by Steve Dunn

“If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself”. – Augustine

I am the Director of  the School of Evangelism, a ministry of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference.  I also teach several courses, one of which is a theology class called “What is the Gospel?”  Originally it was called “The Theology of Evangelism” and what the Bible teaches about evangelism–its purpose, its practice, its place in the ministry of the church. But last year, we revised the curriculum to address a severe problem within the American church.

Many recent studies have shown that the beliefs of teenagers and younger adults raised in the church  do not reflect the ‘faith that was once delivered unto the saints.”  And what they do believe directly contradicts in a number of cases what the Bible teaches us about the faith proclaimed by the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles.

In search of explanations, researchers found two disturbing realities. (1) What these young people believe reflects very closely what their parents believe. (2) What their parents believe is a reflection of what is being taught in American pulpits.

Ed Stetzer has often been quoted as saying that the gospel is “a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”  Some may consider it hyperbole, but is still true. But is that the Gospel that is affirmed by American Christians today?  Is that the Gospel being preached for American pulpits?

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Doesn’t this sound like what you have been hearing in the pulpit lately?

This is not the Gospel that leads to the sacrificial servanthood presented by Jesus Christ nor does it affirm the uniqueness of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life–no one comes to the Father except through me.”  And it totally negates the necessity of the Cross as the expression of God’s love.

Kendra Creasy Dean has written:

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”

It is a gospel of comfort and convenience, performance and payoff.  It requires no true obedience. It is devoid of grace. This gospel is what the preachers of health and wealth present. This gospel is what the therapists of the pulpit proclaim. This gospel makes a convenient civil religion for a pluralistic America. This gospel is self-centered. It is all about Me and little about Him.

But ultimately, this gospel is not the Good News of the Kingdom.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

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