I frequently hear of approaches used by "other" Christian preachers and groups referred to as competing "gospels", such as the "social gospel" or "prosperity gospel" (or sometimes "health and wealth gospel"). And then recently, I was reading an article on the Elephant Room controversy which in passing, referred to Bishop Jakes's so-called "prosperity gospel" as a pastoral concern, in contrast with the more substantial doctrinal concerns of the nature of God.
This got me thinking—other approaches are often labeled as competing gospels with Galatians 1:6–10 held up. But referring to this approach as a pastoral concern made me wonder it is quite what Paul had in mind when declaring his anathemas. Putting it in those terms certainly softens the blow. So here is the text:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
(Galatians 1:6-10 ESV)
I suppose there are two ways I would hope to discern the apostole's intention here: it's context in the text, and the historical circumstances in light of which the text was written. One feels a bit like an eavesdropper, as this epistle apparently begins in the middle of a conversation, and Paul doesn't first take time to fill us in on the background. So what can we discern about the competing "gospel" to which Paul refers in Galatians? How would the original audience have understood it?