The Flawed Gospel of the Bible

The Bible’s declaration of the gospel is just plain wrong. It is outdated and negative. It falls a long way short of the much more palatable gospel of today’s seeker sensitive movement, which focuses on the needs and aspirations of people and shows how God promises to meet those needs. The modern ‘seeker sensitive’ gospel avoids emphasising the outdated and distasteful concepts of sin, judgment, the wrath of God and hell, instead choosing to focus almost entirely on God’s love, grace and generosity.

Brilliant! That’s much more appealing. That’s the way to grow a large church!


As Os Guiness states,

“When megachurch pastors seek to mold a message to their ‘market’ of constituent needs their preaching omits key components. Gone are the hard sayings of Jesus. Gone is the teaching on sin, self-denial, sacrifice, suffering, judgment, hell. With all its need-meeting emphases, there is little in the church-growth movement that stands crosswise to the world.”[1]

Wonderful! All that old-fashioned stuff was so negative.

Bill Hybells is an excellent example of this much more palatable gospel. In one of his seeker-sensitive sermons, he explains the consequences of rejecting God:

“You’ll miss the reward your heart yearns for, which is to be affirmed from the father who is in heaven. You don’t want to miss His rewards. You don’t want to miss His compensations, because they’re rich. They’re soul-satisfying.” [2] 

Preach it Bill! That’s a great sales pitch. Keep it positive. Appeal to the modern world’s narcissistic desire for personal fulfilment, success, and comfort.

The Bible, on the other hand, gets it completely wrong. For instance, consider the whole book of Romans. It’s so negative! It is one long explanation of the gospel, but Paul starts off on completely the wrong foot. After a few introductory comments including an opening statement that “I am not ashamed of the gospel …” (Romans 1:16), he then begins his explanation of the gospel in appallingly negative terms:

        Chapter 1: Human depravity, sin, God’s wrath, God’s judgment and hell

        Chapter 2: Sin, unrepentance, God’s wrath, God’s judgment and the unbelief of his fellow Jews

        Chapter 3:1-20: No one is righteous because all have sinned.

It’s awful stuff! Negative and condemnatory. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out:

“He is not talking in terms of their happiness or some particular state of mind, or something that might appeal to them, as certain possibilities do—but this staggering, amazing thing, the wrath of God! And he puts it first; it is the thing he says at once.” [3]

And this negative message isn’t just confined to the opening chapters of Paul’s gospel explanation in Romans. The themes of sin, judgement, God’s wrath and the need for repentance continue to make regular and unwelcome reappearances throughout the remainder of the book, often consuming further lengthy diatribes (eg, in chapters 6 and 7, and also chapters 9 and 10). Paul starts off on completely the wrong foot and never gets off it! If he was preaching today in a seeker sensitive church, he would very quickly offend his audience who would tune him out and start scrolling through their Twitter feed.

The other Apostles don’t do much better in their preaching. In Peter’s first sermon, on the Day of Pentecost, he spends the first 22 verses (out of 26) explaining how his listeners failed to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and wrongly put him to death. Even when he gets to the positive stuff, he still can’t help himself and includes negative stuff mixed in with it:

        “Repent and be baptised” (Acts 2:38)

        “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (verse 40)

Strangely, about 3,000 people responded to his message and were baptised. Maybe they were scrolling through Facebook during the first part of the message and missed all the negative stuff.

Unfortunately, this surprisingly positive response from the crowd only encouraged Peter to continue with his crusade of negativity. In his next recorded sermon (Acts 3:12-26), preached to the crowd who had gathered after he healed a lame man, he spends most of his time talking about their sin, their hardness of heart, their guilt in putting Jesus to death and God’s command to “turn from your wicked ways” (verse 26).

Woeful stuff!

And then there’s Stephen, who wasn’t even an Apostle, but who, apparently inspired by Peter’s dark and dire diatribes, decides to have a crack at the same themes himself when he is brought before the Sanhedrin and asked to give an account of himself (Acts 7). His entire message – 53 verses of it! – is spent describing the sin and hardness of heart of the Jewish religious leaders and their need to repent! No wonder they put him to death.

And so it goes on throughout the New Testament. Although the positive message of grace, forgiveness and fulfilment in Christ is certainly there, you have to wade through wads of dark, gloomy, condemnatory stuff in order to get to it. What were those dudes thinking? That’s not the way to win friends and influence people! You don’t start off by clobbering people over the head. It’s a wonder the early church managed to grow at all!

There is one glimmer of hope, however, in the New Testament. Toward the end of his life, in Paul’s last letter that he wrote before he was put to death at the hands of Nero, as he languished in a dark, damp prison cell in Rome, he looked ahead with joy to the day when a much more positive gospel message would be proclaimed. In what must surely be a prophetic word that foresaw the wonderful new gospel of today’s seeker-sensitive movement, Paul wrote:

“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.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Thank goodness we live in a wonderfully positive, self-affirming, ego-enhancing world where this prophetic word has finally come true.


[1] Os Guiness, Dining with the Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), p.78

[2] Quoted in Kimon Howland Sargeant, Seeker Churches (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), p.95

[3] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985, p. 325