Many in the church today live under the banner of “gospel-centered.” It’s in our Twitter bio. It’s in our books, our conferences, our worship. The phrase defines an entire philosophy of ministry. It even curates the content we consume—after all, you did visit Gospel-Centered Discipleship to read this.
When does gospel-centered, and all it represents, go too far? You might chafe under the notion that gospel-centeredness may not be the be-all and end-all of our lives and ministry, but allow me to explain.
THE FOREST AND THE TREE
One of the most haunting condemnations Jesus hands down is found in the Gospel of John. Jesus had just miraculously healed a disabled man, allowing him to walk again. When the man discovers that it was Jesus himself who made him well, he reports what happened to the Jews. They were furious at these reports and confronted Jesus, accusing him of performing these works on the Sabbath, which went against Jewish religious practice.
Jesus’ response only made them angrier: “My Father is still working, and I am working also” (John 5:17 CSB). Not only was Jesus working on the Lord’s Day, but now he was making himself equal to God! (John 5:18).
As the Jews derided and persecuted him, Jesus rebuked their inability to understand the point of it all. After exhorting the crowds, he stuns the Jewish leaders by saying, “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40).
Jesus diagnosed their problem as being so consumed with the message that they missed the Messiah. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words this way: “You miss the forest for the trees!” The Jews were so concerned with the what of their faith that they failed to see the who behind it all.