According to J.I. Packer, “one of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today [is] the recovery of the gospel.”
He explains this statement, saying, “Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered [the biblical gospel] for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing.”
He then provides a helpful, if devastating critique of what he means, some of which is quoted below. The amazing thing is that he was writing nearly 50 years ago. If it was true then, it is probably more true now.
His chief critique of the “new gospel” of our age is that it
“fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do… 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 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 center of reference was unambigulously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man.”
In practice, the new gospel results in flawed evangelism, a diminished view of God, and an elevated view of the part we plan in our redemption. Packer writes:
“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.”
Packer was arguing, fifty years ago, that the answer to what ails evangelicalism, is a return to the biblical, God-centered gospel in preaching and practice. This is true for evangelicalism as a whole, but also for individual Christians and churches.
Quotes from JI Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, 114-115 (This book is a compendium of several previously published writings.)