What is the Gospel?


When I was a young lad, I remember watching a TV game show with my grandmother called “To Tell the Truth.”

Here is how the game worked.

Three celebrities would sit across from three contestants. The celebrities would have an opportunity to ask each of the contestants questions in order to figure out which one was telling the truth about who they really were, because they all claimed to be the same person with the same life story.

At the start of the show, each contestant would introduce himself using the same name. But that name really belonged to only one of contestants. Two of them were imposters.

The challenge for the celebrities was to pick the true Martin Smith, Jim White, or Julie Thompson.  The challenge for the contestants was to fool the celebrities into picking someone who wasn’t Martin Smith.

Once the celebrities made their decisions, the game show host would ask, “Will the real [Martin Smith] please stand up?”

If the contestants were able to fool the celebrities, they won the game and shared the prize money.

Just like there were imposters in To Tell the Truth, there are impostors when it comes to what the Bible calls the gospel, a word that means “good news” and comes from a compound Greek word, euangelion. Evangeism… gospelism.

In the ancient world, when a King returned home in victory from battle, a herald would lead the procession crying out, “Euangelion!”

A gospel imposter is anything that gives us hope, peace and joy apart from the victory of Jesus through his life, death and resurrection. Imposter Gospels don’t need the cross or a resurrection. They don’t need grace.

For example,

  • The prosperity, or health and wealth gospel, doesn’t need the cross. For this imposter, salvation comes in the form of physical health, a promotion, or a new car.
  • The social gospel is a theologically liberal form of the prosperity gospel that finds salvation in meeting material needs, but to the neglect of the spiritual. There is no place for the cross in the social gospel.
  • The same is true for both the conservative and liberal forms of the political gospel, which finds salvation through winning elections and passing legislation.
  • And then there is the good ole’ gospel of religious behaviorism or moralism, which doesn’t need the cross either. For this imposter, salvation is found in “being good,” or at least looking like you are good and morally superior to others.

There is the prosperity gospel, which is also called the health and wealth gospel, which sees the primary human problem as physical sickness and the lack of material blessing or vocational success. Lack of material prosperity.

The prosperity gospel is the new American religion. Why do I say that? Because the largest church in the United States preaches a gospel of material and temporal prosperity as the real good news. It is this gospel imposter that is being exported to millions of people living in developing countries around the world, which is another reason to support Pete Anderson’s ministry, Trinity Center for World Mission.

There is also the imposter of the social gospel, which being born out of theological liberalism in the early 20th century, says that the primary problem in the world is impoverished social conditions. The remedy would be programs to improve a neighborhood’s quality of life. Thus, the thrust of the social gospel is not an eternal spiritual need as much as a temporal physical need. Having stripped Christianity of the supernatural and miraculous, being an essentially secular religion, theological liberalism’s gospel is the call to create heaven on earth now.

There are also conservative and liberal political gospel imposters and the well-known gospel imposter of religious moralism which tells us that our primary human problem is that we are not good enough. The message of this imposter is, “Be a good boy or girl and God will love you.”

Alan Jackson, “front porch sitting, trying to get to heaven”

Of course, each of these imposters take good and necessary, but secondary implications of the gospel, such as health and material prosperity, social renewal and moral reformation and make them the main thing – the essence, the substance and core of the gospel message.

And then there are the multitude of gospels that we create ourselves, such as the gospel of popularity, the gospel of being right, and the gospel of ethnic superiority.

The danger of any gospel imposter is that they often take half-truths and make them the primary truth, or in Paul’s words, make them “of first importance.” In sounding and feeling like the real thing, like contestants on To Tell the Truth, imposter gospels can fool us.

So, will the true gospel please stand up?

Thankfully, the real gospel stands up for us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-12.


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