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Is Jay Adams right?

Jay Adams’ critique of the “gospel-centered” focus of the last decade or so is extremely interesting, in part because he’s such a respected teacher of the Scriptures. He especially dismisses the idea that the Christian needs to “preach the gospel to himself every day.” Rather than responding in this initial post, I’m going to ask for thoughtful feedback in the comments section, where I’ll also chime in. So…

Do you think recent gospel-centeredness is more sizzle than steak?

(HT: Ryan Shanahan)

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58 Responses

  1. “Gospel-centered” is a buzz term!

  2. Getting started:

    I’m appreciative of Jay Adams’ ministry of writing. I’m kind of surprised by the critique, actually. Without knowing particular individuals he’s describing, it’s hard to address the validity of his concerns. I appreciate his sounding a warning that we exercise caution.

    However, the “preach the gospel to yourself” mantra has been popularized, I believe, by Jerry Bridges. Bridges doesn’t come close to teaching a theoretical, antinomian, “let go and let God” view of sanctification. In fact, it would be hard to think of an author who has more clearly and widely expressed what progressive sanctification growing out of justification looks like. His books have been helpful in this arena for decades.

    I agree that there needs to be practical application of what a gospel-enabled life looks like lest we degenerate into the monk-like passivity Adams describes. (That’s why, for example, I just preached the message summarized here.) But in my fairly wide reading on the topic (and my little bit of writing), I’ve seen that emphasis pretty consistently.

  3. Chris,

    This is something I’ve been pondering for while.

    A bit of context: I recently attended a conference in which a pastor was explaining Jesus’s condemnation of judgment in Matthew 7. This pastor quoted one commentator, who had written something to the effect that we should never think of judging another person until we have given more attention to judging ourselves. The speaker immediately condemned this view, claiming that any judging of yourself is a failure to fully embrace the gospel. If you judge yourself, he claimed, you are not resting in what Jesus has already done on your behalf.

    This bothered me, not least because it seems obvious (to me, at least) that his admonition runs right into the teeth of other biblical instructions (like, for instance, Paul’s insistence that the Corinthians examine themselves to see if they are in the faith).

    Here’s my broader theological heartburn. In my estimation, a (traditional) Keswick approach to sanctification has two components: a dedication decision, and an essential passivity as the path to holiness. It seems to me (note my guarded, non-committal language) that the gospel-centered emphasis, if pressed beyond biblical measure, actually can underwrite the same kind of passivity that is endorsed by Keswick thought. This pastor I mentioned seems to be advocating something like this, in his condemnation of examining your own works at any level.

    And I don’t see a move toward Keswick sanctification as being a positive step.

  4. His comments were interesting, but I’m not convinced. The idea of “preaching the Gospel to oneself every day” is a great improvement over the alternative–where the Gospel is preached once to a new convert, and after that he’s on his own.

    If people were preaching that “all you need is the Gospel” and ignoring the New Testament commands, then yes, he might have a point. But I see precious few doing that. Instead, they are pointing out that the commands are given in the context of the Gospel, and their outworking is a result of the Gospel. Once we divorce the commands from the Gospel, we are left with legalism.

    That’s my immediate take.

  5. That’s helpful, Michael. Any truth can be exaggerated an perverted. The kicker is, if we’re properly preaching grace, people should at least be tempted toward it’s abuse, a la Romans 6. (I probably didn’t state that well. It’s a semi-quotation of Mark Minnick. I’m not justifying the abuse, obviously.)

    Perhaps my perspective is tilted a bit because the person who has most influenced me in a gospel-centered direction (which I take to mean “Christ’s work being the source of my ongoing growth) is Michael Barrett. No Keswick, to be sure. :)

  6. Pardon me for being lazy, Chris, but I’ll cut and paste my comment from the Facebook post:

    Undoubtedly there are those who are using grace as a license for passivity or even presumption as I read even this morning in Romans 6. That saddens me. What I’ve seen over and over is that humans do not excel at balance…it is often either/or when God intends for things to intermingle. Preaching the gospel to oneself is not going to exclude “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

    I confess, when this all began to stir up, I was skeptical…can anything seemingly so popular and “new” be a good thing? I’m learning that this is not new…it was merely forgotten as folks began to focus on the law, which is easier to monitor and regulate. “Safer” (in that it appeals to our sense of control) to rest in. It provides a better appearance. I think we need to be responsible as we pray to understand how this all integrates.

    I’m leading a discussion through “Give Them Grace”…so this is up close and personal for me. I look forward to reading what others have to say.

