A new documentary has been released with the title, “American Gospel: Christ Alone.” The film maker is Brandon Kimber, and in this film, he seeks to reveal how confused America is regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ—specifically as it pertains to health, wealth, and prosperity teachings. All human religion is based on one of two basic ideas, either man is good enough to work himself to God or he is so corrupt that God must rescue him. The man centered religion of works is the core of many world religions, but the idea that man is corrupt, guilty, helpless, and hopeless in sin and stands in need of salvation that comes by faith in Christ alone is the heart of Christianity.
Our culture is confused about the depravity of man, the deity of Christ, the message of the gospel, and the Trinity. With all of the confusion that abounds, is it any surprise that we find so many people swept away by fables and religious lies? In the documentary, Brandon Kimber seeks to capture the lies while presenting the truth of the gospel at the same time. Through great graphics, interviews of pastors and theologians as well as people who tell the raw details of how they have suffered in this life—the film does a great job of contrasting biblical Christianity from the strange versions that claim Jesus, but present a different gospel.
Take time to watch this film. You can rent it online at Vimeo.com and watch from your computer, television, smart phone, or tablet.
This summer I met with a group of concerned Christian leaders in Dallas, Texas in order to discuss the issues surrounding the in vogue movement known as social justice. As we discussed the issues, it became plain and clear that this is one of the most confusing and potentially dangerous agendas to face the church in recent history. For that reason, we engaged in a project to collectively formulate a theological statement that would address these cultural matters in love and stand for the pure gospel of Jesus.
So, why did I engage in this project and attach my name to it? I would like to attempt an answer to that question.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for fallen sinners. All throughout history, there have been attempts to redefine the gospel, to malign the gospel, to subtract from the gospel, and to include additions to the gospel. In a time when people have so much access to knowledge—we continue to lack truth for the brokenness of depraved humanity. This pattern of life is not because truth doesn’t exist, but because so many ideas are elevated above God’s truth and people continue to suppress God’s truth leaving broken sinners confused.
Our hope is the clear sounding of the gospel. We must be heralds of truth—not political ideas or cultural trends—faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. If lost and blind sinners will see—it must be through light shining into their darkness. When social ideas and constructions replace truth, it runs the risk leading people into further darkness and oppression. Therefore, we must stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ and deliver the only message that will bring oppressed and broken sinners to a saving relationship with God—that’s the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. We must never forget that even the learned Jews with the oracles of God and the covenants lost the gospel.
The Call to Contend for the Faith
In Jude 3, we find him urging believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The word “contend” carries an interesting meaning. The word is “ἐπαγωνίζομαι” which is connected to “ἀγωνίζομαι” from where we derive the English word agonize. It means to exert intense effort. The idea is to put forth a ready and serious defense for the faith. It’s clear from context that the word “faith” is in reference to the saving faith of Christ through the gospel.
Far too often people are unwilling to stand for the gospel publicly because they are afraid of rebuke, criticism, and the loss of support for their ministry. Many people are willing to work long hours on their ministry strategy in order to protect their brand and their image, but they’re unwilling to subject themselves to heavy criticism that could potentially cause their brand to lose support in the end. Interestingly enough, Jude never says to protect your ministry strategy. The calling for Christians is to contend for the gospel. Jesus never promised us an easy life without trouble. In fact, he promised us much worse.
The Perspicuity and Sufficiency of Scripture
The antiquarian term perspicuity means clarity. In other words, throughout history theologians and scholars have pointed to the clarity of the Scriptures as the Spirit of God makes known to us the meaning of the text. This is brought to pass in the life of the Christian by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Unbelievers are blind and unable to understand the truths of the Scriptures because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
It has become obvious to me through discussions on social justice that terms like intersectionality, critical race theory, and other relevant terms in this discussion are vague at best and as clear as mud in most circles. When the Scriptures are clear and sufficient for us—why would we abandon the biblical model of hermeneutics (literal, historical, grammatical, and redemptive interpretation) for the political savvy of intersectionality? It seems that we’re living in times when sociology has replaced theology—or theology is being formulated through the lens of sociology. For that reason, we must have a clear call to come back to the Scriptures. We can gain much ground if we will open the Scriptures and reason together rather than becoming champions of social justice.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we love the oppressed as Jesus does—as the commandments teach, we will love our neighbor as ourselves. However, as we consider the proper way to love our neighbor, we must not ignore truth and deliver a cheap substitute. The oppressed need the good news of Jesus and the best way to love the oppressed is to apply the gospel to them—serving them in truth without placing an emphasis of social justice above the gospel.
