Is there a new ‘gospel’ on the street? Listening to much of evangelical Protestantism one might think so. ‘Breakthrough’ teaching/preaching is all the rage these days, and has been for a couple of years now. But is it new? This blogger would give you an emphatic “NO!” answer. It’s been around for decades, first in a relatively small charismatic/Pentecostal sector of Christianity but now all over the evangelical landscape.
This post mentions a specific ministry only because this ministry promotes the ‘breakthrough’ gospel. There are many more ministries teaching the same thing as this one does. I won’t give you a list of the others – it’s too long and would distract from the purpose of this post – to inform the reader and promote further individual Berean style research.
Read on. . . .
While on Facebook the other day I received a “Suggested Post” from Nina Keegan Ministries that said this:
“IT’S TIME FOR A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH! GOD IS AT WORK.. WATCH NOW AND LEARN MORE… GOD BLESS YOU!”
As I am prone to do, especially with the veritable plethora of ‘Christian’ posts promoting what can rightly be called the “Breakthrough Gospel”, I went all ‘Columbo’ (think short cigar smoking detective in a rumpled trench coat), and asked a question even before listening to the podcast:
Nina Keegan Ministries reply:
I found the above response to my question very interesting because neither passage teaches receiving personal ‘breakthroughs’, however I suppose you can superimpose that thought over the text (this is called eisegesis), and itching ears will perk up and applauding comments abound.
In our 1 John passage, John is stating the purpose of his writing ‘that we may know we have eternal life (the believer’s assurance). He then counsels his readers that if they pray ‘according to God’s will’ God will respond.
Proverbs 16 is a collection of moral, ethical and spiritual precepts, one of which tells us simply that when we are committed to the Lord and doing his will, our thoughts and plans will find success.
There is nothing in either passage that promises personal breakthroughs in every area of our lives. We are promised a measure of God given success in our endeavors when we are committed to his will and ask according to his will, not our desires.
Then I listened to the podcast and it was even more interesting. The above passages were not even mentioned in the podcast! Here’s the gist of the podcast’s teaching:
That ‘Jesus IS the ‘breakthrough’ was made clear from the beginning of the podcast, in those exact words. I have no issue with that statement, but we need to know what ‘breakthrough’ means. The ladies are quick to tell us:
According to the Nina and Michelle, it can mean addictions, finances, jobs, relationships – whatever you can think of. Your experiences are ‘proof’? They provided lots of experiences.
If we need a breakthrough, we need only pray the promise then declare and decree it into existence. According to the ladies, that’s what God wants us to do. On our way to receiving the breakthrough concerning the aforementioned addictions, finances, jobs, relationships, etc., we also need to break free from any bad thoughts, or a ‘slave mentality’ like the Israelites had as a result of their bondage in Egypt. It’s only when you are free from a slave mentality that you can declare and decree in faith.
Passages taken out of context:
Php 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me (achieve a desired breakthrough).
That was Paul speaking to the Christians at Philippi, reminding them he had learned to be content in any situation, during hard times and good times. It’s NOT about obtaining personal breakthroughs, as implied by these ladies.
The ladies also trotted out Proverbs 29:18 “Without a vision, the people perish.” quoting the first half a KJV passage that actually says : “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
The ESV, and other translations render it more understandable to our non-KJV minds:
Pro 29:18 Where there is no ‘prophetic’ vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
In other words, where God’s prophets aren’t among God’s people to remind them of the law, they tend to sin more. This passage has absolutely NOTHING to do with needing to have a vision of the ‘breakthroughs’ we desire in order to see them realized!
And of course, according to the ladies, God will supply everything you need for your breakthrough. But you need to also ask yourself “What has God said you are going to do and you haven’t done it?” This seemed to be about small steps God is telling you to climb on the way to your big breakthrough.
That brings us to their real reason we should all be experiencing breakthroughs in our lives………..wait for it………. Are you ready?
Jesus went to the Cross, and gave up his life for OUR breakthroughs! That’s right! It’s right there in Isaiah 53, and here’s the ‘irrefutable’ logic:
1. Jesus received 39 stripes/lashes.
2. There are 39 major diseases/disease categories.
3. Physical healing is therefore available for every believer as part of the atonement.
4. Since we need all sorts of healing (from addictions, poor finances, bad jobs, bad relationships, etc.), our breakthroughs were ALSO part of the atonement!
First of all, the 39 stripes = 39 diseases theory has no basis in scripture, although it’s been trotted out for years to prove we could have perpetual divine health in this life. In fact, we are not told in scripture how many lashes Jesus received. We can surmise that it was either 39 or 40 because 40 was the maximum allowed by Roman law. Sometimes the counting stopped at 39 to make sure the law was not broken due to miscounting.