  7. I’m lazy too. From FB. . .

    I’ve been under teaching that’s gospel-centered and got deep into how the gospel sanctifies us. Here’s one of my favorite examples. Here’s Dan Cruver a few years ago at Heritage Bible Church. “Conquering Fear & Anxiety in the Gospel.”

    There are some sectors of the Gospel-Centered movement that talk about applying the gospel to every area of life and are at a loss about how to do it. Dan Cruver was my BJ Academy Bible teacher for two years and did it before it was cool (AKA the late 90s).

  8. Just reading Adams’ thought, “it seems that what is being said is that Gospel immersion automatically makes you a better Christian without learning and doing what God commands by His Spirit’s wisdom and power” clearly identifies the fact the he is just as confused on what “preaching the Gospel to yourself” is as a majority of people hearing that phrase today. Although I whole-heartedly believe that the Gospel is not just something to be considered at the point of salvation and then set aside, I believe there needs to be a clarification of what in the world it means on a day to day practical level to live a Gospel-centered life.

    The reality is, it’s become such a trendy buzz phrase that we assume people understand what we mean. And maybe many people saying it don’t know themselves what it really means. It has left alot of people thinking that when they are facing temptation if they just think “Christ died, was buried, and rose again” then somehow they will majically be drawn out of the temptation without actually having to submit themselves in humble obedience to the words and ways of God. I hope Adams’ article will spur us on to stop simply using a popular phrase and really articulate the practical outworkings of it so there is not this, in Adams’ words, a “kind of Monkish mysticism in this idea.”

    This is an upaid ad, but that’s one of the reasons Anderson’s and Tyrpak’s Gospel meditations for men and women are so helpful in this realm. They expound clearly how the Gospel truly shapes and defines how we view God, ourselves, and others. And when our minds have been renewed to have a proper understanding of God, ourselves, and others – it does change our beliefs, thinking, and ultimately our actions.

  9. Chris,

    I”ve heard Minnick say the same thing, only I think he would word it slightly differently. It’s that’s Paul’s position might open him (Paul) up to the charge of antinomianism, not that someone who attempts to do what Paul is saying will be tempted towards antinomiannism. In fact, Paul’s whole point is, that is a ludicrous idea.. how can someone who is dead to sin live any longer therein!

    On one hand, it’s clear if you read Romans 5-8 that Paul bases his argument on the gospel. Justification is very significant — we have peace with God, abundant grace, imputation of Christ’s righteousness, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are dead to sin and the law…all that means we need (we obligated) to now yield our bodies and members to God and His righteousness, which will lead to further sanctification, just like the opposite led to further iniquity and lawlessness. Paul makes us think through the implications of the gospel as part of his strategy to implore us to put to death our propensity to satisfy the sinful longings of our flesh, our body of sin.

    On the other hand, though, I don’t pick up on a lot of Roman 6:12, 19; 8:12-13 by some who claim to be gospel-centered today. I think that may be something that Adams is getting at. But, it’s like what Andy Henderson said in one of his messages that you highlighted not too long ago,…don’t call yourself gospel-centered if you are not sharing the gospel (his example) or living out the realities of the gospel.

    Andy

  10. ‎Adams says, “…it seems that what is being said is that Gospel immersion automatically makes you a better Christian without learning and doing what God commands by His Spirit’s wisdom and power.” That’s not what I’m hearing, and that certainly is not what I am thinking!

    Some years back, many talked about the “Prayer of Jabez” like it was the “Evangelical Rosary”. I personally do not see that mentality in those talking about being “cross-centered.”

    How could a believer seriously meditate on the cross and not be motivated to obedience and reliance on God’s grace?

  11. I think most people realize when it’s being used as a buzzword, and when gospel centered-ness is actually bearing fruit. There will always be a set of people who “have a form of godliness, but denying it’s power.” So to critique a buzzword for being a buzzword is fine, but to critique an idea because it’s a buzzword isn’t fair to the idea. I think Jay is doing a little more of the latter.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that this new movement really isn’t new. Reformers and Puritans were good at applying the gospel to life. Here’s an example from “The Bruised Reed” by Puritan Richard Sibbes.

    “Paul became all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22), stooping unto them for their good. Christ came down from heaven and emptied himself of majesty in tender love to souls. Shall we not come down from our high conceits to do any poor soul good? Shall man be proud after God has been humble?”

    That’s applying the work of Christ in coming to rescue us to daily life, and it was almost 400 years ago. To apply the gospel is to meditate on Christ’s work and see everything through that lens. We’re taught how in scripture. So Paul constantly points back to Christ in Corinthians as motivation for why they should obey his moral commands to them.

