Years back I encountered some local apostates. These were people who were raised in Baptist churches like me. In fact, one had been a pastor for a while. They all had one thing in common, disbelief and a hostility to the gospel.
I have had cause to reflect upon my early religious experience and I think I have found a new lens through which to view it. Gospel is supposed to mean "good news."
Let's suppose you weren't raised in a bible believing church and you've never heard the gospel. What comes to mind when you think of "good news?" Let's see, I see the oncologist tomorrow. Good news would be that he finds no sign of cancer. Let's suppose I stop by the Quickie-Mart and pay the Michigan Voluntary Tax On The Stupid, and unlike every other time, I win a few million bucks. That's good news, too. Or someone gives you a car, tax-free.
Good news should put you in your happy place. So, why is it that the gospel doesn't put you in your happy place? I remember looking at a little book my mom left laying around that contained a plain summary of the gospel. I remember being afraid and avoiding that book. Why? From my earliest age, I associated terror and pain with this thing called the gospel.
Was this Good News business just a cruel lie? "Here, kid, have some bread. Ooops, it's a stone. Hahaha."
The thing that makes the downer of the gospel, is that it only makes sense in context. That context is like that Cancer thing. "Hey, I got a cure for cancer. Oh, by the way, you have Cancer."
The two word definition of the gospel is "repent and believe." You can't sugar-coat the need for Repentance and everybody needs to Repent. Most folks don't naturally want to Repent. Great evil occurs when someone tries to force it.
Repentance isn't rocket science: one the one hand, I try to get away with doing wrong and/or rationalize it away. On the other hand, I want to quit doing wrong and enjoy a clear conscience. Change your mind from the former to the latter, sincerely do that and you've Repented. Was that painless?
If you were raised like I was, the Repentance evokes discomfort, despite the fact that the last paragraph defining the term isn't particularly scary.
Given the fact that the visceral reaction that I felt is not rational, we've got to go beneath the surface to find an explanation.
Let's go back to that Cancer analogy. Imagine comes up to you and says, "Hey, buddy, you got Cancer. I got the cure. Want the cure?" Then the guy gives you a placebo. You still feel that gnawing ache in your gut. The sugar pill didn't do any good. And then you look at the guy, and he's got huge tumors growing out of his neck.
This is horrid, but should not be surprising. AND YOU SHOULD NOT IMMEDIATELY DISMISS THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU ARE THAT GUY. I've spent a good part of the day contemplating several "former baptists" I've known. In the worst case, they're angry atheists collecting factoids and arguments that atheists collect. In the best case, they found the cure elsewhere. And there are a lot of hurting people who live someplace in between.
Paul curses these people in Galatians 1:9. I've a friend who "wrote the book" on ecumenism. She's distrustful of interfaith stuff and we're on the same page there. I had bought into her challenge to love the brother who happens to come from a different Christian tradition. But the I saw the preaching of another gospel by spiritual fifth-columnists in my own church. The double-love command requires me to give every benefit of the doubt. But I have no doubt that a different gospel was being preached.
Now, you may be wondering how my metaphor of the guy witholding the cancer cure looks in the specific case of the Baptist churches I've been in. Short answer: Finneyism. Also known as Revivalism.
Review: Wikipedia says "Revival is a work of God by his Spirit through his Word..." That's close enough for our purposes. What did Jesus say about the Spirit? Does the Spirit blow on command? To the contrary, Jesus said the Spirit is like the wind that blows from you don't know where and to you don't know. So, who you going to believe, Jesus or the revalist? Deity will be summoned to make a preacher look good in the last minutes of a sermon.
But how is a Revivalist going to keep the donations coming in? How is the preacher going to convince his deacons that he is God's annointed? If you were raised like I was the answer is in your memory banks: an emotional appeal to perform a Baptist Sacrament using every method of psychological manipulation known to man. Is this God's Spirit or is it a man-made show?
This "gospel" that does not feel like Good News and that chases people out of Baptist churches and that innoculates it hearers against the true Good News of Christ is anathematized by the Apostle Paul, but it makes money and empowers preachers.
This false gospel starts with the truth of God's Justice then distorts it into an everlasting cruelty perpetrated upon those who don't cooperate. All this is played up in the most terrifying terms and young children are exposed to this sort of abuse. When they grow up, they're only sane to want to avoid hearing it again. Instead of preaching God's law that perfectly reflects God's character, there are exhortations about obedience and pride and lust cast about in vague terms. "Here, jump through this hoop. No, jump through that hoop. Bad bad, you jumped through the wrong hoop."
There is no mention of the perfect merit of Christ perfectly performed on our behalf and imputed to us by faith alone.
Instead, there's a load of guilt followed by a call to submit. No, this doesn't advertise itself as Islam, but it walks like it and it quacks like it. And what is the action you are called upon to submit to? Is it repent and believe? Often it's something the hearer doesn't quite understand like asking deity to haunt a pump. (Have you asked Jesus into your heart?) And what exactly does it mean to "accept Jesus?"
The true gospel call is that Christ has erased guilt on the Cross and offers to take yours gratis. Claim Christ, claim Christ's righteousness as your own. Let no man steal what Christ has given you. Trust Christ and none of yourself.