8 Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! Galatians 1:6-9
I don’t know if it is good blogging etiquette to regurgitate a talk from a conference, but on Tuesday (April 13) I listened to a message by Dr. Albert Mohler at the Together for The Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, which I found very helpful. The message should be available for listening in the future on the Together For the Gospel Resource Page. Mohler titled his talk, “How Does It Happen? Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel”. How we get to adjusted gospels is an important to consider because if we do adjust the gospel then we have altered the gospel for what really is no gospel at all. (Galatians 1:6-9) We have heard this and know this and probably taught this – but do we really understand it and the implications? Can we identify the subtle beginnings of an adjusted and different gospel? Is it possible that we have let false gospels seep into our thinking and methodologies?
We better know and understand the gospel and our tendencies and the tendencies of others, because we can neither add or subtract from Paul’s gospel which Paul himself asserts is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The objective gospel is not in need of our subjective diagnosis so that we might adjust it, making it more palatable, and that is why I hope you find Mohler’s talk as helpful as I did because it describes and helps diagnose eight trajectories that would lead us to pollute the pure gospel of Jesus.
The following are all from notes I took from Mohler’s talk. My commentary or interpretation will be signified by italics. See if you notice any of these tendencies in your thinking, life and teaching. I noticed some in mine.
- The Modern Trajectory – In a scientific and advanced world we must accept that the Bible and its supernatural myths are simply the understanding of “rotten toothed, desert tribesman who wore sheepskin.” We must de-mythologize the Bible if we are going to communicate with a scientific and modern world. Mohler rightly says that we are going to have to just admit it, to the astonishment of some, that we believe the inspired tribesman, and just because it seems improbable does not mean that it is impossible for an infinite and sovereign God.
- The Postmodern Trajectory – Post-modernity came along and turned modernity into a contemporary myth to go along with the “ancient myths” (the Bible) that modernity exposed. After all, meaning is completely subjective because the reader is the one who identifies truth, not the author. This trajectory leads us to question whether we can know anything about what the authors of the Bible meant.
- Moral Trajectory – This category begins to critique the gospel and alter it because it is shocked by the immorality of scripture. For example, hell and wrath seem extreme for a God of love and mercy. How could a good God do those horrible and infinite things to finite creatures. Substitutionary atonement is viewed as “divine child abuse.” God, who loves His own glory, is portrayed as a selfish monster. God has to play fair, as though you can subject an infinite being to the idea of being fair. This trajectory tries to make God more benevolent, taking off the undesirable and rough edges.
- Aesthetic Trajectory – As Christians we use beauty as an apologetic for God by saying that God has created us to see and understand that something is beautiful. We must be careful about making truth judgments based on aesthetic. The cross is not an aesthetically pleasing event and in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve observed that the forbidden tree was pleasing to the eye and good for food. Just because we don’t admire something as beautiful does not mean that we should dismiss it as being unhelpful or even untrue, and just because see something as beautiful does not mean that it is in keeping with the gospel. Looks can be deceiving.
- Therapeutic Trajectory – Oprah. Fundamentally we are sinful not sick. Our chief issue in this life is that we are sinners, and it is the root of sinfulness that makes us sick in every sense. We should be careful that we don’t reduce the gospel to trying to make people better without dealing with sin. Sin must be dealt with by faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection. Dealing with dysfunctional lives caused by environment is a secondary issue in the grand scheme of things. Helping someone overcome a dependency does them no good in eternity if they don’t have eternity with God through Jesus.
- Pragmatic Trajectory – We have a problem, let’s fix it. All solutions are practical and produce results due to good managerial/leadership skills. This approach is anti-supernatural and does not require God’s strength. I admit that this is my personal weakness as a pastor. With this trajectory the driving force or motivation is often results and numbers – the bottom line. We should do what produces the most and quickest results. When we buy into this system we create programs and ministries that produce crowds that aren’t churches and conversions that are not Christians. This tendency does not wait on God and does not have the confidence to pray and teach God’s word diligently.
- Feeling Trajectory – How do you feel about original sin – that your child was born a sinner? Feelings are not irrelevant, but they do not dictate or determine what is true. This tendency puts a premium on what makes a person feel better based on personal preferences and experiences instead of on the word of God and the way God reveals Himself.
- Materialist Trajectory (Prosperity Gospel) – The only people (and there are lots of them) living their best life now are people who are on their way to hell. Additionally, people who are living their best life now subscribe only to an “already” eschatology (study of end times) without the “not yet” eschatology. Unfortunately, this kind of tendency tends to appeal to the hurting, the sick and the poor. John MacArthur says that this is the most prominent perversion of the gospel he sees in the United States.
I say again, when the audio for this talk comes out, I highly recommend it for your listening enjoyment and edification. This written recollection is my best effort to listen and write, while tweeting. I think the most convicting question I asked during the talk was, “Which of these trajectories has the greatest possibility of perverting the gospel that I live, teach and preach to myself, my family and others?” If I slide off into the ditch of another gospel, whether I meant to or not, there will be a great price to pay both now and in the days to come. Deception is subtle but deadly, so let us examine ourselves and pray diligently for strength and wisdom to love the exclusive gospel of Christ.