Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the Centrality of the Gospel and (Briefly) Those Who Resist It

I continue to sense resistance among dispensational fundamentalists to the idea that Christ and the gospel are central to the message of Scripture. A particular point of confusion seems to be the relationship of the gospel to a believer's sanctification. Some seem to suggest that the return of Christ and our hope of resurrection are the motivation for our sanctification, as if these things aren't part and parcel to the gospel. That's a longer conversation, which we may well have eventually. In the meantime, I thought I might share some food for thought from a wide range of voices.

First, D.A. Carson (from an excellent talk on the gospel and social action) on how the whole Bible hangs together and how preachers need to demonstrate that:
Every sermon based on any biblical text needs to be integrated into the theme of the book in question, which needs to be integrated into the canon, which inevitably brings you in one fashion or another to the centrality of Christ. It just does. . . . Expository preaching is not only explaining what a text says in its bitty [garbled audio], but faithful expository preaching is also showing from that "bitty" text, its inter-canonical connections to the great tendons that run right through Scripture to bring you the centrality of Jesus. That makes for powerful worldview-ish preaching.
Second, Spurgeon: Preach Christ or go home. (A raft of great quotes here.)

And finally, a useful webinar video from two of my SEBTS profs on what people mean by a gospel-centered life.

Gospel Centered Ministry from Serious Disciple on Vimeo.

This summary statement from Steve McKinion scratches the surface:
To accept the sufficiency of the gospel doesn't just mean that the gospel is enough to get you to heaven. What it means is that for our churches, the gospel is the only thing we need. I mean, it really is enough. We have fallen victim to this idea that the gospel is not enough to reach people, and to see people grow. And as a consequence we've come up with all sorts of schemes and gimmicks and plans that actually are contrary to the gospel because they all become a way for us to trick people to become church members. If our goal is to make church member, then we are not on board with God. The goal is to make disciples. That's the Great Commission. What happens though, sadly, is that we're like the Pharisees. We'll travel 100 miles and beat on a thousand doors . . . in order to make a church member. And in the end we make them twice the son of hell that we are. The goal is to make disciples.


Chad said...

Dispensationalists see the glory of God as central to the meaning of Scripture, and they would certainly see the gospel as a primary means with which God brings Himself glory (Eph. 1:6). All of the events of Scripture are designed to show forth the glory of God. One error of many non-dispensationalists is that they they combine all the facets of God's purpose into the one fulfillment of the covenant of grace. This is the common reductive error - using one aspect of the whole to determine the whole.

ben said...

Chad, the people cited above would have a wide range of opinion on the Covenant of Grace. One of them said, "Covenant Theology is an amazing system. Trouble is, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible."

I don't think anyone has to relinquish his dispensational convictions to affirm that Christ and the gospel are central to the message of the Bible. And I certainly don't think that's incompatible with the centrality of the glory of God. I've heard CTers affirm both. I'm not at all certain it's fruitful to argue about which is MORE central, but that's not really my point.

Your comment raises a question that you may not have intended to raise, but it gets at an issue that has significant implications: Should we focus on the text of Scripture or the events that the text points to? Don't get me wrong. The events really happened. They happened for a reason (see 1 Cor 10). But we can demonstrate too much interest in the events behind the text, and not enough in the inspired text itself. The text is inspired. The events, though sovereignly decreed, are not "inspired."

In other words, the question of whether Christ and the gospel are central to *history* is a slightly different question from whether they are central to *Scripture*. Those two questions may have the same answer, but it's easier (in my mind) to demonstrate that both Christ and the gospel are absolutely central to Scripture. We see that by reading Scripture for ourselves, and by seeing in the NT how the apostles read their Hebrew Bibles.