The Old v. The New Gospel

The following is a quote from Dr. J. I. Packer, from his Introduction to John Owen’s “The Death of death in the death of Christ”:

There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why?

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centred in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need.

4 responses to “The Old v. The New Gospel

  1. … the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth”…Amen to that. This was REALLY, REALLY good!!! Thanks much for posting.


    • I posted that to an Army forum site that has a couple of ‘Christian’ threads and I am still getting hammered for asserting that Paul’s definition pf the gospel in 1 Cor 15 means that the issue of sin is at the center of, and essential to the message we present to others and call ‘the gospel’. One of the regulars has actually told me that he ‘prefers to lift up Jesus’ than talk about sin, and that a changed life is the gospel message, as if a changed life can actually save somebody. After months af going round about it via various forum threads, he has yet to tell me exactly what he shares about Jesus after his ‘life’ has prompted an unbeliever to ask him “how does he do it”, he has made friends and then, if he is ‘led by the spirit’ he will ‘present’ Christ. That is quite understandable because he attends a Wesleyan Holiness church and is a ‘confessional’ Arminian. He told me he would hate to go to my church and that he hangs out with real Christians who have been “Saved by faith, NOT predestination!” that’s a direct quote.

      Teo other regulars seem to think that I literally beat prople over the head with sin, although they have never seen me dialogue with anyone who is lost (excluding maybe them). I can, and have told them over and over again that it’s about the content of a faithful gospel message, not personallyjamming sin down anyone’s throat. One of the latter pair actually asked me today what made me think that 1 Cor 15:1-4 meant that Christ’s death for sin was the core of the gospel. All I could suggest was ‘maybe the words’.

      This sort of thing is nothing new. I think it’s at an epidemic level in the church these days.

      Well, that was probably a bit of ‘venting’ and a ‘pray for me’ request. 🙂


  2. I was wondering where that was coming from- when I was hearing the gnashing of teeth. lol. Now I know.
    Glad you ‘vented’-shows how prevelant this thinking is . “… unbeliever to ask him “how does he do it”, he has made friends and then, if he is ‘led by the spirit’ he will ‘present’ Christ”. Well, isn’t that a lovely bunch of coconuts? So one of them came back at you today, huh? Asking that question over that particular scripture takes the cake. Ding ding ding- they get the prize. Lifting you up to Him, as you contend for the faith-with these “real Christians.”


  3. I used to live there (in Autonomous Freewillville), when we attended a charismatic church for a few years, but had a seed of sound doctrine from sound Lutheran Catechism. That seed and just reading the book ‘modified’ my theology a bit. Funny how that happens.


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