Is a God-Centered Gospel Better Than a Man-Centered Gospel?


Hang around Christians long enough and you’ll encounter the God-centered/Man-centered Gospel battle. One side takes the other to task for ignoring the “real” gospel and leaving out the most important aspects of the Truth as God has delivered it.

The God-centered folks (at least on the Internet) typically side with Calvinism and talk about being “Gospel-driven.” John Piper espouses that group’s ideal when he states that “God is the Gospel.” Tug-o'-WarGod-centered folks often see themselves as the last bastion of the true faith. To them, a person’s depth of faith matters most. They talk about what God as God is doing.

The Man-centered folks typically espouse a Pentecostal flavor, even if they align more with mainline Protestantism. They see equipping and walking in what Christ has purchased on the cross as key to being a Christian. To them, a person’s gifting matters. They talk about what God through Man is doing.

The problem with this dichotomy is that I don’t see either side as being the be all and end all of what Christianity represents. The New Testament doesn’t end at the Gospel of John, and it doesn’t begin at the Book of Acts.

The whole _____-centered concept is flawed in that it forces Christians to concentrate on one aspect of the Gospel over another. But the Gospel is not simply what God has done, nor what He is doing, but a continual flow of work from Genesis 1:1 to the present age, with God as Father (Creator/Source), Son (Savior/Lord), and Holy Spirit (Empowerer/Mover), each Person of the Godhead meeting a need within the entirety of the Gospel story, God shaping His Kingdom through Man in the form of the Church.

When we make the Gospel God-centered alone, it becomes what was, and not what it is. It ceases mostly at the cross and trickles slightly into the resurrection. What God bought for man stops at freedom from sin and plays down the Spirit-filled life of the believer, who is otherwise now ambassador and fully Spirit-empowered saint, in the process of being restored to all that Adam was supposed to be.

While being God-centered sounds theologically correct on paper, the practical outplaying of that belief tends to turns adherents into the spiritual equivalent of the master-degree-holding, jobless, twenty-something living in his parents’ basement. There’s a nihilistic bent there that excuses all responsibility for growing up and taking on the adult world. Over mocha lattes, one can argue the strengths and weaknesses of infralapsarianism like a pro, but at some point one must go out and do the stuff. One can’t expect mom and dad to shoulder it all. Just do the work expected and stop talking about systematic theologies and personal suffering all the time.

The Man-centered side fares little better in practice, as the natural progression is toward the ronin, a samurai who serves no master. People who talk about empowerment and personally fighting principalities and powers can, over time, divorce their cause from the One who enabled it.  A disconnection from the Head occurs, and more than once has the ronin Christian believed too much of his or her own press, only to crash and burn amid error and self-centeredness. A Man-centered Gospel tends to forget who God was and still is, forcing the Gospel to start at Pentecost and forgetting the sacrificial aspect of the cross in favor of what that sacrifice purchased. It takes all the gifts and glosses over what was required to buy them and why. Or worse, forgets Who bought them and how.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing from only one side.

Christians must start with the elements of a God-centered Gospel and add the elements of a Man-centered Gospel, while maintaining a constant foundation in God-centeredness. Instead, we’ve turned Christianity into a spiritual form of “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC,” and that distinction should never exist. Sinner versus Saint is not the way life is. We are somehow both, and we need to start living that way.

God equips Man to do the work and puts His Holy Spirit in us for a reason. We are an empowered people. God doesn’t expect us to constantly ask Him to do the work Himself when He says we have within us His own Spirit-Life and Power to do what He tasks us with. Nor are we to get all high and mighty about that reality but to remember that life begins at the cross, and that without God we can do nothing. It’s His Kingdom, and He is still King.

C’mon, Church! We have got to get this right or else we will be caught living a half-life when Christ returns.

N.T. Wright, Christian Virtue, and the Missing Person of God


 N.T. Wright -  'After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters'You can’t run in certain “intellectual” circles of modern Evangelicalism without hearing the name N.T. Wright. To some, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England is the modern day C.S. Lewis, only with more degrees in theology.

I’ve never read Wright, so when his After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters showed up in my local library recently (though the book came out in 2010), I availed myself of the opportunity to finally become hip and cool by claiming, “Oh yes, I’ve read Wright.”

The central idea of this Wright book is that a return to instinctual practice of Christian virtues is the only way to save Christianity. Too many Christians today don’t function like genuine Christians because a true Christian ethic eludes them. Most of this, Wright claims, is due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian postconversion. Too few people grasp how the basic truths of Christianity should inform our practice of the Kingdom of God on earth, and how the Kingdom should undergird our beliefs.

Wright’s solution to the problem is to instill Christian ethics in people the same way a drill sergeant teaches his military charges how to rebuild a gun while blindfolded. Everything about the Christian life needs to be so instinctual and second nature that we no longer think about what we’re doing, but it instead comes naturally. Wright claims this occurs through a synergistic practice and methodical incorporation of five elements: Scripture, Stories, Examples, Community, and Practices.

Quite a few leaders in Evangelicalism would certainly add a hearty Amen to Wright’s plan, especially those who love to talk about the Desert Fathers and Ancient Faith. Practice makes perfect in their regard, and building a new Christian army of those who do without thinking sounds like the cure for what ails us.

While I can certainly see that drilling people in the core truths of Christianity, both truths in fact and truths in practice, is a good thing, Wright’s book has a glaring omission. As someone who has not read Wright before, I see this lack as so enormous, it makes me wonder just how wise Wright truly is and how he ever ascended to gathering such a herd of fanboys.

