Contextualizing the Gospel to the Trendy Un-Churched

I’m just not a trendy guy.  I don’t like fashion trends, musical trends, or the latest trends in political correctness.  I especially don’t like church trends.  You know the type: whatever it takes to entertain the audience and bring them back.  PT Barnum had nothing on the current crop of trendy preachers.

I listen to sermons on a regular basis.  A friend asked that I watch some videos from a local preacher and offer some feedback.  He’s a young preacher (chronologically and experientially) and he’s leading a young, vibrant church, I was told.  Given the explosion of growth he was experiencing, I was curious to hear the sort of message he was propounding.

“Trendy” doesn’t start to describe it.  Because the congregation was filled with upwardly-mobile 20-somethings, the message was purposefully and specifically designed to appeal to their hipster sensibilities.  For instance, the apostles were referred to as “12 dudes” and Jesus was portrayed as a sort of life coach rather than the Lord of glory.  It was painful to watch.

A number of years ago, in an effort to draw a younger demographic, churches began offering an alternative form of church service, known as “contemporary worship.”  They traded their organs for electric guitars, skipped the robes in favor of blue jeans, and middle aged preachers spiked their hair and grew “soul patches” below their lower lip to show how hip and relevant they were.

Relevant.  That became the buzzword.  The church needed to make Jesus more relevant.  And that meant jettisoning the traditions of the church and embracing every movement, trend, novelty and “purpose driven” book/DVD/study guide that came down the pike.  The church became a marketplace for comedians, performance art, pop stars, and purveyors of psycho-babble.  And along the way, the gospel — the plain and simple recitation of the elements of Biblical truth and doctrine — fell by the wayside.

Yet, there was no sense of worry.  No panic.  After all, the seats were being filled and the coffers were growing fat.  In a word, it was “working.”  And the new buzzword became “contextualizing.”  For instance, when Mark Driscoll grew Mars Hill Church to megachurch status wearing Mickey Mouse shirts and biker chains, he said that he was “contextualizing” the message to the audience he was addressing.  Because it “worked,” others followed the model.  And a trend was born.

Driscoll claimed that his young, Seattle urbanite congregation was mostly “un-churched.”  That’s why he had to make church “relevant” to them.  And that brings us to the local guy I mentioned earlier.

He also claimed that his congregation was “un-churched.”  Hence, the various amusements and entertainments that accompanied his message. That’s why his message was sprinkled with language and story-telling conventions that weren’t found in the text, but which made the Bible more “approachable,” said he.

As I listened to him talk, I couldn’t avoid the impression that he thought the Bible, as written, was insufficient.  It had to be made more relevant to the listening audience.  It had to be “contextualized.”  It had to be accompanied by entertainment.  In short, it had to be improved.

Why?  Because the people to whom he was speaking were “un-churched.”

I’m a Bible guy.  I actually believe that the Word of God is sufficient to accomplish whatever God intends for it to accomplish.

"So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;  It will not return to Me empty,  without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)

It does not need to be watered down or made more relevant in order for the Almighty to do what He intends to do.  As Charles Spurgeon rather famously said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

But here’s my point (and I do have one) — the Bible knows nothing of “un-churched” people.  I contend that the folk the trendy preachers are appealing to are not un-churched, they are un-saved.  And dumbing-down the Bible in order to make it relevant to the unsaved is utterly contrary to every Biblical example I can think of.  No prophet took that approach.  In fact, they so feared and revered God that they would always and only say whatever God instructed them to say.

But Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the LORD speaks, that I must do’?” (Numbers 23:26)

Neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever sugar-coated the message of judgment and salvation in order to appease the unbelievers. And, to my way of thinking, failing to preach the whole counsel of God, the way God Himself presented it, is a dereliction of duty.  It is a sure demonstration that the church has forgotten its purpose and calling.  The church exists for the proper care and feeding of the sheep, not for entertaining goats.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

One last thing: Paul repeatedly called for unity in the church.  Genuine Christian unity is the result of sound doctrine.  Teaching the Bible is the only way to create unity within a congregation. If everyone believes differently, unity is impossible.  When the preacher demonstrates a low view of Scripture, or when he teaches by example that the Bible is flexible or is merely an outline on which we can hang our own opinions, that attitude will be reflected by the congregation.  And confusion ensues. Sound doctrine leads to healthy, grown-up Christianity.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Altering the gospel in order to make it more appealing to the unsaved is a fool’s errand. This is serious work we’re engaged in, not to be taken lightly.  And a proper reverence for God’s word is critical to the task.

Then again, I’m a less-than-trendy Bible guy who pastors a local non-mega congregation.

But, I’m happy to be that way.

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Of Birds, Evolution, and Faith

I was watching a nature show on TV when they turned their attention to the black heron, a medium-sized African bird who is keen on fishing.  They showed video of the heron draping its wings forward, cape-like around its body, casting a shadow over the shallow bank of a pond.  Small fish gathered in the shadowy water, allowing the heron easier access to lunch.

The commentator said, “The heron has evolved this behavior and ability to create an umbrella with its wings in order to catch fish more effectively.”  Black heron

And that got me thinking.  We are told repeatedly that animal behavior is the result of evolution.  But, we should pause when we hear such things and ask ourselves whether that’s even logical.

Think with me …

What we’re being asked to believe is that an early ancestor of this bird was doing a bit of fishing and came to realize that fish preferred shadows to direct sunlight.  But there was very little he could do about it since his wings were built for flying rather than for shadow-casting.  Nevertheless, he held on to that bit of information and managed to share it with friends and progressive generations of herons after him.  As thousands of years passed, generation after generation of herons tried with all their might to bring their wings forward, block the sun, and attract their meal.  They were apparently not dissuaded by the fact that couldn’t do it and that this particular technique was of no immediate help to them. The plucky birds continued their attempts until, by mere force of will and determination, they changed their own genetic code.  Eventually, their wings grew wider and more flexible, allowing them to accomplish their long-awaited wing-wrapping behavior.  Amazing tenacity, you herons, you.

