CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Another Gospel

Dec 6, 2015

In the contemporary West the concept of absolute and universal truth has largely been abandoned, and we are now awash in a sea of relativism and subjectivism. Because of this, we have largely lost the ability to make fundamental and necessary distinctions.

Indeed, even to suggest that some things are different is to invite the wrath of the PC lobby, as they label you bigoted, intolerant and judgmental. The loss of truth is found everywhere in the West today, and we see it happening all the time, for example, with the American president.

A few days ago at the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the White House, Obama stated that all religions share in Christian values. He claimed that the “lessons of Jesus Christ” are “also the bedrock values of all faiths — values to be cherished and embraced not only during the holidays, but to be practiced in our daily lives.”

Um no, all religions do not share the same values and lessons. Jesus came with a unique message of being the Son of God, coming to redeem people from their sin if they repent and place their trust in him. That is most certainly not the teaching or lessons of Islam, or Buddhism, etc.

Obama’s inability to make clear differences, distinctions and delineations is of course an endemic problem in the West, and even in the churches. We have lost our ability to discern, to test, to judge, and to make basic differentiations.

And it is not much better with some recent worrying remarks by Pope Francis. Consider how he said in Africa recently that Islam and Christianity are basically part of one big happy family. He told Muslims in a mosque that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.”

Actually, no they are not. If a Muslim is my brother then Allah is my father, and conversely Jesus would be a Muslim’s brother. Muslims would kill to hear the latter, and Jesus would have a radically different take on that as well. Recall how he told those who were not of him that their father was in fact the devil (John 8:44).

gospelI expect better from religious leaders. But the inability to make proper differences and distinctions is all around us. However we need to do so, and it is absolutely vital for the believer. Differences matter, and if we cannot make the most basic of distinctions then we are all in really big trouble.

The Apostle Paul certainly knew this perfectly well. Having just finished reading again 2 Corinthians and Galatians, I find this made quite clear. Paul will never allow for sloppy thinking and lousy theology. Biblical distinctions are absolutely imperative to him.

Thus he warns about those who would bring a “different gospel”. Not all gospels are the same, and some come straight out of the pits of hell. Indeed, in 2 Cor. 11 Paul speaks of a “different gospel,” a “different Jesus,” and a “different spirit”. All three stand and fall together, and Paul insists that we earnestly guard against fake gospels and false Christs. Consider what Paul says in verses 3-4 of ch. 11:

I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Paul reminds the Corinthians just how utterly serious this is in verses 13-15:

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Those are very strong words indeed. But he comes down just as hard on these matters in Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Wow, Paul certainly does not mess around here – there certainly is no sugar-coating of the matter. This is serious business, and those who would bring in a different, false gospel are to be eternally condemned. I had to share this passage with one believer recently when he tried to play down the seriousness of false teaching.

No one can read Paul’s words here or elsewhere and fail to realise that false gospels are to be resisted with all of our strength – that is how damning they really are. And because the gospel is continuously being challenged with false gospels, we need to keep affirming and reaffirming the biblical gospel.

I just now went to my book shelves and pulled down a number of volumes all penned in the past five years which seek to do this very thing: proclaim afresh gospel truth. These volumes are all worth getting and digesting:

Entrusted with the Gospel edited by D. A. Carson (2010)
What is the Gospel? By Greg Gilbert (2010)
Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson and Ray Ortlund (2011)
Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson (2012)
The Gospel as Center edited by D. A. Carson and Tim Keller (2012)
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (2012)

Another volume, Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax (2011), is worth looking at in a bit more detail. In it he looks at a number of these false gospels which are in circulation today, and contrasts them with the biblical gospel. Let me just mention a few of them:

-The Therapeutic Gospel: It “confuses our spiritual symptoms (a troubled marriage, anxiety, anger, addictions) with our spiritual disease (sin). Because the diagnosis is superficial, the treatment is also superficial.”

-The Judgmentless Gospel: “The judgmentless gospel distorts a major part of the gospel story – the end. And if you’ve ever heard a good story, you know that once you change the ending, you alter everything. . . . Without judgment, sin becomes less serious. The implications of human rebellion are downplayed. No longer is human sin considered cosmic treason against our Creator, and the offer of forgiveness loses its power. If there is no eternal judgment, just what do we need to be saved from?”

-The Quietest Gospel: This gospel turns the good news “into a message that is only personal. The counterfeit says that the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ no longer address the world, but only the individual.”

Of course one can think of other false gospels that are all the rage today, such as the bogus health and wealth gospel. But the point should be clear: there is always a temptation to preach a gospel which is simply a different gospel, and not the biblical gospel. When we do that, we are treading on very dangerous ground indeed.

Paul made it perfectly clear what the consequences are of watering down, distorting and substituting the biblical gospel. As J.C. Ryle once put it: “Since Satan cannot destroy the gospel, he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution.” Paul took this with utmost seriousness, and so should we.