To me, what cripples modern Christians more than anything else, even when they embody those worthy virtues Wright espouses, is a complete lack of understanding as to what it means to live by the Spirit. The key differentiator between the righteous people of the OT and the righteous people of the NT is that the NT folks now have the Spirit of God living in them always. Say what you will about the Church, but its defining characteristic is that God now resides in men. No other reality trumps this.

That Wright writes almost nothing in his 307-page tome about how to live by the Spirit pretty much renders his entire book useless. Christian virtues are critical, but Wright’s advocacy of a drilled Christian ethic resembles building a Lamborghini and then leaving out the engine. Unless Christians learn to live by the Spirit, all that drilling, worldview, and ethic will lead to just another failed attempt to turn Christianity into a set of rules, with Wright’s entire plan condensed to making those rules reflexes that require no thinking—and no Spirit, either.

What is particularly galling is that Wright goes so far as to downgrade the idea of fully realized Spirit-led living as “romantic.” This smacks of rushing to the polar extreme in an effort to make his point about the need for a practiced, down-to-earth Christian ethic. He makes the mistake of denigrating the key element of the Christian life in his effort to amplify a smaller component he feels has been neglected. In the end, though, he commits the ultimate “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” error that someone of his stature in Evangelicalism should NEVER make.

When Evangelicalism persists in reducing Christianity to a Spirit-less ethic, it substitutes the zombie religionist for the fully alive believer. And we need more “Christian” zombies like we need…well, more zombies. Which is to say, not at all.

How Evangelicalism can continue to mangle life in the Spirit and push out this pale imitation of Christian maturity is beyond me, yet this is what passes for the Christian life in most churches: Here are the rules of the Faith; now live by them. How no one can see that this is no different from any other failed religious system is startling to me, yet this is what I perpetually see in most Evangelical churches. We simply do not know how to live by the Spirit.

Words cannot adequately express my utter disappointment with After You Believe. To me, it’s little more than an intellectual exercise that represents the half-answer now working against restoring the Church in the West to its former glory, despite Wright’s contention that it is the balm for what ails us. A partial balm maybe, but until more reputable Christian authors start writing on how to live by the Spirit, we’ll keep instituting partial balms that ultimately prevent us from becoming all that God intends us to be.

Ending the Descriptive-Prescriptive Battle Once and For All


Bible with crossNothing infuriates me more than trying to use the Book of Acts to teach people how to live, only to run into some footsoldier of the descriptive-prescriptive battle. These folks love to put the kibosh on one mention after another of how the early Church functioned, particularly when someone asks why today’s Church isn’t functioning that way.

Their mantra goes like this: “Yes, the early Church did ___________, but the Book of Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive. Just because we see ___________ described in Acts doesn’t mean we have to make it a practice for us today.”


I tend to hear from those same people how God is not the author of confusion, but honestly, their position on this battle is one of the most confusing, illogical, anti-intellectual streams of thought that exists in contemporary theology and Bible exegesis.

Consider this:

1. The unconverted did not do ___________.

2. The Holy Spirit comes into the lives of the unconverted and converts them.

3. The converted now do ___________.

I don’t know about you, but if someone goes from NOT doing something to doing it after the Holy Spirit has changed him or her, it would seem to me that ___________ is near and dear to the heart of God.

How, then, is it irrational to think that we should be doing ___________ today? Yet that is what the descriptive-prescriptive battler wants to make into an issue.

Here are two classic examples of descriptive actions in Acts that these folks can’t abide for us to emulate:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:44-45

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…
—Acts 2:46

Christians who wage war on the descriptions above do so because they can’t stand to consider the implications of meeting together daily in each other’s homes for meals and fellowship, while also giving up their hard-earned stuff so that a brother or sister can have a need met. Where I come from, there is a description for that: hardheartedness.

Doesn’t it seem obvious that a group of people who once did neither of those things suddenly started doing them once they were touched by the Spirit of God? Doesn’t that have any implications for us?

John Piper recently lamented how some Christians seem more pumped up about the latest film in theaters than they do about Jesus. Given the circles I run in, you can substitute electronic gadget for film in theaters, but you get the point. Jesus doesn’t seem to excite people as much as the inconsequential does, even when those people are Christians.

I would contend that the unholy mindset that seeks to diminish the implications of the descriptive portions of the New Testament is partially responsible for the situation Piper decries. Wielded as a club, that mentality beats down the very heart of what Acts is saying to us about what is good, pure, noble, and true. Acts depicts what is normative in the Christian life, and the reason it is so (and should be) is because the Holy Spirit of God is at the heart of the changes we see in the lives of people who once didn’t give a damn about the guy next door, then suddenly they’re meeting in that guy’s house and sharing Jesus together daily. And when they’re doing so, the world’s junk seems far less attractive and Jesus a whole lot more.

Instead, most of us sit passively in church for at most 90 minutes one day a week, listening to a select few people telling us how we’re doing life wrong, and here are some Bible verse pills to make it all better, and you better down them right now or else.  But folks, that dead way of living is the fruit of taking the vitality of Acts and wringing the life out of it because we’ve listened far too long to the voices that tell us, “Well, ___________ is descriptive and not prescriptive.”

It’s the sour grapes we now eat and explains why we love Jack and Jill more than Jesus.

(If you truly want to be grieved by this descriptive-prescriptive fruit, see “God-Connections in Church Are Rare, Study Says.”)