Tuesday, December 6, 2011

8 Departure Dangers from Gospel Centrality

Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
-- Philippians 3:16

There are lots of distractions from and temptations to discard a commitment to gospel-centeredness. Here are just 8.

1. The Devil's Accusation
Every now and then I will hear some variation of this accusation from the evil one: "How can you get up there and talk about the gospel? You're a self-righteous hypocrite." Satan often tries to stifle gospel proclamation by reminding the proclaimer of his unworthiness. The specific accusation may change, but the motive is the same: get the gospel-centered preacher off his game. If the devil can get us to doubt our calling, our legitimacy as ministers, our capability as proclaimers, or merely our authorization to present the gospel, he knows he's closer to getting the gospel unheard.

2. The Devil's Insinuation
This word from the accuser is one I hear more often than any other: "This gospel stuff is gonna get old. Don't you think if you play this same old record every day people are going to get tired of it?" The devil would love to convince us that the gospel is not versatile or resilient, that it is not the every day power of salvation for all who believe.

3. Exasperation
Many times we are tempted to depart from gospel-centrality because we are fed up in not seeing the results we want or expect. Don't do that. Don't give up.

4. Rationalization
One distinguishing mark of heresy is just how reasonable it sounds. Paul warns not of wild-eyed malarkey but "plausible arguments." You may hear from some very sincere, honest, intelligent people who have been believers for a long time that the gospel-centered stuff is all very nice but they know the gospel already and what they really need to know is what the Bible says about getting out of debt or surviving the workplace. Sounds totally reasonable, no? Law-drivenness almost always does, and legalism rarely shows up these days in a three piece suit, red face, and fist pounding on a pulpit but in sweetness and light, from faithful tithers with kids in the youth group.

5. Accommodation
The rationalizers may not be able to get you to abandon gospel-centrality altogether, so they will instead try to get you to adopt "gospel plus." They're not saying to stop with the gospel stuff, they're just saying you need to be, you know, balanced. "Give us the gospel, sure, but also some of this and that too," they say. But Jesus + anything is not Jesus. Our people need the unadjusted, unadulterated gospel. They need it straight up, not mixed.

6. Minimization
Gospel minimization comes in a variety of forms, and it is itself a form of the error of accommodation. One claim gospel minimists make is that the gospel is not as important as other things, that it's the ABC's of the Christian life, perhaps, and what Christians really need to mature is the meat of "deeper teaching," which can encompass anything from systematic theology to eschatological speculation. Very often minimization comes in the form of gospel obfuscation, by which I mean the insistence that we simply imply the gospel to better make seekers comfortable or tack it on the end of a sermon in a public invitation or save it for a special sermon series or other special occasions. Sometimes minimizers want to dress up the gospel with songs from the radio, dance productions, cool videos, lasers, fog, stage-jumping dirtbikes, glowstick wielding ravers, or any number of other things the idol factory of our hearts haven't even manufactured yet.

7. Irritation
The same sun that melts the ice, they say, hardens the clay. Some people will just be flat-out offended or irritated by gospel-centered preaching, teaching, counseling, and ministry. A fear of man may lead us to acquiesce to their disgruntlement to keep the peace.

8. Insulation
Here's a big one, way too often not prepared for. A steady dose of faithful, robust gospel preaching will likely attract fringe-y people. Jesus had a way of attracting "those people." So it is with Jesus preached faithfully. If you commit to preaching the biblical Jesus and the radical grace of his gospel, you ought to commit to accumulating the kind of people that were attracted to Jesus. And, God willing, if your church grows from gospel preaching, it will change. You have no choice there. It must change. To grow is to change. And then what happens is that people who've been with the church a long time, people who may have been a part of your core or at least your core supporters and cheerleaders, may begin to turn on you. Because their church is looking different. Things are changing. And people don't tend to like change. Because the gospel enables us to obey the Great Commandment and empowers us to join the Great Commission, insulation is the enemy of the gospel.

(I've labeled the first two dangers as belonging to the devil, but all of these temptations to depart from the gospel come from the devil. Let's stand firm and resist.)


chrisblackstone said...

Something that goes alongside Danger 1 is training ourselves, and others, to remember that a hypocrite isn't someone who messes up/sins but someone who outwardly professes to believe something that they inwardly don't. We can bury ourselves and others when we lay, or allow the Devil to lay, the tremendous burden of being a hypocrite on those who "just" fallen short of the truth and beauty and they actually do believe.

Jared said...

Chris, that's good.

Further than that, a hypocrite is an "actor," someone who plays a role, who puts on one face for the public but is a different person inside. While the devil comes to accuse and condemn, the Spirit comes to convict us when we are playing the gospel-centered role apart from a gospel-centered life. The chief difference is that the Spirit would not have us ditch the gospel-centered teaching. ;-)

Good stuff.

Mike Leake said...

Thanks for this. I've been struggling with a couple of these lately and your pointing them out has been used by God to display my ignorance, convict my heart, and point me to the all-sufficiency of Jesus.

Ben Rearick said...

I've been reading your blog for the past 4.5 years, and I always thought my first comment would be way more substantial than this, but:

"simply imply" is my new favorite pair of words. [from #6]

And you've seriously been such an encouragement over the years, even if it has just been through the Internet Ether.

Mike said...

Here's one that I've been encountering lately that may align somewhere with your points 2 and/or 6 or may be a new category all-together. One could call it "Free-Floatification" - as in our tendency to disconnect life change from preaching or teaching that explains and dwells on the gospel. I've heard it argued like this: "Our people do not need more information and head-knowledge, they need application. We need to implore them to obey, instead of continually feeding them theology and gospel-talk." Over time, this makes life change "free-floating" and disconnected from Christ's saving work and wakefullness to the gospel (to borrow your term). Ironically, I've found that this over-emphasis on application or "just do it" slowly transforms a church into a softer, less authentic, "Christ is for those sinners over there" mindset. As with any of these, it seems to happen slowly and sounds decent at the outset.

Anonymous said...

I've also heard 'you focus too much on the cross, the real power for Christian life is in the resurrection, that's what we should focus on'.

And 'you spend too much time talking about Jesus and not enough about the Holy Spirit'.

i might answer a) both are part of the gospel, but where does Scripture focus and
b) among other things the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, glorifies Jesus, and transforms us to be like Jesus. So a church that is focusing on Jesus/the gospel must mean the Holy Spirit is very active.

Anonymous said...

But I like surviving the work week, staying out of debt, and systematic theology, and I think that the gospel has application to these.

I assume that you bring these up only to make sure that they don't replace the gospel as the center. But, since I'm sometimes tempted to reduce the gospel to an intellectual system or morality, would you mind elaborating on what you mean here?

Jared said...

I assume that you bring these up only to make sure that they don't replace the gospel as the center.

That's what I mean.

A message that is centrally about staying out of debt takes applications of the gospel and makes it the content of the gospel, which would make it a false gospel. And the execution of that sort of 6 steps to _______ usually ends up an exercise in legalism or moral therapeutic deism anyway.

CJ Godfrey said...

Great post Jared. Thank you. Although, glowsticks do sound kinda fun. :)

jasonmayfield.com said...

This is a great post! Thanks a ton for sharing. We've got to keep the main thing the main thing... preach the gospel!

Ray Ortlund said...

Thanks, friend. Wonderful!