    I’m really looking forward to Jared C. Wilson’s book “Gospel Wakefulness.” He’s a tremendous young writer (and tweeter @jaredcwilson).

    http://www.crossway.org/books/gospel-wakefulness-tpb/

    You Ohio people might want to attend this conference. It’s tomorrow.

    http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2011/07/gospel-wakefulness-conference-august-6_25.html

  12. Well, certainly Jay Adams is wrong. First, he defines the gospel too narrowly. The gospel—the good news—is not simply that Jesus died on the cross (as his article seems to imply). It is not even that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected. The good news is that Jesus died and rose accomplishing redemption so that we may avoid the condemnation for our sin and enjoy a renewed/resurrected perfect love relationship with our God forever. And if the reminder and greater concentration on that gospel is not a means by which, with the HS’s direction, teaching, and guidance, we grow in sanctification into the image of Christ, something is seriously wrong.

    The problem with those who are sin-avoidance focused is that the Christ they say they are following and desperately trying to grow into was not himself focused on sin-avoidance. Legalism exists in two types (at least two). One is the person with the list who happily checks off his righteousness (and yours) each day. The other kind of legalist is the one who swears he isn’t one, who insists that his motivation is out of love for Christ, and who then reminds us that Jesus said if we love him we’ll keep his commandments, at which point he whips out his list and starts checking. Both types are twist-tied to a legalistic system.

    By this I am not at all saying we should be disobedient, antinomian, live-and-let-live self-servers. (And, by the way, neither should we be those who constantly weep about their sin so that they can’t see life past the cross because they’ve substituted “humble,” shamed, self-effacing gratitude to God for victorious Christian living.) We should embrace the gospel—the full and glorious gospel that shows us new life, purity in Christ, joy unspeakable, and a hope yet to come. And in that gospel-infused understanding, may we live life fully and wholly for our God.

  13. Actually….. I’ve seen some of Adams’ concerns in living color. It’s true that he seems to be using a narrow understanding of the Gospel in this article, but this is how some in the movement understand it themselves. We are attending a very “gospel-centered” evangelical church right now, if by that you mean using the word “gospel” to describe everything. (Gospel Bible School, Gospel Life Groups, Gospel Potlucks, etc.) But there definitely seems to be a lack of understanding (or at least expressing) the fullness of the gospel.

    Here’s a practical illustration: In our worship service, we sing only songs that explicitly teach about Christ’s death, our sinfulness, or the resurrection. The prayers center primarily on the same themes: We are bad, bad, bad. You died, died, died. It was terrible. You rose again and are now in heaven. (Did I mention I’m bad?)

    I’m so longing for the fuller, joyful expression of Christ’s victory — give me “This is My Father’s World” and “How Great Thou Art” any day.

    So I definitely understand Adams’ concern (even if it was articulated imperfectly). If the only thing people understand about the “gospel” is what we are seeing modeled in worship, then “meditating on the gospel” will turn into a mantra and seriously limit their ability to live victoriously in this broken world.

  14. I don’t have time to read all the comments, so perhaps this is repetitive, but here are my two cents. Adams is over-reacting to an over-reaction to an imbalance. Here are some generalizations, but hopefully they represent a fair basic assessment.

    1. Imbalance:
    Late-20th-century American Christianity tended to de-emphasize the role of the gospel in sanctification (and doctrine generally). This was happening in various streams in various ways. Some prominent examples:
    a. In its battle against secular psychology, sometimes the nouthetic counseling movement seemed to focus too much on behavior and not enough on the affections.
    b. In its battle against worldliness, fundamentalism tended to put too much attention on external manifestations of holiness and human effort in sanctification.

    2. Over-reaction:
    The “gospel-centered” movement has worked to recover the role of the heart/affections and the need to address heart/motivational issues with the gospel, especially the doctrine of justification. In doing so, however, it can sound overly passive or even antinomian. Most of the problems come from immature or reactionary followers of the movement, not from the primary spokesmen. See http://www.worldmag.com/articles/15939. On the other hand, there are some substantial issues of concern even among the spokesmen–see the recent discussions between DeYoung and Tchividjian at http://thegospelcoalition.org/. Another factor that has “hurt the cause” is the hero worship and lack of discernment among the “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” See John MacArthur’s current series at http://www.gty.org/blog.

    3. Another over-reaction
    Adams is essentially throwing out the baby with the bathwater. He is picking up on legitimate problems in the gospel-centered movement. But his argumentation is straw-man-ish and is more likely to hurt his cause than to help.