Furthermore, that there are 39 major diseases/disease categories has no basis in science other than a single mention in an AMA journal by one doctor. I was able (with the help of Goggle) to find estimates of 10, 17, and 22 disease categories, with 22 being preeminent in medical journals.
So let’s take a look at the passage in Isaiah that tells us “by his stripes we are healed”:
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 (NKJV)
The obvious referent for the ‘stripes’ mentioned at the end of the passage is ‘our transgressions’, or sins. Physical healing and personal breakthroughs are NOT reasons Christ died.
As the Apostle Paul stated:
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (emphasis mine).
Physical healing from all diseases in this life was never part of the atonement, and neither are personal ‘breakthroughs’. The teaching that they are is pure poppycock, balderdash, rubbish (take your pick).
The ladies concluded their podcast by declaring and decreeing breakthroughs for everyone watching, no matter what the need. The comments section was full of ‘Amens’ from those whose itching ears were satisfactorily scratched. If they decreed it for you and it doesn’t happen it’s your fault h for not having a vision, not taking the little steps God is telling you to take, or for not declaring decreeing it yourself, with sufficient faith of course. This is classic Word of Faith heresy.
So what? What’s wrong with people feeling good about the possibility of ‘breaking through’ – of having hope for the future? Nothing at all, unless of course it’s false hope.
I wonder how many have believed for their breakthroughs, decreeing and declaring until they were blue in the face, never saw them realized and gave up on their faith. How many have thought their personal desires were also God’s specific desire their lives? No doubt, some are, and some are legitimate needs. Some are nothing more than wants.
Are we to ignore the examples in scripture that seem to tell us we don’t always get what we want? Paul and his thorn in the flesh comes to mind. He prayed three times to have it removed but God taught him that His grace is sufficient.
At the end of the day, Christ’s death was all about our sin. If we experience blessing in our lives as a result of believing in Christ for forgiveness of our sin, it’s an outcome. The ‘breakthrough’ gospel is NO gospel at all. The same Apostle that clearly defined the gospel also had something rather harsh concerning those who would preach a different gospel:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8 (Paul)
Perhaps someone you know has been enticed by this ‘breakthrough’ gospel that has flooded evangelicalism. Perhaps you have at one time, maybe under another name. I know I did. Let this post be an encouragement to you and if it is, pass it on.
I rest my case. . . .
“Sinners must hear the gospel, they must believe the gospel, and they must embrace the gospel.” – John Macarthur
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” – Phil 1:15 – 18, The Apostle Paul
Easy, you say. Evangelism is sharing a specific message that Christ died for the sins of men, while Christian apologetics is defending the Christian faith against all comers. 9Marks offers an excellent summary of this relationship.
Although I might be ‘preaching to the choir’ with this post, I thought a good reminder might be in order, based on recent experiences with a Facebook group I came across a few weeks ago. The purpose of group is stated as sharing the gospel and defending the faith (evangelism & apologetics) – both noble endeavors. Group members are encouraged to share their witnessing encounters with other faiths and encouraged to provide their favorite questions for challenging specific faiths/religions, i.e., Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.
My main contribution to the group was that I share Christ with lost sinners in pretty much the same manner, irrespective of the religious persuasion. Begin or enter an ongoing conversation about spiritual matters, steer the discussion to the issue we ALL have with sin, and offer God’s solution through Christ. And of course I need be ready to engage in apologetics to defend the Christian faith. The gospel message is paramount, with apologetics running a close 2nd. That’s how I became unpopular with this particular group, whose zeal is to be commended! It seems that (I was told by the group ‘owner’) we need to refute the lies of other faiths to be able to share Christ
This morning I listened to a 45 minute encounter between a member of this group and a couple of JWs at a college campus (it sounded like one), in which the table manned by the JWs were offering free literature, and engaged the JWs in conversation. He went straight to the task of refuting JW teachings and was met by some excellent rebuttal from the JW viewpoint. In fact, if I were asked to ‘judge’ the quasi debate as an outsider, I would have to say that the JWs won. They were more articulate quicker with their Bible verses than our evangelistic brother was.
The whole thing was difficult to listen to due to it being a noisy campus venue, but I stuck it out for one main reason. I was waiting to hear something concerning the way manner in which a person finds salvation as a JW, compared to Christianity. In case you are wondering, the JW teaching is that salvation is based on faith plus works, while Christianity teaches salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. That is what I was waiting for, but it never surfaced. There was an amiable parting of the ways at the end of the encounter.
