Sometimes I can be a curmudgeon.
I have musical preferences and tastes just like anyone else, and I try hard to distinguish between personal preference and biblical conviction as much as possible; Though I admittedly blur that line often.
I don’t think this is one of those times.
My concern is a growing, disturbing trend in popular Christian culture… a slow, but steady rewriting of the Gospel. That is not an issue of preference, taste, or mere opinion; It is an issue of truth and eternity.
Paul certainly thought so:
 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.Galatians 1:9 (ESV)
Paul and the Apostles did not play around with the Gospel. Neither should we. Unfortunately, the jargon being used by much of contemporary Christian music and popular Christian authors and artists has been slowly and steadily moving listening Christians away from the core truths of the Gospel and toward… well… another gospel.
What is the Gospel?
We should probably start with that simple question. Before suggesting that popular Christianity is slowly heading toward another gospel, let us recall what IS the true biblical Gospel.
 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (ESV)
According to Paul, the Gospel, that which is “of first importance” is that
- Christ died for our sins.
- Christ was buried.
- Christ was raised on the third day.
Let’s summarize the Gospel using Paul’s pattern here.
- The Problem– Our sin is a rebellious offense against a holy God which rightly merits God’s judgment and eternal wrath (Ephesians 2:1-4, Romans 3:9-20, 6:23).
- The Solution– The full penalty for sin and the eternal wrath of God was taken by Jesus Christ as he lived a sinless life and was crucified by the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Jesus was buried and rose again on the third day, defeating sin and death forever and promising eternal life to all who will trust in him (Acts 2:23, Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24).
- The Application– All of those who hear the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, and place their faith and trust in him and his work are saved by the grace of God and grafted into the family of God. They no longer dread the judgment of God, but joyfully live by the Spirit who is the guarantee of their eternal life in Heaven (Romans 3:21-26, Ephesians 1:11-14, 2:5-10).
Now that’s pretty simple. The Gospel is simple. Of course, its ramifications and theological depths are beyond our human understanding. But the basics, that which we must know to be saved, the core of the Good News is clear, simple, and glorious.
I want to simply breakdown some voices in modern Christianity and compare the message we are hearing from them with the breakdown of the Gospel above. I wonder if you will see the difference.
A Different Problem
According to the Scriptures, mankind’s biggest and most pressing problem with God is our own sin. What started in the Garden of Eden as a cosmic revolt against the rule of God by Adam and Eve continues in the heart of every human being born since then.
This is no small matter of mere mistakes, shortcomings, and failures to which God owes nothing but grace, mercy, and love.
Sin is nothing less than an absolute rebellion and hatred of God and his holiness. We are enemies of God and “children of his wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4).
But if you were to turn on your local Contemporary Christian Music radio station, pick up the latest best-selling Christian book, or scroll through popular Christian social media… You will see a different problem.
The most popular poetic choices for describing the primary problem we face as humans are metaphors for personal life struggles such as storms, the wilderness, the desert, and other tropes that convey images of chaos, struggle, and personal battles.
I want to be clear. These are perfectly fine metaphors for illustrating the chaos and lostness of the human experience apart from the hope and salvation of the Gospel.
But IF personal life struggles, mental battles, and unexpected circumstances are ALL that Christians hear about in terms of humanity’s biggest problems… The real problem of sin can be downplayed.
Another common go-to are the ghostly voices of shame, guilt, and regret, which presumably are nothing but lies of which God wishes to free us.
According to much of popular Christian culture, feelings of inferiority, unworthiness, shortcoming, and inadequacy are always, only the voice of Satan; A voice that is to be rejected and ignored.
I fully understand there are some truths here. Yes, Satan is the Accuser who still likes to bring charges against God’s people. His accusation is simple and clear: “You are an unworthy sinner.” Christians need not be dismayed by this accusation because God has declared us “righteous” because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. No one can bring a “charge against God’s elect” (Romans 8:31-39).
But, the Good News isn’t that those voices are WRONG… The Good News is that those voices are RIGHT… But that God has placed ALL of our unworthiness, uncleanness, shame, regret, failure, and sin onto the Lord Jesus whom he then “crushed” so that all of those who are in him by faith might be forgiven (Romans 3:21-26, Isaiah 53).
It is the lack of clarity that makes this slippery. Where is sin? Where is God’s wrath? Where is the work of Jesus on our behalf? Where is grace?
At the end of the day, someone could walk away from these pictures saying simply, “All I need to do is let go of my past… God says ‘it’s OK’ and I simply need to believe that.”
Perhaps nothing compares to the meteoric rise of pop-Christian artist, Lauren Daigle. From American Idol to Ellen to #1 on the secular charts… Certainly no other Contemporary Christian artist has been as widely celebrated and accepted.
