Self-help books flood the consumer market. Researchers claim that by the year 2022, the self-improvement industry will have a total market value of 13.2 billion dollars. The titles of these books speak for themselves. Consider this one by author Steven Schuster: “Mindset Makeover: Tame Your Fears, Change Your Self-Sabotaging Thoughts, and Learn from Your Mistakes.” Elizabeth Gilbert’s title also sounds compelling: “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” While I believe that the self-improvement industry helps a lot of people better live their lives, I do not believe such “improvement” strategies should be taken as the gospel. Yet, that is exactly what is happening in our culture, and it saddens me to see similar titles from so-called preachers of the gospel. Consider this one from Joel Osteen: “Next Level Thinking: 10 Powerful Thoughts for a Successful and Abundant Life.” TD Jakes of Dallas has a similar title: “Soar! Build Your Vision from the Ground Up.”
You also see this self-improvement religion seep into sermon titles. “Seven steps to be a God honoring spouse.” “Three ways to cultivate God-sized dreams for your life.” While such literature and sermonizing might make for interesting and even insightful, contributions to our lives they should never be taken as the good news of the gospel. The above titles, especially from Osteen and Jakes, conceal a very sinister and dangerous assumption: the gospel is about good advice. In other words, the gospel can give you good advice for your career, your marriage, your parenting, or even your finances.
However, the biblical definition of gospel is not good advice, it is good news. If it were good advice, then the gospel becomes something that we have to live by and achieve in some way. Good advice means that you are given a task or directive to fulfill for your benefit. You have to make something happen. Yet, good news is quite the opposite. Good news says that something already has happened, and it already has defined your life. Tim Keller, Presbyterian minister and author, makes this distinction clearly: The gospel is good news, not good advice. The gospel is not primarily a way of life. It is not something we do, but something that has been done for us…” Indeed, Jesus Christ died, and God raised him from the dead for our salvation. You need nothing more, or nothing less than that.
(Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)