Have you ever fallen for a feel-good gospel that ministers to your ache for feeling special, or longing for admiration from a god who dances over you and thinks you're the apple of his eye? What about sermon messages or books that help you look deeply into your past pains, or prayers that ask God for visions of His dream for your future?
Unfortunately, many churches, conferences and Christian program materials are designed to meet the felt needs of the sheep, ultimately focusing on themselves rather than a risen Savior, or using Him as a means to an end. Today I share a fantastic example of this by guest blogger Grace Scott, who has researched the dangers of a so-called Felt-Needs Gospel, which is really no gospel at all:
The "Felt Needs" Gospel
Guest post by Grace Scott
We must be aware of men (and women) who are influencing the next generation to have a low view of sin. We as moms, dads, pastors, grandparents, and youth leaders, need to protect them from the subtle but false teaching that pervades much of American Christianity in the form of a “felt needs” Gospel. The premise is that ministering to "felt needs" will predispose seekers to the gospel message. However, having "felt" needs met promotes a low view of God, an erroneous view of sin, and can actually hinder understanding of the Gospel message.
There are also less well known teachers who also have a global influence. These are unqualified leaders, without any accountability, who teach our kids and then send them out as missionaries to the world with a false Gospel and false view of Christ.
Adventures in Missions is one such example. Seth Barnes is the founder of Adventures in Missions. He began The World Race in 1989 and has since sent 100,000 young men and women out with erroneous teaching. As he leads them astray, they go on to lead others from the truth. Claiming to have over 1,000 ministry partners in almost 80 countries, this organization is a prime example of a global influence that is going under the radar. There are many more. We must practice discernment and cannot assume that an organization with an "orthodox" statement of faith is one we can trust.
Seth Barnes is just one example of a teacher/leader who doesn't know his Bible. He and many others often predetermine what they want to say and then pick verses (often out of context) to support their topic at hand. They allow their own experience and what they believe to be ongoing "revelation" from God to supersede Scripture. The result is a mishandling of God's word and a fall into error.
Error can be subtle so we must be discerning. We can practice discernment using a recent blog post titled The Vulnerable Gospel. Seth writes,
“We know that we should share our faith, but many of us feel awkward doing so. Maybe it's time we changed the way we shared the Gospel. Those of us who follow Jesus usually begin our presentation of the Gospel with an emphasis on sin and shame. And yes, that certainly is an important part of the Gospel. We are separated from God by sin and God's provision for us is Jesus.
But, it's not how Paul shared it (see Acts 26). Nor is it how Jesus shared it."
Acts 26 needs to be explained as there was some subtle misleading by Seth. This is Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. It is not a sermon or street evangelism, rather he is in a courtroom defending himself against the charges of the Jews in the previous chapters. In the middle of his defense he tells that in his obedience to the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus he went out proclaiming to all people, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” (26:20-21) Seth is wrong. Sin and repentance is exactly what Paul preached and was arrested for. We must know the context to see the error.
The post continues,
“Jesus didn't begin sharing his good news with the public until he'd gone to a vulnerable place. And maybe we should do the same. Luke 4 tells us that he went into the desert and fasted for 40 days. In that place of weakness, the enemy sought to exploit his vulnerability.”
Was Jesus’ experience in the wilderness to show us His vulnerability? Jesus was God Himself. (John 1:1), He was perfectly satisfied in God. He was not desperate or lacking in felt needs. True, He may have been physically hungry, but we cannot equate that with his being weak in power. Instead, Jesus showed Himself to be divine in His ability to resist temptation without sin. He showed us the power of Scripture to resist the devil. This proved He was the Messiah and the promised Redeemer. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Heb 4:15 Seth minimizes the holiness, power and other-ness of Jesus that is demonstrated again and again in the Gospels. Instead Jesus Christ is spoken of as a mere weak and vulnerable man, not the “Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Continuing he says,
“On the heels of that experience, Jesus tells us that the target of his ministry is going to be the vulnerable. He tells us why they are vulnerable in Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
The poor are vulnerable because they have few resources. The others he lists - the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, are all missing something that humans need for a full life.
The concept of vulnerability is not central to the Gospel message, nor is it used even once in this passage. This passage is not about “felt needs” related to physical or emotional poverty as if this were the entirety of the Gospel. This is Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He has just declared Himself to be the promised Messiah! The One who has come to set us free from the oppression of sin. Is Seth unaware of or ignoring the many instances of righteous men calling us to repent of sin without worry of physical need?
