Beware the Huckster’s Gospel!
Question: Something troubles me about some evangelistic crusades and church services I have attended. It seems to me that the appeal to “come to Christ” is linked to deliverance from sickness, from financial problems, from unhappiness, etc. At other times, even when the true gospel has been preached, it has seemed that the appeal has been based more on emotion than on truth. Is something wrong, or am I just too picky?
Response: Your concern is well founded. Our generation is obsessed with numbers and a false view of success that reflects the values of this world rather than of the world to come. It is assumed that anyone can be persuaded to buy any product if the advertising hype and sales pitch are right. Large corporations spend billions on research and advertising in order to peddle their products to the widest possible market. Unfortunately, that mentality has entered the church as well.
For many evangelists and churches, Jesus Christ has become a “product” to be packaged and marketed using the same techniques that have proved successful in the world. There is indeed much that we could call deceptive in today’s evangelistic sales pitch. Christ is preached as a panacea rather than the only remedy for sin and deliverance from judgment. Instead of truth, we are being offered music and entertainment to get us “in the mood,” and the gospel is often watered down to make it as palatable as possible. As Joyce Main Hanks of the University of Costa Rica declares in the preface of her translation of Jacques Ellul’s The Humiliation of the Word:
Public officials are “electable” in the United States today only if they project an attractive television image. Reaction to presidential “debates,” for example, depends almost entirely on image, not substance, truth, or coherent rational argument.
Similarly, the church indulges our desire to “feel good” instead of responding to our need to be spiritually challenged and fed through solid exposition of the Scriptures. The electronic church in particular panders to our appetite for entertainment rather than authentic discipleship and maturity.
When Christ was approached by those who offered to follow Him, He didn’t say to His disciples: “Sign him up quick, Peter! Get him in the choir, John! Make him a deacon, James! Hurry, before he changes his mind!” Instead, Christ said something like this: “So you want to follow me? Let me tell you where I’m going. I’m heading for a hill outside of Jerusalem called Calvary. There they will nail me to a cross. So if you are really going to follow me, you might as well pick up your cross right now!” Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew:16:24).
Christ must be presented not as an inspiring leader who will help us to feel better about ourselves or will heal our bodies or prosper our marriage or business, but as the Savior of those who know they deserve God’s eternal judgment and cannot save themselves. We must call sinners to repentance and to believe the gospel because it is true. All who refuse the truth will be given a strong delusion to believe Satan’s lie, “that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians:2:12). There is a solemnity about the gospel that must be recovered if we are to see genuine salvation in the place of the plethora of false professions.