I return briefly to the predominate theme that I often pursued on this blog, and I will allow to go dormant again.
I listen, when time allows, to sermons from different churches, different pastors. Many are quite edifying and Christ exalting. Others, I sadly find less so. I come away with some overarching observations, some quite disturbing, based not so much on any one individual sermon, but more on an overarching methodology that gives birth to some common themes.
I recently listened to a substantial portion of a sermon by Perry Noble wherein he stated repeatedly that “God is trying…” and that “God tries….” In the context of this particular sermon, this rhetoric was used to describe God’s ‘attempts’ to get peoples attention, specifically Herod’s in the case of the aforementioned sermon, so as to draw them to Himself. I appreciate and applaud the evangelical zeal found in the sermon (even though the pastor did not correctly interpret the text and read his own ideas into it), but I have extreme reservations over a pastor, or anyone for that matter, saying ‘God tries’ .
My reservations are not a case of putting too fine a point on peripheral or merely illustrative rhetoric. When we talk about our Redeemer, about God almighty, we need to be careful and accurate about the words we use out of reverence to a Holy God. We need to thoughtfully weigh our words and thoughts about God in light of Biblical revelation, especially when one is an under-shepherd charged, along with the elders in the church, with guarding and feeding the flock, the body of Christ.
What then is the problem with saying “God tries?” To try infers potential of failure. To say that God tries is to infer potential of failure in God almighty, that His will may be thwarted. If such were true, then His will could be stunted and I can have no absolute confidence in that God. That truncated God, a God who tries, (and apparently failed in Herod’s case in the context of the sermon) is not the sovereign God of Biblical revelation.
Again, I make specific reference to a particular sermon, but I have heard this same rhetoric, this – I hope unintended – reference to a limited God, on other occasions and by various individuals. Where does this conceit come from, this idea that God is somehow limited by our choices? It goes back to a humanistic theology, a strain of Christianity that permeates much of the landscape of American ecclesiology. Beyond the errant inferred limitations placed on God, I find sometimes a subtle redefinition of the Gospel. Before I continue, I want to make something perfectly clear. I am not calling into question motivations or authenticity of faith of any particular personality. I am not going to bash any particular individual. However, I will not shy away from bringing the hammer down on what I strongly believe is theologically dangerous methodology.
What of this subtle distortion of the Gospel I mentioned? It is a distortion that comes on the heels of a confusion between felt needs and true spiritual need. It is a blurring of two aspects, the simple proclamation of the faith delivered by the apostles, repent and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the perceived benefits of salvation which is the meeting of the felt need for significance, the felt need for purpose, the felt need for happiness. I could go on, but I think the point is clear that there are many felt needs we all would want to write in on the sign-up sheet for salvation. The danger in pandering to felt needs is this: our felt needs are not necessarily reflective of our true need before a holy and righteous God. We may, based upon certain evangelical exhortations, approach God and request transformation so that our felt needs for self-esteem, security, and significance are met, for example, but quite miss the real need for forgiveness of sin. So many evangelical calls offer forgiveness along with the thinly veiled and inferred promise that God will fix all your problems and meet all the felt needs of an unregenerate heart, but often what is missing is a clearly defined call to repentance.
What also I find at times offered is a devalued grace, a devalued Gospel. A friend told me of an evangelical outreach to which he was invited to participate. This outreach was aimed at sharing the Gospel with disadvantaged kids. It involved taking these kids hunting and then sharing the Gospel with them afterwords. I appreciate and applaud the hearts desire to share the Gospel. However, one of the things these kids were told was that Christianity was the easiest club in the world to join. Further, I have heard on numerous occasions that I need to try Jesus because He is the best deal going . I have heard Christ offered as a sixty day challenge. The lost, the unregenerate, are apparently invited to try this Gospel thing out, kick the tires and take it around the block a few times. If it doesn’t work for you, you can drop it off where you found it. The Gospel has been reduced to a product that is marketed to consumers. I have read time and time again people in ministry, church planters and pastors, affirm that the church has the best product in the world, but we just are not marketing it as effectively as Disney markets their product. Quite frankly and without regard to the good intent of those who engage it, that methodology, that reduction of the Gospel to a product to be marketed, to a pill freely dispensed, makes me want to vomit. What is missing from these bold, creative evangelical marketing ploys and vision casting is a robust theology of the Cross. The cost of the Cross is rarely given it’s due. Showing clips from The Passion of the Christ or Braveheart from huge screens suspended over an enthralled audience is not a replacement for faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of repent and believe. What kind of Gospel are people being drawn to when the church feels it needs to compete with Hollywood to make the Cross attractive? The Cross is not, nor has ever been, a pill easy to swallow. But you know what, God in His mercy and grace, and in spite of well-intentioned, but often confused methodologies, will draw the lost, the unregenerate to Himself and redeem them by His blood that all glory, all honor, and all praise be to Him. Christ will build His church.