The Gospel as Center

In 2007, Tim Keller and D.A. Carson formed The Gospel Coalition.  The members of the council (from various denominations and theological traditions) came together and wrote a preamble, a statement of faith, and a theological vision for ministry. These foundation documents were then unpacked at the request of various local churches and ministry organizations and published in booklets. The Gospel as Center is the compilation of those booklets, written by the various members of the Gospel Coalition’s council.

The Gospel as Center represents the best of what the public has come to expect from Keller and Carson – intensely theological, doctrinally sound, and immensely helpful. The contributions of other notable pastors and scholars – Richard Phillips, Mike Bullmore, Andrew Davis, Reddit Andrews III, Colin Smith, Bryan Chapell, Sandy Wilson, Philip Ryken, Kevin DeYoung, Stephen Um, Tim Savage, Thabiti Anyabwile, Ligon Duncan, and Sam Storms – give even more creditability and weight to the work. For those curious on gaining doctrinal insight to the young, Reformed movement in modern Evangelicalism, one could scarcely find a better resource.

My critique has little to do with the substance of the book, but rather centers on the potential misuse thereof. The book itself has the potential to withstand the test of time as a clarion call to “make central what Jesus himself establishes as central” (21). For some time I have asked which scholars and pastors in our day will be read by the generations to follow. In my opinion, this book is a compilation of many of those authors.

The difficulties involved in gathering leaders from so many different theological traditions and uniting under a singular banner, I feel, is both under and overestimated at times. In one sense, we should be able to unite on the substance of the gospel – “the necessity of the new birth, justification by faith alone, the atonement through propitiation and the substitutionary death of Christ“(11). And yet in another sense, there are significant theological distinctions that are represented by the various denominational backgrounds, and no council or synod will erase centuries of difference and discord.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this dissonance is represented in the only dually-authored chapter in the book (apart from the opening chapter penned by Carson and Keller) – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Though the chapter sought to zero in on the aspects agreed upon between Anyabwile (a Baptist) and Duncan (a Presbyterian), the differences between these two perspectives – especially in regards to baptism (creedo or paedo) – are not minor. Students of Reformation history know to what great lengths these different interpretations have been defended – even to the point of persecution and execution. While Anyabwile and Duncan represent the unity we can come to, they also represent what I believe limits the potential use of this statement of faith.

“We are united by the conviction that what unites us – the doctrinal core components of the gospel – is far more important than what divides us… That conviction differentiates us from those who believe that there is no gospel to preach apart from the distinctions of their tradition. They do not think that their denominational distinctives are “secondary” (13).

My primary concern with The Gospel as Center, is that local churches have begun to request permission from The Gospel Coalition to adopt and use their statement of faith. The width of this convictional statement serves multiple denominations and theological traditions well, but doesn’t provide the distinctive elements that local churches require. After all, no local church can be both paedo-baptist and creedo-baptist, and no one on either side of the discussion is apathetic in regards to their position. The decision to leave both options open is virtually a necessity for The Gospel Coalition, but would be devastating for any particular local church.

With that caveat, I can fully endorse The Gospel as Center as a robust statement of faith that has the intent and ability to unite various denominations and theological traditions under the banner of Gospel Centrality. The book as a book, is full of rich theological discussion and gives an exemplar picture of modern Reformed Confessional Evangelicalism.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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