The Popularity Gospel is most difficult to explain. In short, the Prosperity Gospel is stated, but not preached, orthodoxy without orthopraxy. It reduces Jesus to the popular kid in high school. Its hard to describe a heresy that creates an idol out of the living God, but this phenomenon is prophesied in scripture:
3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB
The Popularity Gospel is an artificial image of Jesus that appeals to the masses. It’s often identifiable in those who employ a worldly definition of love when talking about a savior whose kingdom is not of this world. God is all “love” and no wrath. Its favorite verses poll extremely well. We aren’t being saved from sin; we are trusting in Jesus to protect, lead, and bless us. You are good. Jesus makes you better. This diluted gospel accepts worldly premises on goodness, judgment, love, and Christianity as a whole. Its church organizations are mass growth marketing mechanisms. Its sermons are elementary. Its commission is to baptize believers, nevermind discipleship. Discipleship requires critically thinking. With the Popularity Gospel, one just has to sit back, enjoy the entertainment, ambiance, and childcare.
Unlike the Social Justice Gospel, the Popularity Gospel is self-sustaining because marketing works, and the masses enjoy being entertained. What I described was the megachurch motif. But often times a church that preaches the Popularity Gospel is in the closet for the others. We like to define discernment as being able to tell right from almost right and the Popularity Gospel is almost right.
How to identify the Popularity Gospel
Churches that preach the Popularity Gospel will typically define Christianity as “love God, love your neighbor.” But they don’t teach what it means to love God. They allow the audience to apply their own conception of love. Love undefined is a meaningless parameter. If Christianity is only summarized as love God, love your neighbor, this is backdoor legalism to be judged by subjective standards of the world, rather than diving into a deeper understanding that to love God is to obey him and keep his commandments. Love God Love your neighbor were chosen as the number one and number two commandments, respectively, by Jesus because they are summaries of the Mosaic law. The first four of the 10 Commandments are about loving God. The last six are about loving your neighbor. All of the moral law falls under these two categories. What’s missing? Self love.
The Popularity Gospel often promotes self love instead of denial to self, whereas the Bible assumes that people have a self love and say to follow Jesus you must deny yourself. The problem with man is not that we are stain by Original Sin, the problem is we are “messy” and life is “messy” and full of problems. The Popularity Gospel treats sin like a dirty word, repentance like an ancient practice, and sanctification like a “church” word, not for the laymen.
The dumbing down of the Bible into easily digestible bites is a growing concern for Christians everywhere. One of the challenges is identifying this phenomenon with a name, which is why we call this watered down gospel message the Popularity Gospel because it exemplifies the fact that churches are more focused on being growth mechanisms than evangelistic mechanisms.
Ultimately where the Popularity Gospel exceeds the threshold of heresy is the conclusion that the Bible is not authoritative, especially on controversial or unpopular applications of orthorpraxy.