False religions all have an element of works for salvation, so going to the issue of how anyone is saved is a good principle to follow. My own most memorable experience with JWs was when a couple came to the door of our apartment when we were stationed in Italy. I let them tell me about ‘The Kingdom’ and how to enter it according to their church and when the time seemed right I gently interrupted and told them I wanted to see if I understood them correctly.
“According to what you are telling me, I can make it to the Kingdom if I believe the right things and do the right things?” They were thrilled! Then I asked them to read, out loud, Ephesians 2:8-9, from their Bible ( I knew those passages had not been corrupted because I had a copy of their ‘New World Translation.):
“8By this undeserved kindness (grace) you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift. 9 No, it is not a result of works, so that no one should have grounds for boasting.”
That was it. They had absolutely no response. They had controlled the conversation, I asked them if I was understanding them, and then asked them to read to me from their Bible. The very passages they read out loud to me contradicted what they had been telling me. Hopefully, their silence and calm departure from my door meant that the Holy Spirit had begin to go to work.
So there you have two different encounters between Christians and Jehovah Witnesses. I hope they have been instructive. Let us hit the streets, travel the highways and by ways, share our faith with whomever God gives us the opportunity! And let us always endeavor to keep the simple the main topic of conversation!
Have a blessed day!
We’ve all seen them – the reports of such and such evangelistic event having resulted in X number of decisions for Christ or professions of faith. In recent days, another mark of success has become the number of ‘spontaneous’ Baptisms that occurred immediately after the preaching, if not the very next Sunday or first opportunity to engage in a little dunking.
And while there is nothing wrong about those reports themselves (if they accurately report decisions, professions, and dunkings), they are most often used to measure success in terms of actual salvations that occurred at the event to which they refer, from large stadium and megachurch events to small church events and everything in between. Events are successful based on numbers of ‘decisions’ and/or ‘professions’. The same sorts of statistics appear in short introductions to Christian authors and ads for their books.
The goal of personal evangelism isn’t to obtain a decision for Christ or hear a profession of faith. The goal of personal evangelism is for God to save His people from their sins. Therefore the goal of the ‘evangelist’ should be to faithfully present the gospel message that Christ died for our sins. (NOT our self-fulfillment, as do many these days).
And while you are praying for opportunities to share the gospel, don’t just pray for an open door, or favorable circumstances to share the message. Pray that God would open hearts to receive it – the Lydia prayer. If God opens a heart to hear the gospel, no power in Hell can stop it from being heard and received with a glad heart. Whatever resistance to the gospel might be seen initially seen, the mighty hand of God will overcome it and souls WILL be saved.
Blessings to you as you continue to share Christ with those around you who know him not!
This is the third in a series of articles from Grace to You ministries and again, well worth the read. It’s not a ‘hit’ piece, but is borne of a concern for the integrity of God’s Word and the true gospel.
by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson
The heart of the human problem is the human heart. Therapy can’t change it. Self-help gurus can’t fix it. Positive confession can’t conceal it. And self-esteem can’t convert it.
Sinners cannot be persuaded into the kingdom of God. Salvation is not achieved through mental assent or emotional responses. Unless God regenerates the heart (Ezekiel 36:25–27; John 3:3) it remains dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), hostile to Him (Romans 8:7), and worthy of condemnation (Ephesians 2:3). That’s not a matter of opinion—it’s God’s own diagnosis of the unregenerate heart. And the only cure is His redeeming and transforming work. Everything else is woefully insufficient.
If you get the doctrine of man wrong, you can’t help but get the gospel wrong, too. That’s why John MacArthur describes total depravity (or “total inability”) as the most distinctly Christian doctrine:
No doctrine is more hated by unbelievers than this one, and even some Christians find it so offensive that they zealously attack it. Though the doctrine of total depravity is often the most attacked and minimized of the doctrines of grace, it is the most distinctly Christian doctrine because it is foundational to a right understanding of the gospel. . . . The neglect of this doctrine within American evangelicalism has resulted in all kinds of errors, including both the watered-down gospel and the seeker-driven pragmatism of the church growth movement.  John MacArthur, Slave (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 121–22
That was exactly what we experienced during our visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, where the biblical view of man has been discarded and replaced with something far more palatable to a therapeutic, self-centered culture.
Man Is Central
In Hillsong’s spiritual economy, man has tremendous inherent worth. The individual replaces Christ as the central figure in God’s redemptive plan. Their own doctrinal statement says that the purpose of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was to “prove His victory and empower us for life.” The redemption of wretched sinners is not in view.
