The Man Centered Gospel vs The God Centered Gospel

by Mike Ratliff

22   so much more Jesus also has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
23 And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:22–25 Legacy Standard Bible)

Back in 2005-2006 as God was working to root me out of my old church as the leadership there was attempting to convert it to a Purpose Driven/Seeker Sensitive Church, I became involved in the discussion forum at the old Slice of Laodicea Blog. This came about because I was seeking answers. It was through this that I became friends with Ken Silva and later became part of the CRN discernment team. One thing that struck me during that period that had never occurred to me before that I now see more and more apparent every day is that God’s true Church is a remnant of what the world sees as the visible church. I can remember Ingrid saying that in her blogs and comments and those who were bound and determined to shut her down and silence her would simply lose it.

The more I got involved in the ministry side of things the more I found out what it was like to have that happen on my blog or to my comments on other blogs. If we could do such a thing as boil it all down to its very essence though much of that ugliness was a battle along one very well defined dividing line. That dividing line is the very focus of the Gospel as given in the Word of God. Is it man-centered or is God-centered? In fact, is the Word of God itself man-centered or God-centered? How you answer those questions determines your basic hermeneutic that you use to interpret Sacred Scripture. In those ugly battles with professing Christians who hated our stand on Doctrine and inflexibility on interpreting God’s Word, it always boiled down to this dividing line. Those with a man-centered focus resented everything we stated doctrinally, using clear exegetical support. I have even had some call me a heretic when all I was doing was quoting scripture directly. Those who resent us saying that certain well known “Christian” leaders are apostates or heretics do so on the very same basis. We point out that they take God’s Word and turn it around so that it is man-focused where it should be God-focused and that makes it heresy.

Take the passage I placed at the top of this post for example. Much has been made of v25 which the LSB renders as, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.We say that the focus is God being able to save all whom He will save and all those whom He saves will draw near to God through the Son who makes intercession for them. However, some with a man-centered view look at this passage and say that this shows that man is in control and only those who exercise their free will to draw near to God can be saved to the uttermost. I am actually baffled that anyone would misuse scripture this way since it ignores the fact that those who draw near to God do so BECAUSE Christ made intercession for them. Our salvation is God’s work, all for His glory. Ephesians 1 and 2 make that very clear.

The man-centered view of the Gospel sees the Cross as being not sufficient to save anyone. God’s work is not enough. The application of man’s free will must be brought to bear in order for a person to be saved. This makes God helpless to save anyone, only man can save himself by the exercise of his will. This is synergism. On the other hand, the God-centered view of the Gospel is monergism which is as I stated above, God saves whom He will save because man is helpless to save himself (John 6:44). Well, I am not attempting to start any new arguments along the dividing line, but I think this is also a leading element is the new debate between what we know of as true “Christ centered preaching” and what the “missional” people are calling “Gospel Centered” preaching. A good friend sent me the following post from The Bayly Blog as I was researching what I wrote above. Here is a link to the post. Here is the text:

What is Gospel-centered ministry, really…

(Tim) What does it mean for a church planter to tell us he’s “Gospel-centered?” Well, it means he’s reading all the Acts 29 and Redeemer stuff. You can’t stand in succession without talking the talk. But assuming “Gospel-centered” is a good thing, what does it actually mean?

Let’s have the Apostle Paul define it:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

If a church planter is Gospel-centered, he’s determined to “know nothing among (his flock) except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Now two things, here.

First, the Apostle Paul is specific about the “nothing” he’s determined not to know. He doesn’t know superiority of speech or wisdom; he doesn’t know strength, but weakness; he doesn’t know confidence, but fear; he doesn’t know how to cop a suave posture, but he trembles…

he doesn’t know persuasive words of wisdom, but only the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and His power.

And why has he chosen this path of weakness, fear, and trembling as he hangs on the power of the Holy Spirit?

So that no one’s faith would rest on him, but instead on the power of God.

In other words, if we communicate our strength and courage and erudition and confidence and hipness and cultural engagement and entrepreneurial moxie, we’ve destroyed the Gospel. When people leave our gatherings, they carry us rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What they depend upon and talk and write about is us; not the Cross of Jesus Christ. To put it bluntly, they’re not at all Gospel-centered.

“But hey,” you say, “it’s all about God. It’s all about the Cross!”

