The Gospel in a Postmodern Context
Talk of "Contextualizing" the Gospel seems to be all the rage
today. So I thought I would take a stab at some contextualization of my own.
Martin Luther once said (I paraphrase, sorry), if a preacher
preaches the whole counsel of God except for that one tiny point
that is under attack in his time, the preacher is as derelict
in his duty as a soldier who has fled the battlefield entirely.
Proper Biblical contextualization is to preach the unchanging
message targetted towards your audience, and in one sense,
you must target it to their errors.
That said let's present the Gospel juxtaposed (contextualized)
against the common false gospels of today. A Gospel can be
false either by omission (leaving out a critical point),
or by comission (explicitly denying or altering an essential point).
Nutshell summary of the Gospel.
- All men are sinners, under the just wrath of a holy God,
deservedly destined for an eternity in hell, unless:
- One is given faith by God to repent of their sins,
believe in Christ and His atoning work on the cross, and follow after
Him in obedience for the rest of their days.
- Such faith results in forgiveness of sins based solely on Christ's
merit (you have none), adoption as God's child (previously you were His enemy),
and the gift of eternal life in Heaven with Him.
- This is only possible because God in His rich love and mercy,
paid the price by sacrificing His only son on the cross for your sins.
Nothing less would have done it, our sins are as black as pitch,
as red as scarlet before a righteous and holy God.
- The absolute necessity of a sinless divine sacrifice serves
as a terrifying and wonderful object lesson for just how much God hates
sin, how His justice is absolute, and just how loving and merciful He truly is.
- Salvation is both completely free - because nothing you can do
can earn salvation - and it costs everything, your life is no longer
your own, you become His.
- There are some other essentials you must get right too,
such as the virgin birth, a correct understanding of the Trinity,
and the dual nature of Christ.
- The reformation put it like this:
We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ
alone for God's glory alone, and we know this because of scripture alone.
All those alone's are important since error creeps in when any
of them are dropped.
Now lets compare that to some of the common gospels of today
that sound good, but aren't, I indulge in mockery here, and suggest
a "truth in advertising" tag line for each of these false gospels.
God loves you, just accept Him into your heart and your life
will get better
This one is the most popular one out there today among those who
still cling to the name "evangelical", mostly by redefining the term
to mean the opposite of what it once meant. Instead of confronting
sinners and urging them to repent, they appeal to the flesh
and attempt to lure people into the Kingdom, as if appealing
to the flesh could accomplish good.
Popularly called "Easy Believism" by its critics, its
advertising tag line could go something like this:
Intoducing the gospel lite: less filling, less painful, and salvation-free!
- It is less filling because it omits the necessity of repentance
of sins, and virtually all important theological particulars.
- It is less painful because it omits the fact that you are
a wretched sinner, under the just wrath of God, who richly deserves to
go to hell.
- It omits that the primary focus of the Gospel is to escape from
God's wrath, it waters it down to "improve your life, and
go to heaven too". In practice it becomes entirely focussed
on self, appealing to our desires, an abomination since the true Gospel
teaches self-denial, and focusses on Christ and His work on the cross.
- It is an outright lie to say that becoming a Christian will
make your life better. Peace with God, yes, but peace with the
world no. You switch sides, and become the enemy of the majority
of humanity when you become a true Christian. They know this
even if you want to deny it, persecution is ever the lot of the Christian.
- This point is key: without repentance of sins,
which requires facing one's sinfulness, there is no salvation.
If you are one of those people (like I was) who thinks
you are a good person, or you haven't sinned very much,
then you are on very dangerous ground.
- John MacArthur called preachers of easy believism "ravening wolves"
not ministers of the gospel at all, I heartily agree.
- The other "essentials" are called that because they are,
I have heard the virgin birth debated as to whether it is
an "essential". I humbly submit that it is an essential since
it is intimately tied to the nature of Christ, which no orthodox
Christian denies is an essential.
