For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
In a previous post, I wrote about the changing nature of “truth” in today’s world and of Covenant Seminary’s commitment to Scripture as the unchanging, inerrant Word of God—and thus as the foundation that underlies our ministry. In this post, I want to focus on the holy charge that shapes and motivates our ministry: Christ at the center of everything we teach and do.
Centered in Christ and Him Crucified
This charge is inspired by the same gospel-centered charge that focused the apostle Paul’s ministerial approach in general, and which he stated explicitly in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
As commentators point out, this was not a shift in Paul’s behavior. He hadn’t changed his evangelistic strategy in Corinth because of a perceived failure earlier in Athens. Nor would it be right to conclude that Paul here embraces an anti-intellectualism that leaves out additional biblical knowledge deemed non-essential.
Instead, Paul is communicating the WHO—Jesus Christ—and the WHAT—him crucified—that are at the heart of his gospel-confidence. In other words, his passionate focus is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which shaped, animated, and motivated all that he did.
In the same way, every part of Covenant Theological Seminary’s mission is gospel-centric. As with Paul, Jesus Christ is the WHO of our proclamation, and his crucifixion is the WHAT. Let me speak briefly to both.
Christ—The Anchor at the Center of Scripture
A full reading of the Scriptures quickly reveals that Christ is the anchoring center of the entire Bible. He and his work are the main theme throughout. He is the source of all life, and the end for which all creation was made. As Paul tells us in Colossians 1:15–20,
[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 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.
Likewise, at Covenant Seminary it is Jesus Christ who orients every aspect of our curriculum and shapes the entire ethos of the institution. Our Christocentric identity is fundamental to Covenant’s mission. Indeed, we tell our students that if they do not “know Jesus Christ more intimately [at the end of their education] than at its beginning,” then we have failed at our mission.
Christ’s Crucifixion—The Animating Power for Ministry
In declaring his confidence in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul eschews all self-confident rhetorical assertions and all forms of meritorious religious performance. If there be any doubt, Paul says that he was with the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Unlike those of Paul’s day (or our own!), whose confidence lay in their arrogant claims and smooth articulations, Paul went the opposite direction so that the faith of the Corinthians would not rest “in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).
As it was true then, so it is true now. The counterintuitive character of the gospel always frustrates those who want power, privilege, and comfort. That our God chose to manifest his redemptive power in the weakness and shame of a Roman cross and not through worldly means of success or military might forever bars the door to all worldly boasts. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:29, Jesus Christ was crucified “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
To put it plainly, the gospel is the death knell to moralism in all its forms because it declares how utterly futile are all attempts at self-salvation. About this there can be no confusion at Covenant Seminary. We make no contribution to the gospel—it is God’s work from first to last. On this point, D. A. Carson writes,
[T]he gospel is not receiving Christ or believing in him, or being converted, or joining a church; it is not the practice of discipleship. Once again, the gospel faithfully declared and rightly received will result in people receiving Christ, believing in Christ, being converted, and joining a local church; but such steps are not the gospel. . . . The gospel is what God has done, supremely in Christ, and especially focused on his cross and resurrection.
How sweet it is that we need not boast in our flesh but can boast in the love and work of our Savior! For it is by his grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8). Indeed, the grace issuing forth from the gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian’s life. And so it is for the Seminary. As we declare in our core values, his grace serves as the “supreme motivation and enablement for love and holiness.”
His Strength in Our Weakness
I learned this lesson firsthand on the occasion of my own ordination 24 years ago when God delivered to me a message about his grace working through our weakness.
Shortly after midnight on the day of the ordination, I awoke with severe stomach pain that I later learned was caused by food poisoning. For hours, my body tried to free itself from the infectious organisms, each successive heave leaving my body weaker and weaker. My convulsions did not stop until I was taken to the hospital. Though I finally stabilized, the weakness in my body remained.
That evening when I stood for my ordination, I was a pale shade of white. I can barely remember what was said during the service, but I’ll never forget the lesson God gave me that day. Food poisoning proved to be more than an annoying interruption. It became for me a powerful metaphor about God’s strength through my weakness that has stayed with me through my entire ministry. Whether it was serving students in campus ministry, planting and leading Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, or now serving as President of Covenant Seminary, I have never felt strong, adequate, or competent to the task.
According to Paul, such weakness is not an accident. Rather, for Paul—and for me and for you and for all who are called to ministry—it was and is the very pathway through which God demonstrates his greatest power. It is the fount of all his grace.
Ministering From the Center
The message Paul had for the Corinthians is the same message we have been charged to proclaim—Jesus Christ and him crucified. This gospel-centric charge shapes and animates all that we do at Covenant Theological Seminary, and manifests itself in many ways.
- Our students are not only trained to see and interpret the Christ-centered character of all of Scripture but are equipped to communicate and preach the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way, recognizing the Covenant of Grace that highlights both our need for and God’s provision of the Savior is ever present.
- All first-year MDiv students participate in peer cohort groups where together they work through their own personal stories—and confront their weaknesses—in light of Christ’s redemptive work in their lives.
- Our faculty is made up of pastor-scholars and others who have generally spent several years in various ministry settings before taking up God’s call to share their lives and experience, their successes and failures, by teaching and mentoring new generations of Kingdom leaders.
- Covenant Seminary’s campus community life is focused on building deep and enduring personal relationships between students, faculty, and staff so that we may “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11) and better navigate together the ministry challenges that are sure to come.
In all these ways and many more, we as an institution and as individuals are shaped by the message of Christ and him crucified. In all these ways and many more, we minister in his strength, not our own, as we seek to bring his message of redemption to a world in need of hope.
This post is part of a series adapted from Dr. Gibbs’s “Inaugural Address,” presented at Covenant Seminary on September 24, 2021. Read part 1 here.
 D. A. Carson, “Editorial,” Themelios 34, no.1 (2009): 2.