Really? Well then, let’s move on to the second thing.

To know the Cross in its Holy Spirit power is to present four things, three of which are almost always missing from Gospel-centered men and the talks they give. Here’s Buchanan on those four things:

…conscience continually prompts men to (ask)—’How shall man be just with God?’ or, ‘How can God be just,’ and yet ‘justify the ungodly?’ That great problem may seldom occur to those that are habitually unmindful of God, and of their relation to Him; and should it be suggested to their minds, it will probably be lightly dismissed, as long as they cherish slight views of sin, and have little or no sense of their solemn responsibilities and prospects as subjects of the righteous government of God. Some vague opinion in regard to His general mercy, or some undefined purpose to propitiate His favour by future repentance and amendment of life, before they are brought face to face with the awful realities of death, and judgment, and eternity, may suffice, in the meantime, as an answer to the accusing voice of conscience, and as an opiate to allay its forebodings and fears. But minds in this state never grapple with any of the real difficulties of the problem, and can scarcely be said to have the slightest apprehension of its true meaning. They overlook all the most momentous conditions which are involved in it, and on which its right solution depends.

Now watch, here. Buchanan is about to present those four momentous conditions that must form the structure of any true Gospel-centered preaching. Any man seeking right standing with God or eternal life must come to know and love these four essentials for a right solution to man’s pain-wracked conscience.

The Gospel of Christ alone has presented that problem in all its magnitude, and in its just proportions; and the Gospel of Christ alone has offered a solution of it, based on a full view of the Attributes of God,—of the unalterable requirements of His Law,—of the principles and ends of His Moral Government,—and of the state, character, and prospects of man, as a dying yet immortal being, chargeable with past guilt, and still depraved by inherent sin.

It lays a deep foundation for the doctrine of a sinner’s pardon and acceptance with God, by revealing, in the first instance, the infinite holiness of God, His intense hatred of sin, His inflexible justice in punishing it,—the spiritual nature, the supreme authority, and unchangeable character of His law, as being, like Himself, ‘holy, and just, and good,’— the principles and ends of His Moral Government, as a scheme which is designed and fitted to glorify His great Name, by manifesting, in their actual exercise, all the moral perfections of His nature, and making Himself known to His intelligent subjects as He really is,—the fallen, guilty, and depraved state of man, as a sinner, subject to condemnation, and utterly unable to save himself, while he is passing on, with the swiftness of time itself, to a state of strict and eternal retribution; and it is not till after it has revealed these great truths, which might seem to render his salvation hopeless, that it reveals a method of Grace and Redemption by which God Himself has solved the problem; and announces the stupendous fact, that He gave up His own Son,—to become incarnate, to assume the burden of our sins, to endure the punishment which these sins deserved, ‘to shed His own precious blood for their expiation,—and all this that the Grace and the Justice of God might be made manifest, in their actual exercise, in the Cross of Christ…

Maybe it’s a bit much digesting Buchanan, so here’s the summary. If man is to believe the Gospel, he must know it. And if man is to know the Gospel, it’s not enough for him to have slight thoughts of God’s attributes, God’s Moral Law, judgment, Heaven and Hell, and intimate thoughts of God’s love and mercy, and Jesus’ love and mercy and grace. Notice how Buchanan proceeds; the order is as important as the content.

Any Gospel-centered shepherding or preaching will start with the attributes of God. All of them in all their horror and beauty. And seeing the attributes of God will leave us trembling at the foot of Mt. Sinai where we receive God’s Moral Law, which reveals even more clearly many of God’s attributes, His perfections. So we start with the character, the attributes, the perfections of the Only True God. And this is no “God is for the city” vision. We’re not close to that, yet.

Then, we move to God’s Law. First, His attributes; second, His Law. We preach the Law in all its brutal severity, trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead the souls under our care through that horror, to grace. But we trust so much in that horror, that we refuse to hop over it. Gospel-centered preaching never neglects the Schoolmaster that alone leads us to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

First, the attributes of God. Second, the Law of God. And third, the coming judgment and the horrors of Hell prepared for all who have violated God’s attributes and Law. Again, only those who trust in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than themselves, their contextualization and entrepreneurial moxie, will preach and teach and counsel God’s holiness and justice, His Law, and His coming throne of judgment driving every man to the eternity of Hell torments.

