Who wants to quibble with the “Gospel-Centered” movement? Certainly, the deck is already stacked in favor of the guy whose position is described as being centered on the Gospel! Yet, with all the real and true good coming from many organizations, conferences, teachers, pastors, and churches who might be aligned with this more recent call to be centered on the Gospel, I nonetheless remain charitably concerned. Concerned, that is, that “Gospel-centered” really means “Gospel-reductionist.”
God counsels us in a hundred different ways and exchanges a thousand different truths for our lies. Let’s not think a “failure to believe the gospel” (which usually refers to our acceptance in justification) is the only final diagnosis for every malady. My concern with Ortlund’s concern is that many Christians have become hesitant to employ the full arsenal of Scriptural threats, warnings, promises, examples, and commands for fear that unless we explicitly say something about our deep down gospel issues we aren’t really dealing with the ultimate problem and we aren’t emphasizing grace as clearly as we ought. Surely there is more than one way to skin a sinful cat.
Read The Hole in Our Holiness: A Friendly Rejoinder. Along with winsomely working-in cat skinning, DeYoung is right on point. God gave us His Word, from Moses to Malachi, through Matthew all the way to Revelation, because we need it’s full counsel (e.g., Acts 20:27; 2 Tim 3:16-17). Maybe it’s just because I am the weirdo pastor who preaches consecutive expositions through Malachi, Micah, and Ezekiel. But I do not believe that God was just padding the Book for publishers by giving us the Minor Prophets!
To be more frank, my concern with the “Gospel-centered” spirit of recent years is that it seems to reduce the Christian life to the doctrine of justification. Now, Luther was right – the standing and falling of the Church is on that precise article – but it is not the only doctrine; it is a sparkling jewel of an ornate setting of grace, not a solitary stone.
Could it be that “Gospel-centered” is simply a way for us to smuggle antinomian or libertine spirits across the threshold of our churches with the right language? It would make sense, no one really ever outright declares, “I’m a libertine!” This is no rebuke to anyone in particular, just a personal observation. When Christians are only concerned with not being legalistic (a dastardly and dangerous error!), it may be a sign that they are not concerned enough with the obedience that comes from faith.
In his commentary on Malachi – one of those weapons in the Scriptural arsenal – Baruch Maoz writes:
In our days, there are those who view loyalty to God and a strict observance of moral standards a mournful way of life. We often hear careful Christians, whose conscience is sensitive and who long to fear God more, being told, ‘Don’t be so dour!’
People have lost sight of the joy that comes from a cleansed conscience and of the pleasure that is the product of God’s embrace.
(Maoz, Malachi: A Prophet in Times of Despair [Crossbooks, 2011], p. 126).
I have encountered the cry of “Dour!” over personal convictions for the Lord’s honor, not a few times. Let’s be sure – whatever our battle cry – that we do not confuse “careful Christianity” with legalism. The Gospel is a call to believe in the Savior who died on our behalf that we might repent of our sin and be brought to the Father in worship and obedience (e.g., 2 Cor 5:9-10, Titus 2:11-14, 1 John 2:15-17).
And not because we are trying to earn our Father’s favor – which is rightly denounced as legalism – but because we already have it. In the glory of the Gospel of God’s grace, we have nothing to earn, so we fear Him, we obey Him, we refuse the world, and we walk carefully.