November 2, 2020

False Gospels: An Introduction

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” (Gal. 1:6)

A different gospel.

The word “different” carries the idea of being altered or strange. This word is used in Romans 7:3 to refer to an adulterous union. In 1 Corinthians 10:24, it refers to stealing wealth which belongs to another. Jude 1:7 uses the word to refer to the strange flesh pursued in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Distorted Gospel

In the ancient city of Galatia, a church lies in turmoil. While church members originally loved the Apostle Paul for preaching the gospel, Paul had become their enemy. These believers had deserted Christ, turning to an adulterous, unnatural gospel which belonged to someone else. It was, indeed, a gospel. It was “good news.” But it was someone else’s good news.

Not ours.

In this case, it was the gospel of the Judaizers who added ceremonial rituals (i.e. circumcision) to the message of salvation. An interesting fact: They did not deny salvation through the blood of Jesus. They added to it. Jesus’ blood plus works.

This is how false gospels creep into the church. The church will wholeheartedly reject the gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s clearly anti-Christian. But tweak our gospel just a bit, and you might get a hearing in a lot of congregations.

But a tweaked gospel is no gospel at all. At least it’s not our gospel.

Different Gospels Today

Some different gospels have already infiltrated the church: The health and wealth gospel; the prosperity gospel; the gospel of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses (just to name a few). Much ink has been spilled on these, and the resources are plenty.[1]

While these false gospels have come in, what other false teachings hold our communities in bondage? How might we address them? How can we dismantle them?

In My Community

A few months ago, I texted a broad swath of friends and church members in the neighborhood. I asked them: “What are the false gospels driving our community?” I thought I would hear the standard health-and-wealth answers. To my surprise, not one person mentioned the prosperity gospel. Don’t get me wrong, the prosperity gospel has infiltrated the church. Many churched people have embraced it. Yet what gospels dominate the unchurched?

Here are the answers I received:

  • “God knows my heart ”
  • “Cut off toxic people”
  • “I gotta get myself together”
  • “Develop the community”

Gospel Narratives

The biblical gospel is wrapped in a narrative. It begins with creation: God created male and female in His own image. It leads to the fall: man sinned against God. Through the call of Abraham, the unfolding of the Old Testament, and the birth of Jesus, we move to redemption: Christ lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. We close with a fourth and final scene, restoration: Jesus is coming again.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration.

My text message thread got me thinking: What are the narratives behind these different gospels? If they are embraced as good news, what’s the bad news? If there’s bad news for humanity, what then was humanities original state? If redemption has changed, how does that affect one’s view of final restoration?

This is not just theological (though it is that, to be sure). It’s also immensely practical. If we unpack false gospels and learn their counter-narratives, we’re in a better position to dismantle that gospel. While the next five articles will examine each of these false gospel narratives, here is a gospel narrative summary:

True Gospel

  • Creation: Humanity is created in the Image of God
  • Fall: Humanity sins against God, incurs the curse of sin, which is death
  • Redemption: Jesus reverses the curse through His life, death, burial, and resurrection
  • Restoration: New heavens and new earth under the rule of King Jesus

“God Knows My Heart”

  • Creation: God created humans to be good
  • Fall: People have mean-spirited motivations
  • Redemption: Even though my actions are bad, my intentions are good
  • Restoration: God will accept me because of my good intentions

“Cut off Toxic People”

  • Creation: Some people are for war, I am created peaceful
  • Fall: I have let toxic people negatively influence me
  • Redemption: I have the power to remove toxic people from my life
  • Restoration: Live a peaceful life

“I Gotta Get Myself Together”

  • Creation: God created humanity morally neutral
  • Fall: Because of circumstances, external and internal, I’ve made bad choices
  • Redemption: I can make good choices
  • Restoration: Live a better life

“Develop the Community”

  • Creation: Humans are created by their community
  • Fall: The community has fallen into decline
  • Redemption: Somebody has money and can redevelop
  • Restoration: More and better resources

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. False gospels in your community may be different than mine. I offer the following articles as examples. It is worth our work to lovingly and carefully dismantle our neighbors’ false gospels so that they may know Jesus. His gospel is better. His story is better. His is the only name under heaven that saves (Acts 4:12).

May we know the narratives driving our communities, so that we may better reach our neighbors for Christ.

Author’s Note: This short series is intended to explore the subtle false gospels which pervade the inner city ministry context (and many others). While there are hundreds of additional false gospels, these simple evaluations are intended to inspire ministers and gospel workers to discover, diagnose, and dismantle false gospels in every community.

[1] Two excellent resources are Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Jones and Woodbridge and the American Gospel film, currently available on Amazon.

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