That man-centered approach is a recurring theme throughout Hillsong’s global ministry empire. Their songs are often more about the ones singing than the One they’re singing to. Every passage they preach is a promise of God’s blessing and favor for you. And their altar calls emphasize an endless stream of temporal, personal benefits—breakthrough, healing, success, and prosperity.
Effectively, Hillsong’s leaders seek to enable and empower a latent human condition. Their focus is primarily on the enormous potential we have to do great things and be great people. Hillsong’s official website contains a gospel presentation in which we are told that the main point of Christ’s incarnation was to “show us our full potential . . . the wonderful potential of perfected humanity.”
The preaching is where Hillsong’s man-centeredness is most blatant, as all the sermons we heard adhered to a simple but consistent template. First, a narrative portion of Scripture would be isolated and severed from its larger biblical context. Next, the preacher would insert him or herself and the congregation into the story. Third, the text was routinely used as a bridge to introduce personal illustrations from the preacher’s own experiences. And finally, after those personal experiences had been fully exegeted, the passage is recast as a promise from God for the congregation. Sitting under that kind of teaching long enough would convince you that all of Scripture is merely an allegory for you and your life.
God’s purpose in writing the biblical story, or its place in His wider redemptive plan, was never mentioned in any of the messages we heard. Man was always central. However, his culpability for sin was avoided at every turn.
Man Is Never Prosecuted
Human guilt barely registers on the Hillsong radar. While the word “sin” does get an occasional mention in Hillsong worship songs, it is never defined or described. The same goes for all the Hillsong preachers we heard—and even then, they prefer to describe sin as “dumb stuff” or “mistakes.”
Their statement of faith attempts greater clarity on the subject, but still falls far short of the biblical definition: “We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.” That’s not a false statement, but it drastically understates the reality of man’s fallen condition.
The reticence regarding sin extends throughout the ministry. We spoke with some of the Hillsong volunteers responsible for integrating new attenders. They made it clear that they had been instructed to avoid challenging or confronting people about their sins—even open, unrepentant sin. Considering the way Hillsong operates, you can’t help but wonder where and when such a confrontation might happen? It’s certainly not coming from the pulpit.
That reluctance to deal directly with sin is institutional at Hillsong. When Brian Houston—Hillsong’s founder and global pastor—was interviewed on Australian television, he was incapable of expressing any clear-cut biblical convictions on prominent moral issues:
I think that the homosexual question and sexuality generally is one of the most challenging questions there is for the church in the 21st century. And it’s one where I feel conflict myself, as a believer in the Bible and specifically the New Testament, I think that marriage is God’s idea, and I think it’s for a man and a woman. But I also represent a God that’s merciful and gracious and kind, and having to connect those two things I think is one of the great challenges for me as a church leader.
In the church we can point the finger so easily. On the subject of abortion, I’m pro-life. But in a way I’m pro-choice as well, because I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe that life begins at conception. But I also believe that ultimately human beings have to make their own choices, and I ultimately can’t tell you what you should do. I can only give you the parameters that I believe.
Those quotes don’t represent Christian conviction. They are the chameleonic ramblings of a political pragmatist.
Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong New York, goes even further than Houston. Instead of equivocating on morality, he simply chooses to avoid the subject altogether. During a television interview with Katie Couric, Lentz was asked for his views on gay marriage: “Do you feel you have a moral imperative to speak publically about some of these more controversial issues?” He responded: “No, because we try to be like Jesus. Very rarely did Jesus ever talk about morality or social issues.”
That’s either a lack of integrity or biblical literacy. Either way, it’s indicative of just how far Hillsong is willing to go to avoid dealing with sin directly.
Man Is a Victim
Since Hillsong refuses to offer any exploration or explanation concerning our personal guilt, our condition is always couched in therapeutic language. Man is regularly designated as the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Both Hillsong’s music and message label the primary problems of unbelievers with words like trapped, bound, enslaved, captive, hurting, wounded, disappointed, let down, and brokenhearted. Certainly some of those words reflect the biblical truth about the unregenerate heart. But the gospel of Hillsong is presented as the remedy to those problems—not reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:19) and rescue from His wrath (John 3:36).
During our visits, we regularly heard different Hillsong teachers point out that God loves us just as we are; that He understands how hard our lives are; that He has great desires and dreams for us; that He wants to fix all our financial, health, and relationship problems; and that He’s waiting on us to let Him unleash blessing and breakthrough in our lives. But none of that can happen until we have repented of our sin and surrendered our lives in faith to God.
