I couldn’t get out of my mind that a couple of weeks ago there was a survey of evangelicals, and it was called The State of Theology. You can find it on the Ligonier website. And people were basically defined as evangelicals if they believed the Bible, if they believe Jesus, and if they believed the gospel, and if they felt they were responsible to communicate the gospel to other people—those four things. So if you are a Bible-believer and a gospel-believer—and Christ—and you felt responsible to proclaim that, you were considered an evangelical. Interestingly enough, the survey indicated that evangelicals have absolutely no idea what they believe, many of them—in stark contrast to Puritans and other responsible believers.
For example, some of the questions were as follows: Everyone is born innocent; agree or disagree? Sixty-five percent of evangelicals agreed everyone is born innocent. A second question: The Bible is not literally true; agree or disagree? Fifty-five percent of evangelicals agreed the Bible is not literally true. Another one: “God accepts worship from all religions”; fifty-six percent of evangelicals agreed. And maybe the most telling: Jesus was a good teacher but not God; forty-three percent of evangelicals agreed. This is so dystopian. This is so far from Puritan understanding or anybody who has a sound sense of doctrine that it’s shocking.
How did we get “evangelicals” who don’t believe what is necessary to be saved, let alone be a true evangelical? How did we get here? Well this is the legacy of leadership. “Like people, like priest,” Hosea said. People don’t rise above their teachers, Jesus said. The evangelical church has been so busy over the last 30 years trying to find ways not to offend non-Christians, trying to find ways to take the offenses out of the Christian message, designing approaches to nonbelievers that don’t create hostility or rejection, that it has created an evangelical movement that is void of the truth.
Why do they do this? Because the gospel, in truth, is so offensive. It is offensive. In fact, strange as it may seem, the good news is hated by nonbelievers. And so I thought just to take advantage of the distinction between the Puritan understanding of sound doctrine, and our understanding of sound doctrine, and what is pervasive around the evangelical movement, I’d go back to the beginning and talk about the most hated Christian doctrine. As I was walking through the halls of the office this morning, people were guessing what that might be. You’re about to find out.
Let’s begin in John 15. John 15, and there’s a lot to be said about this, and I am going to do the best I can to be selective and helpful to you in communicating. And I think the right place to start is with what our Lord said about hate. If we’re talking about the hated Christian doctrine, the most hated doctrine, then we need to learn from Him. So John 15:18, Jesus is speaking in the upper room with His disciples, and He says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”
One thing the disciples knew for sure was that the world hated Jesus Christ. That’s right. They hated Him. This is not the pagan world; this is the world of Jewish religion. This is the people who were “following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the God of the Old Testament, the creator God. And in fact, Jesus is God incarnate, but they never recognized Him. In fact, they fully rejected Him, and He says here, “They hated me.” And He says, “They hated Me before they hated you.”
There was a time when the Jewish world didn’t hate the apostles. At the beginning of the ministry, in John 7:7, Jesus says, “The world cannot hate you.” “They see you as just part of their world; they cannot hate you.” However, by the time you get to John 17, that changed. And Jesus said this: “I have given you, disciples, My word, and the world has hated you.” What changed? They didn’t hate them until they had learned the message of Jesus and begun to preach it. As long as Jesus was the one preaching the message, they hated Him. As soon as the disciples began to do the same, they hated them.
But why all the hate? Why the hate of the most marvelous, compassionate, gentle, merciful, gracious, kind, loving human who ever walked on the earth and, more than that, the God-Man who expressed divine love, offered forgiveness of sin, entrance into the kingdom of heaven, eternal life? Why all the hate? And Jesus answered that in John 7:7. “The world . . . hates Me because I bear witness to it, that its deeds are evil.” There is the most hated Christian doctrine. It is the doctrine that theologians have called the doctrine of depravity—the doctrine of total depravity, if you will—the doctrine that declares that the whole human race is sinful.
That’s what generates the hate, because fallen man has to find a way to tolerate himself, and the dominant sin in fallen man is pride, and he will create an image of himself which escapes ultimate condemnation. He will spin a web of delusions about himself that he is good, noble—anything but that his deeds are evil. And this was especially compounded because Jesus was saying that to the Jewish religious people: “You are evil not only in your general life. You are evil in your religion. Your religion is just another form of your wickedness.” And John begins his gospel with, He came into the world. The world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. They rejected Him. And from the get-go, there was hate.