Let me conclude with several quotes by one powerful gospel preacher, Paul Washer. The first comes from The Gospel Call and True Conversion:

One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth. The lost world is not so much gospel hardened as it is gospel ignorant because many of those who proclaim the gospel are also ignorant of its most basic truths. The essential themes that make up the core of the gospel – the justice of God, the radical depravity of man, the blood atonement, the nature of true conversion, and the biblical basis of assurance – are absent from too many pulpits. Churches reduce the gospel message to a few creedal statements, teach that conversion is a mere human decision, and pronounce assurance of salvation over anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer.

The second is from The Gospel’s Power and Message:

Paul’s gospel not only contradicted the religion, philosophy, and culture of the day, but it declared war on them. It refused truce or treaty with the world and would settle for nothing less than culture’s absolute surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We would do well to follow Paul’s example. We must be careful to shun every temptation to conform our Gospel to the trends of the day or the desires of carnal men. We have no right to water down its offense or civilize its radical demands in order to make it more appealing to a fallen world or carnal church members.
Our churches are filled with strategies to make them more seeker-friendly by repackaging the Gospel, removing the stumbling block, and taking the edge off the blade, so that it might be more acceptable to carnal men. We ought to be seeker-friendly, but we ought to realize this – there is only One seeker and He is God. If we are striving to make our church and message accommodating, let us make them accommodating to Him. If we are striving to build a church or ministry, let us build it upon a passion to glorify God, and a desire not to offend His majesty. To the wind with what the world thinks about us. We are not to seek the honors of earth, but the honor of heaven should be our desire.

www.christianpost.com/news/jesus-values-are-in-all-faiths-obama-says-at-christmas-tree-lighting-ceremony-151706/#R7IYcgaqKlCci0Rs.99
www.catholicweekly.com.au/christians-and-muslims-are-brothers-and-sisters-pope-francis/

[1696 words]

13 Responses to Another Gospel

  • False gospels, they are everywhere, in all colours of the spectrum and beyond. I am forever hearing that there’s no such thing as sin, and that it all depends on circumstances and the individual. Heck, when I was little, wrong was wrong and right was right…no questions asked….but now it “all depends” (something that Bill covered earlier this year, I think).

    Obama, Francis, many others are upholding the new-age mantra “we are all one”. It is one of the end-goals of a new world order; to suggest that all religions have the same values and therefore can be united under one umbrella.
    The fact that two thousand years on, there are still countless numbers of people desperate to destroy Jesus’ message and wipe it from the planet….it makes you realise just how incredibly powerful His message was.

  • Regarding the statement by Pope Francis, the Catholic Weekly reports as follows:

    “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” created by the same God, he said, and they must act like it. “Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” Pope Francis insisted.

    (See www.catholicweekly.com.au/christians-and-muslims-are-brothers-and-sisters-pope-francis/)

    In other words, all men are brothers in the sense that all are sons of Adam. Pope Francis does not (and cannot) mean that all men are spiritual brothers, which would be considered heretical in the Catholic Church. We become spiritual brothers only when we put on Christ, through whom we become adopted sons of God (Galatians 3:26-9).

  • Thanks Mark. That the Pope should not be saying Islam and Christianity are basically much the same I fully agree with. That he seems to be doing this nonetheless is what has me and so many others – Catholics included – very worried indeed.

    There are of course some Catholics who will defend Francis to the death, regardless of what he says. I have little time for such folks. Thankfully there are other Catholics who are very worried about the new Pontiff, especially with his views on Islam. I will run with such Catholics any day of the week. William Kilpatrick is one such voice:

    www.crisismagazine.com/2015/needed-new-church-policy-toward-islam-pt-1

    Indeed, it would be quite comforting to know that your spin on this matter is correct. Hopefully it is. (And I of course quote from the same CW piece that you do!) But regrettably there have been far too many other unhelpful remarks made by the current Pope both on the theological understanding of Islam and the nature of Islamic jihad to just wish all this away. As to the latter, a helpful piece was written recently by those fully aware of the problems in Islam:

    journal.ijreview.com/2015/09/248323-open-letter-pope-francis-%E2%80%A8about-islamism-concerned-muslim-reformer/

  • This path of least resistance in what passes for Christianity today reminds me of endless clichés. ‘Peace at any price.’ ‘A bad marriage is better than no marriage.’ ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ On and on it goes. And let’s not leave out song lyrics, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”

    If only the apostles had grasped this modern day, raise the white flag, blend in and get along strategy. All the pain, suffering, lack, and eventual death they could have avoided. Gosh, that was downright selfish and inconsiderate of them to not fold when, in doing so, the lives of their own families would be spared. It’ rude, I tell you, rude!

    Of course, there would be no shred of real Christianity left in the world. There’d be no need to discern between the true and ‘another gospel.’ A ‘gospel’ without the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, His triumph over sin, the devil and death itself is NO gospel. No one would have died for yet another feel good fellowship club. And that which is not worth dying for, is not something that is bound to live on throughout the ages. Christianity would have died out, being merely the thing of legends.