We’re not denying the existence of genuine victims. But in terms of eternity, even the greatest victim still needs to appreciate the depth of his own guilt in order to grasp his need for the Savior. The speakers we heard at Hillsong LA were only interested in salving our own grief—there was no thought whatsoever for how our sin grieves God.
Man Doesn’t Need to Change
The natural consequence of concealing human guilt is that it removes all need for repentance—another word we rarely heard in our time at Hillsong LA. It did fit the rhyme scheme of one or two songs, and it occasionally slipped out during the routine alter calls, but it was never explained or stressed as a necessary element of faith in Christ.
Oddly enough, Hillsong’s statement of faith does talk about repentance: “We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives.” However, that quote only highlights the danger of taking doctrinal statements at face value. Concerning Hillsong and the doctrine of repentance, there is zero correlation between what they claim in print and what they actually preach.
For the sake of honesty, Hillsong should either conform their preaching to their doctrinal statement or conform their doctrinal statement to their preaching. As it stands now, it’s hard to see it as anything less than a devious misrepresentation. Worse still, they have congregations full of people—many of them previously unchurched—who are being kept in the dark about the seriousness of their sin and their urgent need to turn from it.
Man Is Validated
That leaves Hillsong with an emaciated, man-centered gospel. A gospel where God is the supporting cast to man’s starring role. It is a gospel that fails to prosecute men for their sins against God, and instead portrays the criminal as a victim—a gospel that places no requirements on the sinner to turn from his wicked ways. Salvation is thus reduced to God’s revitalization of the victim rather than His justification of the sinner.
Even during a discussion on the prayer acronym ACTS—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—we were specifically cautioned against confessing sins. The confession part of prayer was instead explained as reminding ourselves and God of His promises of blessing for us—a practice commonly referred to in charismatic circles as “positive confession.” With the doctrine of depravity already in ruins, it makes sense that Hillsong turns confession into another opportunity for self-aggrandizement.
That example pretty much encapsulates the delusional anthropology Hillsong teaches to its attenders. They focus on building self-esteem rather than our need to esteem Christ. They spotlight our disappointments at the expense of our guilt. They emphasize our potential while ignoring our depravity. And all the while the Hillsong flock is left in the dark about their true need for Christ.
A Final Word
Please don’t misunderstand our purpose in this series—as though we take some perverse delight in chronicling such a theological disaster. Instead, we feel a responsibility to warn the church about what we’ve seen and heard during our time at Hillsong, and encourage God’s people to be discerning about the ministries they allow to influence their faith and spiritual growth.
We also hope these posts will be lifelines to men and women who are unwittingly drowning in theological error. The people we encountered at Hillsong LA were some of the friendliest, kindest, and most welcoming people you could hope to meet. We are genuinely grieved for them and deeply troubled by their spiritual malnutrition. It’s our sincere hope that our words will help awaken them to the truth—that they are being denied the life-giving truth of God’s Word.
Perhaps you know people likewise caught under the sway of Hillsong or another similarly weak ministry—sadly, there are many others. Pray for them, and do what you can to funnel quality, biblical teaching their way. They are not the enemy; they are a spiritually starving mission field that needs to hear about the greatness of their sin and an even greater Savior.
Early in the AM, at least 6 days a week, I cycle 10 miles in an indoor exercise machine. I’m able to average 15 MPH with hills and at the same time catch up on news, email, Facebook and WordPress stuff.
This morning on Facebook I was greeted with one of those posts I have really grown to dislike. We’ve all received them. You know the ones that try and ‘guilt’ you into ‘sharing’ the post? I don’t much care for any of them, but some are more grievous to me than others. Those are the ones posted by Christians like the one I was this morning. It was a picture of a Jesus (a worthy of Hollywood handsome type) wearing a brown cloak with a hood. The text was “I bet you won’t share this because you’re embarrassed to have Jesus on your wall”.
At first I became angry, but then I tried to analyze my harsh feelings. A few things came to mind.
1. The picture wasn’t Jesus! It was nothing more than a picture of what someone wanted to pass as off as the Christ of Scripture. Enough said.
2. I would never try and ‘guilt’ people over their faith. Faith in serious business, a matter of life and death, you might say. At the same time, professing believers keeping their faith private for whatever reason is, I think very problematic.
3. I think the practice of ‘guilting’ people into sharing a picture of Jesus, Bible verse, etc. really cheapens the message of of the Gospel.
4. I wonder how many of those who use this tactic and think they are sharing Jesus actually share the gospel face to face instead of on Facebook. That we are constantly surrounded by the lost and dying comes to mind.
5. At the same time what I am NOT ashamed of is the Gospel. You know, the genuine Gospel that Christ died for our SIN!
Food for thought. . .