I’m one of those young evangelicals who talks about the gospel all the time. Though the word gospel is a noun, I frequently use it as an adjective. I’d probably use the word as a verb if I could justify the move linguistically. I’m immensely thankful for the renewed emphasis so many Christians are placing on the centrality of the gospel, not only for our conversion, but for the totality of our Christian life. I think it’s a healthy trend.
Unfortunately, every healthy trend sometimes includes unhealthy elements-such is to live in a fallen world. We gospel-centered types need to be reminded of our own shortcomings. In fact, there’s something profoundly gospel-centered about understanding the depths of your own sin so that you can rest anew in the good news of all that God has done through the person and work of King Jesus.
In his excellent book Gospel: Rediscovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary (B&H, 2010), pastor J.D. Greear includes a helpful appendix titled “A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians.” Like me, J.D. is a thirty-something Southern Baptist who talks about the gospel all the time. He’s also the pastor of a megachurch whose membership is largely comprised of gospel-centered collegians and young professionals. J.D. also teaches adjunctively at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school blessed with a student body that, on the whole, very much wants to be gospel-centered. All this to say, his convicting words should be read and heeded by everyone who regularly visits the Gospel Coalition website, follows Tullian Tchividjian on Twitter, reads Jerry Bridges books, and soaks up Tim Keller sermons. You know, people like me and J.D.
J.D. and our friends at B&H Books have kindly granted me permission to make “A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians” available online. I’ve reprinted it below. I hope you find this material as helpful as I have. I also hope it encourages you to purchase a copy of Gospel and read the whole book. For those of you who are pastors or other ministry leaders, Gospel would make a great book for a church staff to read and discuss together.
“A Gospel-Centered Warning to Young Zealous Theologians”
By J.D. Greear
I’ve noticed that many of us who grasp this concept of “gospel-centeredness” can have a tendency to be more excited about the “theory” of gospel-centeredness than we are about the gospel itself. At least I’m that way. I have gotten pretty good at identifying non-gospel-centered preaching, and can pretty ably point out the shortcomings of certain ministries. The point of gospel-centeredness, however, is not the shrewd ability to critique others. The point of gospel-centeredness is to adore God and worship His grace.
Many of us who love to talk about gospel-centeredness seem to possess very little of the humility that should go along with it. You can see that in how self-promoting we are and how ungracious we are with others. It always amazes me that we can be proud because we understand the very things that should lead us to humility.
My mind has often burned hotter with the latest theological trend than it has passion for the God who gave Himself for me at the cross. Knowledge that does not lead, ultimately, to love and humility is “worthless,” Paul would say. What really counts, he says, is not knowledge by itself, but the love that our knowledge of the gospel should produce (1 Cor. 12:1-3).
One of my fears in writing this book is that it might contribute to a growing self-righteousness among younger theologians who feel like understanding gospel-centeredness makes them more special in the eyes of God (oh, the irony!) than those who can’t articulate it, and who judge everyone else by whether or not they use the same terms that they do.
Recently, I talked with a little old lady who had been my Sunday school teacher at the very traditional church in which I grew up. She said, “You know, as I lose more and more friends to heaven, I often wonder what it is really like up there and what I should be looking forward to. I know they say there are streets of gold, but that doesn’t seem to excite me very much. The one thing I really want to do is see Jesus.” This lady has never heard of John Piper and has no idea what the Gospel Coalition is, but she has been changed by the gospel. She loves Jesus, and that is the whole point of gospel-centeredness.
There are many little old ladies serving in church nurseries who may not understand how to articulate the theories of gospel-centeredness or have the ingenuity to dazzle our minds with psychological insights, cultural observations, and Christocentric interpretations of obscure Old Testament passages. Their hearts, however, burn with love for Jesus and overflow with gratefulness for His grace.
Their humble, gospel-rich love for God is worth more than all the books you or I can write on this subject.
So don’t be quick to judge them. Be humbled by them. Mastering the theory of gospel-centeredness is not the point. Loving the God of the gospel is.
See J.D. Greear, Gospel: Rediscovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2010), pp. 253-55.