As fellow-blogger Teddy informs us, in The surprising face of Hillsong Tony Payne and Gordon Cheng report on the gospel as presided over by Brian Houston, in the end drawing on the work of Nathan Walter including:
Walter started with the assumption that ‘core gospel content’ must at the very least include some basic truths about:
* sin—that we are rebels against our holy, creator God, and deserve nothing but his wrath and condemnation;
* Jesus—that he is God’s perfect obedient Son, who died as a penal substitute for our sins, and rose victorious and vindicated as Lord and Christ;
* our response—that in the gospel God calls on us to turn from sin in repentance, to put our faith entirely in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and to wait for his return, when he will judge the living and the dead, and bring salvation and eternal life to those who have put their trust in him.
Having looked extensively at Hillsong books and publications, listened to a range of audio and televised sermons (especially those that purported to deal with these subjects), and visited Hillsong church on serveral occasions, Nathan Walter arrived at some unsettling conclusions. These three core subjects are certainly touched upon and discussed, but the content and emphasis is disturbingly different from what we might expect:
* when sin is spoken about, which is not often, it is usually in terms of immorality in the world or else negative thinking and attitudes that destroy God’s purpose in our lives, and limit our potential;3 there is no concept that we are under God’s wrath or condemnation because of our personal rebellion against him, or that there is a connection between sin, death and judgement;4
* it is asserted that Jesus is God’s perfect Son and even that he died ‘for us’ or ‘in our place’, but what this means is not explained; not a single example was found expounding Jesus’ death as taking the penalty for sin on our behalf so that we might avoid God’s wrath on judgement day; instead, Jesus’ death and resurrection is usually quoted either as an example (of overcoming difficulty and living with purpose),5 or explained as the source of healing and empowerment for living an abundant and healthy life;6
* our response to the Christian message focuses heavily on the power of choice God has given us, on the need to change mental attitudes and thought patterns so as to live in the blessing God has for us, and on the biblical ‘law of cause and effect’— that if we obey Bible principles we will succeed and flourish in life, as God intended.7
Nathan Walter summarized his findings like this:
In their understanding of humanity and sin, Hillsong distorts the diagnosis: it’s not so much that we’re sinful rebels against God our creator, and therefore objects of his righteous anger and judgement, under the sentence of death; it’s more that we have allowed all kinds of bad choices and negative thinking to get in the way of reaching the purpose and potential God has in store for us.
This means that although Hillsong still believes in and proclaims the historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they understand these events differently. They do not proclaim Jesus’ death as a substitutionary atonement, turning aside God’s wrath so that I can receive forgiveness and be saved on the day of judgement—rather, Jesus’ death and resurrection function as an undefined entry point into the life of blessing that God has for us, and serve as an example of what a fully devoted life in tune with God’s purposes looks like (effectively a ‘moral influence’ view of the atonement).
And because they have twisted both the problem and the solution in Christ out of shape, their account of how we should respond to the gospel is also badly flawed. It’s not about clinging to Christ in faith for forgiveness of sins, and pursuing holiness through the work of the Spirit—it’s about choosing to change how you think, and obeying the Bible’s principles, so that you can move into a period of success and flourishing in every area of life.
… and concluding
[Hillsong] did not faithfully and clearly teach the gospel of Christ—and this was not through denial or outright heresy, but through distortion, replacement and omission.
For all the hype and hoopla, we were not directed to the narrow gate and the difficult way that leads to salvation. Instead, we found ourselves being beckoned down a broader and far more awesome road; a road paved with promises of blessing and divine purpose; a road with inspiring tour-guides, thousands of warm and enthusiastic fellow-travellers, and a soundtrack to die for.