I’ve said it before: there are multiple ways of being seduced by false teaching. With our inward bend, and enticed by the enjoyments of sin, the holiest of us can easily be lured away. It’s not just a problem for people listening to preachers. The fiercest pulpit pounder can find himself aiming to scratch the ears of an adoring audience. Thing is, I’ve long noticed a trend that I’m not sure if it’s false teaching, but it does lay a trap for the listeners that makes it possible for false teaching to come in.
Ironically, it’s in the most surprising place: preaching about the Gospel. Make sure to re-read what I just wrote.
I don’t mean the actual preaching of Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, coming in the flesh to be seen by people, to be handled, and to finally be rejected by his nation to be crucified by the hands of sinful men according to the predetermined plan of God. I don’t mean preaching about the fact that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the third day, also according to the scriptures, so that anyone who trusts Jesus and who sent Him, could be declared just before God in the present moment and the last day. I don’t mean the preaching that highlights that since God is light, and he purchased us to walk in the light, that we must live lives that are constantly rejecting our sin and putting our hope in God to forgive us our sins. I don’t mean any of that.
I mean the preaching that ignores ever bringing up the content of the Gospel and just uses the talking point of “The Gospel”.
I’ve seen this a lot. Heck, I’ve done it in my writings. Someone preaches a sermon from some book of the Bible, largely ignoring the text to make in-depth points about relationships, or exile, or slavery, or any other topic, and then summarizes their solution with some almost knowing head nod to the catchphrase “The Gospel”. There’s never an explanation of the connection to any of the content of the proclaimed news that Jesus Christ, though crucified by men, is risen and reigns as king waiting for His enemies to be made a foot cushion. There’s simply a really deep, so very deep, insight that is illuminated by the words “The Gospel” and we, the hearers, are supposed to understand what that all means.
The hearer is then left in the dangerous position of having to fill out whatever it is that one means by “The Gospel”. Anyone can come along and fill up the content of what it means. They can fill it with abject heresy, or taking off the edges (like the fact that rejecting God’s good news does result in being condemned to hell for all eternity).
Listening to the Rise of Mars Hill podcast, I was saddened by the people who seemed to have cast off the faith. They were excited when the church was growing and when Driscoll made it seem that Mars Hill was central to The Gospel, and when Mars Hill collapsed, some of these folk just left the faith. Catastrophic.
Yet the lesson hasn’t been learned.
There are learned and careful missionaries who plant “Gospel-centered” churches and they make every effort to preach the Gospel content of a God who made it possible that sinful human beings could survive his wrath by pinning their trust in hope in him and the one who he sent. But there are also copycat church planters who realized that people who are hungry for the gospel can be attracted by charismatic teaching that makes it a point to highlight that it is “Gospel-centered preaching”. If Mars Hill taught us anything it is this: a church can grow by the thousands but that doesn’t mean that its growth is for the best. Indeed, what could be left behind is a bunch of people who have been inoculated by the words “The Gospel” and haven’t realized that they indeed need Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their lives, and their own lives should be offered to King Jesus as a reasonable act of worship.
I encourage my fellow preachers, therefore, preach the content of the Gospel. It is possible to preach life lessons of living morally like Jesus or preach tons of sermons about “The Gospel”, without ever mentioning that God shed His blood for sinners so that sinners could become the righteousness of God.