The Vanishing Gospel
By Dave Hunt
One of the greatest sorrows for lovers of God is the fact that the vast majority of mankind selfishly and ungratefully live day after day without even thinking of the Creator to whom they owe their existence and who holds their eternal destiny in His hands. So it is even with many who claim to know Him. How often do you tell God you love Him, and thank Him for His love and grace and the salvation He has given you in Christ? When was the last time?
The miracle of our bodies, with their trillions of unfathomable cells and chance-defying organs such as the eye and brain, the ingenious design displayed in nature, and the mystery of soul and spirit loudly declare: “[I]n the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and He made man “in his image” (1:26-28). Yet most people embrace the outrageous fraud of evolution.
This world’s contemptuous disregard of its Creator makes me weep for His sake; and, as the old song says, “causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble” for the judgment that is coming upon mankind! “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps 9:17). And forget God they surely have.
Paul declared: “even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind…[to] all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness…[They are] haters of God…inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents…without natural affection…who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death…do the same, [and] have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom 1:28-32). The connection is undeniable between the evil foretold for “the last days” (2 Tim 3:1-7) and the godless “lifestyles” popularized on trendy TV shows.
Hollywood has long glorified and exported all manner of ungodliness. The marketing of evil provides billions of dollars in profits through promoting youth rebellion; sexual “freedom” and wanton perversion; mutilation of the body; obscene, suicidal, and murderous lyrics; and gangland and satanic clothing. Could Sodom and Gomorrah have been much worse?
Homes are invaded and families destroyed by immoral, corrupting media, leaving consciences “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). Many Christians enjoy what would have shamed and embarrassed them a few years ago. An estimated 50 percent of professing Christians have been attracted to internet pornography.
And to attract those thus corrupted, many of the largest and fastest-growing churches mimic the world in “seeker-friendly” and “youth-oriented” services that exploit sensuality and compromise the truth. The Christian Science Monitor (12/30/03) reported that “megachurches are good at reaching young people raised in an entertainment-saturated culture….Many have…a rock-concert feel to them….[At the] largest congregation in the United States, with more than 25,000 attendants each weekend…Victoria Osteen steps to the podium in front of 16,000 cheering Sunday worshipers and proclaims: ‘We’re going to rock today!'” Worship Leader (Nov-Dec ’03) reported, “…the Jesus People erected [a] worship ritual…from the preeminent communal ceremony of their generation-the rock concert.”
Through “contemporary Christian music” and “contemporary worship,” the church has been converted to the “religion” of the world! Some of the largest presumably evangelical churches have designed their Sunday morning services based upon what the ungodly want. Missing are the fear of a holy God’s wrath against sin, trembling repentance, and grateful faith in Christ, the eternal God who became man through the virgin birth to suffer the full penalty of God’s judgment in our place. Seeker-friendly churches must not “offend” with the Truth, but pamper with the flattering “gospel” of self-esteem, self-love, and positive thinking-a “gospel” that cannot save. As Paul foretold, “they will not endure sound doctrine…” (2 Tim 4:3).
Creating large, rich churches is not new. In A Woman Rides the Beast, we show that the Roman Catholic Church-the world’s largest and wealthiest-grew out of a marriage between the Roman world and the church, making “Christianity” the state religion. Historian Will Durant explains, “…the world converted Christianity….[Paganism] passed like maternal blood into the new religion, and captive Rome captured her conqueror” (Caesar and Christ, 657, 672).
Roman Catholicism grew by wed-ding itself to the dominant pagan religion in Italy, Spain, Latin America, Africa, the Philip-pines, etc. Haiti is said to be 85 percent Catholic and 110 percent Vodoun. New Orleans, “the most Catholic city in America,” (Our Sunday Visitor, 10/15/95) is its voodoo capital.
And now, “Protestantism” is creating megachurches by merging with the “new paganism” in today’s culture-a culture that is becoming ever more anti-Christian and anti-Israel.
In blatant defiance of God and His Word, the nations have robbed Israel of most of the land God gave His chosen people as “an everlasting possession” (Gen 17:8). In further insolence, and sadly under the leadership of America’s Christian president, the world is determined to give more of Israel’s land to Arabs/Muslims as a reward for their hatred of Christ and religious vows to exterminate the Jews. And Islam intends to take all.
Today’s world doesn’t need more entertainment and “positive” messages assuring the “hurting” that God loves, forgives, “accepts them as they are,” heals their “inner child,” and has an exciting plan for their lives. Mankind needs the changeless convicting truth that leads sinners to repentance and salvation. God’s holy character has not changed; the separation between man and God caused by sin-and the judgment to come-have not changed; nor has God’s remedy in Christ been outdated and revised. On these basic facts the Bible is clear and uncompromising.
Like the father with the “prodigal son” (Lk 15:11-32), a gracious God is ever eager to embrace repentant sinners. But His holiness and justice allow pardon only for those who accept the blood of Christ poured out upon the Cross on their behalf.
We must preach the gospel everywhere to everyone (Mk 16:15). It must be believed for anyone to be saved from eternal separation from God: “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16); “there is none other name…whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12); “what must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Acts 16:30,31). The warning is solemn and clear: “he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Jn 3:36).
Yet Robert Schuller (whose Hour of Power reaches 20 million viewers weekly) declares, “We have to find God in our own way…” (Larry King Live, 12/19/98).
Rewriting the Bible, Schuller turns God’s solemn warning, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” into Believe in the God Who Believes in You (Thomas Nelson Publishers). Paul had “no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3)-but God believes in us?
