We have just a couple days left here in Boise. It has been so good for Jill and I to have this special time apart. We have been walking around 5 miles a day through the city, parks and neighborhoods enjoying great times of sharing our dreams and hearts with one another. We also have had wonderful times with our kids and grandson and are so grateful to see them doing so well. We just returned from having breakfast with the kid’s pastors, Larry and Tracy who lead a faith community called Visio Dei. What a great couple with amazing hearts for God and his Kingdom.
Below is a section of my book that follows a detailed description of the good news that Jesus has made his Kingdom accessible to all by faith (Mark 1:14,15). The good news clearly has been challenged ever since the epic moment that Jesus initially announced it. Distortions of the gospel are too numerous to list let alone describe in any detail. Here I describe three that I believe deserve special attention because of the number people that have been negatively influenced in some way by them.
Unfortunately the good news of God has been challenged since the time of Jesus by “other gospels” that serve to destructively distort what God provides through his grace, love, truth and power. The apostle Paul speaks of this reality when writing the church at Galatia and refers to “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6,7). In believe the following three examples of “other gospels” currently have a wide influence in the body of Christ and must be interpreted as demonic gospel distortions.
The gospel of Jesus plus – The apostle Paul wrote that if anyone attempts to add anything to the gospel of grace, including any kind of religious works or rigor exercised to earn a right relationship with God, that you are no longer talking about the true gospel. Paul was exceptionally angry with those who would pervert the good news in this way. Unfortunately the “gospel of Jesus plus” is still held onto and proclaimed by many in today’s world. It’s most basic manifestation is works-righteousness or legalism, which finds its way in some form into most every portion of the body of Christ. One of the sickening facts about legalism is how damaging and contagious this perversion of the gospel is. Perhaps this is why Paul as well as Jesus confronted legalism with such extreme vigor. Concerning the Judaizing teachers who had seduced the Gentile believers with the lie that they needed to keep the Mosaic Law on top of being in relationship with Jesus to be in right standing with God, Paul wrote;
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:7,8).
Paul took this issue very seriously! As a recovering performance-driven people-pleaser, I have to keep a close eye on my own heart with regard to the “gospel plus.” In fact I believe the entire body of Christ must remain vigilant with regard to the subtle and not so subtle symptoms of this aberration as it stands in dangerous opposition to the gracious good news of Jesus Christ. When someone discovers themselves under the influence of a shame-based distorted gospel, they must quickly repent, take every thought captive and then linger long in the truth, love and grace of God. To the Galatians who had at least temporarily succumb to the gospel of Jesus plus, the apostle Paul writes these encouraging words; “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
The gospel of sin management – Another popular distortion that a lot of believers can be attracted to is what Dallas Willard describes as “the gospel of sin management”. In this scenario a person celebrates the fact, not so much that they are free from the domination of some sin, but rather simply forgiven. Under this gospel’s influence, more focus is given to organize, cover up and compensate for sin rather than to simply renounce and overcome it. Concerning the popular bumper sticker that reads, “Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven,” Willard writes;
Just forgiven? And is that really all there is to being a Christian? The gift of eternal life comes down to that? Quite a retreat from living an eternal kind of life now! …Christians certainly aren’t perfect. There will always be need for improvement. But there is a lot of room between being perfect and being “just forgiven” as that is nowadays understood. You could be much more than forgiven and still not be perfect. Perhaps you could even be a person in whom Jesus’ eternal kind of life predominates and still have room for growth.
A glorious centerpiece of the good news of the Kingdom is that sinful people can be graciously forgiven. But the good news doesn’t stop there. It is “gooder” than that! The redemptive work of Christ and the provision of the Spirit open the way for full forgiveness as well as freedom from sin’s dominion. Now that’s good news!
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The gospel of then and there – This unfortunate alteration of the gospel removes much of its efficacy from the present to times past or to a future age. Thanks to dispensational/cessation theology many evangelicals are bound to a truncated gospel where much of the supernatural workings of the Spirit recorded in Scripture are deemed no longer necessary since the biblical canon was complete. Rather than embracing the gospel of the Kingdom as a relevant here and now reality, it is presented as a temporary provision for then and there, or someday and somewhere. John Calvin, one of the greatest minds of the reformation eloquently puts forth this view when he writes:
The gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the preaching of the gospel marvelous forever…Healing now has nothing to do with us, to whom the administering of such powers has not been committed.
Such a dramatic departure from a straightforward interpretation of Scripture is often an indication of a reactionary mindset. It seems that the primary motivating factor for Calvin’s view restricting the ministry of miracles to the accreditation of the writings of the biblical authors was to undercut the Roman Catholic claims to religious authority based on miracles and revelations. Upon examination one finds that most teachings that dismiss the miraculous from our current dispensation find their origin in some kind of reactionary context rather than honest exegetical reflection. And no one has made the case for the cessation of the miraculous with more influence upon the past century than B.B. Warfield in his book entitled, Counterfeit Miracles, published in 1918. Still to this day this book is sold and heralded by some to be a theological masterpiece, though careful exegetical evidence is sorely lacking throughout. Beyond Warfield’s insistence that miracles were a temporary provision given strictly to accredit biblical doctrine (therefore they are no longer needed), he failed to appreciate that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through Spiritual gifts along with wonders, signs and miracles are provided for us to supernaturally build up the body of Christ and advance God’s Kingdom. Warfield writes, “We believe in a wonder-working God, but not in a wonder-working church.” This certainly misrepresents what is actually revealed in the bible and dramatically contradicts the glorious gospel of the Kingdom we have been commissioned to faithfully announce in both word and deed.
