Monday, November 17, 2008

Driven by the Word


Recent research has found some troubling trends in America. One trend that ought to cause us great concern is that since 1991 the number of unchurched in our country has almost doubled. The adult population has grown by 15 percent but the number of adults who do not attend church has risen from 39 million to 75 million. In light of this growing secularism many voices within the church have offered a variety of remedies. Some of the most popular remedies offered have resulted in a diminishing of the Word of God in the pulpits of our churches. We are told that to simply preach expositionally from the Bible is “boring” and “not relevant to the needs of modern Americans.” The result has been a church that is fascinated by fads and captivated by the trendy. We should not be surprised by the growing secularization within the church. We have thrown away the preaching of the Word in favor of “talks” driven by the latest fads in therapy, management, and personal growth. Ironically, by aping cultural trends we have sown the seeds of our own irrelevance. Is it any wonder that statistics show little or no difference between the lifestyles of those who call themselves Christians and those who do not? The remedy is not to be skilled at adopting or even adapting the techniques of the world but rather to once again affirm our reliance upon that which is unchanging.

Perhaps a letter from Bose that explains the superiority of their sound will illustrate my point:
“We strive to reproduce the musical sounds as closely as possible to those of the original performance. And we strive to avoid flashy sounds such as those associated with accentuated bass and/or treble frequencies. While these sounds may be initially attractive to the novice, they are not real and are not enduring.”
I can tell you from personal experience that the “initially attractive” sounds emanating from our culture can be very attractive to a pastor seeking to reach people. But where is our confidence? Do we trust the enduring Word of God? Do we believe that modern Americans are too sophisticated or too shallow to receive God’s Word taught and preached? Sadly, if one were to take a tour of the average evangelical church in America today the signs of the temporal and the flashy would be abundant.

I have often bemoaned the growing consumerist mindset in the church today. “If you want me to come to your church then offer me the goods and services I demand.” Pastors, wanting to preside over a large congregations, easily give in to the demands of parishioners-turned-customers. One recent article I read noted, “When people see themselves as the purpose and center of life, the church becomes a store of sorts where they can shop what the church has to offer and settle on the best value: which church gives the most to me while requiring the least from me?”

I don’t mean to sound simplistic but the remedy for this is found in the Bible. Divinely inspired, unerringly authoritative, and timelessly relevant, the Bible, through the power of the Holy Spirit, provides for the church both the content of our instruction and the measuring rod for our ministries. For the self-absorbed consumerist God’s Word says, “Whoever loses his life for Me (Jesus) will find it.” For the pastor wondering about the relevance of preaching the Bible says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” For the church wondering about the relevance of the Bible I offer these words from II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Contrary to the shallow thinking in much of the church growth movement, the faithful and passionate preaching of God’s Word has great appeal to a generation that has lost its moorings. Our culture’s immersion in technology and the banal has heightened rather than lessened the relevance of a man standing to proclaim: “Thus says the Lord.” The current conditions of our world have made a real flesh and blood person faithfully teaching God’s Word to a small group or Sunday School class as needful as it has ever been. In an age that seems to have no category for a grand, divinely ordered narrative that guides our existence, the need is great for a church who points to a source of authority outside itself. God’s Word must drive our preaching, our teaching, our discipleship, our praying, and our fellowship. I know of no other way to be faithful to our calling to be a city set upon a hill.

8 comments:

rmkton said...

well ya gotta know I am going to have some problems with this analysis...but let's start with where we agree...i.e. the patient is sick (surely), but where we are going to disagree is the diagnosis and therefore the cure.

The approach to the problem that you describe reminds me of 18th century blood-letting...that is the cure is actually contributing to the demise of the patient. We need to deal head on with the question "Why does today's generation feel that our biblical models do not work...or at least are not any better than another philosophy?" and, more importantly, we have to be able to look at ourselves in response to this question and not blame it on "the world". This kind of approach and dialogue has only deepened the problem.

I find that while many Christians say that they are not afraid of the tough questions (which may be true) most (almost all) are afraid of the tough answers. We need to take a hard look at our biblical models...

Harley A. said...

The way I read Todd's analysis, he's blaming it on the church and not the world - and rightly so.

We need to remember Paul's admonition - God's word is to the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Greeks foolishness - with a strong emphasis on the latter in our day. But, for those who are being saved, it is life. But we have to preach it and not our own home-remedies.

