Is Hillsong’s “another gospel”?

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.


22 thoughts on “Is Hillsong’s “another gospel”?

  1. Of course, the error here is typical. The claim that the core of the gospel is sin, Jesus and our response leaves out too much.

    At the core of the gospel is God’s grace and mercy.

    Yes we are all sinners before we accept salvation, and sin is the reason Christ came, but we have to view sin in the context of God’s willingness to forgive. Without his grace we would have no gospel.

    Jesus wasn’t sent to condemn the world.

    “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved’. John 3

    The emphasis on God’s wrath is at odds with God’s free gift of mercy. There is wrath, now covered by grace, and wrath to come, but not for those who accept his grace and mercy and are forgiven.

    The religious law-driven man wants judgement, and with it punishment, because in his world all are sinful, whether saved or not. God sent a Deliverer to fulfil the Law, and a Saviour to deliver grace and mercy. God made the way clear for saints who live a life of righteousness, and holiness, without which we will never see the Lord.

    “You judge after the flesh; I judge no man”. John 8:15

    Even if he did judge, his judgement would be just, but he chose to become a substitute.

    So who is judged?

    “…the Comforter…when he is come will convince the world of in, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged”. John 16

    So a gospel core without righteousness is no gospel at all.

  2. Righteousness is certainly a core element of the Gospel. Their points above are that the Gospel of Christ also contains (1) an understanding that we are of sin before we are saved (2) that Jesus died to save us from sin and (3) we have to repent and turn from sin to be saved.

    Are you saying that the gospel can ommit these elements and still be considered the gospel of Christ?

  3. … because they claim Hillsong does not include these three core truths in their version of the gospel.

  4. No, those three elements are crucial, but there is far more to the gospel than they start with, so their core elements fall short and produce a distorted view.

    The gospel is the good news, therefore here has to be a positive outcome which counters a negative beginning, but the positive attitude of God is the true core element of the gospel, that of grace, which isn’t mentioned once as a core element.

  5. Their point is that Hillsong’s gospel is missing the core of the gospel. Your are not denying that. But you do seem to be defending it. Would you agree?

  6. I don’t really know Hillsong’s gospel apart from their statement of faith, which is a good indicator of way they teach and believe, and, last time I read it, which was a while ago, it seemed OK.

    My point is that the critic’s viewpoint is invalid because it too falls short of the gospel. back to square one for them!

  7. “My point is that the critic’s viewpoint is invalid because it too falls short of the gospel. back to square one for them!”

    So if you can find a small error with what someone says you can write them off completely can you FaceLift? And conveniently ignore their quite valid arguments because their supposed error makes them themselves invalid?

    I see. Have you ever made an error? Does that mean I can ignore your arguments even when they are valid because I can write you as a person off because of your error? Does this apply to you or just to those whose logic you don’t like the conclusions of?

    The point of view you are expressing lacks integrity (not you but the way you are arguing). According to your argument if these guys say 2+2=4 they are wrong because in your opinion their entire viewpoint is invalid.

  8. Well if they focus is on sin and judgement and leaves out grace and mercy, I would say they have missed vital points, and their criticism is flawed.

    It’s not a matter of mathematics, but of key elements of their argument.

    But if you want to remain analytical, to miss grace altogether is to leave God out of the equation, and completely turn the exercise into works.

  9. Teddy says “Facelift, did you open up the article and read the complete review? Just curious.”

    I suspect FaceLift believes that the criticisers are wrong by definition so he does not need to read the article. So he finds a point of emphasis (not a point of fact mind you) to disagree with them and thus write off their viewpoint. The viewpoint is wrong, thus the argument is wrong. Dodgy logic FaceLift I am afraid.

  10. I read the article some time ago, and reread the segment mentioned above. There is no mention of grace.

    These are the three core values given

    1. sin—that we are rebels against our holy, creator God, and deserve nothing but his wrath and condemnation;

    2. 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;

    2. 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.

    Perhaps it is just badly written, but the third actually implies that we are not saved when we receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but when he returns, so I can only conclude that it leaves the person still under sin for the duration if their life unless Jesus comes before they die, which still means they have lived their entire life on earth under sin.

    So then, how do we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and ho do we live in righteousness, and how can we no longer be slaves to sin but servants of righteousness?

