The Man-Centered Gospel?
By Luke Stamps–
One of great strengths of the Reformed tradition is its unflagging emphasis on the glory of God. Indeed, this emphasis can rightly be said to be the sine qua non of Reformed theology. Underneath predestination, underneath the doctrines of grace, underneath justification by faith alone stands the firm foundation of the sheer God-centeredness of reality. All of God’s plans for creation and redemption are centered on the glory and praise and worth of the Triune God. I love these truths. I whole-heartedly embrace these truths. I have given my life over to these truths. I just want to make that clear up front so you don’t misunderstand what I am about to say.
Without denying this non-negotiable God-centeredness of God’s plan, there is another sense in which we can accurately say that the purposes of God are man-centered. I don’t mean that human beings are in any sense equal to God or as ultimate as God. What I mean is this: the unfolding plan of God in creation and redemption, at virtually every stage in the biblical storyline, turns upon human beings—their choices, their experiences, and their destiny. Consider a few of the ways in which the biblical plotline is focused upon humanity.
1. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation and the object of God’s special love.
This truth is born out by structure of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, which devotes extended space to describing the creation of man on day six. Humans alone are the capstone of creation. Humans alone are created in the image and likeness of God. Humans alone have been given the mandate to exercise dominion over the rest of the created order. Humans alone are equipped for a reciprocal, intimate relationship with their Creator.
2. Human beings are the entry point for sin and death in the world.
The ground is cursed because of a decision made by humans. The world was subjected to futility because of human sin. It even appears that predation in the animal kingdom is tied to the fall of man (Genesis 1:30; cf. images of the perfected state—Isaiah 11:6; 65:25).
3. Human beings are the means that God uses to carry out his redemptive purposes.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this truth in the Old Testament is Abraham. God chose Abraham as the means by which he would undo the curse of sin. God blessed Abraham so that he might be the conduit of blessing for all the families of the earth (Genesis 12). We see this same focus on the necessity of human agency in God’s plan for world evangelization. The nations will hear and believe in Christ only through the preaching of the gospel by divinely sent human spokesmen (Romans 10:14-15).
4. Human beings are the gateway to cosmic restoration.
Just as human beings are the entry point for sin and death, so also they are the entry point for restoration and life. The decaying creation is groaning for human redemption as the answer to the world’s problems (Romans 8:20-23). The created order has placed its hope, so to speak, in the future resurrection of the children of God. Human redemption is precisely the means by which God will accomplish his broader purposes.
5. A human being is the purpose and goal of all created reality.
The New Testament make it clear that the world was created by and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16). The goal of God in creation and redemption is the glory of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot emphasize this point enough: the world exists to magnify the worth of Jesus Christ and the salvation that he accomplished in his death and resurrection. The world is man-centered because it is Christ-centered.
One lesson we can draw from all of this “man-centeredness” is that we should be careful not to diminish the glory of God in salvation or even to subordinate it to something else. For instance, in our zeal to emphasis the plotline of the Bible, the story of Israel, the corporate and cosmic dimensions of salvation, we might be tempted to think that personal salvation is simply one small part in a much bigger picture. But that doesn’t seem to be the way that the New Testament speaks of these things. Consider how Colossians 1:19-20 links cosmic restoration to the atoning work of Christ on the cross: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Cosmic reconciliation is accomplished precisely through the sin-bearing work of Christ on the cross. Likewise, in Ephesians 1:3-10 God’s plan to “unite all things” in Christ is planted in the fertile soil of personal election, predestination, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, and illumination. Commenting on these passages, Kevin DeYoung writes,
Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21). The creation is waiting to experience the freedom and glory we already experience as the children of God. The next time you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself, or feel unappreciated, or imagine yourself ignored by God, remember: In Christ, you have what the universe is after.
This “man-centered” gospel should not be untethered from the biblical plotline that sweeps from creation to new creation. It should not lead us to neglect the stories of Adam, Abraham, Israel, and David. It should not lead us to neglect the corporate dimension and the cosmic scope of redemption. But it does help us to see the governing motif in all of these stories and all of these plots: God is accomplishing all of his purposes through human beings so that he might highlight the glorious, saving work of a single Human Being, “through whom and for whom” all things were created (Colossians 1:16). After all, one day all the redeemed of all the ages will worship at the feet of this exalted Human Being. That is a man-centered gospel we should celebrate.
Luke Stamps is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University (OPS). He is also a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. Luke is writing his dissertation in the field of Christology. Luke is married to Josie, and they have three children, Jack, Claire, and Henry.