- I have personally witnessed preachers apologize
for the wrath of God stuff in the Old Testament and say God isn't
that way anymore. The Bible has bad news for them however,
God is unchanged, and they will learn all about His wrath if they
don't repent and preach the true Gospel of repentance.
Nothing is certain they cry, we cannot know any truth with absolute certainty,
and to even believe we can is idolatrous arrogance, humility is best expressed
by never being sure of anything. This is the Emergent rallying cry is it not?
I confess I got the idea from Spurgeon, a nice tag line for this one
would go something like this:
Introducing the Gospel for doubters: Salvation by Unbelief!
- Yes you can be faithless and go to heaven -- NOT!
- As Spurgeon puts it, they (liberals) hold up uncertainty to such
a high degree you would think someone could actually be saved by it.
- The Bible of course says we are saved by believing what
Jesus had to say, not by doubting it. In fact, it teaches
salvation by faith alone (as the reformers stressed so often).
Mixing that faith with anything else is fatal (but I am getting
ahead of myself here).
- If you don't believe the Bible is true, and that God went to enough
trouble to reveal real, knowable, certainties (truths) to us,
then you have no basis for expecting anything from Him, except
perhaps the wrath and judgement that we all so richly deserve.
Have faith in Jesus, but you must also improve your life,
salvation is not entirely free, you have to do your part.
A nice tag line for this Gospel would be:
Intoducing the do-it-yourself gospel: simple, easy, anyone can do it!
- By far the biggest proponent of a synergistic faith + works gospel
is the Roman Catholic Church. It teaches salvation by faith, true enough,
but drops the "alone". Salvation is by faith plus your good works.
And since even they realize nobody's works are good enough to earn
heaven, the non-biblical doctrine of purgatory provides a nice safety-valve.
- Paul said clearly, if you seek to be justified (saved) by works
of the law, you have fallen from grace (you aren't going to heaven that way).
- You will find bits of salvation by works in oneness pentecostalism
(which is false also because it denies the trinity), and in many other
- It must be stressed however, that obedience and holy living are part
of the life of a true convert, the point is we do not earn anything
by such behavior, the belief that you can earn or merit salvation is fatal.
- It can also be mentioned that there are large groups out there that
teach you earn "favors" from God by works - obedience means prayers
answered. If having sin in your life prevents answered prayers
then none of us would ever have a prayer answered at all, not one.
The Bible does teach that regarding iniquity in your heart prevents
prayers, but that is talking about the unregenerate heart.
The door into God's "presence" meaning the right to have our prayers
heard (answered) is based solely on Christ's merit, not our own.
- While the belief we can earn salvation is often acompanied by
the earn blessings mentality, only the first one is fatal to salvation.
Those who seek to earn blessings (but understand salvation is by faith
alone) are still within the fold (if all other essentials are ok),
even though they are likely to hurt themselves and others with their
futile attempts to manipulate God into doing what they want.
Health, Wealth, and Prosperity shall be Yours!
This is the gospel of the word-of-faith cult.
And its tag line could go something like this:
Intoducing the genie of the Bible: All your wishes can come true,
all you have to do is speak and believe (and give us all your money).
An alternate tag line could go like this:
Intoducing the final solution to all problems: Become your own God!
I like to caricature this one particularly harshly, I suppose I should
admit I once believed in this one, and was a faithful cult member for
a long time.
- Here is a tag line I actually heard preached by a WoF preacher:
"You are worth your weight in wealth". If that isn't covetousness preached
in the name of Christ (violates the tenth commandment) I don't know what is.
- They very strongly preach that giving your money to an
"anointed" preacher will produce a hundred-fold return.
If they promised that for a stock the SEC would jail the lot of them,
but God allows it, to show who is faithful to His word, and who isn't.
- This Gospel also asserts that Christ died spiritually (yep,
took on a sin nature, and was born-again in hell), and that any
born-again Christian could have done what Christ did on the cross.
That is blasphemous and heretical all at the same time.
- This movement is completely careless about the Trinity,
embracing oneness pentecostals as if they are true Christians.
- They assert that we are just like God,
we are small clones of Him, with the same power He has.