Should we as followers of Jesus stand for justice? Sure, and that flows out of the gospel, but it should never be elevated above the gospel—which runs the risk of creating a social gospel. Where racism exists, it must be confronted. Where women are discriminated against, we must speak up. However, one of the most unloving and patronizing things that we can do is to create a religious version of affirmative action within evangelicalism that flows out of methods of intersectionality in order to satisfy a quota of skin color and gender in specific positions in the local church and denominational life.
It is out of love that we point out error. When victimology has replaced theology, one of the most unloving things a person can do is to remain silent when error is entangling the minds of friends, family, and fellow church members. It’s necessary to engage in this conversation in love and it’s out of love for God that we do so. Sure we love our fellow man and our neighbor, but we love God supremely and for that reason—we must speak up.
For these reasons I have engaged in this project and attached my name to it. I have no desire to attack personalities and create further division. At times people need to be criticized, as I’m quite sure my positions will be examined and critiqued. However, I do not approach such critique without first giving a heavy self-examination and seeking to be balanced and biblical. May the Lord be honored and his gospel be elevated before the eyes of people during this important theological conversation.
If you would like to sign The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel — you can visit the site and sign it here.
If you share it on social media – use hashtag #SocialJusticeStatement
We are living in an era in history where Christians enjoy traveling to historic sites to learn about the martyrs, the Reformers, and the Puritans—but very few are willing to engage in a risky defense of the gospel today.
In 2017 I had the distinct honor of traveling through Germany and preaching in a Reformation tour. During our tour, we visited the birth house and the death house of Martin Luther. We were given the opportunity of visiting the Augustinian Monastery where Luther began his journey as a monk. We toured Wittenberg, Worms, and Eisleben. Perhaps one of the most moving sites we visited was a room in the Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the Bible into German at a relentless speed of 1,500 words per day.
Eventually, the time came when Luther was unable to remain hidden away from the public eye. Luther had to leave the castle and engage in the work of the Reformation. To leave the castle was a risk worth taking for Luther. The perversion of the gospel was no molehill for Luther. The leader of the Reformation could not lead from the castle, he had to walk the streets of Wittenberg, talk to the common man in the marketplace, teach students in the classroom, defend his writings openly, and preach sermons from the pulpit. It was a risky venture.
As we survey the landscape of our Christian circles today, it’s apparent that things are not well. The modern-day reformation that we celebrated yesterday stands in need of a new reformation today. A glowing appreciation for God’s sovereignty and a love for the doctrines of grace is a wonderful thing indeed—but how quickly it is that the evangelical church can fall into error. We are living in times where confusing doctrines and trendy ideas infiltrate the church on a daily basis. The information superhighway of the Internet runs at light speed. Such a modern reformation is not possible when men remain silent and hunker down in the safety of their own personal castles.
As Charles Spurgeon surveyed the doctrinal downgrade of his day, he made a couple of very prophetic statements:
A Reformation is as much needed now as in Luther’s day, and by God’s grace we shall have it, if we trust in Him and publish His truth. 
We want such an one as Martin Luther to rise from his tomb. If Martin Luther were now to visit our so-called reformed churches, he would say with all his holy boldness, “I was not half a reformer when I was alive before, now I will make a thorough work of it. 
When it comes to a defense of the gospel, two things are necessary—courage and discernment. If one is fueled with great zeal and little discernment, he can do great harm to himself and others in the path of his sword. When we make a stand for the gospel, we must determine if we are looking at a molehill worth avoiding or a hill worthy of death. We must make our evaluation by examining the issues through the lens of the the Scriptures. We must be committed to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura and go forward with a high view of God. Nothing else will suffice.
If a new reformation is needed we must be clear that it will not come without confrontation of error (2 Timothy 4:1-5) and confrontation of error rarely passes without controversy. Seasons of controversy call for a defense of the faith. Consider Paul who wrote to the church at Galatia in a time when the gospel was being perverted by the Judaizers. He insisted that the gospel be defended and that error must be avoided—no matter who it was who preached and published it (Gal. 1:6-9).
Martin Luther stood courageously at Worms in 1521 and put his neck on the line for the sake of the gospel. Rather than bowing down to the powerful system of his day—he refused to recant. Not only was this a bold move by Luther—it was a tremendously dangerous decision and one that exposed him to difficulty and persecution. As Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked, “We do not know the value of Christ, if we will not cleave to Him unto death!” 
