Being gospel-centered is trendy within certain circles of Christianity. Broadly, it’s a response against the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, and seeker sensitivity run amok. As a result, there are coalitions, conferences, and curricula all aimed at shifting the focus back toward the Gospel. But what if it’s all just plaster?
Preaching done well doesn’t make the Gospel a footnote in a theological lecture. Too often, Gospel centrality in our churches might be reduced to saying the word “gospel” a lot. The sermon might mention the “gospel” a minimum of thirty times, but that doesn’t mean that the Gospel has been proclaimed.
I’m a believer in expository preaching. Nonetheless, many expository sermons miss the glorious Gospel forest for the grammatical, historical, or applicatory trees. All our cries for biblical preaching are unfortunately a far cry from Paul’s declaration of his calling to preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17), his explanation of preaching Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:21-23), and his decision to know nothing except Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Local church culture inevitably drifts toward programming. That bent typically begins with the best intentions yet tends to pull believers and the church away from genuinely focusing on the Gospel. Programs cannot take the place of believers building relationships, sharing the Gospel, and discipling others organically.
Inevitably, the Gospel becomes more like a five-minute sales pitch at the conclusion of the program’s event. The good news becomes an afterthought as the program takes the spotlight. Christ crucified for sinners was never meant to be the clarion call of little league basketball, book discussion clubs, or civic organizations. However, it is the explicit and exclusive message of the church. What begins with the best of evangelistic intentions often ends up pushing the euangelion (good news) to the periphery.
If the church doesn’t exist to proclaim the Gospel, then why does it? Are we the safety net for cultural, moral decline? Are we only the advancement of positive community engagement and provision of needs? I’m not arguing against the church being salt and light, nor am I calling us to be community recluses. However, I am saying that the purpose of the church assembled is explicitly Gospel-centered.
You can find entertainment, therapy, history lectures, community engagement, charitable causes, and passionate curmudgeons anywhere. The pronouncement of forgiveness despite guilt because of Christ’s death and rising for sinners, however, should go hand in hand with the church’s purpose. The Gospel is much more than a mark of a healthy church. It is the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is the message of salvation delivered to Paul, “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” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
In all its offensive glory, the Gospel is not merely theological filler we add to our sermons, plans, and mission to patch the holes. The Gospel is the crux of the matter. If we engaged in honest self-reflection, I fear we’d find that we were often more gospel-plastered than gospel-centered.
Calvinist Picard is a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies graduate and currently about halfway through a Ph.D. in Leadership program. He has worked in education and ministry in various roles for just a little over a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @CalvinistPicard and on Facebook at CalvinistPicard.