The Feel-Good Gospel Myth

If you’ve spent even a second as a devout Catholic, you’ve probably heard of and been instantly repulsed by the feel-good gospel. Hating the feel-good gospel is something both believers and non-believers can get behind.

For me, the only thing I hate more than the feel-good gospel is the never ending witch hunt in snuffing it out.

It seems like every time there’s a Steubenville or FOCUS conference, someone on Twitter types out a “woke” thread decrying these organizations for preaching the good ol’ FGG, with some incoherent nonsense about modernism and how this is somehow all Pope Francis’s fault.

It’s gotten to the point where every time I go to preach about God’s love, a little trad troll in the back of my brain goes: “oops is this feel-good, watered down, fluffy, etc. etc?” Self-reflection is good, but this fear of the feel-good isn’t healthy, it’s scrupulosity.

A criticism that organizations like FOCUS, Life Teen, and Franciscan have received is that they focus on “good feelings.” This criticism is undeserved. I know many people involved in these organizations, both in its leadership and the rank-and-file. These groups are full of holy men and women that inspire me to follow Christ more closely.

But even if you don’t believe that. Even if these groups did preach the textbook smooth-talking, slicked-back-hair preacher, feel-good prosperity gospel…it wouldn’t matter. If these groups were targeting young people who are happy and want to feel good all the time, they would close their doors next month. Why?

Teenagers don’t feel good about themselves anymore.

Teenagers feel more isolated, anxious, and depressed than any generation before. If you tried preaching prosperity to them, it wouldn’t work. They can’t hear it.

At a youth event I was talking about Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I asked my teens where they felt imperfect. They said everything from their prayer, to school, sports, dance, theater, etc. I asked, “What do you say to yourself when you feel imperfect?” One kid said he talked down to himself and felt worse for the rest of the day. I asked, “How many of you do that, too?”

All twenty kids raised their hands.

We can’t fix the reason why these kids are depressed and anxious, but we can help remove the obstacles and show them the answer. The obstacle isn’t always a feel-good attitude towards Christ. Some have never felt good with Christ at all and don’t feel good about themselves. That is the obstacle that needs to be moved in order for them to embrace Christ.

Fearing the feel-good gospel can trick us into hugging tightly to the more fire-and-brimstone aspects of the bible. Don’t let the pendulum swing back and forth between feel-good and fear of the Lord. The antidote to both self-hatred and self-love is Christ.

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