John Rogers was burned at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary”). While Rogers was the man who took up the work of his mentor and friend William Tyndale and completed the Old Testament translation that Tyndale was unable to complete—Rogers’ death was for a different cause. While Tyndale was burned for his translation work, Rogers’ death was centered upon the fact that he refused to embrace the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Jonathan Edwards was fired and dismissed from his pulpit on June 2, 1750. Edwards was forty-seven and had the responsibility of caring for his wife and eight children who were still at home. Yet, his dismissal was not based on a moral failure—it was centered on a controversy over biblical doctrine. Arguably the nation’s most brilliant and capable pastor-theologian was fired over his position on the Lord’s Supper. He rejected his grandfather’s teaching known as the Halfway Covenant which allowed unconverted people to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Edwards was faced with a decision—remain silent and protect his position as a pastor or speak up and become vulnerable. Edwards counted the cost and entered the controversy which cost him his pastorate.
When the gospel is being watered down and overshadowed by various issues that confuse the mission of the Church—men must leave their castles behind in order to engage in the defense of the gospel. Seasons of doctrinal controversy require men to put their reputations on the line for the sake of the gospel. Far too many men hide behind thick walls and peek through the window of their castle to see if it’s safe to enter the battlefields.
We’re living in a day when many people are willing to get a selfie in the streets in Oxford where the Oxford martyrs (Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer) died for their faith, but very few are willing to enter the fight and subject themselves to the harsh criticism of defending the faith. It’s never safe to defend the gospel (Matt. 10:22, 24:9; Luke 6:22). It may harm your reputation and complicate friendships in the process, but the gospel is worthy of such risks. It’s quite possible that preachers who stand firm on the gospel will lose speaking engagements, be rejected by publishing companies, and will be ridiculed publicly, but the question remains—is Christ worth it?
Anytime we survey doctrinal controversies in our day, we must evaluate them based on their degree of importance. Is it a hill worth dying on? Sometimes people divide over matters of eschatology or the style of music in worship services, but let’s be honest—these are not hills worthy of death. A great deal of discernment is necessary when evaluating the need to defend the faith. We should never be willing to die on a molehill, but when it comes to the purity of the gospel and the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ—this is certainly a hill worthy of death.
Do we serve the “utilitarian god” as A.W. Tozer once described the false god who labors to make a person happy and successful? Do we serve the sovereign God who is both the creator and ruler of heaven and earth? Our sovereign God has never promised us personal success and safety, but he has called us to defend the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). When you see the mission of God’s Church and the gospel of King Jesus being maligned, misrepresented, and marginalized—will you peek out the window and hide behind your comfortable walls or enter the battlefield of controversy in order to make a defense of the gospel? Far too often good men confuse mountains for molehills. I leave you with the convicting words of Charles Spurgeon who not only entered controversy, but did so with a great deal of discernment. As he took his stand he stood unashamedly upon the authoritative Word of God:
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.…I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches. 
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed., The Sword and the Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin & Labour for the Lord (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 123.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 5 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 110–111.
- Robert Murray McCheyne, Comfort in Sorrow, (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 67.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol 2: The Full Harvest, 1860–1892, comp. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (London: Banner of Truth, 1962), v.
Years ago, a boy made one of the greatest discoveries in modern history as he was walking along a path and casting stones into a cave. The discovery was not gold or diamonds, but something of far greater value. What the boy discovered was the Dead Sea Scrolls. In those caves were ancient scrolls and fragments of others that not only impacted the world of history and archeology, but likewise theology and our understanding of the reliability of God’s Word.
Among the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was a complete manuscript of Isaiah. It dates to over 1,000 years older than any of our older manuscripts that we previously had on record. Interestingly enough, the wording of that ancient manuscript was nearly word for word identical to the manuscripts we had on record. This points to the reliability of God’s Word. As we consider the numerous fragments found in the caves among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was another partial scroll of Isaiah and at least twenty other fragments from other Isaiah scrolls. What does this tell us? It confirms what we already know—Isaiah was not only important in the ancient world, but his prophecy is vitally important for us today.
Key Prophecies of Isaiah
Seven centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Isaiah predicted that he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). In a strikingly clear prophecy, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would rule the nations (Isaiah 9:6) and we know that all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Isaiah also predicted that the Holy Spirit would rest upon the Messiah in a unique way (Isaiah 11:2), and that was ultimately fulfilled in the earthly ministry of Jesus (Matt. 3:16).