Because we have been called to say and do what Jesus’ first followers said and did, we desperately need what they were promised and lived in light of. How can we truly represent Jesus with less? The enemy we overcome through announcing God’s Kingdom is no cessationist, though surely he must delight when the church embraces such damaging doctrines. It is good news that as we humbly follow and obey the One who is the same today, yesterday and forever we are privileged to live and serve under the same promise of the Spirit given to those who journeyed before us.
It’s amazing to me that such obvious reactionary thinking has been written about and repeated by so many through the last century. But at least cessationists and dispensationalists are honest about what they say they believe and what they practice. I am more concerned about the common inconsistency that exists among many who profess to believe in such things as divine healing yet seldom if ever pray for it with the expectation that God will actually show up and heal the person. When there is a great chasm between our doctrine and practice, it is what we practice that exposes what we really believe. Such would never want to admit that they were a theological dispensationalist or cessationist. Perhaps, though, for the sake of honesty, the term “functional cessationist” could be used to describe this unfortunate reality. Regarding the miraculous, I have a personal passion to see every leader and believer in the movement of which I am a part, reclaim not just a doctrine but also the Christ-like instinct to immediately respond to such things as sickness and bondage with expectant prayer.
I like what you have included but believe there are other gospels that most 21st century AMERICAN Christians believe that you have not touched on…yet. Here are my thoughts.
1. The Gospel of Comfort. We in America have written this into our founding documents, “the pursuit of happiness.” They way it is interpreted in today’s society is somewhat different from what our founding fathers intended, I believe. Associated with this gospel is the gospel of SAFETY. Christian colleges are not sending short term teams to places where there might be some political or religious turmoil. Why? The insurance companies will not back such trips. So, we let multinational conglomerates decide our missiology/theology. To the average American believer (whatever that is) “sacrifice” is diminished to buying a 40″ flat screen instead of a 62″ one. When we consider a new endeavor, our first thoughts are about whether it will inconvenience us or not, not whether we sense this is the will of God. Getting people to reach out to neighbors in need is incredibly difficult because we don’t want to be inconvenienced or appear to be too religious.
2. Political Correct Gospel. Paul referred to the gospel as a stumbling block. I believe that we need to be sensitive to the world and it’s need for the gospel. However, I am concerned about making it so relevant that it loses its power. I am reminded of what Tozer said about this. Roughly, “in our attempt to make the gospel relevant, we have watered it down so that if it were a poison it wouldn’t kill anyone or if it were a medicine it wouldn’t cure anyone.” I strongly believe this has infected the American Church and demonstrates itself in our practical theology. Perhaps not in our written theology, but certainly in how we practice the gospel on a day to day basis.
I have not taken time to think any of this through fully but do believe this is accurate. Keep it going and I look forward to the final product!
Another great post! Was it hard to keep your descriptions of each false gospel so brief? It seems there is so much more that could be said about each.
For the gospel of “sin management”, a thought I have had recently is the difference between celebrating real victory and freedom vs. celebrating lesser evils. As in, “I only sinned twice this week, instead of four times,” or, “I only did a kind of bad thing instead of a really bad thing.” On the one hand, from a centered-set perspective this can make sense, since we celebrate focus and movement. So as a step toward freedom, sinning less is worth celebrating. But I think there is a temptation to become satisfied with merely sinning less, instead of persevering to complete freedom and victory. Sinning less is a good milestone but an inferior destination.
Related to this as well as the gospel of “Jesus plus,” I think there is a tendency to celebrate looking better than someone else vs. looking more like Jesus: “At least I kept the rules better than he did . . . At least my sin isn’t as bad as her sin . . .”
As I read your post, the thought occurred to me that it’s important to be clear on what saves us (it’s Jesus alone, not Jesus plus). But it’s also important to know what salvation looks like (that’s the problem with the second and third false gospels you describe). We have to know what (who) saves us, and what he’s saved us unto. Otherwise, we won’t end up with an adequate version of the gospel.
Keep up the good work! Can’t wait to see the finished product!
Good post. Sin management denies santification and makes a mockery of the incredible and horrific gift af vicarious death. On the supernatural, there seem to be two camps: one says none come from God–Calvin et al, and the other says that all come from God–many in the charasmatic movemetn today. I believe neither are correct, but that God and Satan are both still very much in the supernatural work. It is a good idea to test the spirits like John warned.
Oh my goodness, is your voice ever needed today! All manner of strange belief & behavior are infiltrating the Body. No wonder the scriptures direct us to “reason together”, and to “search the scriptures to ascertain whether ‘these things’ are so …” !
Thanks. There is still so much to consider with issues like these. May we all learn to be good listeners and obeyers of the Great Rabbi Jesus!