Gospel-Centered Churches and Consumerism Are Not Friends

Erik Raymond —  January 22, 2014

I’m that guy that opens up the hood of his car when something goes wrong and stares at everything waiting for a big on/off switch to suddenly appear. I have no idea what I’m doing. If someone came by and said I needed to to replace this filter or pump or spray this stuff or get a new whatever rod, I’d do it. I don’t understand how stuff fits together and the relationship between the parts. I am proficient at turning the key and driving (at a high-level, mind you).

I do respect the heck out of a guy who knows how stuff (technical term) fits together. I trust them.

When I look at some of the trends in Evangelicalism, and in particular the Gospel-Centered movement, I wonder if pastors are more like the mechanic or the mechanically challenged guy. What I mean is, are pastors just looking for the “on-off” switch or do they actually know how things fit together? Do they understand the implications of doing or saying certain things? Do they understand (even a little bit) church history and historical theology?

Let me give you an observation of where we seem to be and then a theological proposition as to why this makes no sense.

AN OBSERVATION

First, the observation. “The Seeker Sensitive Movement” attempted to appeal to unbelievers by intentionally shaping ministry with them in mind. They asked the question, “What is the unbeliever looking for?” In attempting to answer the question via the church they created a ministry suited for unbelieving Harry and Sally. This was cool and trendy 10-20 years ago in the US and in some sections still is. Over time it lost its freshness and impact. Some guys became disgruntled with the methods and looked around at what else was cool. Right about this time there was (thankfully) a recovery of the gospel as the center. Soon the phrase “gospel-centered” is as ubiquitous as beards and plaid is among the hipsters. As of this writing the gospel is cool (I still don’t get how this works, but we’ll go with it). In particular, churches that articulate a gospel-centered view of ministry are considered “in.”

I have seen people marry some of the seeker sensitivity with gospel-centeredness. In other words, they seem to talk, write, and think as if the two go together. I don’t think this is helpful. I don’t think they fit together.

A THEOLOGICAL PROPOSITION

Now, the theological proposition. A gospel-centered church should not be attractive to a consumer-driven culture because the gospel saves us from selfishness. The heart of consumerism is the god of self. We aim to feed and satisfy the desires and demands of self. However, at the heart of the gospel is a call away from self (because self is the problem) toward Christ (he is the solution). The threshold to the church is, “If anyone wishes to come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) Quite literally this is, if anyone wants to line up behind me let them repudiate the worth, pursuit and identity he has built for himself. Let him be willing to take on the shame, rejection, and mocking that attends the foolishness of following me and my doctrine, and then let him line up behind me, even to death. This cannot be reconciled with selfishness. The basic tenets of the gospel are a judgment upon self and the provision of salvation from self. A gospel-centered church cannot be attractive to a consumer-driven society. Now, it may be the answer to one who has been tossed to the bottom of the ocean of self but the gospel does not waltz with self aboard the cruise ship of our personal celebration. The gospel repudiates us it doesn’t congratulate us.

When I hear gospel-centered being dropped more and more I wonder if guys who are saying it really understand the categories. I don’t expect the church members to be the mechanics but the pastors, authors, conference speakers and leaders have got to have this down. I know it is increasingly unfashionable to say anything negative about anybody or anything anymore, but at some point, you have got to let the implications of the gospel stand or else you do actually lose the gospel. A gospel-centered church should not be attractive to a consumer-driven culture. These two cannot walk together because they do not agree (Amos 3:3).

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

3 responses to Gospel-Centered Churches and Consumerism Are Not Friends

  1. Great observation. Paul said, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” 2 Cor. 11:21 We must stay focused on the preaching of the finished work on the cross, Jesus Christ, Him crucified and Him resurrected. Keeping our eyes fixed on He who is currently on the throne at the right hand of the Father and who will soon return to gather His church. Hallelujah!

  2. My observation from being in an emergent church is they focus on individuals and forget teaching the Bible that if it wasn’t for reading the Bible and listening to the Bible being taught on the radio, I would forget what being a Christian is. The Church use to be for believers but now it is for the world. They’re bringing people in but they are dumbing down church and people aren’t learning anything as I throw my notes out from week to week because there is nothing I can create from their notes.

  3. I attend a “gospel-centered” church where the pastors do understand the categories and differences between gospel centered and consumerism, among many others. I also know there any many churches that don’t understand this. I respect your thoughts and position but wonder why you say “A gospel-centered church should not be attractive to a consumer-driven culture” when Jesus wants us to serve all, including the consumer-driven culture and very well attract them to Christ, whether by music, pastors, or the church itself. Why can’t they walk together? So long as the teachings are not consumer-driven but that of Jesus. Just curious.