    A couple further observations:

    1. One problem in the gospel-centered movement is a seeming misunderstanding of terms like “gospel” and “Christ.” Yes–in the NT, these terms are used for the historic events of the death & resurrection of Christ and for our resulting legal standing before God. But they are also used for the ultimate goal of salvation–our restoration into God’s image to God’s glory, including our sanctification. See, e.g., Eph. 4:20. Another way of saying this is that the gospel includes both the indicative and the imperative. Sometimes the gospel-centered movement overly separates these two. See http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-michael-horton.html.

    2. In all of this, here’s a lesson I keep re-learning: The solution to imbalance in sanctification is not to join a movement or use buzzwords or preach on favorite doctrines. It is simply expository preaching. If we carefully expound the argument of whole biblical books, we should end up emphasizing indicative and imperative in inspired proportion.

  15. Jay Adams wrote basically a similar post here – http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=4700 back in May of this year.

  16. “Gospel-centeredness is a buzzword” has become a buzzword.

    Oh, and Michael, Matthew 7 is for the kingdom. ;-)

  17. A few probing questions (some rhetorical), to which I welcome feedback:

    1. What “fad” will come after the current fad of Gospel-centeredness?
    2. Could the Church’s emphasis of Gospel-centeredness stem from an inability of the current generation to articulate biblical sanctification?
    3. Has Gospel-centeredness stemmed from a definition of the gospel that is too broad?
    4. Could perhaps God use this “fad” to grow the Church in a much-needed way?

  18. You can’t do better than Ken Casillas’ comments, and it’s wrong, wrong, wrong to promote your own blog on someone else’s…

    But I can’t help sharing this link, because I just wrote an article that dealt with this topic. I, like Mike Riley, have been wondering about this and saw an opportunity to explore it by writing about it:

    http://www.markandlauraward.com/blog/2011/08/05/gospel-centeredness-2/

  19. With much respect to Adams, I wonder if something of church history isn’t being missed. In random recent readings from other eras in church history I am finding an awful lot said about gospel-this and gospel-that.

    Like in the book on polity that Mark Dever edited — W. B. Johnson wrote a work entitled “The Gospel Developed Through the Government and Order of the Churches of Jesus Christ” in 1846.

    Or this from chapter 14 of John Owen’s work on the mortification of sin:

    “Then act faith on the death of Christ, and that under these two notions—first, in expectation of power; secondly, in endeavors for conformity. For the first, the direction given in general may suffice; as to the latter, that of the apostle may give us some light into our direction (Gal. 3:1). Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weightof our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into your heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to your corruptions. Do this daily. I might draw out this consideration to a great length, in sundry particulars, but I must come to a close.” (p. 138, “Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kapic and Taylor).

  20. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the forum to discuss this. As I read Jay Adam’s brief post I wasn’t scandalized by it. If I understood your comments correctly, your concern is Adams’ broad brush critique and more so his theological caricuture (Monkish mysticism) of the “preach the gospel to yourself” movement. Fair enough. At the same time, we do well–as you suggested–to exercise caution about a potential direction of this approach.

    Have a great Saturday and Lord’s Day Chris.

    Doug

  21. “In its battle against worldliness, fundamentalism tended to put too much attention on external manifestations of holiness and human effort in sanctification.”

    I think Dr. Casillas is probably right. If he is, where is the wing of fundamentalism that’s fighting this imbalance? I see it coming from the gospel-centered evangelical crowd, and it’s been good for fundamentalism. If gospel-centered movement is indeed fighting its own imbalances, then at the same time they’re correcting some of ours.

  22. Chris,

    Jay Adams has written about this subject off and on for a while now. Another post is here, from March 14. In it he says,

    When people tell us that what you must “do” to be sanctified is to preach the Gospel to yourself, or to focus, marinate, or otherwise soak one’s self in the cross, they make a totally unbiblical case for their view. You find nothing of the sort in the Bible. Thinking “deeply” about the Gospel will not, in itself, bring on sanctification.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with Adams on this point and in previous discussions with you here at MTC, I have criticized Piper of promoting a neo-Keswickian approach.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  23. Hi Chris,

    My point of view is that it depends on the contextual reference point. No doubt his assessment is right in certain didactic and/or congregational paradigms, but not in others.

    Bottom line…”only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” There is an essential unity to those two propositions. “For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” With that said, I struggle with the notion that a follower of Christ who is becoming an instrument of righteousness, being changed from glory to glory to the praise of Christ, would not also at the same time be contemplating the Cross at some level.

