Pop VI – What Are We Saved To?

POP GOES THE GOSPEL

Part VI:

What Are We Saved To?

Kevin Simington

There is a new gospel in town. It has arrived slowly, over a period of decades. Superficially, it is clothed in similar verbal apparel to the old gospel. To the unthinking observer, it looks and sounds like the gospel of the Bible, but this new “pop” gospel is significantly different. J.I. Packer writes: “[We have] lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have, during the past century, bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing.”[1] In particular, the pop gospel differs from the old biblical gospel in the way that it answers several fundamental questions. In previous instalments of “Pop Goes The Gospel”, we have examined its divergent answers to three questions; “What is our intrinsic worth?”, “What are we saved from?” and “How are we saved?”. In this paper, we will examine the question, What are we saved to?[2] This question can be re-phrased, “Now that I’m saved, what now? What is my purpose?” The pop gospel’s divergent response to this question can be divided into two categories; differences of emphasis and differences of addition.

DIFFERENCES OF EMPHASIS

Both the old biblical gospel and the modern pop gospel acknowledge certain benefits that accrue to the Christian; fulfilment, joy, a sense of purpose, answered prayer and God’s peace, presence and strength. The pop gospel, however, places much more emphasis upon these benefits. Whereas the old gospel acknowledges them as side benefits to the central purposes of worshipping, obeying and serving God, the pop gospel has enthroned them as the centre-point of its message. J. I. Packer comments, One way of stating the difference between it [the new pop gospel] and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too – more so, indeed, than is the new – but incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God.” (IBID)

In its desire to make the gospel as attractive as possible, the purveyors of the pop gospel have transformed the incidental benefits of the Christian life into its central focus. By contrast, the old gospel was extremely clear in indicating that the central purpose of the Christian life is to worship God, the twin components of which are obedience and service. As Christians, we live to worship and bring glory to God, through our obedience to him and our faithful, sacrificial service for his kingdom. As we do this, we will incidentally be the recipients of the fulfilled life that Jesus spoke of (Jn 10:10), but it is not to be our focus or our primary purpose for living. The intended focus of our lives is to love, obey and serve God, rather than seek our own fulfilment.

 In essence, the contrasting emphases of the two gospels can be described as the worship of God vs the fulfilment of man. J.I. Packer comments, “Its [the old gospel’s] centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed”[3].

DIFFERENCES OF ADDITION

In answering the question, “Now that I’m saved, what now?”, the modern, self-focused pop gospel makes several extraordinary promises which were never part of the old, biblical gospel. These promises have the appearance of scriptural justification but are, in fact, based upon poor exegesis, often ignoring both context and lexical meaning. There are three unscriptural promises; prosperity, universal healing and victory. I have discussed each of these in detail in separate papers, but include below a very brief overview of their unscriptural foundation:

1. PROSPERITY.[4] This is the idea that God will bless us financially and positionally if we are faithful. It is based upon several old covenant promises taken completely out of context (Mal 3:9-10 and Jer 29:11) as well as gross misinterpretations of several New Testament passages (such as Lk 6:38 and 2 Cor 9:6). This teaching completely ignores the fact that EVERY reference to wealth and money in the New Testament is in the form of a warning against wealth, often urging us to give our money and possessions away, and warning how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Despite this, a plethora of modern preachers continue to lure people into their church pews with false promises of prosperity: Brian Houston, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Marilyn Hickey, Gloria Copeland, John Avanzini, John Hagee, Jesse Duplantis, Joel Osteen.

The prosperity doctrine appeals to the greed and avarice of modern man and is a            blight upon the message of the true gospel. Rev Tim Costello, CEO of World                  Vision Australia, did not mince words on this issue when he said, “The quickest              way to degrade the gospel is to link it with money and the pursuit of money. It is              the total opposite of what Jesus preached. These people have learnt nothing from          the mistakes made by the American televangelists” (Sydney Morning Herald,                  2007).

2. UNIVERSAL HEALING.[5] This refers to the supposed promise that the Christian will now be healed of every disease all the time – that it is our rightful inheritance now, because Jesus purchased it on the cross for us. Once again, this misinterprets several biblical passages, taking them completely out of context (eg: Jms 5:15, Mtt 8:17 and Isa 53:4-6). It ignores the New Testament teaching that complete healing and deliverance from disease is our future inheritance (Rev 21:4). While God can and does heal people today, this is to be regarded as exceptional rather than normative, as evidenced by the ongoing sickness and lack of healing experienced by Paul (Gal 4:13), Trophimus (2 Tim 4:19) and Timothy (1 Tim 5:23). Furthermore, it ignores the evidence of all the great saints throughout the ages, many of whom suffered ongoing debilitating, unhealed illnesses despite being used greatly by God.

