Other Gospels Part 1

What is the gospel? And why should Christians keep asking that question? One reason is that whatever we mean by “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” that gospel is always in danger of being drowned out by other gospels. In this post let’s talk about what we might call “secular gospels.” Here are three examples:

1. “Your breath stinks! But it won’t—IF you use new-and-improved Brand X Toothpaste!!!”

2. “This town/state/country will go to Hades in a handbasket—UNLESS you vote for candidate Joe Bob McSmooth!”

3. One more. If you ever read a comic book from before, say, 1980, you might remember an ad for Charles Atlas. In the ad, a proverbial 98-pound-weaking is humiliated in front of his girlfriend by a jock at the beach. In shame, the scrawny loser sends away for Charles Atlas’ bodybuilding program and, seemingly in a matter of days or weeks, becomes a Baywatch stud. He returns to the beach, punches out the jock, and wins back the respect of his girlfriend, who exudes over his transformation from “boy” to “man.”CharlesAtlas

These are all examples of what is supposed to pass for good news. But notice that the good news here is only “good” in relation to bad news. The good news is built on a foundation of shame and fear. And we are inundated with these sorts of gospel messages all day long. We live in an economy whose health depends on us buying things we don’t really need with money we don’t really have. No wonder those wishing to generate profit or power use such extreme tactics; without shame and fear, the emperor has no clothes.

The question for the church, then, is whether it’s proclaiming a gospel that is fundamentally the same as consumerist/political/secular gospels. In other words, do you have to put someone through hell in order to get them to heaven? Many of us grew up thinking so. I vividly remember night sweats and an extreme desire not to go to hell. I don’t blame anyone in particular for this; but somewhere along the way the message I got from the church was that the gospel—and salvation—was essentially about keeping me out of the fiery pits.

By no means am I downplaying any of Jesus’ statements about the seriousness of judgment. But unless I’m wrong (and feel free to correct me), the majority of them are directed to his own followers—those who are “in” the people of God, or consider themselves to be so. The truth is, I think, most people are already all too aware of their faults and shortcomings. They don’t need hell hung over their heads as another burden. They need good news.

Question: What other kinds of secular gospels are we being sold? Is the gospel really the gospel if it’s fundamentally the same as these other gospels—that is, only good news in relation to bad news?

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