Monday, September 30, 2013

Gospel-Centered Confusion

I am not a fan of "buzz words."  You know...when terms that once had a fresh and specific meaning become so widely used that different people use them to mean different things, or just read past them. One of the current buzz terms that falls into this category is "gospel-centered." This post by Bryce Ashlin-Mayo has a necessary corrective:
In recent days, there has been a rise in rhetoric. The use of the phrase “Gospel-Centered” has become ubiquitous. People are arguing for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Gospel-Centered Preaching, Gospel-Centered Evangelism, Gospel-Centered Children’s Ministry, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, etc. On the surface, it is hard to argue against the use of the phrase.
The challenge I would make to this phenomena is not necessarily against the desire to be Gospel-Centered (although I think it is fair to ask: Should we be Gospel-Centered or Christ-Centered? Have we lifted the message over the Messiah?) but I would challenge what one means by Gospel-Centered. If one believes that the Gospel is simply the message of reconciliation between God and the individual through Christ (in essence: an individual transaction of salvation paid for by the death of Christ) and nothing more, this means something very different than if one believes that the Gospel is the message of reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:20) through Christ: between God and humanity, between humanity and humanity (reconciliation, justice, and compassion), and between humanity and creation (creation care).
If we simply understand the Gospel as a transaction between God and the individual, we have only understood the Gospel in one dimension and, in doing so, conveniently commodified it for a consumerist culture. This is analogous to seeing the physical world around us through only one dimension (length), void of width or height. By adding two more dimensions, we see breadth and depth of the world around us. The same is true with the full Gospel message and, thus, the embrace of the full dimension of God’s love (Ephesians 3).
The church is called to proclaim the gospel not simply in its words, offering something for people to consume but also through its actions and communal presence. The Church, as the people of God, are called to be a city on a hill, living in God's Kingdom expressed through forgiveness, peace, justice, compassion, etc for the entire world. The Church doesn't simply have a mission, the Church is called to embody mission by its very existence, presence, and activities because its very existence is an invitation of reconciliation. In an individualistic consumerist culture, this is extremely counter-cultural, explaining why the church's role is so difficult but also why it is so important.
Thus, I would argue that the church can only be Gospel-Centered if it embodies and proclaims the message of reconciliation of all things through Christ; thus, is active in sharing how one’s reconciliation with God is only possible through Christ, is active in carrying for our planet, is involved in reconciliation ministries, is pursuing justice and compassion, is caring for the whole person, etc. If the church is not doing these, pursuing these, etc., is it truly Gospel-Centered? If the church simply communicates a one dimensional message of individual salvation (individual reconciliation with God) it is simply not communicating the whole gospel.
Echoing the mission of the Lausanne Movement the call of the church is for: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.