3. VICTORY and SUCCESS. This is a nebulous, emotive concept, often incorporated into the pop gospel, which promises that God’s miraculous power will now enable us to rise up and overcome all obstacles placed in our paths, so that we will be successful in all that we set our minds to do. The extreme version of this is the “word of faith” movement, which asserts that if we “name it and claim it” God will, indeed must, accede to our wishes and grant what we demand. A more moderate incarnation of this message has found its way into many evangelical churches. I recently listened to a podcast of Rick Warren’s sermon, “Choosing Your Future: 5 Crucial Choices To Unleash God’s Plan For Your Life”. Within a few minutes, Warren was asserting that “God wants you to be successful in your business … in all of your life”. He went on to expound the keys to unlocking God’s power in your life so that you can achieve the success that God wants to give you.

This triumphalist message appears to be more hype than anything else. It is based very loosely upon a small number of scriptural passages which are taken completely out of context (eg. Jer 29:11 and Jn 15:7). Jesus never promised his followers “success” in a worldly sense. Instead, he warned that his disciples would experience “many troubles” (John 16:33). Rather than promising us victory over difficulties or deliverance from trials, the New Testament promises us God’s strength and comfort through trials and difficulties (1 Pet 1:6; Jms 1:2; 2 Thess 1:4; Lk 22:28; 2 Cor 1:4; Heb 12:4-13). The pop gospel’s false triumphalism also completely ignores the experience of the Apostles and many of God’s great saints throughout the ages who endured terrible trials, often eventuating in the loss of their lives for the sake of the gospel.

The sugar-coated false promises of the pop gospel are sweet music to the ears of modern man. They appeal to our self-focused natures – to our desire for a prosperous, healthy, successful life, free from the annoying problems that plague the rest of mankind. Churches that proclaim these false promises will almost certainly attract more people to sit in their pews and put money in their offering buckets. Unfortunately, these are hollow promises, and tend to produce the “revolving door” syndrome in such churches. Jim Reiher, in his book, “The Eye Of The Needle”, writes, A lot of sheep are wandering away from the flock when the simplistic promises of prosperity teachers are not fulfilled in their lives. They suffer unnecessary emotional, spiritual and economic hardship, because they try to implement the principles of success and prosperity and are disappointed”.

We would do well to heed the words of 2 Timothy 4:3-5, which warn us:

“For 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 aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship … discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

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[1] Extract from: Among Gods Giants, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. by J.I. Packer. Introduction to Chapter 8

[2] Please forgive the use of a preposition to end a sentence! As this is not a formal, academic paper, a more relaxed, less grammatically clunky style is preferred.

[3] J.I. Packer IBID

[4] I have previously written extensively on this topic and will publish a more detailed study of this unbiblical doctrine in future posts.

[5] I have previously written extensively on this topic and will publish a more detailed study of this unbiblical doctrine in future posts.

Comments

  1. Tony Baker

    Thank-you Kevin, an excellent summary of things we are NOT saved to. Where is the notion of devoted slavery to our new Master in Christ? Redeemed ones are saved from slavery to the satan into the just and right-living slavery to Jesus Christ. We owe Him everything – He owes us nothing.
    I confess I have been guilty of swinging through the revolving doors – though not for the prosperity and healing touted. Rather I have been restless and wandering in search of a predominantly authentic fellowship in which worshippers ask God what He wants them to do, as against telling Him what we will do and He should bless.
    One symptom of the latter error is the “desperate need” for new people to burn themselves out propping-up a project that has dried-up and nobody is cheerfully volunteering for any longer. Another is the constant and wearisome appeal for yet more money to build yet another thing that will “bring people in”.

  2. Post
    Author
    smartfaith

    Thanks for that comment Tony. Yes, we are saved to serve Jesus as Lord / Master. I think I adequately expressed this when I stated, “By contrast, the old gospel was extremely clear in indicating that the central purpose of the Christian life is to worship God, the twin components of which are obedience and service. As Christians, we live to worship and bring glory to God, through our obedience to him and our faithful, sacrificial service for his kingdom.” Perhaps I should have ilucidated it more clearly. Regarding the other part of your comment, yes, I completely agree that the church as an institution can sometimes burn people out in propping up its programs. I call this the “black hole syndrome”, where local churches draw members into the orb of its ministries, consuming ever more of their time and energy (and, as you point out, money). Having been a pastor myself for many years, I can testify that it is extremely easy to start to regard the local church as the sum total of the Kingdom of God on earth, or at least its primary focal point. I have come to believe, however, that our church services and meetings are simply the pitt-stop, to re-tune and re-fuel, in order to equip the saints for ministry as they take God with them into the workforce and shopping centres and sports clubs and and buses and trains and social activities and neighbourhoods all week long. THAT is the church at work, and that is what local churches need to be supporting, rather than asking Christians to focus all their energy on supporting the church’s programs.

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