I’m here at the City to City European church planting conference in Berlin. Pastor Tim Keller is delivering the keynote addresses. In 2012, Pastor Keller is scheduled to release a new book called “Center Church”. One of the sections of the book will be called “Gospel-centered.” Pastor Keller delivered a session to that effect and I’ve shared some notes with you here. I appreciated many things about the session but mostly, the emphasis that this is more of a corporate approach as the people of God. In other words, it requires the people of God devoted together to be a Gospel-centered church. Read on for some of these insights.
To be Gospel-centered, we have to understand what is the essence or the foundation of the Gospel. We can ask two questions to help us “center-in” to the Gospel.
There are 2 Gospel Axis answering the question, ‘what is the Gospel?’
- Individual salvation: what must I do to be right with God? This is substitutionary because we are not made right by what we do but by what Jesus has done. “Sin is substituting ourselves for God and salvation is God substituting himself for us.” J. Stott
- Corporate salvation: what must we do? The good news is not just how you get right with God but how God gets right with the world. This is the grand story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
What has just been shared is “centering in” on the Gospel, and yet, there are two more axis that will aid our understanding and precision to be Gospel-centered. We first begin with a “Y” axis that is represented on either end with the tendencies to be too separated from this world (“other-worldly” – gospel just for you to get right with God) and on the other end being too much “of” this world (only cultural renewal, social justice etc) Then, there’s the intersecting “X” axis which can be seen on either side too relativistic (you want to blend in so much that you want the world to like you) or too legalistic (so many rules of separation that you have no impact) with the Gospel. Finally, Pastor Keller spoke about how to stay Gospel-centered and avoid the extremes mentioned above in our practice of being the Church. First, there is the extreme of just saying that we have the correct doctrine, as if preaching that intellectually will be enough. He called this “looking too low” and meant that we stay focusing only on the baseline doctrines. As always, there is an opposite extreme of “looking to high” and that is the over-focus on programs. This is the temptation to pragmatism where something is forced into action trying to make things work.
The balance, therefore, can be found in the middle. This middle area is the way that we live-out the rules of the Gospel in the world around us. Pastor Keller described this middle area and has been searching for a name for it (ie. “middle-ware” – the interface between hardware and operating system). My suggestion would be the area of “Gospel praxis in modern placements.” Pithiness intended. The description of this middle area is working through the baseline theological doctrines and then practicing the rules of the Gospel utilizing programs as tools and not ends in themselves to bring the Word of God to bear upon the modern context. It’s a working-out of what we have come to know. What will happen is that people will see familiar culture forms, but they will sense a different spirit as things are being carried out. They will sense a “uniqueness”; a serious and devoted people discovering meaning in their faith and practice.
The rest of the session dealt with 7 points of being a Gospel-centered church. I will share those in the next post.