John the Baptist in Matt 3:7-8 “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance”
Jesus in Matt 19:16-22 “If you would enter life, keep the commandments…go, sell what you possess and give to the poor…” asking him to forsake his idol of wealth to follow Him
Jesus in John 6:26-27 rebuking the crowds for seeking miraculously produced bread but not Jesus Himself. “You are seeking Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
This doesn’t sound like they are fulfilling their empty feeling and catering to vulnerability.
The concept of a vulnerable Savior is not found in Scripture.
Seth changes the gospel and changes the Christ it speaks of when he says,
“…We don't see him shaming people with a gospel of sin, but loving them by meeting their felt needs.”
Women are especially susceptible to this idea of meeting felt needs, but men are just as likely to want a "feel good" gospel. Seth depicts the true Gospel as unloving and unhelpful, and in a underhanded way criticizes those, such as Paul, John and even Jesus Himself for showing the true nature of our problem.
A critical component of the Gospel is to bring the law to bear on the conscience resulting in a recognition of guilt. Jesus was gentle to those who were receptive to His message, but bold with those in danger of hell.
“And when in Matthew 5-7 he explains his ministry to his disciples on a mountain, again his target is those who are vulnerable. Look at how he again defines those he is targeting:
The poor in spirit - that is to say, those who are hopeless and even desperate. Those are the candidates to experience the kingdom of God
Those who are mourning - who have lost someone or something dear to them. They are feeling the gap that we feel down here on earth. God wants to touch them and comfort them.
The weak and vulnerable (the meek). God wants to give them an important stewardship - the earth itself. God wants to trust them with the earth's bounty. [NOTE: Matt 5:4 does not use the terms weak and vulnerable. Meek is defined not as weakness, but supreme self-control empowered by the Spirit.]
Those who are feeling hungry to see God's kingdom established, who dream about a world where the broken are healed and justice reigns. [NOTE: He "edited" this verse - Matt 5:6 says “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” not those who are “feeling hungry”. The verse is about those hungry for God’s righteousness.]
Jesus has good news to share with the vulnerable and he begins by telling them why they are the target of his ministry. Their felt need is the starting place for his Gospel. It is the landing strip on which love can arrive in their lives."
This is a tragic misrepresentation of this passage.
A friend and seminary student we spoke with has this to say in response to this teaching,
“Just because a term isn't in the Bible doesn't mean it's wrong or unbiblical. But is the concept of vulnerability in the Bible, and is it central to the gospel message? Not the way this man seems to define it. He says that vulnerability is lacking resources, missing something, and having felt needs - needs that are primarily emotional and physical, rather than spiritual. He downplays and even criticizes trying to share with others about spiritual needs (like needing to be made right with God) in favor of directing people to see their felt needs being fulfilled by God. He also constructs a straw man out of the one who shares with others regarding sin and guilt - as if such a one were only looking for mental assent as part of a checklist. Such a characterization is unfairly used to dismiss a whole critical component of the gospel (which, though he says is important, he depicts as unhelpful and even unloving)…
All of this ignores the rest of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5; the same group of blessed ones are also called "merciful," "pure in heart," "peacemakers," and "the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness and for Jesus' sake." These latter verses have to inform our understanding of the earlier verses; it's not as if Jesus was talking about two different groups.
Was Jesus really speaking earlier about those generally broken over life circumstances? Not all - rather those broken over their own sin, who recognize their spiritual poverty before God, who mourn their own and others' sins, who are gentle because of God, and hunger and thirst not for a world free from pain, but for righteousness to be established in themselves and in the world.
Furthermore, Seth ignores the whole rest of the Sermon the Mount. Is Matthew 5-7 about being vulnerable and reaching out to felt needs? No indeed, it is contrast between true and false righteousness. Matthew 5:20 is key - "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Also Matthew 7:21-23: it is not those who call Jesus Lord who will be saved, but those who actually act on His words and obey His commands.” “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The Gospel hasn't changed and has no need for reinvention for it to be effective.