    Thanks for posting. Godspeed.

  24. Thanks all for the interaction. Helpful. And Ken Casillas, that was exceptional.

  25. A great theologian I am not, but it seems that at the least if I am reminded of the bare bones of the gospel daily I will be a thankful person and avoid “vain imaginations”. If I take in that God is the gospel and am in the word daily not of duty but rather delight how can I help but be more like Christ? People can always latch on any concept of sancification to find a loophole to sin if they want. We can be great decievers of ourselves, but I choose to remember the cross daily and spend time with my Lord. If that puts me in the “preaching the gospel to myself” crowd then I’m in. Does this mean I am on a “higher level” of sanctification. No one is on a higher plane above sin. But I sure walk closer with the Lord when I get up thinking about His sacrifice for me and remember the cross then when I don’t. Maybe this is over simplifying and missing the point Jay Adams is making. I am assuming from his comments he feels that people are quoting the historical facts of the gospel to themselves to keep from sin. I would agee this is no more effective then quoting the historical facts to be saved. It is not in the words, but in faith and reliance on Christ and His power working through us coupled with obedience that we find victory over sin. A broad brush seems to have been painted, but I admit to not being in the know on the whole debate.

  26. Like Casillas above, I haven’t read all the comments, but I agree with his comment that “Adams is over-reacting to an over-reaction to an imbalance.”

    Adam’s has very little influence with me as it is, so when I hear what seems to be a direct rebuttal of the truth that the gospel HAS saved us, the gospel IS saving us, and the gospel WILL ultimately save us, my initial response is to see it as a rejection of the gospel, pure and simple. A gospel that has saved us and will save us, but isn’t saving us now, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    That said, I can’t be sure at this stage that this is the view he is presenting. So I’d want to try to give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

  27. Ginny, as I understand it, the objection is to a more mystical approach where merely meditating on the gospel is sufficient to bring about sanctification. The Bible tells us that we need to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin (because of what was done for us on the cross) and alive to God, yield our members as instruments of righteousness unto God, then obey from the heart that form of doctrine to which we have been delivered.

    So sanctification starts with the gospel, but progresses in me through internal and external acts of faith and obedience. Mere contemplation is not enough.

    I think that is what Adams means by criticising the ‘gospel-centered’ emphasis and insisting on a synergistic approach to sanctification.

    I also think that is what you are doing by maintaining a daily walk with the Lord.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  28. Chris,

    Glad you put this up for discussion.

    The answer to your question: “Do you think recent gospel-centeredness is more sizzle than steak?” Is Yes and No!

    Ok, before Don or somebody jumps in to point out that this is just one more example of the fact that I’m a waffling NEO. Let me explain.

    YES
    Of course there are some individuals who latch on to the “gospel-centered” lingo for its sizzle and, shall we say, “shiboleth quotient”. But, don’t people latch on to any and everything for such reasons? Surely there are folks who latch on to NANC lingo for “sizzly” reasons — no? Surely no one will deny that BJU fundamentalism is void of shiboleth using phoneys — will they?

    NO
    On the other hand, there are others, who carefully, from the Bible explain and advocate gospel centered sanctification that does not look much, if anything, like what Adams describes.

    The best book that I’ve read is Bryan Chapell’s “Sanctification by Grace.” That book is clearly not antinomian, and it is clearly not Keswickian. I’d encourage everyone to read it. Before reading it, I was always concerned when I’d hear, “It’s all about the gospel,” “We don’t need anything besides the gospel.” I took those things to mean that we just needed to hear an evangelistic revival service every week, and I wanted to know more about the Bible than how to become an initial convert. But, Chapell’s book digs deeply and carefully into Scripture, and it explained to me the “STEAK” version of the gospel-centered focus.

    By the way, regarding Keswick, I haven’t really seen any of the gospel centered teachers present a Keswickian approach. It is not, “let go and let God.” It is “Remember the gospel so that you can keep on!” I think that your sermon graphics that you recently posted are trying to get at that important truth. Further, none of the gospel-centered guys that I’ve read or heard hold to anything like Keswickian higher life or functional perfectionism stuff. In my opinion, the Keswick concern of some commenters is completely misguided.

    Adams, appears to be using the existence of the “sizzle” versions of “gospel-centeredness” to refute the entire focus. This is not a new feud for Adams. He publically disagreed with the World Harvest (Jack Miller) “Sonship” version of gospel-centeredness several years ago (the “sonship” materials are now revised and called “gospel transormation” you should check those out too). That being the case, I wouldn’t doubt that if you looked hard enough, you could find disagreements between Adams and Richard Lovelace and others at Westminster going even farther back than Jack Miller.

