Joe Thorn has written an interesting blog post lending his voice to the current discussion about the “gospel-centered movement”. There’s been a lot of talk on this issue, and issues related to it in the last month or so. If you’re curious in following the whole discussion see Justin Taylor’s summary blog. I think I understand something of the tension that has given rise to this discussion in the first place. People like Sean Lucas have pointed out that this issue has a long history and so I don’t expect that tension to be resolved overnight. Essentially there seems to be this feeling that we can overemphasize the indicatives of the gospel to the detriment of the imperatives and as a result we need to be careful not to smother the imperatives in our quest to make the main thing the main thing.
Joe Thorn is a very thoughtful and pastoral blogger and so at one level I’m loathe to (ever so slightly) disagree with him, but here goes. His main contention is that in our quest to make the main thing the main thing we pretend as if it’s the only thing. So here’s a quote at the heart of the post:
There is more in God’s word than the gospel. God has given us his law to show us the way, uncover our corruption and condemnation, and point us to our need of redemption. There are commands to be obeyed, there is wisdom to learn and practice, and affections to feel and be moved by. But, the law itself is unable to create within us new hearts, or empower us to obey its demands. So let me say it this way: The gospel is the main thing, it is not the only thing. However, it is the only thing that brings life, power, and transformation. The gospel isn’t everything, but it does connect to everything, and preachers and teachers in the church must be able to show that connection lest we allow the church to drift (or even be lead) into various kinds of hopeless, powerless legalism.
He goes on to apply this to the issue of prayer. Now I would pastorally tackle the issue of prayer in exactly the same way that he does. My slight difference comes in the way he’s nuanced his thesis in the whole post – i.e. questioning whether the main thing is the only thing. I wonder, just wonder, if that’s the most helpful way to think about it: As if the Bible contains the main thing (the gospel) at it’s center and then it’s surrounded by a whole bunch of other stuff (law, wisdom, etc). Whilst we’d all, no doubt, confirm that all those things are connected (so law leads us to our need for redemption for example – Thorn affirms the connection), I wonder if it might not be the intimacy and inter-connectedness of all the different elements, that make up the Bible’s content, where the tension is coming in. I think we might still be systematizing the content too much which allows us to talk about “the main thing” as not the “only thing”, presuming the existence of “other things”. My contention is that the main thing is so tightly tied to the other things that in a cohesive whole sense it is the only thing. Does that make sense?
Is it not possible that lingering modernist epistemology forces us to diminish that intimate connection and relationship somewhat as we try to put categories to the content of the Bible. I’m not for one second saying that we can’t systematize or categorize the content of the Bible, but I am saying that the relationship is so intimate and integrative between the gospel and the categories that for me it’s hard to speak about other things that are in some way separate from the main thing and therefore need to be emphasized in their own right (as DeYoung seems to suggest). Maybe I’m sprouting nonsense.
My concern is simply the centrality and supremacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ as our hope, guide, wisdom, life, everything pertaining to our relationship with God and this world. If we don’t have that (and I think we are prone to move off of it daily in our sinfulness) then we ave no power (Rom 1:16) and we are trusting in ourselves and law to bring about transformation, renewal, life and relationship.