LOTD: Is Bad Preaching the Problem?

LOTD: Is Bad Preaching the Problem? June 1, 2012
John Wilson, doing that thing he does.

I enjoyed reading John Wilson’s thoughts in the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” series. Wilson is the editor of Books and Culture, a voracious reader, and a bit of a gadfly to everyone, always prodding for more careful thought.

What most intrigued me was this paragraph:

Consider the alleged exodus of young people from the church. “We won’t lose students because we didn’t entertain them,” said the dreadlocked Philadelphia activist and preacher Shane Claiborne on Twitter. “We will lose them because we haven’t given the FULL gospel.” Mr. Claiborne’s comment made me think of another gifted preacher, Jesus, who also met with a mixed reception. “From that moment,” we read in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel—after Jesus said that “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”—”many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”

I’m not sure exactly the point that John Wilson means to make in this paragraph. He doesn’t really make the tension explicit, but there’s a strong tension between the first quotation (from Shane) and the second (from Jesus). Surely Jesus gave “the FULL gospel,” right? And yet Jesus “lost” followers by droves. I agree with Kierkegaard on this: when you give the full gospel, you will drive people away. Narrow is the way and few will walk upon it. When confronted with the full gospel, not only in its attractiveness but also in its offensiveness and its challenge, in the way it calls us to die to ourselves and then take up the cross daily, we’re more likely to thin the flock than to fill it. Thousands followed Jesus when they thought he might serve their worldly interests; when the teaching grew hard, and the sacrifice he required became clear, only the twelve remained — “and one of you is a devil.”

Jesus was not exactly concerned with dwindling numbers. He wanted true followers. Consider that. The greatest preacher in the history of Christianity drove them away by the thousands.

Read the rest from John Wilson for your Link of the Day.

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  • Larry

    Yet, with the advent of the Church … thousands were attracted, more than three thousand on Pentecost. Challenge with the Truth? Sure. Preach the full counsel of God’s word? Certainly. But most of all, and above all … lead people into an authentic encounter with a living and present Jesus Christ.

    That effort will yield rather remarkable results by every reasonable measure. How often, though, do we merely present Christ as a figure of history or literature? A doctrinal Christ? Or worse … as a Masthead for our particular agenda.

    Paul’s words to the Ephesians ought to motivate and haunt every minister toward cultivating encounter with the living Christ …

    “And ye did not so learn the Christ, if so be ye did hear him, and in him were taught, as truth is in Jesus …” (Eph 4:20-21 YLT).

  • Pat Pope

    And live the full gospel; don’t just preach it. People of all ages can smell inauthenticity and hypocrisy from a mile away.

  • Brian P.

    Why not skip the magical beliefs and just be nice to people for goodness’ sake.

    • Larry

      Do you consider urging Christians to “skip the magical beliefs” being “nice, Brian? Being nice is welcome … it does not, however, resolve the spiritual crisis common to all men. That cure, offered by God in Christ, is discovered through “the foolishness of preaching”.

      Magical? Miraculous is, I think, closer to the mark.

    • I agree. We are known as followers of Christ by our love. Isolation of this one scripture to make a point, leaves out the other scriptures in which Jesus showed compassion and love to folks as he ministered to them. With that said, love can take on many forms. The full gospel takes this into account, and displays the love of God in the particular way(s) it’s needed at the particular time it’s being ministered – whether it be by direct confrontation or by showing compassion.

  • jason taylor

    Brian, why not just say,”Why not skip Christianity?” If you wish to do this that is fine, but it is absurd to think you can have Christianity without “magical beliefs.” Even the word Christ means Messiah which is a “magical belief”.

  • brettongarcia

    He drove them away by the thousands … but then fed the multitudes, and converted a third of the world?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Actually, he fed the multitudes first, and *then* drove them away by the thousands…but I digress. I believe the Spirit (imparted at Pentecost) can convict masses of people. I’m not trying to deny that. I’m just trying to caution against the presumption that if we communicate the full gospel, people will flock to the altar. That’s not always the case. There is something in the gospel that offends human pride. We are certainly called to preach the full gospel, but we do so to find true followers, not to build up our membership lists. And sometimes I think we should be prepared for the possibility that preaching the full gospel will thin out the membership lists as well.

  • John Wesley’s observation seems pertinent:

    “Here we see what is real religion: a restoration [of Man] not only to the favor but to the image of God, not bare deliverance from sin, but being filled with the fullness of God. Nothing short of this is Christian religion. How little it is understood in the Christian world! And yet, if we believe the Bible, who can doubt it? It runs through the Bible from beginning to end. Beware of taking anything else than this for religion, not anything else: do not imagine an outward form, a round of duties, both in public and private, is religion! Do not suppose that honesty, justice or whatever is called morality is religion. And least of all dream that right opinions [or] faith is religion. Of all religious dreams, this is the vainest.”

  • E B

    I think John Wilson’s thoughts are valid too, however. People do hunger for truth. For spiritual truth. Secular truth (a la scientific method) only gets you so far. Jesus asked his disciples “Will ye also go away?” And Peter answered, “Where would we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” This is what I believe as a Mormon. The LDS Church is unique in that we believe God still gives us truth today. His word didn’t stop with the Bible, just as His love for us didn’t end with the Bible. Thanks for listening.

  • What has emerged is a sort of “Christian influenced” buffet approach to spirituality in which the person’s needs are paramount and they pick and choose from the various beliefs systems what ever it is that suits them at the moment. If anything, what we have is a bizarre amalgamation of the post-modern suspicion of objective truth that seeks to de-mystify Jesus by reducing him to the level of just another moral teacher, but at the same time promotes other types of personal mysticism, individualized paths to some self-defined salvation. America is less of a Christian nation and more of an “emergent church” nation with the emphasis not on Christ as Christ, per se, but on Christ as one of many examples of how to live. As such, He could easily be replaced by Gandhi or Martin Luther King or even Che Guevara in many people’s minds and they wouldn’t miss a beat. Over 500 years after the Copernican Revolution, we have succeeded in putting Man back at the center of the universe but have left very little room for the Creator.

    It’s hard to say which came first: the institutional Christian or the institutional church, but they feed off each other. Our nation is defined by the a la carte Christian who seeks comfort and affirmation and by the institutional pastorate that gives it to them in a doctrine-lite message meant to offend as few as possible. By prosperity preachers whose message is that a good life is one of material success and that the size of one’s bank account is a reflection of your closeness to God; pastors who are afraid to stand up for the Word out of fear of offending their “mega-congregations” and thereby reducing their own “closeness to God,” aka their cash flow. We have diminished and marginalized God and His principles in order to create a belief system that is about us, that is driven by daytime talk show hosts who peddle books by the latest guru and who pad their bank accounts by adding leaven to our already bloated sense of self-worth.
    — excerpt from The Four Pillars of the Kingdom