Insert ‘Gospel Centered Tagline’ Here
If you were a believer as long ago as 1984, do you remember hearing gospel-centered … anything? The first use of the expression, according to Kidd, is the 1960s (the 1899 sermon of Englishman, J. D. Jones, doesn’t really count). Even then, it was used rather negatively.
You should join me in geeking-out over the Ngram he generated that looks for the expression in Google’s corpora of books and articles. Prior to 2004 there was nary a word about gospel-centered anything. Kidd reminds us that, in fairness, the word, “centered,” was not common at all until well after 1900. Even still, it is amazing how young this expression is.
I suppose I first saw the word in print in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of 1989, though I’m guessing. I wouldn’t have noticed it. I probably read it in the early 90s. After that, it must’ve been through the writings of Graeme Goldsworthy in 1999, whose Gospel and Kingdom (published in 1994) was pretty influential to me, but Kidd says that Goldsworthy didn’t use the phrase until much later, in 2006.
For most of us, however, the neon of gospel-centered glam first shined on us through Gospel Coalition authors. Now, I find the expression so common that I hardly notice it. Which is one of the reasons I find Thomas Kidd’s research so helpful.
One Gospel Coalition author, Dane Ortlund of Naperville Presbyterian, writes openly about the misuse of the expressions and advises a careful consideration of what an person might mean by a particular use of gospel-centered, and what the expression ought to mean. With a clever illustration, he reminds us that “trendiness is not bad in itself. Justification by faith alone was suddenly trendy among significant church circles in the 1520s and 30s.” Good point.