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Yet Schuller, self-proclaimed “founder of the church growth movement” (his annual Institute for Successful Church Leadership has attracted tens of thousands of pastors from around the world), claims that “attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition” is an “unchristian strategy” which is “destructive [and] counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise…” (Christianity Today, 10/5/84)!
David F. Wells writes, “In another age, Robert Schuller’s ministry…might well have been viewed…as comedy….Sin, he says with a cherubic smile, is not what shatters our relationship to God [but] that we do not esteem ourselves enough. In the Crystal Cathedral, therefore, let the word sin be banished….Christ was not drawing a profound moral compass in the Sermon on the Mount; he was just giving us a set of ‘be (happy) attitudes’…” (No Place for Truth, p. 175).
We are commanded to “preach the word…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine ” (2 Tim 4:2). God’s Word is the foundation of our faith-yet that foundation is being undermined. “Christian psychology” takes the theories of atheists such as Freud, Jung, Rogers, Maslow, et al., and repackages their lies as truth that improves God’s holy and perfect Word.
Bruce Narramore, following in his uncle Clyde’s footsteps, admits, “Under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem. This is a good and necessary focus” (You’re Someone Special, Zondervan, p. 22). Yet Paul warned against thinking too highly of oneself (Rom 12:3) and urged, “let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). But that was before today’s church surrendered to the surrounding culture.
Attempting to build large and successful churches, many of today’s pastors draw upon secular motivational speakers’ advice designed to foster worldly success. Tragically, this is the basis of much that is offered by Rick Warren (a graduate of Schuller’s Institute), the most popular and influential “church growth” guru today, whose methods and example are being followed by literally tens of thousands of fellow pastors worldwide-and by millions of lay readers of his books.
Warren does offer much sound advice in The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life. Commendably, he attempts to support most points with “nearly a thousand quotations from Scripture” (Life, p. 325). But the “scriptures” he quotes are speculative paraphrases such as The Message (see TBC Q&A Oct. ’95) by Eugene H. Peterson (NavPress).
“Every word of God is pure” (Prov 30:5), we “live…by every word of God” (Lk 4:4), and are “born again…by the word of God…which by the gospel is preached…” (1 Pt 1:23-25). Yet The Message, like other paraphrases, substitutes man’s words for God’s words! Peterson says that The Message is “not…a word-for-word conversion” of God’s Holy Word into modern language but what he thinks God’s Word means-not a translation but an interpretation (Introduction). What audacity to rewrite the Bible! Yet such shameless perversions of God’s Word are Warren’s major support for his thesis.
Paraphrases based upon “dynamic equivalency” partake of two destructive errors: 1) instead of translating the words of Scripture, they interpret in modern language what they believe are the ideas presented; and 2) they dumb down the language to make it “understandable.”
Interpretation is proper in sermons and commentaries, which listeners/readers can compare to the Word of God. The Message, however, is offered as “This version of the New Testament…” (p. 7), misleading readers into thinking they have the Scriptures in their hands. Even J. I. Packer and Warren W. Wiersbe praise The Message as Scripture (back cover)-which it is not.
John 3:17, for example, “that the world through him might be saved,” reads, “He came to help, to put the world right again.” “Saved” means redeemed from the judgment we deserve for our sins, and fitted for heaven-but “to help” merely assists our efforts. And “to put the world right again” sounds like social or political reform! Such flagrant perversion of God’s Word permeates The Message-and Warren turns to it for support.
Such paraphrases rewrite Scripture in simple language to make the ideas understandable. But there is much depth in God’s Word that even the most mature Christian finds difficult. The “deep things of God” are revealed by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:10), not by simplifying God’s words. Peter said that in Paul’s epistles were “some things hard to be understood…” (2 Pt 3:16). Obviously the depth of Scripture is lost in simplifying it.
The Purpose Driven Life never presents the biblical gospel, which alone saves. Readers are told to “learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus” (p. 37); that if they “have a relationship with God through Jesus,” they needn’t fear death (p. 40); that “your identity is in eternity, and your homeland is heaven” (p. 48); and that “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ. If you are not sure you have done this, all you need to do is receive and believe” (p. 58).
None of the essential elements of the gospel-that man is a sinner under God’s judgment, that Christ is God and man through a virgin birth, that He paid the penalty for our sins, that He resurrected the third day-is given (1 Cor 15:1-4). Readers are offered “friendship” with God through believing in a “Christ” who went to the cross because He “would rather die than live without us” (p. 79)! That is not the gospel!
The reader is told that his genetic makeup, physical features, talents, personality, the details of his daily life, etc., are exactly what God has foreordained: “God prescribed every single detail of your body….He planned it all for his purpose…” (pp. 22, 23). “You’re just what he wanted to make” (p. 25). Not so. The cumulative effects of man’s rebellion have created a pool of genetic distortions in humanity resulting in a deformed world with distorted beings that God never intended.
Warren justifies this fatalistic view from The Living Bible: “You [God]…scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe” (Ps 139:16)-not even close to what that verse actually says! Is every sinful thought and deed exactly what God has planned?! Men are not sinners but puppets if everything is exactly what God has decreed.
Let us be careful to “preach the word” and “obey the word” and allow Christ the “living word” to live through us as we offer sinners the biblical “gospel of God” (Rom 1:1) that truly saves. And let us “earnestly contend” for this unchangeable faith (Jude 3). TBC