In listening to Todd Friel’s Drive By Discernment, lecture 55 and 55 today, I was introduced to Pastor Trevin Wax. He has written two books, one is called Holy Subversion and the other is called The Counterfeit Gospels. The two lectures in Drive By Discernment are on one of the six kinds of false gospels Wax writes about. It is called The Therapeutic Gospel.
Here is Pr. Wax being interviewed by Christianity.com on his book. Its short explanation offers an overview of the 6 false Gospels Wax identifies in his book. The 6 are,
1. The Judgment-less Gospel
2. Therapeutic Gospel
3. Moralist Gospel
4. Quietist Gospel
5. Activist Gospel
6. Churchless Gospel
Here is a chart summarizing the 6 false Gospels Wax writes about-
|Source, The Gospel Coalition|
In a session of the discernment series Drive By Discernment, Trevin explained “The Therapeutic Gospel”. We hear much of this Gospel today. It is all about us. It is about our self-esteem. our feelings. What God can do for us to make us happier.
I’ve included extended excerpts below, but understand that his 2 lectures totaling 30 minutes was tight, well-articulated, and built to a powerful point. It was hard to extract segments and have them make as much sense on their own than the entire lecture did. Even extended excerpts cannot do it justice. But here is a bit of what Pastor Wax said:
The Therapeutic Gospel at its root confuses spiritual symptoms with spiritual disease. Whatever it may be, a troubled marriage, maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s anger issues, perhaps an addiction, we take these symptoms and we confuse the symptoms with the disease – which is sin. Our own evil. Our rebellion. And because the diagnosis is superficial, the treatment is superficial as well.
So what are some of the superficial diagnoses we see in our world? Well here’s a few we can spot. One is the Happy Meal Gospel. … [He talks of his young son here] We realized fairly rapidly that it wasn’t the soggy McNuggets and the French fries that our son liked so much but it was enjoying but the happy meal toy and the playground. That’s what captures the heart of a child- promise the toy.
I’m concerned that we package the Gospel in a way that makes God out to be a Ronald McDonald type who wants to give kids a Happy Meal. … When ‘God wants me to be happy’ becomes the measuring stick for making our decisions, we have fallen for a counterfeit.
Here is the irony in all this- God does want us to be happy. The Therapeutic Gospel takes the right words and puts it in the wrong context. God does want our joy and happiness, but to be found in Him- not in a way that’s defined by 21st century American culture. God’s desire for our joy goes beyond the Happy Meal.
[In the emphasis on our feelings and the craze for preaching on self-esteem] Notice what has taken place. Instead of understanding that sin may lead to a lack of self esteem, sin has been re-defined as a lack of self esteem. See the difference? It’s subtle, but all counterfeits are subtle. It is a confusion of symptom as the real problem. … Scripture is clear, our biggest problem is not that we feel guilty- it is that we are guilty. We don’t have empty hearts in need of fill-up, we have deceitful hearts in need of replacement.
If low self esteem is the problem, then therapy is the solution. But the question for us as Christians is why does this version of Christianity need Jesus? Why is a bloody cross at the center of our faith? If our biggest need is for someone to tell us we’re all right, he could have sent Oprah. If our biggest need is to have peace in our family, then God would have done fine sending Dr Phil. No, God sent His son to die a brutal, horrifying death as a payment for human sin. Surely that is the sign that our sin is much more heinous than just, “We feel empty inside.” The Therapeutic Gospel can never deliver what it promises because it doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem.
The Therapeutic Gospel does something else that’s devastating. It leads us to believe that it is our worth that motivates God’s action to save us. The thinking is, Jesus came to save us because we are so valuable to God. There is some truth in this. We have an inherent dignity, because we’re created in His image. It is a true concept that has a gradual drift. It is more Gnostic than anything else. A good example comes from comparing two parables. [see below]
The true Gospel is Christ centered. The Therapeutic Gospel ultimately fails to satisfy because it switches out the great reward of knowing God for the lesser reward of receiving something from God.
Pastor Wax compares the subtle shift in a counterfeit Gospel from being Christ-centered to man-centered, by comparing the parable of the sheep as they are presented in Luke and in the false Gospel of Thomas. Here is the Gospel of Luke:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7)
The other is from the non-canonical, false Gospel of Thomas.
“Jesus said, “The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine sheep and looked for that one until he found it. When he had gone to such trouble, he said to the sheep, ‘I care for you more than the ninety-nine.'” (FALSE, NON-CANONICAL “Gospel of Thomas”)
What has happened here, said Pr. Wax, is that in the counterfeit Gnostic gospel the writer has shifted the emphasis. The point of the parable in the counterfeit is about the worth of the sheep, instead of the work of the Shepherd.
Christ is the ultimate possession. Nothing that the Therapeutic Gospel offers can ever satisfy. Anyway, consider this blog entry a kind of whetting your appetite for being on the alert for false Gospels. I’ve written and written about staying in the Word. Knowing His word in the bible is the best defense for spotting a false Gospel. Make sure you know the real thing!
Trevin Wax’s book is called Counterfeit Gospels.
Todd Friel’s Drive By Discernment is available on instant download, for $19.99. It contains 72 lectures that are under 15 minutes each.
Don’t fall for a therapeutic Gospel. Resolve to keep Jesus as the center of everything this year. With Jesus as your glory and your hope, it is the best start for the New Year and every year thereafter. Thanks to God’s grace, there will be an eternity of them for the believer.