September 22, 2017

The Gospel Coalition

Dan Greenfield

FrontLine • January/February 2015

Christians need and enjoy fellowship for mutual encouragement and effort for the cause of Christ. The most basic and essential institution for Christian fellowship is the local church. Sometimes believers, churches, and Christian ministries join together in associations, formal fellowships, or organized denominational structures. When considering a formal, organized fellowship, agreement in doctrine and practice is essential for there to be true fellowship; remember that because of mutual influence, you become like those with whom you fellowship.

New organizations are often exciting and attractive, especially when their key figures and those promoting such organizations are respected, notable individuals. Recently a new organization called the Gospel Coalition (TGC) was established within Evangelicalism. TGC has momentum, important Evangelical figures leading and associating with it, and has accomplished many beneficial things.

What is TGC? Who leads and is associated with it? What do they believe? TGC has detailed answers to these questions in their doctrinal statement, Theological Vision for Ministry, and a series of fourteen booklets.[1] This article will base its assessment of TGC on these foundational documents.

What Is the Gospel Coalition?

“The Gospel Coalition is a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.”[2]

In 2005 TGC cofounders D. A. Carson and Tim Keller were concerned with contemporary problems in Evangelicalism. They sought to establish central ground that avoided both Fundamentalism and liberalism, as post-World War II Evangelicals had done in their time. In addition to Carson and Keller, key members include Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Voddie Baucham, Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Erwin Lutzer, Al Mohler, Darrin Patrick, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Sam Storms, and John Yates.

The groups represented by these include the Acts 29 Network, the Baptist General Conference, Christianity Today, the Anglican Church, the Evangelical Free Church, Moody Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Wheaton College.

What Does the Gospel Coalition Believe?

Doctrinally, TGC is consistent with most Protestant and Evangelical confessions. Specific detail is given to the believer’s election to salvation in Christ, the person and work of Christ (primarily His substitutionary, propitiatory sacrifice), justification by Christ’s active and passive obedience, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God existing as “already,” but “not yet” (following George Ladd), and the church proclaiming and living the gospel in service to others.

TGC sets forth in its “Theological Vision for Ministry” what “gospel-centered ministry” looks like, involving the following: (1) Truth is what corresponds to reality; truth is given in Scripture but not limited to that source. (2) Scripture has one purpose and message — to tell about Jesus and His salvation. All Scripture must thus be understood and interpreted. (3) Christians must neither be isolated from nor imitative of culture. The church must “do good to the city” by being active in social involvement and justice. (4) The gospel is about what God has done in Jesus Christ, not what individuals have done. The gospel moves believers to holiness and service.

Practically, this means that church worship services must be “gospel focused” in their worship, prayer, and preaching. In personal living, Christians must show love without prejudice to believers and unbelievers, demonstrating “a radically generous commitment … to social justice and the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.”[3] Christians must engage the culture, not withdraw from or compromise with it, but seek to impact it for the common good. “We should be neither separatist nor triumphalistic in relationship to our culture.”[4] “Churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth,” working for “the eternal and common good” of society.[5]

TGC believes this view of ministry is scripturally mandated, that “it is the only kind of ministry that simultaneously addresses human need as God sees it, reaches out in unbroken lines to gospel-ministry in other centuries and other cultures, and makes central what Jesus himself establishes as central.”[6]

Assessment of the Gospel Coalition

There are a number of positive things about TGC. They have a commitment to the core gospel message. Their doctrinal statement overall is good. They do address theological and practical problems in Evangelicalism, rejecting theological liberalism, the prosperity gospel, the seeker-sensitive movement, homosexuality, a second blessing post-conversion work of the Spirit, annihilationism, and those who deny inerrancy. In contrast to much of historic New Evangelicalism, there is a much better emphasis on the local church. TGC effectively uses media for the accomplishment of its purposes, providing a number of resources (sermons, books, blog posts, and their theological journal Themelios).

Despite these positives, there are significant problems with TGC.

First, TGC is very weak on biblical creationism. They ambivalently say that the days of Genesis 1–2 may or may not have been ordinary twenty-four-hour days: “The stakeholders of The Gospel Coalition are not on the same page with respect to all the details.”[7] Indeed, one of the cofounders, Tim Keller, advocates theistic evolution.[8] By interpreting Scripture in light of science, whatever peace of mind thus satisfactorily gained is lost by the resultant biblical and theological problems.