    I think that Adam’s disagreement with the gospel-centered approach, and his own lingo in regards to sanctification, is the reason that he gets a pass from many fundamentalists — in spite of his Calvinism, Presbyterianism, Amilleniallism (he calls it “realized millenialism”), non-teetotalism, etc.

    Overall, Adams is a good guy and a brother, and extremely intelligent and well educated. I’m unworthy to wash his feet, but I think he’s wrong here. I think that more people — inside as well as outside the church — need to hear that the gospel is the good news of one’s adoption by God as a precious child who will never be abandoned and that with that security they can grow up to be like their father.

    Keith

  29. Don – I agree there cannot be sancification without cooperation!

    for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure

    plus

    And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

    Enjoyed the discussion

  30. Agreeing with Keith—-
    “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us WHO ARE BEING SAVED it is God’s power” (1 Cor 1:18).
    “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received [redemption], in which you stand [justification], and by which you are being saved [sanctification], if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2).

  31. Yes, Dan, but don’t forget the “if YOU hold fast” bit!

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  32. I do recognize the tendency to respond to any human effort in sanctification as reliance on the flesh, or as legalism. That came up in our study through Josh Harris’ book on lust (which doesn’t make that mistake, BTW). But the concern that people realize the need to participate in putting the flesh to death, pursuing holiness, etc.—as enabled by the Spirit, of course—is what led me to remind our body of the synergistic nature of sanctification last week. I disagree with Jay’s critique of what has been an immensely positive emphasis, but I do think the danger is real.

    FWIW, Jay Adams suffered a heart attack last week. I’m sure he’d appreciate prayers for recovery and grace.

  33. After reading many of these excellent comments, I figured I wouldn’t really have anything to add, especially since I’m not a pastor or Bible teacher. But I kept thinking about this issue and couldn’t get away from the fact that I wanted to share what gospel-centered teaching has meant for me, a “person in the pew.” I’ve spent my entire adult life in conservative fundamentalism; but it wasn’t until the last few years, with a combination of preaching by Pastor Drew Conley and other pastors at Hampton Park Baptist Church and reading of books by CJ Mahaney, Milton Vincent, John Piper, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and Chris and Joe’s booklet that the Holy Spirit has illumined my own heart about living a gospel-centered life. I am currently savoring Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick on “gospel-centered parenting” and wish someone had written this book a couple of decades ago.

    I am saddened that Adams is being critical of being gospel-centered. What’s the point of Christianity if it’s not gospel-centered? The Bible is one complete story of the gospel. In my own reading (there again, by a “person in the pew”) I have never come across anything that would fit Adams’ warning, although of course I’m sure there’s stuff “out there,” which is why I assume he has felt the need to write this.

    On April 8 and 9 of this year Hampton Park hosted “Life by the Book Conference: The Gospel: Fad or Foundation?” Every message was great gospel-centered preaching. One of the speakers was Dr. Charles Barrett. His message was “The Centrality of the Gospel.” Here’s the link: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=510111045385

    Chris, thanks for inviting comments.

  34. Yes, Don, but WHY are you holding fast? HOW do you hold fast? What makes it possible? And, WHAT are you holding fast too?

    I mean, “maranatha” really only makes sense if sanctification is ultimately a work of grace. If it’s not, then we’d be better of crying, “even so, don’t come yet, I’ve got more work to do on my end of the synergism!”

    Keith

  35. WHAT are you holding fast to?

  36. You know, the synergist on sanctification doesn’t deny that the whole thing starts and ends with grace. The monergist on sanctification, however, denies the part we are called to play post salvation and pre resurrection.

    And I’ll join with Chris in prayers for Jay Adam. He is a great guy, I met him once visiting in his church in Greenville with some family members who were members of his church. And his contribution to Biblical teaching in the last 50 years has been immense.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  37. Agreed about the synergists Don. However, it is also the case that the quality gospel centered guys aren’t quietists. They do not deny that we have a part. What they emphasize is that we cannot play our part — even between the start and resurrection — without a certain mindset of faith. We WANT TO and CAN work because of Christ, not we MUST work because of Christ.

    I will also pray for Adams. Met him several times myself. My brother was a deacon in his church in SC.

    Keith

  38. Chris,

    Good post and some excellent comments. Thanks. I find this especially interesting because just in the last couple of weeks, I began to have some minor but nagging misgivings about the “preach the Gospel to yourself everyday” trend. The basic premise is excellent and irrefutable. (It seems to me.) The way it sometimes comes across is shallow and faddish.

