Gospel-centeredness and my "lure them in" series dovetailed in my mind on Tuesday this week after my Monday post. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not a means to lure. So how could the gospel relate to luring them in? The popular discussion concerns whether you're center bound (gospel centered) or boundary driven. I may have just lost you.
Recently, the center bound in the discussion seems to be led by D. A. Carson, one of the heads of The Gospel Coalition. He also argues that the gospel is diminished by those who might separate over other biblical doctrine and practice other than the gospel. Carson essentially says that it is the gospel that binds us together and the other beliefs are not essential for fellowship. That opens pandoras box for methodology.
I would be boundary driven, the boundary being the truth, which we can know, it is certain, and all of it is important. Others seem to be dabbling with boundary driven, seeing it as the only acceptable explanation, two recent representatives being Phil Johnson and Kevin Bauder. From my observation, these two, and their like-minded thinkers, swing back and forth between center bound and boundary driven, because they can't find a way to bridge the gap between scriptural separation and unity, almost entirely due to their ecclesiology. Bauder and Johnson look at the boundary differently, sees the lines drawn in different places. It isn't the truth that is the boundary, but the essentials or the fundamentals, the important things, and coming to some kind of consensus about what those are. They have no biblical basis for this practice, but it makes the best sense, given their predicaments. How can you have unity with all believers and yet separate over doctrine? And which doctrines should we separate over? That discussion continues ad infinitum (the answer is in our book A Pure Church, for those who have not bought it, barely still in pre-publication---buy here).
Ultimately, however, being center bound is a church methodology to lure in more people to an evangelical or fundamentalist church. The gospel is 'about' the only entrance requirement, and people know that, so they are more comfortable with that church. I've said that there are new words coined to describe this methodology, but one of them is "contextualization." A church can have a wide range of stances on the cultural issues. This all fits with the church of the postmodern age. It does sort of cement down the one doctrine of salvation (although that isn't even fully settled---for instance, will Lordship of Christ be emphasized or not, or does it matter?), but there is a large emphasis on freedom that is attractive to the flesh. People get to have eternity settled, while still getting most of their pick of the world. Whatever kind of music you want or like now sounds like a doctrine---it's gospel boundedness. You're better than everyone else when you get what you want. What a deal!
The people attending these gospel or center bound churches know the benefits. They might not be able to explain the attraction for them, but they know they have a difference from the boundary driven churches. This is the lure. It's all very sophisticated, and purposefully so. Look at our Congress, which knows the benefit of 7000 pages in order to get their way to pass.
From what I've written so far, you may think that gospel or center bound and boundary driven are the only two ways. Like about everything else today, there is a third way. You can google "the third way," and get a lot. Before I even typed "the third way," I assumed there was a wikipedia article on it, and there was! It's the "centrist position." We've arrived at centrist in the theological world. I recently saw this way represented in the writings of the very popular evangelical, Tim Keller.
Keller has written a book to talk about his success in New York City at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, called Center Church. Interesting, huh? Center. Definitely a play on words. He succeeds, like Bill Clinton thought he did, by finding the center. It's not like center is a new concept. It's dialecticism. You have a thesis (center bound) and a antithesis (boundary driven) and from that comes an synthesis (the third way, Keller's way). I say it's a play on words, because Keller is also in the center of the city, and the goal here with Keller, is to make his church the center of the culture of New York City. Many other churches there haven't succeeded (gotten big), so people really do want to know "how he did it!" Why would they even think "he did it?" After all, Jesus did it, didn't He? Ooops. Maybe not. Nobody needs an explanation if Jesus did it. That would be in the Bible. You would just need to read it. But since there's something he's doing that is different, we need a book to explain it (a big one, 400 large pages). And he lets you know that his success really did come from going to a lot of different sources to get it figured out. He shares them with us.
If any of you have seen Martin Bashir on MSNBC (I don't have cable or TV, but see clips of him at Real Clear Politics), you would wonder about his closeness with Tim Keller. My biblical belief and practice would clash big time with a Martin Bashir, disabling any possibility of coexistence. Biblical Christianity and the things that Martin Bashir says and stands for could not harmonize with the Bible. And yet Tim Keller and him get along fine (as much as I can know, I believe Bashir attends Keller's church). Keller's church growth philosophy will help you understand a Bashir and Keller relationship.
Those reading, those who like to read here, but won't comment, comment very infrequently, or anonymously, might be upset about how I'm reading Keller's "Center Church." He doesn't mean centrist! He means center-bound! I read his introduction and the tenth chapter, those offered free. From the top, he tells you that this is a third way, a middle position. It's either a play on words or a pretty big coincidence. He gives two ways on the spectrum of church growth---success on the left and faithfulness on the right. His way is the third way, fruitfulness in the center. This ought to be heavily criticized by Phil Johnson, at least as he describes what "fruitfulness" means and how it is being redefined or perhaps dumbed down by the new Calvinists and other church growth advocates.
Keller unveils in his book the "secrets" to Redeemer's fruitfulness. Perhaps you didn't know that it was a secret after 2000 years. Here's a secret: it's not a secret. The Bible is plain. Church growth, how it is to occur is clear. If it's a secret, then it can't be what the Bible teaches. This isn't one of the mysteries of godliness or of the church or of the gospel. It's no mystery.
One mystery to me is how that a Presbyterian, who has this so-called strong view of the sovereignty of God, has 400 pages for us to show how churches can grow. You need a manual with much more material than the Bible to know what you should do, to understand what new measures you must take for church growth. Others have obviously not gotten it. Like so many others, Keller uses Spurgeon to justify it, as if Spurgeon were around today he would consider jazz to be an acceptable and preferable alternative for worship on an evening Lord's Day (that's Redeemer's jazz time---the two evening sessions), homosexuality to be a subject to avoid preaching against in a regular service in highly homosexual New York City, and Martin Bashir to be great pals with.
My take on Keller's book is that it is the Hyles Church Manual for the new Calvinist. It is the Rick Warren Purpose Driven Church for the new Calvinist. It's essentially Church Growth for Geeks (no offense intended). Church Growth for Smarties (in contrast to Dummies).
At risk of my being respectable to a segment of my readership (to remind them why it is that they don't like to have their name in the comment section), which is likely already shot, evangelicalism and now fundamentalism has already been rife with "third way" thinking. Their Bible is the product of the third way. You've got the traditional text, the text received by the churches, accepted by those who believe in a biblical doctrine of preservation, conservative and historic bibliology, and then you've got secular and "scientific" textual criticism, so you come to a third way. The latter represents respectable thinking. The former represents Bible teaching, albeit unacceptable to keep believing wholesale. So you find a third way. We've done this with our Bible. We've also got old earth creationism. That's a third way. The third way is the way to acceptability in the world, supposedly without giving up the faith. Today we've got the third way position on inerrancy, represented by those like Daniel Wallace. The third way is everywhere.
One "pastor" came to Keller and said, "I've tried the Willow Creek model. I'm ready to try the Redeemer model." Keller doesn't dispute that. He's got a model to follow. He's got the secret to lure them in.