Bill Hull has written a thought-provoking book, Christlike: The pursuit of uncomplicated obedience. The goal of the book is to clarify the aim of a disciple’s life. He starts by describing five gospels that have a significant following and are being preached in the United States.
- The “forgiveness only” gospel – This gospel limits grace to the forgiveness of sin; it teaches that faith is agreement with a set of facts, and it allows discipleship to be optional.
- The “gospel of the left” – This gospel focuses on helping people in need (social gospel) and abandons the spiritual side of the gospel which relates to the soul. It tends to accommodate and capitulate to the surrounding culture.
- The “prosperity gospel” – Its distinctive is the belief that prosperity is both spiritual and physical. “To be more precise, it teaches that the physical blessing of health and wealth are as sure as the saving of the soul.” It can lead to exploitation of the disciples and a sense of entitlement.
- The “consumer gospel” – This is by far the most pervasive and popular of the five gospels being preached in the USA. “This gospel combines the appeal for forgiveness with the abdication of any obligation of discipleship. It emphasizes the confession of sins for salvation. Everything else is off the table–following Christ, a lifelong commitment to discipleship–they are all optional. The idea that the Christian life is one of being a ‘living sacrifice’ is secondary to salvation. This gospel rushes naturally into the waiting arms of self-interest.”
- The fifth gospel, and the one the author argues is the true one is the “gospel of the kingdom” – This is “a gospel where faith is real in obedience, a gospel where grace is active not passive, a gospel that equates following Jesus as believing in Jesus.”
Bill Hull makes an insightful comment when he states,
Most American Christians adopt one of the (first) four gospels. . . Usually, it means some hybrid of the four. The most common hybrid is a melding of the forgiveness-only gospel and the consumer gospel. This most often creates disciples who live by formulas and who interpret the Christian message as primarily a narrative about their own needs. The world is in orbit around the individual’s need for personal peace and affluence.
I think he has clearly articulated the issue. It helps explain why ministry is so challenging today. Discipleship is countercultural.