    Christians do need the Gospel as much as, perhaps more than sinners. But what we need is an ever growing understanding of the Gospel beyond the “Jesus died on the cross for your sins” level. The better we understand it, the more it will ground us in the faith, and sanctify us. I am still learning more about the gospel.

    Too often, the “gospel for Christians” message becomes trite and almost meaningless, mere godspeak, the muzack of reformed evangelicalism, more like a bumpersticker than an informed statement. When understood correctly, it is extremely helpful. When sloganized thoughtlessly, it is distracting.

    Cordially,
    Greg Barkman

  39. This has turned out to be a great discussion. Now, I’m only a CPA and do not presume to teach others who have posted here who are clearly either pastors, or educators at higher levels, but I would like to point out scriptures and thoughts that I think are helpful to me when it comes to a “cross centered life.”

    It seems to me that sometimes people overly complicate what I consider a simple truth, the essential unity of justification and sanctification. Sure, there is clearly a complex side to that, but what I think I should be concerned with is what I mentioned above in an earlier post; “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” To me, that is the essential quality of a follower of Christ – a working faith.

    I think Paul demonstrates this unity, and a cross-centered mentality, in Galatians 2:20, a very familiar verse – “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

    I notice in Gal 2:20 that Paul is clearly applying an appropriate view of a cross-centered life. He recognizes that it is Christ who is living in him, fleshed out further in the subsequent passages of Galatians. Nevertheless, he, Paul, recognizes that it’s “Paul’s” life that “Paul” is living and he is making choices to live “by faith” (i.e. in obedience to Christ) simultaneously realizing that it is Christ actually doing the work, not “Paul.” All of his choices in faith being fully dependent on the “Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” To me, that is the essence of a cross-centered life.

    Then there is the complex side of that simple truth, the interface between God and man. Do I think anyone on this planet can explain the “mechanics” of how that actually works in the spiritual world; that is, how the Holy Spirit interfaces with us as individuals to change us from Glory to Glory? ,,,Absolutely not.

    What I do know is that I have to make choices everyday to follow Christ: at home, at work, in the car on my commute, with my friends, in line at the store, and when I assemble with other believers. Do I make those choices? Yes. What is the basis for those choices? Christ said to either do something or not and it is He who loved me and died for me and who sits at the right hand of God and has authority over me. Do I realize that when I make those right choices, in faith, that it is Christ working in me? Absolutely Yes! Therefore, God gets the Glory and, by God’s grace alone, I am further sanctified. But I nonetheless have to make those choices. If I don’t have a working faith, at some level, I have to question myself as to whether or not I am really a follower of Christ.

    Again, I hope that doesn’t come across as “know-it-all-ish,” but that is how I view a “cross centered life” and as far as I can tell, it’s what the Bible teaches. Anyhow, I’d love to get some feedback on those thoughts.

    Godspeed.

  40. Thanks all for the good discussion, an unusal occurance on the internet when it comes to Jay Adams. I am the guy who posts Jay’s blogs and I am glad to see that someone is reading!

    Let me give you a clear example of the kind of thing one finds in Biblical Counseling circles these days that Jay is grousing about. This is a YouTube video done by a NANC Fellow (who, while he is way off base on this, remains a good friend).

    Please note how he transforms the “fruit” of the Spirit into the “gifts” of the Spirit–i.e. what the Spirit does TO us. For this counselor, Jay’s approach to counseling is behaviorism or moralism.

    By the way, Jay did suffer a heart attack last Thursday evening. Yesterday they performed a heart cath and installed a stent in one artery. He seems to be doing well and should be discharged from the hospital tomorrow. Thank you for praying for him.

  41. Sorry, in IE the link did not post. It appears if you use Firefox. Not sure why.

  42. As a language teacher (not Greek or Hebrew, I hasten to say), I have been struck by how many verbs in Scripture are in the imperative mood – commands. We give commands to tell others what we want them to do. It seems that if those commanded actions and attitudes we supposed to happen almost automatically by our thinking on the gospel, those verbs would be in the future tense to indicate what will happen, rather than being commands – what the Lord wants us to do. I don’t doubt that our obedience to commands will come more easily if we’re thinking on the gospel, but they remain commands nonetheless. Just sayin.

  43. That “we” is supposed to be “were.” …were supposed to happen….

  44. bob provenzano: i’m not a pastor either, but your thoughts make sense to me :-)

    per the video – the distinction between obedience and service is meaningless, imho. and while he seems have some good basic concepts (works vs. grace), the thinking is very fuzzy and seems to rely on a mystical relationship to the Gospel.