To them faith is an active force, a power that God has that He
has given to us freely. This is Satan's message to Eve in the garden:
"You shall become like God". I like God's version better:
"You shall surely die".
- The prosperity gospel is far removed from the true Gospel.
It is closer to its siblings the New Age movement and Mormonism than
it is to the Gospel of the Bible:
New Ager: "I am God, I create my own reality"
WoFer: "I am just like God, I speak my own reality into being"
Mormon: "I shall become (a) God"
The mormons lose out a bit, they don't get to become gods
until the next life.
- I won't go into more detail here, as my website has a lot
of info on the WoF movement.
The Gospel is about removing "Hell" on earth, solving the problems
mankind has today
I had a harder time coming up with a tag line for this one:
Intoducing the cure-all for social ills: peace, freedom
(food, shelter, and medical care) for all!
- Advocating civil rights for all, tolerance, peace and freedom,
and caring for the poor, its advocates are remarkably intolerant of
the true Gospel, viewing it as the enemy of peace and freedom.
- While proclaiming peace, freedom, and social justice,
it fails to give anyone freedom from God's wrath, refusing to acknowledge
- Known as the social gospel, the mainline churches embraced it
last century when they tried to become more "relevant" to modern
society of their day. The Emergent Church is following after
them as fast as it can, although it's focus is on being relevant
to postmodern society, which isn't really that much of a difference.
They both lack any relevance to God's word of course,
making them entirely irrelevant.
- I also find this gospel to have a strong element of guilt manipulation.
Those who aren't poor are presumed guilty of causing the poverty around them.
If someone is suffering, it is invariably the fault of those who aren't.
- This gospel also places "faith" in man, believing that man can solve
all the problems of the world.
- Notice this gospel has no resemblance to the original at all.
The Bible commands us to give, clothe the poor, feed the hungry,
and they love those verses, but forget the part where Jesus says
we shall always have the poor with us.
- Social gospelites generally deny the authority of scripture.
And salvation, if it means anything at all, is about
removing suffering from humankind now, in this life.
- But of the true doctrine of hell?
You won't hear a peep from them, unless it is to deny it as an evil teaching
that breeds fear and damages our delicate human psyches.
Salvation is a "mystical" experience, about inner transformation
and spiritual formation
A nice tag line for this would would go something like this:
Introducing the self-hypnotic gospel: You can feel grrrrrreat!
- Never mind that those feelings are entirely an illusion.
- Strong undercurrents of mysticism have long existed in the New Age,
Roman Catholic mysticism, and many other cults. The most recent
popularization of it is coming from the Emergent Church, which may be a church,
but certainly not a Christian one. They often prefer to drop the name
Christian anyhow, in favor of the label "Christ Followers".
I approve actually, since they drop key doctrines of the faith,
it doesn't make any sense to call it Christianity at all.
- It begs the question however: How can you follow someone without obeying
His commands, or believing anything He says is true? I don't know,
and neither do they, but it is sometimes entertaining
to listen to them talk about it, although the pretentious language
gets boring after a while. Sadly, I think it impresses teenagers however,
so they are a ready-made victim class for the emergents.
- The "mystical" aspect of salvation in the sense of having
a "mystical" or "transformation" experience is common to many cults.
Many Catholics are mystical, so are many emergents, so are many Mormons,
so are many that don't name Christ at all.
- If you want a mystical experience any good hypnotist can give it
to you. So can false preachers, ever listen to Benny Hinn?
He is an expert mesmerist (I have been to many of his crusades).
The only thing he is missing is a watch on a string moving back and forth.
- Add to the mystical experiences "spiritual POWER" and
you have the word-of-faith cult in a nutshell. Jesus had nothing
kind to say of those who sought after miracles, likening
it to spiritual adultery.
- Also worthy of note is that mystical activities have an addictive
quality to them (I speak as a long-time practitioner). The emotional
high you get from those practices wears off quickly, so you have
to do it on a regular basis to sustain the (false) feelings.
