Gospel-centered Ministry

23 Jul

I just finished listening to a lecture given last May by Tim Keller on the “Gospel-centered Ministry.” Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City.

They are one of the most successful church planting churches in the country. RPC has planted over 100 churches in the NYC metro area. The lecture has some great thinking on the centrality of the gospel in the ministry of preaching. Good stuff.

You can listen to the lecture here:

The following are my notes that I adapted from some notes I found on another blog.

Gospel-Centered Ministry
Tim Keller
Gospel Coalition Conference
May 2007

Seven ministry insights from the gospel.
1. The gospel is historical.
2. The gospel is doxological.
3. The gospel is christological.
4. The gospel is personal and individual.
5. The gospel is cultural.
6. The gospel is massively transformational.
7. The gospel is wonderful.

TEXT: 1 Peter 1:1-12; 1:22-2:12

1. The gospel is historical.
The gospel is good news, not good advice. From Martin Lloyd-Jones:
Advice is counsel about something you can do regarding something that hasn’t happened yet.
News is about something that has already happened and there is nothing you can do but respond.

Ministry implication:
From C. S. Lewis’s Studies in Words–You don’t use words to tell someone how to tie a tie; you show them. Words are required to explain a historical event.

Proclamation/declarative preaching will be irreplaceably central to the gospel ministry. If we are merely invited people to live like Jesus, then we can just show them, but the gospel is a historical event that must be proclaimed.

“Preach the gospel–and if necessary, use words.” That’s a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2. The gospel is doxological.
Doxology (worship; literally “right praise”) is the basis of the entire Christian life.

Thoughts from Luther’s Larger Catechism: The first commandment summarizes all the rest. Underneath every sin is idolatry in general, and underneath that is some form of works righteous. When a person breaks other commandments, it is because they have broken the first commandment prohibiting idolatry.

If a person is not generous, their sin is not only greed—it is also idolatry, because they have made money, material things, security, etc. a functional savior. All sins from eating disorders to racism is the sin of idolatry – the breaking of the first command. It is the worship of a functional savior –the heart’s imagination dotes on something more than God (my thinness, my race, etc.). The only way to change is to worship.

Ministry implication:
From Jonathan Edwards– the purpose of preaching is not just to make things clear, but to make them real. We need to make things vivid. The heart is one’s core commitments, capturing our imaginations. Edwards was rational, persuasive, logical–but he uses images. We must teach Christ vividly and practically, from a change life. We must avoid the ruts of pure narrative preaching which shows, but doesn’t tell AND the pure expository-sermon-as-Bible-commentary preaching which tells, but doesn’t show.

The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently . . . It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.

3. The gospel is christological.
Jesus gave an advanced hermeneutics seminar in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus. He told them that they missed the Jesus, because they did not realize that the law and the prophets spoke of him.

Ministry implication:
The ultimate subject of every sermon should be Jesus.
Questions to consider: “What are you looking for when you go to the text? Are you looking for yourself and your congregation or are you looking for Jesus.”

The Scripture ultimately points to Jesus. As an interpreter and preacher of the text, you have to follow the trajectory of the text from people to Jesus.


Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us.

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends. (This one came across funny.)

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us.

He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible is a book about Jesus not me.

4. The gospel is personal and individual.
1 Peter 1 &2 There are references to the new birth. From Martin Lloyd-Jones– You cannot make yourself a Christian. You must be converted. Passive. You must be made new.

Jesus has stood in our place and received through his suffering the wrath of God (substitution atonement).

J.I. Packer in Knowing God — to understand grace, you have to understand both (1) how lost your are; how bad your sin is; how great your debt is; (2) the magnitude of the provision; the size of the payment; the sufficiency and fullness of the provision.

[I have often worded this concept this way – You cannot see the beauty of his grace without looking at the ugliness of my sin.]

Some people may only believe that Jesus died the death I should have died—the death for sin – and not realize that he also lived the life we should have lived – the life free from sin. Without the second part, people think that they need to live a pretty good life to make up for their short fall. The part of the provision is that his life of purity is imputed to us and I would add that transformation into his life is made available by the Holy Spirit.

Two groups of people in evangelicalism: Easy-believism and legalists/moralists. These groups do not see both side of grace.

There are those who in evangelicalism who are actively teaching that the gospel is the kingdom and all you have to do is join the kingdom and become a disciple. Such teaching by-passes substitutionary atonement and short-circuits the gospel

The gospel is individualistic: individual sinners are saved from the wrath of a personal God.

5. The gospel is cultural.
The gospel creates a culture called the church.

All other religions motivate you through fear and pride. Only the gospel of Jesus motivates you through joy in what Christ has done.

We are not merely saved individuals. The gospel is massively transformational and creates a counter-culture, and also makes us as people relate to the people around us. Those of us who believe in an individual gospel often miss the communal implications.

1 Peter 2:11 ESV Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. [12] Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Sojourners is not just passing through AND is not a citizen. It is someone who stays in a geographical location for a good amount of time, but his values come from some other place.

The gospel is radical.
The gospel says there are dangers of both cultural accommodation and cultural withdrawal.

We think all the danger is on one side, but there is danger on both sides.

These verses lead us to a balanced approach. We need to live separate as an exile, but also live in culture so that evildoers can see your good deeds. No one sees your good deeds of those who withdraw from the world. On the other hand, people who accommodate the culture are never persecuted. We are called to live in a counter-culture that shows the world that we love our enemies.

This balance is hard to maintain. Think about the exiles in Babylon. God told them in Jeremiah 29: Don’t stay out and be different. Don’t go in and be like them.
Go in deeply in and stay very different. Seek the well-fare of the city.

Those who want to be prophetic tend not to be priestly. Those who are servant-hearted tend not to talk about hell and wrath. If we live this gospel life you will get both approval and persecution.

6. The gospel is massively transformational.
The gospel creates a worldview that touches every area of life…business, art, family…
Keller was running out of time and didn’t elaborate on this point.

7. The gospel is wonderful.
1 Peter 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

Angels are probably very smart people! Think about elves and humans in Tolkien mythology. They are a lot alike, but the elves don’t die. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn (a human) and Arwen (an elf) have a conversation on who will ride Frodo to safety. Arwen says that she is the better rider and you think “Yeah, you are 4,000 years old – of course you are a better rider, you have had a lot more practice!

Angels never die. Angels know a lot. They have been looking into the gospel for a long time.

They “long” (Greek word: epithumaio often translated “lust”) to look into the gospel. Gospel ministry is endlessly creative, ever new, never boring.

The gospel is not the ABCs of Christianity; it’s the A-Z. The gospel drives everything we do. It’s the solution to every problem. It should be what every theological category is expounding.

It is at the heart of everything we do.

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Posted by on July 23, 2007 in Ministry, Theology



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