POP GOES THE GOSPEL
What Is Our Intrinsic Worth?
In Part 1 of “Pop Goes The Gospel”, I described the development of the “pop gospel” – a sugar-coated gospel that avoids the unpleasant themes of sin, judgment, hell and the call to repentance, in favour of a positive message that appeals to people’s desire for fulfilment and self-actualisation.
One of the foundational points of departure between the pop gospel and the gospel of the Bible is the concept of a person’s intrinsic worth. The pop gospel proclaims that you a person of infinite worth with incredible potential, and that God’s plan is to set you free from the insecurities, hurts, doubts, failures and fears that are holding you back, and enable you to become the person you were meant to be. This kind of message is endemic amongst Christian churches of all flavours. Preachers assure us that we are of great worth, that we are incredibly precious to God, and the proof of our inestimable value is the death of Christ for us. We are incredibly valuable, otherwise Christ would not have died for us! I have heard this kind of message countless times from Sunday pulpits, from school chaplains and from youth leaders.
Dr Robert Schuller, one of the founding fathers of the pop gospel movement, expresses it simply:
“The death of Christ on the Cross is God’s price tag on the human soul . . . [it means] we really are somebodies!”
This concept has a kind of superficial logic to it. Our experience in the world constantly reinforces the concept that the value of anything is determined by the price paid for it; the higher the price, the greater the value. Therefore, if the Son of God, himself, gave up his life for us, that must mean that we are incredibly valuable! We were worth dying for! An infinite price tag is an indication of infinite worth!
The problem with this pop gospel teaching is that it simply isn’t true. In fact, it is a direct contradiction of the biblical gospel. The Bible teaches that we were NOT worth dying for, which is why Christ’s sacrifice for us is so incredible! It is why grace is so amazing!
C.S. Lewis explains this succinctly:
“The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for mankind because of some value He perceived in us. The value of each human soul considered simply by itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable but because He is Love.” (The Weight of Glory)
A wise friend of mine, Ken Collins, wrote recently:
“All one can conclude from the price paid for our redemption is the depth of God’s love and grace. The more intrinsically undeserving we are, the greater the measure of his love and the more mysterious His heart, and, far from making us feel good about ourselves, Calvary ought to make us feel good about God.”
This is precisely the message of Romans 5:8 which tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, Christ’s sacrificial death does not indicate how amazingly valuable we are, it indicates how amazingly loving God is!
The church I belong to holds an annual auction to raise funds for overseas missions. The strong philanthropic desire of church members to support missionary work is evident in the ridiculously large bids that are often made for the most mundane of items. On one occasion one thousand dollars was paid for a simple cake made from a packet mix from the supermarket! Was the cake worth $1000? Of course not! The point is, a high purchase price doesn’t always indicate a high value of the item purchased; sometimes it simply reflects the extreme generosity of the purchaser.
The disturbing tendency of the pop gospel to appeal to our vanity and prop up our self-esteem is in direct contradiction to the Bible. Jesus declared, “So you also, when you have done everything you were commanded, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’.” (Luke 17:10). Similarly, Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Elsewhere, Paul describes himself as a “wretched man” (Rom 7:24) and as the “worst of sinners” (1 Tim 1:16).
If we are in any doubt concerning God’s estimation of our intrinsic worth, we need only read God’s summation of mankind in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time”.
The Bible’s message that we were NOT worth dying for, that we were undeserving sinners, is meant to bring us to our knees in repentance and lift our hearts in thanksgiving for God’s fathomless love and amazing grace. The pop gospel, on the other hand, seeks to appeal to our vanity, and tickle our itching ears with assurances of how amazing we are. This is precisely what Paul predicted in 2 Tim 3:1-2, “Take note of this … in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful and proud.” The pop gospel’s blatant appeal to this kind of vanity was also predicted by Paul in that same letter, when he wrote, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
It is very flattering to hear that I am awesome [a horribly misused word in modern parlance!]. It’s what my “itching ears” want to hear. It appeals to my pride and my vanity. But it is precisely this kind of over-inflated sense of self-worth that led to the fall of Satan and the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the beginning! When pop gospel preachers tell us how awesome we are, they are regurgitating the slippery tongued lie of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. People who believe this lie will never truly come to repentance, because true faith and repentance begins with acknowledging the depth of our depravity and our abject spiritual poverty.
We are not awesome. We are profound sinners, undeservedly loved and saved, not because of any intrinsic worth within ourselves, but because of the generosity of the God who is love.
Here is the gospel comparison so far. Stay tuned for further updates:
Spot on Kev. A Favourite verse I like is Hebrews 13 :15,16 where we read that we are “continually to offer to God a sacrifice of praise .. the fruit of our lips that acknowledges His name, and that we are not to forget to do good and to share what we have with others , for this is what pleases God.” I believe God loves His creation and loves to see us do good things for and to one another, which leads us to praise His name and give Him glory. As you said, there is nothing about us that is intrinsically worthwhile, but we are to give all glory and honour to Him. The pop gospel confuses this with , as you said, stroking our ego to make us feel better. At uni, a friend once asked me the question “Stuart, you being a Christian, does that make you better than me?” . I assured him that I was no better than him, even though he was not a Christian, but that by my faith in what Jesus has done FOR me, He sees me as His child. That is a ” relationship” difference, not a quality difference.
thanks for giving us clarity on what the gospel really means.
Hi Kevin, I for one will say how great it is to hear Gods word reminding me of my desperate need for His forgiveness, how great is our God, and thank you for this part 2 on the pop gospel.