    Then there is the omission of God’s grace. Grace must be a core value. You still have not acknowledeged this. Nor have you acknowledged the core value of righteousness.

    We are saved by grace through faith, and it is the gift of God. It cannot be earned. It is given. Yet the gift of God is omitted from the core values presented as key to the gospel message.

    You all this a ‘small error’!

    Leaving out grace and righteousness amounts to two major errors.

  11. How does Hillsong stack up against the 3 core values presented by Nathan Walker?

    Walkers 3 core values:

    1. sin—that we are rebels against our holy, creator God, and deserve nothing but his wrath and condemnation;

    2. 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;

    3. 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.

    Hillsong’s core values:

    WHAT WE BELIEVE
    We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives.

    We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy.

    We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

    We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

    We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives.

    We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptised in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues.

    We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfil our role in the Church and serve the community in which we live.

    We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively.

    We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ.

    We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

    http://www2.hillsong.com/pages/default.asp?pid=9

    I guess that settles it!

  12. I might be a bit thick here but didn’t Nathan Walter say that, “‘core gospel content’ must AT THE VERY LEAST INCLUDE some basic truths about etc”. he wasn’t summing up his whole position on the Gospel in three points. he’s suggesting these concepts are absent or distorted or understood differently from what is traditionally believed. What does it have to do with joy? Will incorporating these concepts into the message make people miserable? Should we expect that they don’t sing songs and have a laugh around at Walter’s place?

  13. The joy commentary is on another thread, rotationmethod.

    Well if you consider these things the very least core values, I suppose you have a point. In which case, Hillsong, by it’s own admission, qualifies admirably, as indicated above.

    I would extend my very least core values to include grace, the resurrection and righteousness through faith. I mean it wouldn’t take very much extra writing space to lay down these concepts, since they are rather important. Their omission seems odd, and incomplete to me.

    However, Hillsong has the three core values introduced by Walker right there in their statement of beliefs, and almost word for word the way Nathan put it, on his three core values anyway, so I don’t know what the fuss is about any more.

    I mean, it took me all of five minutes to locate and copy these things for you all. You’d think Nathan, and then Tony Payne and Gordon Cheng would be bright enough and honest enough to have taken the same trouble and mentioned it in their piece, wouldn’t you? Oh, and teddy might have checked it out also.

  14. You should know, FaceLift, that organisational behaviour and culture is always different from the written statement of beliefs or written values. It is usually completely different.

  15. Well, how would he following be any differently thought out or worked out? It is almost identical to Walker’s core values. They’re not operational policies, but core beliefs in their understanding of the gospel, which the subject here.

    ‘1. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

    2. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

    3. We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives.’

    Compared to:

    ‘1. sin—that we are rebels against our holy, creator God, and deserve nothing but his wrath and condemnation;

    2. 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;

    3. 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.’

    Am I the only one getting this?

  16. FaceLift said: “I mean, it took me all of five minutes to locate and copy these things for you all. You’d think Nathan, and then Tony Payne and Gordon Cheng would be bright enough and honest enough to have taken the same trouble and mentioned it in their piece, wouldn’t you?”

    Couldn’t agree more. It seems at first glance to be an obvious problem with what they are saying. It makes me want to read it again carefully and see if I have missed their point.

  17. FL,

    What people state on their website and what they do in practice are often two different things.

    Hillsong also state on their website that they don’t make politicial donations, but the reality is a little different.

    Don’t always believe what people post on their website as their core beliefs.

  18. “The joy commentary is on another thread, rotationmethod.”

    So it is. Sorry about that.

  19. On that basis, and using your logic, Ruddigar, you would have to take Nathan Walker’s three core values with the same pinch of salt, wouldn’t you?

  20. Ruddigar said: “What people state on their website and what they do in practice are often two different things.”

    As it turns out I kind of know someone who was at the Nathan Walter’s seminar. Rudigar’s point was one of the themes of the seminar. They talked about the Anglicans’ “69 Articles” (their statement of faith) and how actual teaching at the micro level can vary from the macro level.

    The point of the seminar was that you have to test the individual things you are taught and not just accept all your hear, that the responsibility for looking out for false teaching is your own.

    Refreshing really 🙂

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