3 False Gospels Thriving in America

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C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” For the church, the way forward is the way backward — a constant return to the gospel according to scripture. In recent months and years, a spirit of division has seemed to take root amongst believers. The only way to address this polarization is by coming back to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We must both recognize and abandon the cultural idols that disguise themselves as “gospel” and seek unity under the rightful King. In order to do that we will look at three prevalent gospels that are growing in popularity in our context: the Prosperity Gospel, Personal Gospel and Political Gospel.

Anything added to the cross of Christ belittles His grace.

Prosperity Gospel

The prosperity gospel teaches that Jesus is a means to health, wealth and prosperity as opposed to a Savior who reconciles us to God. Also known as the Word of Faith Movement, the prosperity gospel is one of the fastest growing movements within Protestantism.

We can easily see why the prosperity gospel would be appealing. After all, Jesus is mentioned frequently. Scripture is quoted. And you can have your best life now. Just have faith! What’s not to like? The Bible is abundantly clear that our best life is not rooted in anything this world can offer nor is our faith a means to futile possessions. Yet this heretical gospel movement continues to gain traction because Bibles remain on the shelf.

The Word of Faith movement must be exposed for what it is: an act of insurrection. It is the attempt to dethrone Jesus and enthrone mankind. It is the public proclamation that a Suffering Servant is not the King we want. It is the active attempt to fill the throne with our own desires for power and status.

The church must clearly condemn the prosperity gospel so there is no confusion on where we stand.

Personal Gospel

For clarification purposes, we can also call this the “self-help” gospel. Many openly denounce the prosperity gospel yet dive head first into the personal gospel. These people can clearly see the unbiblical nature of the Word of Faith movement but are blind to its cousin– the “me-first movement.”

The central fallacy in the self-help gospel is not that the gospel is personal, but that the gospel is about you. Self-help preaching tends to look more like a motivational speech or an inspirational monologue than it does a proclamation of the Word of God. Just like the prosperity gospel, such messages are filled with Bible references and the name of Jesus; however, the focal point is not on the Son of God, it’s on you. And who doesn’t want to hear a message about themselves every week? A message about how you can become a better person, be more productive, defeat your Goliaths, part your Red Sea. The self-help gospel is running rampant in our culture, promoting the ability of “self” while using the name of Jesus.

Like the prosperity gospel, the self-help gospel elevates man and uses the Bible to do it. Jesus is positioned to be a means to self-improvement rather than a means to redemption. So ultimately the focal point of the message falls directly on how you feel, think and act. Now to be clear, the gospel infiltrates every aspect of our being. Our feelings are certainly important, as well as our thoughts and actions. However, when these things become the primary emphasis, we are no longer making disciples of Jesus. We are peddling a form of religious therapy, preaching a message that cultivates “me-centered” churches rather than Christ-centered churches. 

Again, the church must separate itself from this form of gospel so that the world around us sees Christ and not simply a better version of ourselves. 

“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” (C. S. Lewis)

Political Gospel

As with the other two false gospels mentioned above, the Political Gospel’s subtlety makes it dangerous. The Political Gospel is not necessarily a message that any particular President or elected official is our Lord and Savior. The subtlety lies in the position of our heart. This false gospel is not dangerous because of what we claim to believe but because of what we functionally believe.

In other words, it is possible for people to proclaim Jesus as Lord but place their hope in political parties or systems. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The things we place the most value on will have the most of our heart. If a political outcome is more important to us than the eternal outcome, these misplaced priorities will be evident in the way we engage the world around us. Our words and our actions will reveal who sits on the throne of our heart.

Of course politics are important. Jesus lived within a political scene of His own. His execution was the result of political scandal. The powers of the government certainly have massive implications on our lives and nation as a whole. The church is not called to ignore or be silent about our political context. However, we are called to engage it differently. We approach the powers of America with the truth that they are subject to a Greater King. We have the hope that assures us no matter who sits in the Oval Office our future is secure.

The church is the only institution on earth with the promise of God’s security attached to it. Jesus promised us in Matthew 16 that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. When our government and our nation are long gone, the church will still be standing.

Pure Gospel

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus has satisfied our greatest need: to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Anything added to the cross of Christ belittles His grace. Our calling is not to make the gospel more appealing by adding to it but to take the gospel to the people. Lewis reminds us, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because… there is no such thing.” The world needs the pure gospel. Let’s be a people who rest in the saving work of Jesus and display to the watching world that our only hope is in Him.


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Steven Madsen

Steven Madsen serves as an Associate Pastor at Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He holds a degree in Business Management from John Brown University and a Masters of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves being a Dad and spending time with his wife and three children.

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