  • Thanks Bill. I was only addressing the Pope’s statement that Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. As a Catholic, I am not required to agree with everything the Pope says, except in matters of faith and morals stated ex cathedra. The main reason I try to clarify the Pope’s statements is that the neo-Marxist media often deviously misquote and misrepresent him to the public as being a supporter of their agenda. Regarding William Kilpatrick’s article, I agree with him. The Pope seems to have an approach of conciliation and dialogue with both the neo-pagan West and with Islam, but I don’t see that working with Islam. One reason I was prompted to return to Christianity eight years ago (after a long self-indulgent absence) is that I came to realise that I needed to take a stand for what is right, because the secular humanist world view is not going to save us from Islam.

  • Thanks Mark. Yes I know we must be cautious of what the secular media says, be it about the Pope or most other religious matters. Which is why I quoted from the CW article!

    And I am just now writing a whole article on all this, quoting Kirkpatrick at length. I think he is such a breath of fresh air on these matters!

  • And here, for what it is worth Mark, is that article:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2015/12/07/20359/

  • These things are all true. But i think we must put the blame where it is supposed to be. It is the pastors not the church, is the cause of “another gospel”! Church leaders are the ones who are teaching another gospel. “They who lead you, are leading you astray. Plain and simple. If people are taught in the churches another gospel, they will think outside of the church walls another gospel, even the president of the United States!

  • bill

    M. Zuhdi Jasser, MD, while writing well and is obviously an intelligent man, is of course still a devout Muslim, who seem’s peaceable enough, [ I don’t know him obviously] he says…….

    ” Once again, Pope Francis, I am honored to write you and to welcome you to this great blessed country. I hope that my words are received in the spirit in which I offer them: one of brotherhood, one of shared values and the deepest respect.

    May the one God bless and keep you.

    The good Dr is in serious error declaring the ” shared values ‘” and ” one brotherhood ” I find it remarkable that a MD is who has been succesful in medicine cannot seem to grasp that so called radicalisation is not the problem at all, of course the word radicalisation implies that somehow the radicals are taught a twisted and perverted Islam and the real Islam is peaceful, which of course Islam itself is not. I have spoken with many Westerners including those within Police intelligence who are dept policy makers, who when asked if they had actually sat down to read the Koran, admitted they had never done so, they relied upon advisors who themselves had been advised by Imams and other Clerics what the koran said. Various Australian State Commissioners and their advisors have no knowledge of the koran from first hand readings, they soley rely upon underlings to do the research and then create Policy, a very ignorant and dangerous approach.

    Kirkpatrick while writing the article above states …………

    ” Of course, it’s not enough to simply criticize the Church’s current policy without proposing a viable alternative option. That’s something I propose to do in my next column.”

    He will find the viable solution not so viable to the 1.5 billion Muslims, therein lies the core of the problem, Islam has had 14 centuries of violent Jihad to change itself through reformation, as you yourself have pointed out along with others, if the core texts that are violent are removed then Islam will no longer be Islam, it will be just another Shia type alternate belief and be subject to the vilification of true believers, in a truly fallen world beget by sin, how can it ever be thus so ?.

    I applaud Kirkpatrick and understand he must work within the Catholic Church framework, but he needs to light a bigger fire in the belly of the Catholic beast, the time for being vocal and outspoken has come whether we like it or not in the Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, Church of England and the Baptist Church, perhaps what is going on within Church theological debate will coalese , but I see no moral will to do so.

  • Yes Trevor Grace, when a Pope prays in a mosque, to whom does he pray? The God of Abraham is not the God of Islam. Islam’s God is the God Of Muhammad. I think all Muslims would agree with that.

  • I usually agree with the vast majority of what you say but I personally have no doubt that The Gospel is therapeutic. The offhand dismissal here is not helpful and this should not be considered in any way similar to real apostasy.

    From the allowance of a day of rest to Jesus healing all who came to Him there is huge Biblical evidence for God healing those who do as He says and have faith in Him and sin having the reverse effect.

    Exo 15:26 And he said, If you will carefully listen to the voice of Jehovah your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His Laws, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am Jehovah who heals you.

    We all have problems but there is also ample evidence for better marriage stability in those who trust God. The diagnosis of sin is, in fact, the opposite of superficial – it is absolute and integral to our very being and on every level because so is our relationship with God.

  • Thanks Michael. But sadly you have completely missed the point here, and are unnecessarily getting bent out of shape as a result. First, Trevin Wax said it, not me.

    Second, context is everything, and he of course – like me – knows full well that there are many practical benefits in coming to Christ. Indeed, he says so soon thereafter:

    “Of course, there is truth in saying that life gets better when one trusts Jesus. But what is ‘better’? Without defining what ‘better’ looks like, we leave the door open for Jesus to become just an accessary, an addition to an old way of life. The church begins to sound like an infomercial. Name your problem, and Jesus is the answer.”

    So no one is denying that people are helped in many ways when they become Christians. But that of course is not the point. What he was saying, if you would have simply read it carefully, is 100% true: if we focus only on the symptoms without addressing the root problems, we do not have the true biblical gospel. That is completely right, so we need to be a bit more discerning in our reading before getting unnecessarily offended!

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