A friend of mine recently emailed me (and others) with a question. He’s putting together a series on Galatians, a letter in which Paul attacks a serious distortion of the gospel. My friend’s question: What do you think are the most dangerous or widespread distortions of the gospel in our time? My answers are below, but first think about how you’d answer it. Basically, how have we jacked up the message of/about Jesus in our day? If you’re feeling brave, share your answers in the comments below. They can be as short or long as you want. (And don’t compare your answers to anyone else’s!) Here are mine:
(1) That the gospel is more about getting into heaven than “heaven” coming to earth here and now. “Heaven” here meaning new creation, freedom from the powers of sin and death; of course we need to maintain that the freedom here and now is a foretaste of future life on God’s new earth, but the scale has been tipped waaaaay out of balance. For more on what this means, see here.
(2) That the gospel basically means we don’t have to do anything differently to experience salvation. A.k.a. forgiveness without discipleship, or even forgiveness temporally and logically prior to discipleship. The issue here is that since salvation is bigger than where we spend eternity – it includes eternity getting into us – it very much does involve our ongoing freedom from sin.
(3) That the gospel is primarily about a personal relationship with God rather than God’s creation-wide efforts to save (heal/redeem/restore/transform) the world. Salvation is certainly about us humans, but the larger purpose is that God will heal all of creation through the calling together of a new creation community (see Rom 8.18-25). It is tragic and shameful that Christianity has ever allowed itself to become anti-creation.
(4) That the gospel is private, spiritual, apolitical, rather than God’s all-out confrontation with the socio-spiritual powers that be.
Later I emailed him back and added a fifth, which is probably more of a prequel to the previous four:
(5) That the gospel is more about us than Jesus – more about what happens to us than the declaration that Jesus is our Messiah, Savior, and Lord. It seems that “the gospel” has been separated from this basic declaration, or that it refers primarily to the benefits rather than the announcement itself. This is an exact reversal of the New Testament pattern. (For a longer essay on what I think Paul meant by “gospel,” click here.)
Additions, subtractions, objections, etc, etc?