A Distortion of the Truth
The “gospel” of Neo-Pentecostalism distorts the true Gospel. Neo-Pentecostalism has, in fact, abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a message of its own making. Neo-Pentecostalism has abandoned the Gospel and created its own message in a variety of ways. This abandonment and distortion has taken several forms. One way that Neo-Pentecostalism distorts and, in the end, abandons the Gospel is through what the late Randy Arnett calls “the ultimization of power.”According to Arnett, Neo-Pentecostals’ emphasis on power tends to emphasis the “personalization of power” and obscures the atoning work of Christ’s death and resurrection.
A Biblical Response
In order to respond to this Neo-Pentecostal distortion of the Gospel, we need to look at two important questions regarding Jesus’ death on the cross as an atonement. The first question is, “What does Christ’s atonement achieve?” A second, related, question is, “How does Christ’s death relate to an individual believer’s relationship with the spirit world?”
Many different theories have been put forward in answer to the first question. Some have written that Christ’s death provided the great moral influence demonstrating God’s love for us. Others have said that Jesus’ death paid a ransom. Still others have written that Jesus’ life and death provide a great example of self-sacrifice that all people should seek to follow. While not dismissing these various theories as incorrect, John Stott wrote that “‘substitution’ is not a further ‘theory’ or ‘image’ to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency.”
At its most basic level the Cross of Christ was an exchange. Jesus’ voluntarily died a sacrificial death in the place of sinners. In his death and resurrection Jesus exchanged his righteousness for our sinfulness; he exchanged his eternal life for our death penalty. The efficacy of Christ’s substitution is complete and beautiful and eternal. We ought not cheapen it by saying that this exchange was for our temporal pleasures and comfort. It was far more important than that.
As to the second question of, “How does Christ’s death relate to an individual’s relationship with the spirit world in the here and now?” the Bible says that believers will continue to struggle with sin throughout their lives (Romans 7). Paul speaks of this struggle in Ephesians 6 as not being against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces. Our weapons in this struggle are faith, truth, righteousness, and salvation. Paul’s call to take up these various tools of spiritual warfare is a call to discipleship. It is a call to the spiritual disciplines and the “normal” Christian life of prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and evangelism. So, the believer’s relationship to the spirit world is from a position of victory – not a victory won by our own efforts, but a victory won on our behalf by Jesus Christ. It is then that we can celebrate the truth of 1 John 4:4: “You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (CSB)
For further reading on the atoning work of Christ check out these books:
- Jeffery, Steve, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.
- Packer, J.I. “The Heart of the Gospel,” in In My Place Condemned He Stood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.
- Sproul, R.C. The Truth of the Cross. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007.
Phil Barnes serves as a lecturer and Interim Academic Dean at The Baptist Theological Seminary of Malawi in Lilongwe, Malawi. His focus is teaching Missions and World Religions. He holds a MDiv and a PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, USA. Phil and his wife Laura have been married for almost 22 years and have 2 sons: Daniel and Jonathan.
Randy Arnett, Pentecostalization: The Evolution of Baptists in Africa( (Eldon, MO, USA, 2017), 153.
John Stott, The Cross of Christ(Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 168, emphasis mine.