What does it mean to be “gospel-centered”?
We hear a lot these days about being “gospel-centered”. A search of that phrase on Google returns over 9 million results, as well as over 1,200 hits on Amazon. Many of these resources – books, websites, and articles in particular – have been produced within the past couple of years. Why this emphasis on gospel centrality, and what does it even mean?
As I understand it, being gospel-centered is a worldview that is presented by the Scriptures whereby all of life is seen in it’s connection to the good news of Jesus. Essentially, it means we look at the world through the lens of the gospel, giving us an accurate understanding of reality. The opposite of gospel-centrality for the Christian would be thinking of the good news of Jesus as nothing more than a way to get to heaven. Once converted, it would seem, the gospel is to be abandoned for other doctrines and growth. This may all sound very theoretical and intangible, so let’s take a subject and apply these two views to bring some additionally clarity.
Let’s say, for example, you are a Christian struggling with materialism. From a non gospel-centered view, you might acknowledge that the Bible condemns greed, coveting, and over-dependence on material things and respond by trying to willfully overcome your materialistic habits. What you might notice in this view is that the gospel is seen as good for becoming a Christian but not for helping us overcome sin. The gospel-centered view, on the other hand, would say that because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are set free from material cravings, forgiven for our coveting, and commissioned to using things as a means to glorify God and serve others. In this approach, the gospel is central to how we assess and address the situation.
So to be gospel-centered means we connect everything in life to Jesus’ redeeming work. The gospel is like the centre hub of the multi-spoked wheel of life, the crux on which all things turn and exist. Seeing things this way, the gospel is good not only for the afterlife but current life as well.
If this is what being gospel-centered means, why does there seem to be a surge in this kind of thinking? The basic reason is that much of Christianity, especially in the West, has lost its focus on the gospel. We have not altogether forsaken the gospel (for the most part), but we have made it simply one topic among many. It is not treated as supreme or central. As the statistics would indicate, this has caused a massive dropoff among the younger generation of the Church. In my opinion, it has also lead to unhealthy Christians who value any number of Biblical topics as much as they do the gospel of Christ.
It has been said that the first generation treasures the gospel, the second one assumes it, and the third one loses it. We seem to be in the transition from second the third generation, where many current Christian teachers do not make the gospel central or explicit, instead assuming the next generation already knows it. However, the up-and-comers miss the gospel altogether and adopt a “Christianity” that is more like vague religion than Christ above all.
Some Christian leaders are seeing this disturbing trend and fighting back with a return toward gospel-centeredness.When we begin to allow the gospel to inform our preaching, our churches, our lives, and our beliefs, Jesus returns to his place of prominence and God’s glory is restored to proper order. There also comes a rush of sin-conquering power, as the Christian life was meant to be lived as a daily walk with Jesus, not a momentary conversion followed by virtual abandonment of him. Only in the gospel is there power to change lives. A strong return to gospel-centeredness is just the thing this next generation needs to discover real faith in the living Savior Jesus and transform the nations for the glory of God.