Biblical Gospel vs Fake Gospel: AKA Truth Vs. a Form of Godliness

Image credit: Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal

The world is awash with fake news, and sadly this is just as true in so many of our churches. Instead of hearing biblical truth, we are getting fake news preached from too many of our pulpits. Indeed, the biggest churches in the West are often guilty of this.

We get feel-good pop sermons about how wonderful we are, how amazing we are, and how terrific we are. Not exactly what Scripture says, but this is now the most popular message heard from so many churches. At such churches one would not think that the Bible ever spoke of sin and the need of a Saviour.

One year ago the Christian satire site Babylon Bee perfectly captured this reality. The article, with this title, “Woman Unsure Why She Needs Jesus After Preacher Spends 30 Minutes Telling Her How Amazing She Is” is a satire piece, but so often satire is a perfect means to convey truth. The article says this:

TWIN OAKS, AZ—According to reports coming out of Hope Community Church, first-time visitor Brittany Wilson remains unsure about why she needed “this Jesus guy” in her life after the pastor spent the entire Sunday sermon reiterating how awesome, amazing, unique, and special she is.

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“The message was super-encouraging. It was all about how I need to let the goodness within me shine and ‘just do me,’ without worrying about all the haters,” Wilson said after the service.

“But then the pastor said I needed Jesus, out of the blue. Like, what? It made no sense. I’m not sure what He has to offer that I don’t, based on how wonderful the pastor said I am.”

Wilson, who hasn’t attended church since she was a child, further reported she was “a little hurt” that the pastor would segue into an invitation to add Jesus to her life.

“It really undermined my confidence in myself,” she said, adding she wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

Some will say, “Yeah, but this is just satire. I am not aware of any churches or preachers teaching this.” If so, you are clearly out of touch. Sadly, many are running with this, and as a supreme example, the biggest church in North America specialises in this.

Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, pastored by Joel Osteen, offers exactly this sort of message week in and week out. He packs the place out each Sunday, and his books have become best sellers. It is all about feeling good about yourself, having your best life now, and thinking happy thoughts. That is his gospel, full stop.

I have often documented this in previous articles. Consider just one of his recent books. In 2015 Joel Osteen released The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today. It is simply more of his tried and ‘true’ formula. It is all about feeling good about yourself and being upbeat and positive. That’s it. That is the substance of this book, and all his books. Here are some quotes from the book:

“I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.”
“I am victorious. I am talented. I am creative.”
“I am wise. I am healthy. I am in shape.”
“I am energetic. I am happy. I am positive.”
“I am passionate. I am strong. I am confident.”
“I am secure. I am beautiful. I am attractive.”
“I am valuable. I am free. I am redeemed.”
“I am forgiven. I am anointed. I am accepted.”
“I am approved. I am prepared. I am qualified.”
“I am motivated. I am focused. I am disciplined.”
“I am determined. I am patient. I am kind.”
“I am generous. I am excellent. I am equipped.”
“I am empowered. I am well able.”
“I am a child of the Most High God.”

Um, this is not quite what the Word of God offers us. Far from it. It gives us a much more realistic – and worrying – assessment of who we are. Simply reading the Bible will show us who we really are: we are not wonderful folks who are just peachy, but depraved rebels headed to hell who need to be delivered from our sin and depravity.

Consider what the Bible says about us as sinners. We are:

-spiritually sick (Luke 5:31-32)
-rebellious children (Luke 15:11-32)
-lost (Luke 19:10)
-in darkness (Acts 20:18)
-under the power of Satan (Acts 20:18)
-slaves to sin (Romans 6:22)
-influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Corinthians 12:2)
-spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
-God’s enemies (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
-slaves to those who by nature are not gods (Galatians 4:8)
-dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)
-objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
-dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:5)
-darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:18)
-separated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18)
-darkness (Ephesians 5:8)
-in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
-alienated from God (Colossians 1:21)
-his enemies (Colossians 1:21)
-idol worshippers (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
-held in slavery (Hebrews 2:15)
-not a people; who had not received mercy (1 Peter 2:10)
-sheep going astray (1 Peter 2:25)

Hmm, not a very flattering portrait of who we are. Indeed, it is a pretty shocking and wretched picture actually. But of course some will protest and say that this book by Osteen is meant just for Christians. But both he and his fans will insist that all of his books, sermons and messages are for everyone.

And even if this was just a feel-good, self-help pep-talk for believers only, again we find the biblical version of events a far cry from this pap. Just consider what the Apostle Paul said of himself. Did he relish in the positive thinking spiel, and adhere to the “every day and in every way I am getting better and better” mantra?

Not at all. Consider these passages in which he describes his spiritual condition. The older he got, the longer he walked with Christ, the more he became aware of his fallen and depraved condition, and the more he needed to cling to the mercy and grace of God:

  • “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9 – written in mid-50s.)
  • “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8 – written in early 60s.)
  • “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15 written in mid-60s.)

Perhaps even more worrying than Osteen and his message are the zillions of folks who lap up every word he utters. Just consider some of the comments under the book’s amazon page. I looked through many of the 854 “reviews” and it was scary stuff. Usually one or two word comments like “awesome” and “so positive” and “really uplifting” are found. Here are some of the more substantial ones:

  • “I am not a Christian but the message of this book is for all people. I bought it for me and some of my non Christian friends. It has changed my life. I highly recommend it to anyone.”
  • “I am not a particularly religious person and I enjoy Joel and his messages.”
  • “I know Joel is a man of religion but that isn’t why I bought the book. The positive messages we need to send to ourselves eventually spread out far and wide, even in places the good book doesn’t reach.”
  • “I gave it a 5 stars it speak life. I would recommend this book to everybody and the unbelievers also.”
  • “I love the positive and no gloom and doom that most preachers give us. Grew up Catholic and no matter what we were going to Hell, so why bother… We can make our own futures and be happy and have plenty and do good.”

And one reviewer nails it:

“The trouble with Joel, and I am not knocking him, cause I actually like him, but his trouble is that if you have read one of his books, you might as well say you have read them all, because his basic premise, and unfortunately writings and stories are truly all the same.”

Notice how plenty of non-Christians just love his stuff. That is most telling. When Jesus and the disciples preached the gospel, they were hated, attacked, abused and killed. The same when the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord. The only popular prophets in the Old Testament were the false prophets.

If Jesus had preached the message that so many of our megachurch pastors are preaching today, he never would have been crucified. Everyone would have loved him. ‘Oh I feel so much better. Thank you. Life is so much rosier now. You are so uplifting and upbeat. I feel so much happier. Thanks Jesus.’

By the way, if you go to see the reviews of a book like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. or even the best-selling New Age books by folks like Oprah Winfrey (a good buddy of Osteen’s), you will find identical comments: “inspiring,” “uplifting,” “awesome,” ‘encouraging,” “so positive,” etc.

These authors all get identical positive reactions because they all preach identical gospels – and they happen to be false gospels. The good news of the gospel is certainly good news. But it means absolutely nothing until we first hear and digest the bad news of the gospel, that we are damnable sinners heading to a lost eternity, and unless we turn to Christ in faith and repentance, we are all lost.

That is one message you will NOT find in the books and sermons by folks like Osteen. As such, they are presenting fake news. And as Scripture makes so clear, such fake news does not give life – certainly not everlasting life. It brings death.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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