Evangelical theologians expressed concern at a recent conference that fewer churches in America seem to be preaching the biblical Gospel.
The Gospel is not "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," nor is it "God gives you meaning for life," said Dr. R.C. Sproul, prominent author and founder of Ligonier Ministries.
Sproul was in Los Angeles this past weekend for Ligonier's West Coast conference, which ran under the theme "Christless Christianity." He was joined by prominent theologians including Dr. Michael Horton, John MacArthur and Peter Jones to examine the popular misunderstandings of the Gospel today.
"Together we'll sort the true gospel from the gimmickry," conference organizers said.
Objectively, the Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, being born under the law, as a human, living a perfect life (by the aid of the Holy Spirit), and giving His life as a substitutionary sacrifice for others, Sproul explained to conference attendees.
But it doesn't stop there, he continued. By the power of the Holy Spirit He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promises to return to consummate His kingdom.
And it is by faith alone – sola fide – that we are justified, he added. Righteousness is imputed to you and appropriated to us by faith alone, the theologian stressed.
The biblical Gospel, however, is not being faithfully preached in many churches, the speakers indicated.
MacArthur, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., specifically criticized one of America's most well-known pastors – Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston.
He accused Osteen of making Jesus "a footnote in his ministry to satisfy his critics" and for offering "the unregenerate" things that appeal to their immediate desires.
Osteen, MacArthur said, has no biblical understanding of God or man. The Houston pastor teaches that everyone was made to be winners but the idea that man is helpless and hopeless, a loser, is also the most Christian doctrine, MacArthur noted.
Borrowing Osteen's bestselling book title, MacArthur said this is not "your best life now."
Our best life, he said, is what is to come.
Amid much misguided teachings, Horton noted that a majority of Americans are religious but have their own spiritual playlist.
Christianity for many is just "a subjective affair between the individual and his own construct of God," said Horton, professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California.
The movie of our life is about us and God just has a supporting role, he lamented.
Christians today are shifting from a historic faith towards a more amorphous spirituality – epitomized by the trivializing of God, our human condition, and the salvation wrought by God in Christ for us, Horton said.
The professor called for leaders who will pass down the historic Christian faith and for churches where the Word of God is rightly taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline practiced.
Ligonier Ministries is an international Christian education organization committed to faithfully present the "unvarnished truth of Scripture and help people grow in their knowledge of God and His Holiness." The Lake Mary, Fla.-based ministry will hold its national conference in June in Orlando.