I first heard of Lauren Daigle with her single, “How Can it Be?” a few years ago. I can’t say I heard much from her (besides an actually pretty good jazzy Christmas album) between that single and this one: “You Say.”
There are some pretty troubling things about this song.
Again, we’re introduced to “voices” that “tell me I am not enough.” Not only that, but these voices are very bluntly, “lies,” specifically those that “tell me I will never measure up.”
Once more… I understand that Satan is a great Accuser who hurls these accusations at Christians. Not only that, but people face down bullying and mean-spirited insults every day. We live in a world that is infatuated with success and notoriety.
Is she talking about these voices? The voice of Satan who always brings believers’ sins against them? The voice of a culture who says “you’ll never be enough”? I’m not sure.
It should be noted, however, that these voices aren’t always lies. When Satan brings our sins against us and accuses us in our hearts… He’s not lying. When the world tells us we’re not enough… There are many times when we probably should honestly embrace our inadequacies.
Most importantly… What if it is God’s Word that tells us that we are not enough and will never measure up? Does God’s Word do that? YES!
Isn’t that the point of the Law of God? To show us our sin (Romans 3:19-20)
Isn’t that what sin is? “Falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Is Daigle suggesting that the Law’s assessment of our sinfulness and unworthiness is a lie? Is she redefining the problem away from the rebellious offense against a holy God to merely feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness? I don’t know… Who knows? How would you know?
The chorus is decent enough, rehearsing things that God would rightly say of those who are in Christ… Though Christ (along with his cross, his blood, and his righteousness) is conspicuously absent.
The most egregious lyric comes as the second verse begins. Daigle declares: “The only thing that matters now is everything you think of me.”
Nevermind that God is consumed with his own glory and perfections (Isaiah 42:8). Nevermind that he has “exalted above all else [his] name and [his] Word” (Psalm 138:2). Nevermind that Jesus Christ has been given the “name above all names,” who is exalted to the right hand of Majesty on high, to whom ALL of creation bows in worship and adoration (Philippians 2:11). Nevermind that God has spoken definitively through his Word in the Scriptures. In our struggles, pain, suffering, feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness… apparently the most important thing isn’t who GOD is, what GOD has said, and not really even GOD’S glory. Daigle claims that our surest sense of comfort in life is what God thinks of… me.
A Different Solution
That transitions us nicely to the different solution of popular Christianity. EVEN IF I am reading WAAAAAY to much into the lyrics of these songs (something that is entirely possible), I’m apparently NOT reading far enough into them to find Jesus, his blood, or what redemption or salvation is all about.
The bottom line is, an unbeliever, a new believer, or a relatively immature believer could potentially listen to these things and think of the Gospel like this:
- The primary problem between me and God is simply me listening to all the voices telling me I’m not good enough or that I’m unworthy.
- The primary solution to that problem is simply believing what God says about me… which is nothing but good stuff.
While a mature believer might be able to sort through the lyrics and explain them in such a way so as to somewhat clarify the Gospel… Should that be necessary for “Christian music?”
When a preacher actually preaches the Word on a given Lord’s Day and insists that fallen man is “dead in sins and trespasses,” “fallen short of the glory of God,” unworthy, unclean, and totally depraved in their sins… Will that be received by the thousands who have been led to believe that such “voices” are “lies” and contradict what God says?
When a faithful minister proclaims “Christ crucified” as the only solution to the real, serious problem of sin and human depravity; Will those truths be viewed as unnecessary, old-fashioned, or “cosmic child-abuse” as some have insinuated?
If our REAL problem (the utter depravity and sinfulness of man) is reduced to nothing but poor self-esteem and self-image, then the solution need not be a bloody, suffering Savior who is crushed by his Father for the sins of his people. The solution is simply… God thinks only good things about you and you should simply believe that. No Jesus, no blood, no atonement…. no Gospel.
A Different Application
With a different problem, namely a poor self-image perpetuated by “voices” that suggest you’re not enough; With a different solution, namely that those are all lies and God thinks pretty well of us… Is it any surprise that the biblical application of faith alone in the work of Christ alone is now supplanted with a different application?
Again, the biblical Gospel is that we are unworthy, not-good-enough sinners who deserve nothing from God but his wrath and unmitigated anger for our sin. Into that brokenness and death, God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bear the punishment for our sins through his penal, substitutionary atoning death on the cross. Three days later, Jesus physically rose from the dead, proving that God had accepted his sacrifice and offering salvation and new life to ALL who will come to him in faith, trusting in his perfect, finished work on their behalf.
