Can We Overemphasize The Gospel?

Published on March 11, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts


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.

  • Demian Farnworth

    Good post, Chris. I think your over-arching point [clarity with the source and meaning of the gospel] makes it clear that when people say things like "live out the gospel" that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways.

    We need to be precise about that–and not sloppy. Which I think what Piper means when he says rehearse the gospel daily…otherwise our feeble minds lose the grip on what that term means and lose sight of it's source and it simply becomes a movement that will one day be replaced by another movement, in the meantime the glory of Christ is lost.

    Good thoughts, Chris.
    My recent post David Platt Frightens Me

  • Jonathan Woodward

    Very important distinction I think you point out here. It's important that we understand how the Gospel speaks to us, and our response to it, and how it ought to saturate all of our lives, but we also need to remember that Gospel-centeredness is true only under God-Centeredness. Since God, then the Gospel.

    Neither can be lost, but both must be understood.
    My recent post The Simple, Bare-Bones Purpose Behind Leadership

  • Jonathan Woodward

    Very important distinction I think you point out here. It's important that we understand how the Gospel speaks to us, and our response to it, and how it ought to saturate all of our lives, but we also need to remember that Gospel-centeredness is true only under God-Centeredness. Since God, then the Gospel.

    Neither can be lost, but both must be understood.
    My recent post The Simple, Bare-Bones Purpose Behind Leadership

  • Pingback: Can We Overemphasize the Gospel? – The Gospel Coalition Blog

  • Debbie

    Ah, beautiful. But then anything that points us to the true Jesus, is.

  • melmollner

    I dont think it could ever be overemphasized. The gospel is all that we truly have in this life. It is the essential foundation to a relationship with the invisible God through Jesus. Without it, nothing matters- with it everything matters!

  • Russ K.

    Language is nuanced to be sure.

    "Means" implies limited use….less importance….that it is only needed up to a point…and then is no longer needed.

    "End" implies a place of arrival…sustenance…rest in a certain state.

    So I think we have to continually ask 'what is the Gospel scripturally meant to be ?'

    • Chris_Tomlinson

      Russ, good provoking thoughts on means and end. How would you answer the question you posed–i.e. what do you think the Gospel is scripturally meant to be?

      • Russ K.

        I do not know in full. The scriptures you provided were a good and proper start. I think that in some sense…it is to function as our everything. Or to borrow from Keller…as a complete world view. I have recently been affected by the all encompassing tone of Paul's self reflection in Philippians 3:7-15…a text where Paul essentially seems to say that he wants to know the Gospel well. (We usually focus on 'the knowing Christ aspect' of the passage…but Paul seems to include the other aspects of the Gospel as personal and effecting…or at least informing the dynamic of His relationship with Christ.).

        I feel that the underlying concern here has more to do with the heart than with language or a movement. I think this article could stand with using the exact same reasoning…but could address an over-emphasizing of the terms "Jesus" or "Glory of God" in an unedifying polarity just as well.

        The punditry with movements can be good a thing…especially to preserve and refine them…but I also feel that there really is only one true movement – Christ moved from heaven to earth, from the cross to the grave for our sins…and victoriously back to the Father…and so now we move in that reality.

        Personally, I am not very far removed from the error which we wish to avoid here…so what is my hope ?
        My hope ultimately is Christ…but how can I hope on Him and His grace? I have come to learn only through the Gospel alone. I am looking for God to tend to my heart…but I am expecting that to happen only through deeper Gospel realization.

        ps. Sorry for the lack of brevity here…I appreciate your interest and welcome further conversation…and please know that I truly enjoy your articles/posts…despite the cold tone of typeface…please hear these comments as salted with grace.


  • Jody Gates

    As a woman of God I am striving to be gospel(Christ) centered in everything. In my roles as wife, mother, pastor's wife, daughter,sister. We as women can get so caught up in the various roles and seasons of life and forget that my ultimate purpose for existing is to enjoy God an glorify him forever, in my life, marriage, etc. I pray everyday that Christ spills out of me and into the other areas of my life.

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  • Jessalyn

    Now we know who the sesinlbe one is here. Great post!

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