I love The Gospel Coalition, and here’s why:
“The Gospel Coalition is a group of (mostly) pastors who are deeply committed to the gospel…and want to think out of the framework of the good news of Christ—crucified, risen on our behalf, reconciling us to God, preparing us for eternity.” DA Carson
“We’ve got our eyes fixed on the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be central—it needs to drive everything that we do in ministry and in life.” Joshua Harris
“The gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed.” TGC Confessional Statement
“The gospel is not just a body of doctrinal content. It’s a power—it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. It’s not just about God’s power—it is God’s power.” Tim Keller
“I am gripped by any gathering of people who will give themselves to the preservation and the exaltation of the fullness of the gospel, because in the end, my soul gets satisfied with the greatness of God, and God gets all the glory that He should get by being the end for which [all things] exist.” John Piper
There is beauty and grace and strength and depth in these words. I find deepening affections for God as I consider the human brokenness and Spirit-filled power in this global community which has oriented itself around the greatest news in human history: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In light of these affections, I was troubled by the question that recently came to mind: Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel?
Here’s why I ask. The way we think and talk are products of the people we read and talk with and listen to. I didn’t grow up saying “authentic community,” “missional,” “there’s a tension here,” “the sufficiency of Christ,” “the glory of God,” or any of these phrases I find myself saying and writing now. I have picked these up from pastors and writers and friends, who I assume picked them up from other pastors and writers and friends, and on and on until we find we are all beginning to share a new common language to express old ideas.
These kinds of phrases are useful in that they represent ideas we believe, and these ideas ultimately inform the ways in which we live. That’s why the language we use is so crucial—if we hear and say something enough, we will often find our lives changed by the power of words.
One of the most common phrases I’ve been hearing recently from pastors all across the country is a variation on the term gospel. Usage has taken on many forms: “gospel-centered living,” “living out of the gospel,” “the centrality of the gospel,” “gospel-centered ministry,” and the like. These phrases are a testament to the stirring of God in our churches and the impact of communities like The Gospel Coalition in which ideas that matter are shaped and shared.
There is clearly a movement underway—a movement towards gospel-centered ministry and gospel-centered living (see). And this is a movement worth joining. As John Piper says, “When the [gospel] is lost, the glory of Christ is lost.” So the stakes of this movement have eternal consequences.
With movements comes movement—a shift from one perspective to another. And because we are fallen, we have the tendency to shift too far at times. This is the classic pendulum swing we see in religious movements and social movements alike. We often find it easier to react against what we don’t believe rather than beginning with what we do, and the outcome is often intellectual and emotional polarization. So I wonder if we’ve done the same thing with our usage of the term gospel.
This brings me back to my question: Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel? Or to ask it another way: what dangers might exist in overusing the term?
To answer this question, it may be useful to look at God’s word, where we find that the gospel is…
…A promise of God (Romans 1:2)
… A command to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17)
… Good news to be believed in (Mark 1:15)
…A message to be preached out of the power of the cross of Christ, not out of human wisdom (1 Cor 1:17)
…The revelation of God’s righteousness (Romans 1:17)
…The power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)
…A seed that bears fruit (Colossians 1:6)
…A worthy cause for which to lose our life (Mark 8:35)
… A source of great blessing (1 Corinthians 9:23)
God has much to say about the gospel, His gospel, and it’s clear that this good news is filled with glory. But we should note that what God has to say about His gospel is largely spoken of in terms of means. The gospel is a promise of God in order to set His people apart. It is a command of God in order to face judgment and be saved. It is good news to believed in order to join God’s kingdom.
I recently heard a pastor speaking to the power of the gospel to touch all parts of our lives, not just the moment of our conversion, but he spoke of it in terms of an end and not a means. He said things like, “We need to live out of the gospel,” “we need to trust in the gospel,” “we need to keep the gospel in front of us all the time,” and “the gospel heals us.”
I don’t mean to object over trivialities, because I know the intentions behind the words were meant to honor God, but this is where our language is vital. The gospel is a means—not an end. So the way we talk about the gospel and think about the gospel is paramount. It amounts to whether we orient our lives towards the journey or the destination.
The destination is why The Gospel Coalition exists: to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus” (The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble). And this must be many have joined this movement, to partner with people who are orienting their lives around a Person who is the destination we all seek.
So I conclude that we cannot overemphasize the gospel so long as we keep the Source, Substance, and End to the gospel in full view. Pastors, we as your flocks need to hear you remind us continually that the gospel touches every part of our lives—that it is the firm foundation on which we walk in our journey of faith. But more importantly, we need you to point us to the end of this road, to Jesus, for whom, and about whom, the gospel exists.