I guess it could be said that the drifting Gospel of popular Christianity suggests no real solution because it sees no real problem. If the problem is reduced to a poor self-image and the solution is nothing more than understanding that God thinks nothing but good things about you; The application is little more than living Your Best Life Now.
The solution in this wayward Gospel is reduced to nothing more than picking yourself up, believing in yourself and in who God thinks you are, dusting yourself off, “[washing] your face,” and being the star God made you to be.
Best-selling author and superwoman celebrity, Rachel Hollis has written two books to that extent. Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. The application, as suggested by each is simply to overcome the feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness by realizing and claiming your full, super-star potential, and being the hero God no-doubt made you to be. All of the actors are in play here.
- The Problem isn’t sin or real unworthiness; It’s merely a perception of unworthiness and a lack of assertiveness.
- The Solution isn’t a bloody, sacrificial atonement by a sinless Savior; It’s merely realizing what God thinks of you… That you’re pretty great.
- The Application isn’t faith and trust, throwing yourself at the mercy of God in Jesus Christ; It’s merely dusting yourself off and shooting for the stars.
Now, I will be honest and clarify that Hollis doesn’t claim that her books are “Christian” books, nor that she is a theologian or even intends to be writing from a theological framework. Proponents will be quick to point out that she is just a motivational, inspiration speaker who happens to be kind-of Christian and is popular with Christian women.
But that doesn’t stop Hollis from speaking theologically. In an interview for the “Jesus Calling Devotional & Podcast” Youtube page, Hollis confidently defines the Gospel in her own terms. Her definition is horrifying. She defines the Gospel… the Gospel as simply: “You are loved and worthy and enough as you are.” No more, no less. You can watch it for yourself below starting at around the 15:40 mark.
Is that the Gospel?
Perhaps for some of the examples given earlier, we might be able to bend over backwards and say that they MEAN that we are enough and worthy… because of God… and maybe even Jesus if you want to push it.
Hollis doesn’t even offer that. We are good, worthy, and enough… simply as we are. No God…Certainly no Jesus… Just a selfish realization that I’m enough, I’m a rockstar, and I should simply act like it.
Let’s not mention that “Jesus Calling” is an issue in itself.
Let’s not mention that the Gospel is based on a God who humbled himself to serve the least deserving… even to the point of a shameful death.
Let’s not mention that the Gospel calls believers to live a self-sacrificing life of service, love, and self-abasement.
Let’s not mention that the chief joy of the Christian life is suffering with Jesus for the sake of his Gospel.
Hollis’ “gospel,” the “gospel” of popular Christianity, is a false gospel because it is based on false premises without the truth and illumination of the Word.
This modern “gospel” presents a different problem, a different solution, and a different application than the true, biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Different Challenge
This different Gospel presents modern Christianity with a new and different challenge than perhaps we have faced in the past– A challenge from the inside.
With popular, likable celebrities like Hollis, Daigle, and other Christian moguls leading the way; the winsome, culturally-embraced nature of such a “gospel” creates a difficult challenge for concerned, biblical, Christians.
We run the risk of controversy; Of being deemed overly-critical and particular; Of being curmudgeons (like me).
To that I would simply ask: Isn’t the Gospel worth it?
This is not merely a matter of preferences and personal taste. This is a matter of truth. We can sit back and watch popular Christianity drag the Gospel further and further through the mud of secularism and new age motivational thought OR we can decide to be faithful to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
This challenge requires a heightened sense of discernment. Charles Spurgeon famously quipped that “discernment is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” I think that applies here.
We have to become better at digging deeper than the smiley faces and Christian-ish lingo of this kind of popular Christianity.
We have to become better at distinguishing between truth and error no matter what radio station or media platform features the material.
Almost Christian is just as un-Christian as any other blatant false teaching and heresy out there. Why? Because the danger is the same: Obscuring the truth.
The new challenge is to KNOW biblical truth so well that any derailment quickly catches our attention and causes us to think.
Lastly, I would like to stress that this is FAR BEYOND my personal, preferential dislike of most-things pop-culture. There are many, many good resources for Christians who enjoy more modern, contemporary worship music but who also want that music to be deep, truthful, and theologically clear. It doesn’t require every song to be a systematic theology textbook as is often the charge; It only requires that our art be clear and precise when proclaiming the eternal truth of God’s Word.
Here are some good resources for modern hymnody and worship music:
I’ll leave you with a wonderful worship song from Sovereign Grace Music that exemplifies this clarity and theological depth coupled with a modern sound. Notice that the song is simple, concise, not wordy, and uncomplicated. But also notice the clarity and theological precision in correctly defining the biblical problem (sin), the biblical solution (the cross), and the biblical application (repentance and faith).