    I guess the real question then is, how representative is this video? Is it one guy or are there a lot of other people in the gospel-centered movement that have the same fuzzy application?

    Personally I think it’s more than we’d like to believe. The leaders don’t seem to be this way, but how is it filtering down? and what does the person in the pew walk away understanding when he hears the Gospel expressed this way?

    I really think the average person walks away thinking that the key to sanctification is “valuing” the Cross more. They end up feeling guilty that they don’t “value” Christ’s sacrifice enough so they go through the process of trying to value it more, trying to humble themselves more, trying to meditate more “deeply.” It does become a little bit like navel-gazing.

  45. Hi Hannah,

    I’m glad someone understood me because after I re-read a couple times what I had posted, I realized I didn’t pack that suitcase very well! :-) It probably could have been framed a little different to be much more clear. Anyhow…

    Godspeed!

  46. I’m not a theologian, either, and I haven’t read any books on the subject, but in what I’ve seen of bloggers that use this phrase often, I’ve been frustrated. The ones I have read make it sound like the gospel is the answer to every single problem — so if someone comes in with marital or financial problems, their answer is “preach the gospel to yourself.” That doesn’t seem to make sense or to incorporate the whole counsel of God. If what they mean is something like “Let the newness of life which is in you due to your faith and dependence on the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ manifest itself in even these problems” or “Just as you have been saved by depending not on yourself but on Christ, so you need to depend on His wisdom, grace, and power in these other areas,” that would make sense, though those are not as catchy. But after establishing the gospel foundation, I would expect a counselor to then go to the specific Scriptures dealing with those issues.

  47. […] Brother Chris recently called attention to a Jay Adams essay titled Preaching the Gospel to Yourself. It’s a brief essay, and characteristically pointed. Give it a read. […]

  48. Not to beat a dead horse, but this new post pretty well nails it: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/08/sanctification-and-the-nature.php.

  49. Ken,
    Homerun with bases loaded!

  50. Dr Casillias – I just came over to this blog to post that article link at Reformation 21 because I agreed completely with it and saw you beat me to it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and your earlier post which brought great clarity and balance to the matter.

  51. I’ll simply say that I’ve been mildly frustrated by some who use the term “gospel-centered” as a stick to beat those who fail to use the currently approved lingo in as many contexts as possible.

    “God-centered”, “Bible-centered,” and “Christ-centered” can be (and have been, from what I can tell) used as near synonyms for what I read now as “gospel-centered.” Great term–but its adherents are not limited (now or historically) to those who use it.

    In addition, it’s hard to tell if a person is “balanced” from a single snapshot of his writings or work. (You can prooftext heresy from Scripture itself, after all.)

    Plus what Ken said.

  52. another very helpful article at Ref 21 by Richard Phillips that is relevant to this discussion – http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/08/seven-assertions-regarding-jus.php

  53. And another helpful one by Ref 21 by Sean Lucas: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/08/a-rejoinder-on-sanctification.php

  54. Yet another helpful link by Kevin DeYoung – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/08/16/glorying-in-inidactives-and-insisting-on-imperatives/?comments#comments

    discusses the Westminister Confession and Belgic Confession’s perspective on it at the end.

  55. Since we are recommending articles, don’t miss this one by our friend Mark Snoeberger “Partakers of the Divine Nature

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  56. Rob mentioned the great number of commands in the Bible–how many times even in the Gospels themselves where we are told to *do* something. From what I have observed (limited as my observations are), most Christians today tend to overlook the commands of scripture–the fact that the Bible demands action from them and not just intellectual assent or emotional responses. I’m guilty of this myself oftentimes. Doing is hard. But at the same time we also need to remember that attempting to obey the commands of scripture without the power of God in our lives only bring condemnation and guilt and hypocrisy. That guilt is what drove us to Christ for salvation in the first place. Obeying scripture wouldn’t be possible without both the past and present work of Christ in our lives to enable us to obey. Without Christ to motivate and enable us, we degenerate into mere moralism and “niceness.”

    I think the term ‘gospel-centered’ can be a useful one, but like any other term you have to know what it means or it’s nothing more than a collection of letters. Think about the phrases like “God is love” or “God loves you.” How many times have we heard those phrases twisted and perverted?

  57. Below is link to a very helpful interview/discussion with Richard Phillips and Kevin DeYoung on Sanctification – very relevant to the Jay Adams discussion –
    http://reformedforum.org/ctc211

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