Then Buchanan says this:

…and it is not till after it has revealed these [first three] great truths, which might seem to render his salvation hopeless, that [Gospel-centered preaching] reveals a method of Grace and Redemption by which God Himself has solved the problem…

Only when the first three truths have been firmly lodged in the hearts of the precious souls giving themselves to our care, will we give them the fourth great truth: that God in His great mercy and grace, has sent His Son to bear His wrath and justice for all who believe on Him. And those who believe will be justified freely by His grace, hearing a “not guilty” verdict at the Throne of God and being welcomed into His Holy Heaven.

How do we know if the souls under our care have been brought to the fourth through the first three Gospel truths?

Because of their attitude, their posture, and their words. They tremble. They cry out. They melt in tears. They fall on their faces. They turn red in the face and charge, fully intending to kill us.

Look across Scripture’s Apostolic preaching (which is true Gospel-centered preaching) and see the response to the clear presentation of God’s character, Law, judgment and Hell, and the Cross. When Stephen finished his Gospel-centered ministry, we read: “But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse” (Acts 7:57).

The Apostle Peter finishes his sermon on the Day of Pentecost with these words: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”

And the souls under his ministry and care responded: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'”

To which the Apostle Peter responded: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

But Peter didn’t stop his Gospel-centered ministry quite yet. He continued in the same theme and direction he’d been going for quite some time already: “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!'”

So, was the Apostle Peter perfectly contextualized for the city of Jerusalem when he cried these words out to the assembled throng? Would any of us have thought he was Gospel-centered and “for his own city?”

It’s almost laughable, isn’t it?

But what happened? Was there fruit; and if so, how much? “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:36-41).

Read the Apostle Paul’s sermons–for instance, his sermon to the Areopagus in Athens–and you’ll see these same four themes.

So we learn two things about Gospel-centered preaching and ministry.

First, that people leave it with little thoughts of us and large thoughts of God. Their recollection of us will be that we are simple, trembling, direct, basic, afraid, but clinging to the power of the Holy Spirit.

And second, our hearers’ large thoughts of God are disciplined in four–not one or two or even three–directions: God’s character; God’s Law; man’s eternal damnation fast approaching as his life quickly passes and he comes ever more closely to the Judgment seat of God and Hell; and then (and only then) God’s mercy in the Person and work of Jesus Christ Who was made a sin offering for sinful man that all who flee to Him might be saved.

May God give us a truly Gospel-centered ministry, weak and foolishly trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit so we never skip over the holiness of God’s character, Law, and Judgment.

So you see, there is a distinct dividing line between what is godly and what is fleshly, what is God centered and what is man centered. The God centered way to handle scripture is to see it as all being given to man but pointing back to God for His glory. The man centered way of handling scripture is an inconsistent mess, which I suppose fits in quite well with the post-modern way of not being able to think critically about anything. In any case, I pray for all reading this to grasp the outrageous silliness of thinking that man can somehow know better about theology than God Himself.

My brethren, yes, we are entering a spiritually dark time. I do not know if we are right at the end or not, but the evidence is clear that the world is moving into a globalization mode that will exclude true Christianity and Christians because we will not play the game nor compromise and bow the knee to Baal. True Christianity has been this route before and God has kept His Church and He has promised that nothing can separate us from His love. Therefore, let us move forward with the God centered Gospel in truly Gospel-centered ministries, weak and foolishly trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, those who are on that wrong side of the dividing line will not see this nor will they do this, but we can pray that God will draw them into the light. God’s will be done.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “The Man Centered Gospel vs The God Centered Gospel

  1. For some time I have wondered about the remnant and how/if it has application to us today. Thank you for your article.

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  2. This is excellent. “ How do we know if the souls under our care have been brought to the fourth through the first three Gospel truths?
    Because of their attitude, their posture, and their words. They tremble. They cry out. They melt in tears. They fall on their faces. They turn red in the face and charge, fully intending to kill us.”
    I think I’d be tempted to add a big “OR” in front of the last sentence if my understanding is correct. “Because of their attitude…” crushed by conviction of their utter impending destruction – but then rescued from it! So different from, “if you want to receive Jesus, just raise your hand where you’re seated”.

    So much for the non-offensive “gospel” being preached today, which only hardens hearers to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Thank you Mike.

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