Out of all of Isaiah’s predictions, the prophetic announcement that Israel would reject the Messiah (Isaiah 8:14) coupled with the enormity of Isaiah’s prediction of the Messiah’s crushing death in Isaiah 53—we get a picture of the most intense and important prophecies that Isaiah recorded. Although the Jews often misunderstood the prophecies, we stand at a place in history to where we can see with crystal clarity the precise details recorded about Jesus’ death. To the skeptic who refuses to believe the message of Christianity—it must be noted that if you’re planning to start a religion, you don’t want to do what Isaiah did. He predicted a virgin birth, the sad betrayal, and crushing blow of God’s wrath and it all happened precisely the way he predicted. Any religious startup isn’t going to take that route—seven centuries before it actually happened. That points to the reliability of the Christian message.
New Testament Quotations of Isaiah
Isaiah is often referred to as the “fifth Gospel.” The New Testament authors quote Isaiah at least sixty-five times—more than any other Old Testament prophet. He is mentioned by name a stunning twenty-two times as well. In other words, Isaiah was not only important in the Old Testament, but his prophecy is central to redemptive history as a whole which encompasses the totality of God’s Word.
One of the most important citations of Isaiah is found in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Philip is sent out into the wilderness region and he encounters a man on a chariot. The Holy Spirit sends Philip to join himself to this chariot and he discovers this man (who was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem) who was reading from Isaiah 53. As they begin to talk, Philip points to the scroll and explains that it was a prophecy about Jesus. Not only do we see a New Testament believer using Isaiah’s scroll to point a man to the gospel, but we also see that in God’s providence, he would send the gospel to the continent of Africa through this one man who was evangelized by connecting the dots from Isaiah 53 to John 3:16.
In an age where modern preachers are sending mixed signals suggesting that we must unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament—Isaiah is a breath of fresh air as we read his prophecy and see how God brought it to pass in striking detail and precision. John MacArthur rightly describes Isaiah 53 in the following way in his excellent book, The Gospel According to God, “Although it is part of the Old Testament, this vital chapter of Holy Scripture features truths that are cardinal points of Christian doctrine” (31).
We often cling to phrases, while considering Jesus’ death, that say, “When he was on the cross, I was on his mind.” That is true to a degree, but we must not forget that when Jesus was on the cross, the Father was on his mind. He came to do the will of his Father. Therefore, in the truest sense, we can say that God satisfied God. In other words, Jesus died for God. Our natural mind often drives us to the center of the story of redemption, when in reality the whole story of redemption is centered on God.
Jesus Died for God as Planned
One of the key passages of Scripture that points to the preplanned redemption mission is in a sermon preached by Peter. At Pentecost, as Peter lifts up Christ as the Messiah before a Jewish audience, he drives to the reality that the cross was both murder and the glorious plan of our Triune God that spans back before the foundation of the world. Peter thunders these words:
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23).
Years ago, I recall seeing the movie, “Passion of the Christ.” Following the film’s release, many people spoke of how they were driven to tears as they considered the horrific betrayal and crucifixion. While we must acknowledge the weight of such aspects of the death of Christ, we must balance the reality that it was not a sudden turn of events for Jesus. He had been warning his disciples all the way up to the cross that he was leaving (John 14:1-6) and that he would be put to death and be resurrected from the dead (John 2:19).
At this exact same time, we must never minimize the reality of pain and discouragement in Jesus’ death. When the text of Isaiah 53:10 says that the LORD crushed Jesus, that’s exactly what happened. There was nothing pleasant about the Roman cross, and to add the crushing wrath of the Father on top of it made it that much worse. Jesus experienced the totality of pain and discomfort as a human being. While being God, he was also man and his flesh was brutally murdered as the preordained blueprint of God’s redemptive rescue mission. In short, Jesus died as the fulfillment of the Trinitarian plan of redemption.
Jesus Died for God as a Substitutionary Sacrifice
Our culture often enjoys the lighter side of theology. That’s apparent in everything from the songs that we sing in church to the bumper stickers that appear on automobiles. People in general enjoy hearing that God loved them so much that he sent his Son to die for them on the cross. While that is true, we must never forget that Jesus was dying on the cross for God. Sin belittles the glory of God, and the death of Jesus exalts the glory of God to its proper level in the face of sinful humanity. As the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus was dying for God—in order to fulfill the Father’s will. John the apostle records these words of Jesus:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me (John 6:37–38).
When Jesus died on the cross, he was giving his life for the sheep (John 10:11). As the angel spoke to Joseph from the beginning, Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Therefore, as Jesus died on the cross, he was dying in the very place of every one that the Father gave to him (John 6:37). While Jesus was dying on the cross for sinners, he was dying on the cross for God—in the place of sinners.
We must remember that Jesus was dying for God, in the place of sinners, in oder to satisfy God (1 John 2:1-2) which would ultimately result in the satisfaction and joy of salvation for all who believe (Rom. 10:13; ). When we talk about the death of Jesus, we should not be driven by sentimentalism and emotionalism. We should be driven to joy and worship as we are driven by the Spirit through clear application of what the Bible says. Jesus died for God, but the question remains, did Jesus die for you? Can you say, Jesus died for me?
