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Carson on Keeping the Gospel Central

Here is a lengthy quote once more from Carson’s Basics for Believers. It is long, but I think this is a good word for us today when many issues are crying out for our attention. This no doubt speaks to many situations, but I confess I am thinking primarily of my own denomination, the SBC. Far too long we have assumed people “get” the gospel, and we may be tempted therefore to spend the bulk of our time on denominational distinctives, cultural engagement, etc. We must not make the error of assuming the first things. Let us be gospel-people first.

“In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus of the periphery. I have a colleague in the Missions Department at Trinity whose analysis of his own heritage is very helpful. Dr. Paul Hiebert labored for years in India before returning to the United States to teach. He springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless. One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following generation denied the gospel; the ‘entailments’ became everything. Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with
some drifting toward the third.

What we must ask one another is this: What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turns you on? Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more. The list varies from country to country, but not few countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not thin about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?”

Carson next acknowledges the great cultural work of people like Newton and Wilberforce and others.

“But virtually without exception these men and women put the gospel first. They were gospel people. They reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. In short, they put the gospel first, not least in their own aspirations. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel.” (26-27)

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