Superfluous. I think I had to spell that word in elementary school in the early eighties. I had never used it before nor heard anyone else use it. It's much more commonly used today. Of course most know it means "unneeded, unnecessary, extra, useless as to adding anything of need."
Man will always drift toward a satanic religion because it gives him immediate results. What is satanic religion? It is any religion that attributes creation to anything else other than the Creator's activity. It views transformation, therefore, as a result of the work of other causes. It glorifies other gods, demons, nature, society, or humanity but it does not glorify God as the Savior.
God has saved humanity through the gospel and through the gospel alone. Sin has caught up all men everywhere so that they are bound to be damned by anything and everything they have done or thought. Their only hope is Christ and His work in the gospel. There is no other hope for them than this.
This means that the gospel is the transforming means through which God, the Creator, gets the glory for transformation. You must be born again. All must be born again through the gospel and cannot be through any other means.
But men who do not see the effects of this rebirth immediately feel that they need other means. Some pursue the excitement of stimulating emotions through entertainment, some through ecstatic experiences of what is supposedly the work of the Spirit, some through meditation, some through religious rituals that give the person a further experience that feels more wholistic.
Others pursue philosophical routes in order to stimulate the mind, looking to understand deeper and hidden things in an almost occultic manner through speculation that views the Word of God as rudimentary knowledge to be transcended through divine experiences and philosophical knowledge.
Some combine these two for a better experiential result, but no matter the path, although saying they believe the gospel, they are denying its sufficiency to transform by itself, and thus, are denying God the glory of the entire creation of whatever is transformed.
One might sum up all of the above as a Gnostic spirituality. Access to secret knowledge through philosophy and heightened emotional and mental experiences has always been mistaken for the biblical spirituality of every day mundane life. Speaking the gospel and living as a picture of it seems too simple. It doesn't stimulate the mind and body in the same way as the immediate dopamine rush and goosebumps created by the false spiritualities that would replace it.
Hence, people gravitate toward icons and incense, robes and rituals, signs and shaking, Aristotle and Aesop, plays and prose, but the simple gospel seems too common a garment without the bedazzled adornment of these other experiences.
No doubt, all who have been deceived by this spirituality will argue that the gospel is either at the foundation or interwoven within all of these other things. One might have made the same argument that the calves of Dan and Bethel were not stealing the glory from the temple but extending it. Within these were the religion of YHWH that gave glory to Him by virtue of the decree that these idols represented God's greatness. Nonetheless, God was not glorified by them because He had declared that His sole means of representation was through His Word in the ark that was sitting in the temple in Jerusalem. It was sufficient. There was no need to expand it and the very expansion itself was a rejection of its sufficiency, and therefore, the power of its God to transform through it.
The seeker churches have adopted the model that the gospel needs a makeover. It can still be that nerdy girl with a ponytail and glasses underneath but now she'll have far more makeup, cool accessories, contacts, and a minidress. All the Reformed jeer in disgust but let us wait to express our lack of delight in the neo-evangelical additions to the power of the gospel and realize that we have seen the same among ourselves. The gospel is an ugly girl to many of us without Aristotle or Freud. It is a boring nerd without the pazazz of enthusiastic experiences. The Word seems empty and less effective without the pretty colors of stained-glass windows and iconography. Maybe just a touch of visual symbolism here and a dash of incense there would make the gospel a prettier and more exciting girl to be with.
If the above were understood, it would bring an end to the pop-psychology market among Christians. What else do you need to save your marriage, bring up your children, deal with childhood trauma? Is the gospel not the answer to all things? Or is it impotent to transform all areas of your life, family, and society?
Biblical religion sees spirituality as a slow process of becoming like Christ through the gospel, not an immediate feeling of closeness to God through existential experience and philosophical knowledge. These means are not only fool's gold they take away one's trust in the gold market itself. They are empty replacements that only seem like they are doing something to the individual because of the bodily, fleshly chemicals they produce when one practices them.
The preaching of the Word of God creates a culture from the ground-up by transforming individuals slowly and, dare I say it, as invisibly as the God who creates. I do not mean that there will not be true physical effects of the preaching of the Word but rather that the process is so slow and far less dramatic than speaking in tongues and falling over before a crowd of ten thousand people that the transformation and knowledge thereof is almost invisible.
And that is the problem. We want to SEE change. We are idolaters by nature. We demand a spirituality that we can evaluate through intellectual or emotional stimulation because we demand a religion of sight rather than faith in the invisible workings of God. We are the gods of this religion, as the devil desires it. We are the ones who determine the efficacy of the simple gospel by how our spirituality makes us feel about our own progress and the progress of others around us. We are all liars and self-deceived though. Our spiritual progress is determined by the gospel at every stage, whether we have not only believed it and its sufficiency in the beginning but whether we are picturing it in our actions to follow. This means that biblical spirituality is about the gospel from beginning to end and it is sufficient from beginning to end. In other words, it never leaves the gospel. The gospel creates the gospel and never anything else. All that is of Christ is the pure gospel and all of the devil is anything that is not the pure gospel.
You are free to love philosophy, traditional ceremony or modern entertainment but none of it contributes to the gospel a single particle of transforming power and can only remain as an empty husk that can be discarded at any time. We do not change people by having the right tune in our songs, the right style of our clothes, the right philosophers in our libraries, the right food in our stomachs, or the right drink in our mouths. None of this is the true culture of God because God's culture isn't about songs or clothes or human wisdom or food or drink but about the glory of God who will not share that glory with anyone or anything else. He is the Savior of the world and what He has done does not need additional adornment for it to be fully sufficient and effective to change the world that He began to create millennia before Aristotle or Freud were a twinkle in their parents' eyes.
God's culture, therefore, does not need to mimic the atmosphere of medieval Byzantine folk religion or a smoke-filled pub in the late Rennaissance period. It can exist in those atmospheres but it neither needs nor is enhanced in any way by them. It alone transforms. It alone creates. It alone accomplishes the will of the Spirit who uses it to change all things to testify of the Son who gives glory to the Father. It alone must be our mission focus. Anything else is superfluous.
This article was originally published at https://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/2022/09/how-to-deny-gospel-while-affirming-it.html on September 20, 2022.
Bryan Hodge (BA, Moody Bible Institute; MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas, NV. He is husband to Allison and father of nine.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.