towering pinnacle of God's practical glory shared with us, and all else must take a subservient place in its universe-spanning shadow.