Second, TGC’s statement on the Holy Spirit consciously allows for charismaticism, as beliefs about miraculous gifts are not seen as central to the gospel. TGC says, “We should be open to the Spirit working in nondiscursive [nonrational] ways, whether that’s called ‘prophecy,’ ‘illumination,’ or something else.”[9] “One of the encouraging signs in the evangelical world is how cessationists and continuationists have been able to partner and worship together in recent years, realizing that their commonalities in the gospel are far greater than the issues that separate them with regard to spiritual gifts.”[10] By granting legitimacy to charismaticism, the authority of Scripture is surrendered to experience, thus diluting the gospel. This does not mean that TGC denies the authority of Scripture, but the potential for such is present because of its allowance of charismatic gifts.[11]

Third, TGC wrongly applies their belief about the Kingdom of God to social effort. TGC is not a dispensational- friendly group, despite the presence of a few dispensationalists. It is clearly committed to covenant theology and consciously follows George Ladd’s “already/not yet” eschatological model (just as New Evangelicalism did). The overall message TGC communicates is that covenant theology is essential to being gospel-centered.

Regardless of one’s views about the Kingdom of God, the emphasis on social transformation is wrong. Jesus did not give the church a social mandate or agenda. When this is insisted upon and implemented, history details undeniably tragic results — from social involvement taking the place of gospel proclamation to the development of massive programs that weaken or jettison the gospel.[12] TGC makes clear that social effort is essential to gospelcentered ministry and that social effort is not a means to an end (opportunity to preach the gospel), but is an end in itself.

Fourth, TGC views culture as morally neutral (neither good nor evil), as seen, for example, in its advocacy of “gospel hip-hop.”[13] This fails to recognize that culture is the expression of humanity thoroughly corrupted by sin, under Satan’s dominion and at enmity with God. This is a failure of gospel proportions (cf. Rom. 12:1–2; Gal. 1:4; James 1:27; Titus 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:14–16; 4:1–2; and 1 John 2:15–17). The testimony of the gospel and its transformative power are unwittingly corrupted. When TGC speaks of being “gospel-centered” in life and worship, this is a significant issue.

Fifth and last, TGC nowhere advocates the necessity of ecclesiastical separation. TGC occasionally addresses error, and one may even hear a call to separate from a liberal church, but ecclesiastical separation is not viewed as a stated, working, and essential principle of gospel ministry (cf. Rom. 16:17–18; 2 Cor. 6:14–18; 2 Thess. 3:6 and 14; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:19; and 2 John 10–11). TGC has the same basic policy as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) — if you are in agreement with TGC, you are welcome to join, regardless of your ecclesiastical affiliation. Indeed, many of those within TGC belong to churches, fellowships, denominations, and organizations that are NAE members.

TGC consciously and positively looks back to New Evangelicalism as worthy of emulation. Some have objected to seeing parallels between TGC and New Evangelicalism, but TGC adherents draw such parallels themselves. They view this heritage in a good light, connect themselves with it, and endeavor to emulate most of its principles.

While TGC seeks to make some corrections to Evangelicalism and does provide some helpful material, there are sufficient serious problems that one should not join with them for fellowship.


A companion piece to this article has been published here.


Dan Greenfield is the pastor of Orwell Bible Church in Orwell, Ohio, is a member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship, and serves as the executive secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches. Dan holds a BS from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and an MDiv from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2015. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. TGC’s doctrinal statement and Theological Vision for Ministry are available at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org. []
  2. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/ []
  3. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/about/foundation-documents []
  4. D. A. Carson and Tim Keller, Gospel-Centered Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), p. 12. []
  5. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/about/foundation-documents []
  6. Carson and Keller, Gospel-Centered Ministry, p. 15. []
  7. Andrew M. Davis, Creation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), p. 12. []
  8. http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf []
  9. Kevin DeYoung, The Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), p. 22. []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Mark Snoeberger, “Who Needs Fundamentalism When We Have T4G and TGC? A Continuing Fundamentalist Raison d’etre,” http://www.dbts.edu/pdf/macp/2009/Snoeberger%20Who%20Needs%20Fundamentalism.pdf, p. 7. []
  12. Ibid., p. 5. []
  13. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/healing-heartswith-hip-hop/ []

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