Punishing lows (like withdrawal symptoms) are part of the program,
the Devil is good at whipping his followers into shape.
- This addictive quality is also found in the miracle seekers,
chasing from one (false) miracle to the next, their mentality
is ever on "what has God done for me lately?" I should know,
I was one.
Some commonalities of the false Gospels
- The big one is that they all scorn the true Gospel
and those who follow it.
- Some scorn intellectualism and theology as spirit-quenching
head knowledge, calling those loyal to scripture cold dead doctrinalists.
- Others exalt man's intellect, and use it to critique (ignore)
scripture, to them those loyal to scripture are narrow minded bigots,
who scar the minds of the impressionable with their tales of hellfire
- Fail to submit to scripture as The final authority.
They will often do the politician two-step on this and their
other heretical doctrines, doing their best to pretend they are orthodox.
- They all exalt man in some way.
- They all appeal to the flesh, some to pride (may have a form
of godliness here), but more commonly they appeal to gratification
of fleshly desires (you can get more donations doing this).
- Dominionism - not all have this, but it seems to be a common
thread and growing in popularity. WoF calls it "Taking the world for Christ".
Us pre-mil people know where this is going, one world religion
under anti-christ. It dovetails perfectly with the social gospel,
with moralism, and ecumenicalism (below).
- Moralism - a close cousin of dominionism, seeks to reform
the world "for Christ". Believing that enforcing Christian
morals on unbelievers somehow will improve the world.
Emergents (not so much), Catholics, Third-Wavers, and Word of Faithers all
have a strong moralistic bent. As I watch it however, I see their "moralism",
aligning more and more closely with the world, and not the Bible.
So to call it old fashioned moralism is really a mis-nomer.
If anything it is becoming the politically correct, postmodern liberal
moralism of tolerance and plurality.
Moralism focussed on Biblical ethics doesn't help them,
since confronting the world doesn't work if you want them to cooperate
in an attempt to rule it. Emergents tolerate homosexuality for example,
as to the mainline liberals.
- Ecumenicalism - this one is new and wildly popular,
it used to be that cults hid in dark corners,
claiming they were the one true religion,
and kept their members in near prisoner like states.
And if they became powerful, they persecuted mercilessly those
who disagreed with them (The Roman Catholic church being
the quintessential example, with Islam not far behind).
Now they embrace almost anyone who claims the name of Jesus,
and it is rapidly moving towards embracing anyone that is "spiritual",
meaning even giving Christ lip service isn't really needed.
Their dominionism, moralism, and their belief in political processes
to achieve their goals makes ecumenicalism a natural fit,
because there is strength in numbers.
It an easy fit since doctrine often isn't even on their priority list.
- John MacArthur is of the opinion that most cult leaders
are aware they are deceivers, but that the followers
(obviously) aren't. I offer the following anecdotes, not as proof,
but as examples of deliberate deception:
- One of the common miracles associated with Catholicism
before the reformation was bleeding statues of Christ.
Some of them survived to the 20th century, complete with dried blood.
One enterprising individual had some of that blood analyzed,
it turned out to be the blood of a duck.
- A popular miracle preacher of today had "gold" dust
falling from her hair during services. Again, an enterprising
person had some analyzed, it turned out to be plastic glitter.
- Sadly, this list could go on almost endlessly.
It is far less important if you think you know God,
or what experiences you have had, or feelings you have felt,
or miracles you have seen, than it is if you know the truth,
and if God knows you.
The Biblical standard for what makes a true Christian can be boiled
down to two items in my mind:
- Is loyal to scripture (this comes from love of God).
- Is obedient to scripture (this also comes from love of God).
I encourage everyone to flee the wrath of God and these evil days,
to come out of the world and remain unstained by it,
to forget embracing culture and instead confront it for the sinful
cesspool that it is.
Remember being reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake?
That won't happen to the cultural contextualizers,
and those who embrace sin and error, or appeal to the flesh
(covetousness), for they are as lost and worldly as those
they vainly pretend to save.
Date: March 2007