We got into a little bit of a discussion about gospel-centered preaching here in the comment section in the previous few weeks, but thoughts about gospel-centeredness have crossed my mind a lot recently. And then my family and I were on vacation last week where we usually go and attended the church we usually attend when we're there on a Wednesday night. There isn't a church like ours in that area (even close), so the church we attend is based on conservative doctrine and expository preaching. With that being said, their pastor was gone and the replacement man preached an obviously gospel-centered sermon. He even quoted from some of the most well-known of the more conservative evangelical gospel-centered types.
The man teaching was doing a series, it seemed, off and on, through 2 Corinthians, and he did preach a text there. I was able to follow along with his sermon, but that was because I knew what he was doing. I also knew that my family wouldn't be able to stay with what he was saying, even though they hear expository sermons almost exclusively at our church. I interpreted the sermon in the car afterwards. It was hard to do. Because he took that gospel-centered approach, he didn't preach the passage, even though he, well, preached the passage.
The word "gospel" didn't appear in the text, but he said it again and again, at least two or three dozen times, probably more. My wife wrote a note to me, "What does he mean by 'gospel'?" That was difficult to say, but I wrote something like, "the impact of the saving grace of God in one's life." That didn't get it cleared up for her. It wasn't that he didn't have anything to say that was good. He obviously really studied. But he wasn't preaching what the passage was saying because he was so attempting to connect it to the gospel. Sure, every passage relates to the gospel. They all relate to Jesus in some way. I was thinking, "Please stop; just preach the passage, man."
That sermon got me then thinking about gospel-centeredness and then moralism. Nobody wants to be a moralist. It's a bad thing to be a moralist. Mark that down. Note to self: "Self, don't be a moralist." There we go. In order to avoid being a moralist, gospel-centeredness, and then we get the wacky-ness I witnessed unexepectedly after the discussion in the comment section last week. It reminded me, in a sense, of revivalist type preaching I once heard that didn't start with a very good hermeneutic. In both cases some kind of bad ju-ju cranks out of the play-doh mold.
The more I thought about gospel-centered versus moralism, the more it came to me that it was straining at a gnat---as if moralism is a real problem in our society---too many morals, ya know. Scorched earth. Dropping napalm on the safety-patrol. They just want to get you across the street. Please.
I've been preaching through 1 Corinthians on Sunday mornings, am now in chapter 16, about through. I asked myself if the Apostle Paul was gospel-centered, and I believe that many gospel-centered folk would judge him not. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul motivated the Corinthians to give a bigger offering for the needy Jerusalem church, told them that if they didn't give a big enough one, he wouldn't accompany it. When Paul dealt with the problems at Corinth, he got moralistic. He said, to get you to do the right thing, I had to use rough speech on you. That sounds moralistic. To get them to change, he used sarcasm. In 2 Corinthians, Paul didn't always use the gospel as motivation for living right. It was one motivation, but he used much more than that. The grace of God enables believers to do everything, but that's not put at the center of every single moral. Multiple examples just in 1 Corinthians in dealing with Corinthian bad morals.
Preaching against sin doesn't mean that you are telling people, "If you stop doing that, that's a way really to impress God." Or if you have strong morals, it's because you aren't gospel-centered. That's the way that it reads today, as an excuse for lesser morals, or let's just say, immorality. Immorality isn't just fornication or adultery. Some of the morality Paul was telling the Corinthians to practice, for instance, he used creation order and the authority in the Godhead (1 Corinthians 11) as a basis for doing something that today would be called moralism, that is, dress standards. If you've got a dress standard today, and you preach on it, you'll very often, almost always, be called a moralist.
So gospel-centered is used as cover for not preaching morals. And so we've got all kinds of immorality. This cheapens the grace of God. The gospel is a grace that does actually change. It brings morality. If you don't preach on morality, you won't get morality in a church. And churches aren't preaching on it, because they want to be gospel-centered. It's a shame. It isn't moral. And it isn't the gospel.