J.C. Ryle published Holiness in 1879 and writes,
"Let us not forget that 'the law is good if one uses it properly' and that 'through the law we become conscious of our sin' (1 Tim 1:8, Rom 3:20, see Rom 7:7) Let us bring the law to the front and press it on men's attention. Let us expound and beat out the Ten Commandments and show the length and breadth and depth and height of their requirements. This is the way of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot do better than follow His plan. We may depend upon it, men will never come to Jesus, and stay with Jesus and live for Jesus unless they really know why they are to come, and what is their need. Those whom the Spirit draws are those whom the Spirit has convinced of sin. Without thorough conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Jesus and follow Him for a season, but they will soon fall away and return to the world."
The MacArthur study Bible says of this passage, “This sermon is a masterful exposition of the law and a potent assault of Pharisaic legalism, closing with a call to true faith and salvation. Christ expounded the full law with respect to salvation; it closes off every possible avenue of human merit and leaves sinners dependent on nothing but divine grace for salvation.”
More from Seth,
“What if we changed the way we shared the Gospel to follow Jesus' pattern? What if instead of presenting truth as a lawyer would present it - as a series of if/then propositions - we instead showed up with acts of love as Jesus did? What if we looked for the vulnerable and hopeless and began meeting their felt needs?
Based on all he has taught so far, misinterpreting Scripture to fit his "felt needs" gospel, should we be changing the Gospel??
Al Mohler writes, “In the first place, our “needs” are hopelessly confused – even hidden from us. As a matter of fact, the knowledge of our deepest needs is a secret even to ourselves until we receive that knowledge by the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Scripture. This is God’s mercy – that we should come to discover our most basic need…The sinner’s need for Christ is a need unlike all other needs – and the satisfaction of having other needs stroked and affirmed is often a hindrance to the sinner’s understanding of the Gospel.”
In contrast to Seth who continues,
“What if we led with our vulnerability as Jesus did? What if instead of the Four Spiritual Laws tract, we talked about why Jesus' message was such good news to us in our place of vulnerability? What if we began by sharing our own story of weakness and then shared about a God who loves his kids and wants them to walk with him in a kingdom where love is the law of the land?
We've been given good news - news that we received when our hearts were open. Why not look for those who are postured that way and share with them from a place of vulnerability?”
Yet another post completely devoid of any praise for our dear Savior. Vulnerability has proven to be a buzzword for Seth related to the Gospel. He has written about it before and has a tag on his blog called, Vulnerability and Me. A quick google search shows that is a favorite term of all the Bethel churchand IHOP teachers which is of course no coincidence!
9 Marks says in their article, "Is the Gospel about meeting our felt needs?", “God is a good God who gives us the rest, purpose, comfort, and many other things that human beings long for. As Augustine says in the opening paragraph of his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Yet he gives us these things in a place we weren’t looking—through submitting to Christ. When we believe the gospel our felt needs are reoriented so that our true needs become our felt needs. We increasingly feel conviction for sin and seek forgiveness and reconciliation in response to it. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, we begin to develop a genuine, tangible sense that what we need most God provides in the gospel.”
However, Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Seth Barnes and others like them want to completely change the Gospel, using a reductionist take on the supreme sacrifice of our Savior that does not honor Him. The focus is on us, as opposed to a Holy God righteously angry at sin every day (Ps 7:11) and yet abundantly kind and merciful (Numb 14:18) in His offer of salvation. If His offer is taken hold of in faith it will one day more than satisfy every physical need we have in life eternal with Him.
These groups are “love-bombing” people! They love like nobody’s business, but they have no message! They are drawing kids in by the thousands because they want to belong and be loved. They have replaced faith with experience. The doubt over the true state of their soul is appeased by man-made emotional experiences that fade and need to be ever more created to keep the buzz of the “Holy Spirit” alive.
Christians, we must love people with compassion as our Savior did, but we are not really loving sinners by meeting only their felt needs.
We MUST help them recognize they are in danger of the very real judgment Jesus warned about. (Matt 25:31-46) It is not loving to save a girl from the slave trade or provide a hungry family food in the name of Christ if we do not proclaim Him as the only One that can solve their sin problem. Romans begins with our sin problem before it ever speaks of grace. Why? Unless we understand our due penalty and death Christ’s death in our place isn't really good news. We can be physically protected, fed, and clothed but that fixes a temporary problem. Jesus came to save us from so much more.
This is one of many examples of the subtly of error that thousands of millennials are being taught before going to the world to supposedly fulfill the Great Commission. This is a very real and growing concern. We must start paying attention to who is training our kids and sending them out under the guise of Christian missions. For more information about the teachings of Adventures in Missions and the World Race visit Missions and Mysticism.