We water it down, pervert it, syncretize it with our culture so that it is none of the above. It becomes nothing - useless wood, stubble, and straw...

Todd Pruitt said...

Mike,

I'm not sure what you're saying.

I am not saying anything about the world. My problem is that pastors are playing with mud pies when they could be having a holiday at the sea. We have prefered the methods of man's wisdom over the wisdom of God.

Conservative, evangelical churches are now preaching pop-psychology with the same fervor that liberals used to.

If calling churches and pastors back to God's Word as a sufficient source for our preaching is akin to medievel blood-letting then we certainly have a radically different understanding of Scripture.

I think we need to take a hard look at our models to determine whether or not they are biblical.

rmkton said...

This is a little challenging to explain on a blog site but I am trying to get to a more fundamental issue that you touched briefly in this statement "calling churches and pastors back to God's Word..." What does that mean? Whose interpretation? How do we determine if we have gotten there?

Yes I think we do have different views of scripture...but fortunately there are folks out there that are trying to bridge the gap between a fundamentalist view of scrpiture (i.e. "God said it and I believe it") to the very liberal view (i.e. the Bible is just an ancient book that describes the morality and thought of the day). Scot McKnight just wrote a book called Blue Parakeet...def worth the read.

Todd Pruitt said...

Mike,

I would encourage you to read Tom Schreiner's very detailed review of McKnight's book (http://theologica.blogspot.com/2008/11/reviews-of-scot-mcknights-blue-parakeet.html).

I wonder if you have read scholars such as Waltke, Blomberg, Leon Morris, or Doug Moo?

I am not looking to find a middle way between fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture and liberal interpretations as if we can somehow split the difference.

While there are things in God's Word that people committed to Scripture's infallibility will disagree on (i.e. the eschaton) there is far greater agreement.

I do not believe that God's Word is a hopelessly mysterious tangle of contradictory ideas. There is a beautiful continuity from Genesis to Revelation. I also hold to the idea of the Bible's perspicuity (clarity). It is not mired in mystery and vagaries.

Dr. McKnight's approach to Scripture leaves it open to cultural captivity - dispensing with those passages that are distasteful to contemporary people.

Harley A. said...

Regarding the research and the trends...

I suspect that previous generations in our past MAY have been more outwardly Christian but perhaps no more so in reality ? It's hard to know. For a long time, church-going was just what a "decent" person did - no good banker, lawyer or school teacher would dare be seen as a sabbath-breaker. While there was probably much superficiality there, I believe God in some way granted us some tangible moral benefit too - I believe our corporate passions were checked to a greater degree and we were in a very real way a more moral people. My point being, we have become a jaded and calloused generation who now votes its conscience with no apology. And the "everybody's doing it" reason for church attendance has been repealed. No more "niceties" - if I see no real valid reason for church then why go. We seem a much more honest generation if nothing else... To me that screams for a committment to Biblical preaching more than ever before. A bright individual will eventually see through the falsity of what many of today's churches deliver - that'w why we are jumping from trend to trend every 10 years. Only the unadulterated Word has the power to save and seal men's souls.

Todd, how do you see Christ's teaching of the wide and narrow roads ? It's always been one of those passages that I don't know what to do with. It seems to me to be sort of "heads up" that we are not to expect great numbers by and large - that we are to expect more rejection than acceptance if His Word is proclaimed. But that seems so defeatist...

rmkton said...

I read Schreiner's critique and I think he has some valid points...particularly about McKnight's "flat-earth hermeneutic"...however I also find that hermeneutics can be a salve we judiciously use to help us deal with issues in the Bible we would rather not have to deal with...while not seminary trained this is one course I have taken.

We can "hermeneutic" our way to dismiss many challenges that the Bible presents and that McKnight discusses. Therefore we end up with something that we do not really wrestle with rather as much as something that makes us feel good about what we already believe.

Todd Pruitt said...

Mike,

The point of hermeneutics is to help us understand what the text is actually saying. If we twist a passage to avoid any sense of responsibility or conviction then clearly we have a problem.

But sound hermeneutics guards us from wrong applications because it helps us rightly interpret the text. Good hermeneutics will not soften hard texts. But it may correct previously held opinions.