I want to urge you to see yourself as a sinner who has transgressed God’s law and positioned yourself against God. He did not owe you anything nor was he forced to love anyone. However, he has chosen to demonstrate love and mercy to countless sinners. Come to the point to where you see yourself beneath God’s wrath and deserving of holy justice. See the death of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan that settles the account for guilty sinners. See yourself there in this equation and respond in repentance of your sin and faith that Jesus’ death was poured out for God—in your place. Call upon the Lord and you will be saved.
Sin demands justice. We live in a world of sin and to be quite honest—we’re all sinners—broken sinners who can’t impress God in our flesh. Therefore, when we hear stories of people working to build campaigns to help people build huts in the jungle, put shoes on the feet of the impoverished in Africa, and feed the hungry under the bridges in major American cities without providing them with the good news of Jesus—such stories should cause us to weep. The problem with the social gospel is that it often never gets around to sharing the gospel at all.
The Social Gospel Leads to Mission Creep in the Local Church
The mission of the Church of Jesus is to make disciples through the good news of Jesus among all peoples for their joy in Christ alone. No matter the setting of the local church (rural or urban)—their mission is a gospel mission. You could start out with good intentions in a ministry in the local church, but over time it could creep over into a social gospel that does little more than meet surface needs in your community.
How many people get excited in local churches about a homeless ministry that organizes the clothing collection, labor early Saturday morning on distribution teams, feed the hungry, and go home fulfilled in how they provided such humanitarian needs without ever sharing the good news of Jesus? The same thing is true regarding clean water ministries devoted to digging wells in rural villages in Africa without telling them of the living water that comes through Jesus Christ.
This is a danger in many areas—even sports ministries in local churches that provide a nice safe atmosphere for children to play basketball and soccer without ever sharing the gospel. It could happen with a local church’s oil change ministry for single mothers on Saturday mornings where men change oil and never get to the gospel. Local churches must avoid this dangerous mission creep that majors on humanitarian needs or cultural needs in the community without first providing people with the gospel of Jesus. People who drink clean water die and go to hell without Christ. People who are warm and comfortable with good clothing die without Jesus and perish eternally. The gospel is the answer to the problems in the world today.
The Social Gospel Opens the Door to Progressive Politics
The danger in emphasizing the social gospel is that it often focuses on something other than the true gospel of Jesus. While focusing on the external hurts of the people in the culture—the social gospel warriors tend to avoid the spiritually dead soul that needs the gospel of Christ. Sadly, this improper emphasis leads people down a broken road through the doors of progressive politics that often talk about redistribution of wealth, “male privilege,” “white privilege,” and now—”Christian privilege.” What will be next?
Many times those who have reverend preceding their name appear on television promoting better social structures, equality for men, women, minorities, and the LBGTQ persons—yet their focus is centered on social structures rather than the gospel. Many of those same people lobby for social change in their community in the name of Jesus without ever getting to the true message of Jesus. Often a social gospel commitment majors on redeeming a city of social-ills rather than individuals within the city through the good news of Jesus. No matter how reformed our social structures become—people will not become better as a result of social change. Lost people need Jesus—not an improved social structure.
Did Jesus meet the physical needs of hurting people? Sure he did and we must care about the needs of people in our culture as well (Luke 10:25-37). However, Jesus’ social focus was always built upon a theological foundation of the gospel. Jesus healed people to reveal their need for spiritual healing. If we know of someone who needs food—we should not turn a blind eye to the need—and we should not serve without sharing the gospel. If we have people in our community who are hurting in various ways—it would be the right thing to investigate ways to meet those needs. However, if local churches focus on the cries of physical needs without addressing the spiritual needs—our ministry becomes a politically motivated humanitarian mission rather than a gospel mission of a local church of Jesus Christ.
People die and go to hell everyday while wearing good clothing, eating good food, and living in comfortable homes with good educational opportunities. Our communities need the gospel of Jesus not Marxism or socialism or communism or any other ideology. It’s the gospel that saves sinners. Far too often the social gospel majors on social issues, complaints, needs, and cultural trends while theology takes a backseat. That’s a tragedy. Consider the reality that Jesus never once sought to reform the social structures of his culture. Jesus majored on the gospel. Remember Jesus came to seek and to save the lost—not to run a clothing pantry or a mobile chili ministry in an urban city. Serve people, but don’t silence the gospel in the process. Preach the gospel.