Welcome to an article on dealing with people that distort the gospel. No, not your Pastor. But those that reshape the gospel, as it has been agreed upon for 2000 years. Gospel distortions have always been around.
Books like Galatians are based on addressing them. A recent distortion I have come across explains that sin is not our rejection of God and subsequent separation from Him. Sin is, they explain, believing such bad things about yourself and God. This "lie" about sin, they suggest, comes from those hegemonic church types and Pastors who made you believe it.
So I want to explore common ways groups promote another gospel and how you can respond. And while I will be using this as a specific example the template for dealing with gospel distortions is the same.
The gospel is the Good News about Jesus. Its core has been agreed upon for 2000 years through many Creeds and Confessions. To explore this, have a read of two of my favourites:
2 ways to live https://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/
What is the gospel? https://www.amazon.com/What-Gospel-9Marks-Greg-Gilbert/dp/1433515008
New gospel: They have a balanced view
The joke is that people with these "new" views on the gospel have "balanced views" i.e. they have a chip on both shoulders. Their position has often developed out of a reaction to something rather than formed through a developed reading of the Bible. Many groups develop their ideas through conflicts in their previous church.
They define themselves on what they are not, for example, "We are not like those mainstream oppressive church types!" The result is THEY have the truth because of this new knowledge. The tip: when reading material see if they have a balanced view or do they spend a lot of their time talking about what they are not (a.k.a "chip on their shoulders").
Also, look at the author's background. Is their current position just a reaction to a fight they had with someone in their past before they "split"? It may be the first sign they don't have a balanced view of the gospel.
The phrase is true that, "Every heretic has their verse." It is easy to take any Bible passage and make it say what you want. But the problem is they often take the text out of context. Context comes out of the whole chapter, the whole book and the way that whole book fits into the big picture of the Bible's storyline.
One example, the gospel explains the story of salvation is about relationship restoration. Humanity is separated from God because of sin (Genesis chapter 3). The 10 Commandments testify to this (Exodus chapter 5). God, in His mercy, initiates the sacrificial system as a sign and type of the penalty for sin and way back to a relationship with God (see the books of Leviticus and Hebrews).
He instructs the construction of the tabernacle/temple as a type of coming back into His presence, but only through this sacrifice. So when Jesus dies, the curtain to the temple is torn showing reconciliation (That's Good News!). The whole Bible links into this finished work that Jesus has restored us to God through His sacrifice.
The warning sign is when a quote clashes with these central themes. As a result they have to change the meta-narrative of the gospel. Each individual Bible quotation has to fit into the Bible's big picture. A good resource is https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Big-Picture-Tracing-Storyline/dp/0830853642
If you are the first person in 2000 years to come up with a 'new' gospel you could be right, but chances are you are plain wrong. And if 2000 years of people have agreed on one view then you have to think twice if you are finding little threads from off-shoot groups over the years.
Part of this problem is that although they say the Bible is God's word they don't read it consistently with the way 2000 years of Christians have. For example, Jesus reads Old Testament passages and uses these common themes to define terms such as sin, forgiveness, righteous etc. To use the same word, such as sin, yet redefine it with a new meaning is a warning sign something is wrong.
This is why Creeds and Confessions are important. They show a historic link to the gospel over time. There are no new doctrines in the Bible so a new gospel doesn't make sense. It should be a warning sign something so different is not logical. For a brilliant, but more technical read, check out:
Thomas Oden "Justification Reader."
When you read new gospels, ask, "Who is the focus, God or people?" Chances are new views place people at the centre of the universe not God. Ironically this is the definition of sin from Genesis chapter 3. The big question in this is, "Why did Jesus have to die?" If their answer starts with clever philosophical ideas or talks about how good people really are, then it is egocentric and saying Jesus' death wasn't that important.
Tim Keller says, "Unless you're willing to admit you're at war with God, you will never know how to surrender." As Keller points out, we are full of pride and place ourselves at the centre of the universe. And therefore, any problems are always someone else's, that is, "it is your Pastor's lies" or "you haven't been given this special knowledge to understand the truth." The fact is that the 66 books of the Bible clearly tell the story of humanities rejection of God and His plan to reconcile us. If someone tries to claim that sin is not a problem or Jesus' death was not important, then chances are they are missing the mark.
(The other guide is to look at their book cover. Does it have the celebrity author's face on it?)
Bible or Philosophy
The lack of Bible quotations is a dead give-away for these type of groups. The tool they use is to start with a specious idea that sounds true. Then, through a rich philosophical argument keep extending it until it reaches a destination that fits their liking. The gospel, on the other hand, is found in book after book of the Bible. Each is building on the themes of love, sin, separation, sacrifice and grace. All "new" claims should be examined through the light of the Bible.
Netball or cricket
If you join a netball club you can't start crying that they don't play cricket. The core of netball is agreed upon. If you don't like netball go join a cricket club. The foundation of the gospel of sin and salvation has been set over 66 Bible books. If you don't like it start another religion. Don't use smart self-focused philosophy that force fits into the Bible's big picture. The secret is to discern, through patient reading and prayer, what God is saying through the Bible.
Other useful gospel talks to explore: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/moreinfo/
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html