The Three Worst Qualities of the Gospel-Centered Movement

There are three major failings the gospel-centered movement is prone to. From time to time I see them in myself and I want to warn you against them.

Legalism

The gospel-centered movement has the potential to turn us into legalists about the gospel.

Gospel-centeredness is all about grace and how the whole Bible points to it. So how can legalism be a part of that? Unfortunately you can be legalistic about grace.

Gospel-centered Bible study has the potential to turn us into legalists because it is so true. What do I mean by that? When you come to see the beauty of how the Bible points to Jesus you begin to view everything through that lens. Along with the positives, it can breed negative results if we don’t guard ourselves:

  • When I see a Christian who doesn’t apply gospel-centered principles to the Bible I look down on them. “How sad,” I think, “that they don’t see what the Bible is all about.”
  • When I hear a sermon that doesn’t use the gospel to help apply the lesson I wonder if God can even use that pastor effectively. “How can God use a preacher who doesn’t even understand the basics?”
  • When I see a Christian who can’t quite articulate the gospel I get judgmental. “Is this person even saved?”

In other words, I can be a Pharisee about the gospel.

Idolatry

The gospel-centered movement has the potential to turn us into worshipers of the gospel instead of worshipers of God.

Similarly, we can become so focused on being gospel-centered that we forget about the reason to be gospel-centered in the first place – God. We can get so caught up in being gospel-centered that the next Christocentric sermon or Bible study becomes our idol.

Are you more interested in the system of gospel-centered preaching than you are in the God revealed in the gospel?

As we endeavor to the make the gospel of Jesus Christ the main thing in our ministries, let’s do so in a gospel-centered way. Not a gospel-centered-centered way.
- Eric McKiddie

I need to pray daily the prayer that Scotty Smith recently posted:

Forgive us for having a PhD in the indicatives of the gospel yet failing so miserably when it comes to the imperatives of the gospel.

Forgive us when we love “the gospel” more than we actually love you, Jesus, as impossible as that may seem.

In other words, the gospel can be more important to me than the God who created and is revealed in the gospel.

Hit-And-Run Gospel Connections

The gospel-centered movement has the potential to disconnect the gospel from our lives.

It’s tempting to trivialize the gospel by announcing a connection to the gospel but not having it let any impact on our lives. Our checklist goes something like this:

  1. Identify the main point of the passage.
  2. Identify the main change the passage requires of us.
  3. Identify a connection between the passage and the gospel.

If we let the gospel connection dangle off the end, what purpose has it served? If our preaching doesn’t demonstrate the practical power of the gospel in our daily lives we make the gospel look powerless.

We must apply the gospel.

How Do We Fight These Failings?

With the gospel.

That might sound counterproductive but it’s not. We need to relentlessly strip away everything that stands between us and God. The best way we know him is through the message of the gospel. In it we see His justice, His mercy, His compassion, His love, His desire to free us and so much more.

God paved the way to Himself with the gospel. To break our legalism and smash our idols – even when the legalism and idols revolve around the gospel - we need to look deeper into the gospel.

  • Have you become legalistic about the gospel? Let the grace of the gospel shape you.
  • Are you enamored with the gospel-centered system rather than the God revealed by the gospel? Look past the system to its subject – God.
  • Are you settling with only finding a connection to the gospel? Use the gospel to empower obedience or change your thinking – use it!

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13 thoughts on “The Three Worst Qualities of the Gospel-Centered Movement

  1. Gospel – centered does not mean void of the law. The is needed to expose the sinner and kill them off to any self-ascendancy notions. Then the pure gospel is announced to forgive and give new life.

    We MUST be gospel centered. If we are not then we become self-centered. And become either prideful, or despairing.

    My 2 cents. Thank you.

  2. Bravo. Great article and fantastic recommendation at the end. Plumbing the depths of the gospel and the gospel’s God is always a productive adventure. I will be passing this along to the young men I train and referring to it often myself. Thanks.

  3. Oh my goodness at all the hand-wringing. Let me see if I can summarize: Lets be sure in all our gospel centeredness that we do not self gospelize the gospel and thereby lose the gospel by centering the gospel around self and causing the gospel to be seen as not the gospel but a self exalting gospel that diminishes those who do not preach or view the gospel in the same gospel centered fashion that we do thereby leaving the gospel to “dangle and be shown to be ineffective and without power. Is that about it? My view is that if the gospel is preached? It does not dangle. It rather cuts. If the gospel is preached? it is not powerless. Rather it is the power of salvation to all who hear it. Seriously, What is next article? The worst quality about preaching Christ and Him crucified? Sorry if I am out of step with you all here but this is “Armchair theology” right?

    blessings
    Bruce

    1. Forgive my clarity issues Bruce. What I’m trying to say in my third point is that if we proclaim a typological or thematic connection to the gospel from, say, Joseph but don’t connect that connection’s impact on the passage we just read, then the gospel looks like some fanciful academic appendage to our message.

      Which is more powerful?

      • Saying, “Hey, this looks like Jesus!”
      • Saying, “Jesus completes this and helps you obey the imperative of this specific passage.”

      The second recognizes much more of the gospel’s power and it’s what I’m encouraging people towards.

      1. Thanks Dave, I’m not sure I am clear on what you mean as yet. I agree that if we share a message ever, that allows the good news to look like a “fanciful academic appendage” we do our audience a tremendous dis-service and mishandle the Word terribly.

        I have spent some time on your site am thoroughly impressed. I respect you greatly and pray God’s blessings upon you. I do not mean to be harsh or obstinate but I will always be zealous for sound doctrine. I tend to resist and question the kitchy trends in the church that seem to come and go. I have feared that the Gospel centered movement is now such a trendy fad that few understand what everyone is talking about. Including those doing the talking. Does everything have to become a movement? Can we not just keep the main thing the main thing? I will keep reading you. I believe you have much to offer the body.

        Blessings Brother
        Bruce

      2. Thanks Bruce,
        Thanks for your kind words!

        What I’m calling the “gospel-centered movement” is that very same cry – to keep the main thing the main thing. The whole Bible is about the King and his outrageous love evidenced in redemption. So any sermon that doesn’t mention the whole point of the Bible is missing a key element.
        Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I’m going to explain my understanding of gospel-centrality in more depth.

        In my recent post, Why Your Gospel-Centered Sermons Fail, the warning attached to strategy #1 is a big part of this post – that if not done well, gospel-centered sermons can be self-defeating.

        In Christ,
        Dave

  4. I recently became a gospel centered Christian for want of a better term. I began to hate the self help centered church sermons and churches. During this process, I began to focus on the gospel as the core belief that we as christians need to united on. Everything else, I can display charity.

    However, this post somewhat confused me. if one understands the gospel correctly, the problems mentioned in this post doesn’t occur. If believe that we are sinners and the just punishment is hell but for faith in the Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, I am humbled that an almighty God would die for me on the cross. More importantly, I need to go out and share the gospel with the lost souls destined for hell to tell them that there is an answer and a solution so that they don’t have to go to hell.

    Sharing my faith keep me grounded. Non Christians are honest and will keep you grounded so that your gospel isn’t just for gospel sake. it is for the lost souls around us.

    1. James,
      I’m so glad God rescued you from man-centered religion! This post isn’t designed to show what happens when you go too far with gospel-centrality; it’s designed to show what happens when you don’t go far enough.
      For example, I can get so caught up in the redemption offered to me in the gospel that I forget that there’s a higher good – the God who offers me redemption also offers me adoption!
      Hope that helps,
      Dave

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