Now, before you’re put off by my approach, isn’t that exactly what the commentator meant by saying that the heron had “evolved this behavior and ability”?  Isn’t evolution something that happens gradually, over long stretches of time?  And isn’t all evolution driven by the need for food and the preservation of the species?  Well then, how did a bird who couldn’t do something know that it would be beneficial to do it?  And how did that knowledge change the genetic makeup of that particular type of bird?

Darwinian evolution tells us that behaviors and physical traits that do not benefit the survival of the species eventually fall away.  Survival of the fit, and all that.  The heron’s inability to cast a shadow with its wings would not have eventually produced the ability to do it.  It would have resulted in adaptation: the herons would have eaten something else or learned to fish with the abilities it had.  Either that, or die.

Where, I wondered, did those early herons get the idea that throwing a shadow on the water would be beneficial?  Careful observation?  Are birds really that logical?  And, if they couldn’t do anything about it, how were they capable of passing that information along, generation after generation for thousands of years, until one day one young heron was able to do it?  And since his newfound ability would have been a mutation, how was it passed along to all herons so that they could all benefit from this unique fishing experience?

Now, here’s my point.  When we say that we believe in a Creator, we are often chided and belittled for our naiveté.  Belief in such a Being is said to be based in faith, not in fact.  But, when we’re told about vision-casting, supremely logical, prescient, genetically self-altering birds …. that’s science.

In response, someone will counter, “Natural selection!”  But, natural selection is not a thing.  It’s not a force.  It’s a phrase.  If it IS a thing, if it IS driving all life forward and directing the herons to eventually learn how to fish better, then it’s a creative force akin to the God spoken of in the Bible.  “Natural selection” is really just the evolutionist’s version of a creator.

So, the evolutionist spins around in a quasi-scientific Catch-22.  Evolution cannot explain things like the eyeball.  Only a complex, working eyeball produces sight.  But we’re asked to believe that non-sighted animals somehow understood what sight was and that it would be beneficial in hunting and finding a mate.  So, the eyeball evolved, despite the fact that every early stage of development would not have produced any sight at all.  Nevertheless, “natural selection” kept developing eyeballs until one day sight occurred.  And the seeing animal was so excited, he managed to pass that ability along.

OR — eyes exist because God decided they would and He knew what He was doing.

I find that much easier to believe than the alternative.

Thank you, herons, for a valuable object lesson.

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A friend sent me an article by Hank Hanegraaff … you know, the “Bible Answer Man.”  The article is a response to the Left Behind books and movie.  Hank is a preterist, so he and Tim LaHaye are at polar opposite eschatological extremes.  Anyway, in the article Hank offers a rather biased “definition” of dispensationalism, which he says results from a “strict literalism” when reading the Bible.  This is an accusation I hear regularly.  And I can’t help but be amused by it.  Inherent in the charge of “literalism” is the tacit admission that our view is the result of actually reading what the words on the page genuinely say.  So, I guess in order to support the other positions, you must ignore what the text says in favor of an interpretive scheme.

No thanks …. I’ll stick with the words on the page.  But, thanks for admitting it’s in there.

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Daily Assurance

I woke up this morning with the phrase “daily assurance” rolling around in my noggin.  Perhaps it’s an echo of what we taught Sunday morning about asking our Father for daily bread.  We don’t get to ask for tomorrow’s provision, only today’s.  In the same way, God provides us with daily confidence and assurance that He is present, mindful, and involved in the events of our lives.

Jesus instructed, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:34)  There is tremendous wisdom in that.  As my old professor used to say, no one ever had a nervous breakdown worrying about today.    But we’re anxious over tomorrow, next week, a month from now.  So we should remember the phrase, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

The prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations.  And he knew what he was talking about.  He had a rough go of it; nearly forty years of telling the truth and not a single recorded convert.  In chapter 3, after penning a litany of afflictions, Jeremiah turns his eyes to the only refuge available.  And it’s in that context — the list of woes and troubles — that Jeremiah provides the title of the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

This I recall to my mind,
            Therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  Great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” (Lamentations 3: 21-24)

I have been known to half-jokingly warn: Cheer up, saints, it’s going to get worse.  But not this morning.  Rather, cheer up, saints, because our God is good and His mercy is new in this cycle of the earth’s rotation.  The same God who keeps the universe spinning promises that He will provide the mercy necessary to sustain you, forgive you, and comfort you.

And I know me.  Before this day is out, I will be utterly dependent on that mercy.  I am grateful that it is renewed daily.  That knowledge refreshes my soul.

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Ecclesiology Week 3 Notes — and a new video!

Well, it only took 64 weeks, but we’ve managed to wrap up our Systematic Theology Series.  Here are the notes for our final week.

Ecclesiology Week 3 Notes

And, we’ve produced a new YouTube teaching video.  This time we addressed the common misunderstanding arising from the phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

I shot this video in my sunroom, which means there was plenty of sunlight pouring in through the blinds.  That caused my webcam to color-balance rather arbitrarily throughout the video — a fact I had not noticed until everything was put away and I was editing the raw video, adding graphics, and preparing it for processing.  At that point, it was too late to go back and restate everything.  So I let it go.

Well, once it hit YouTube, their process emphasized the problems and my skin tone ranged from pasty white to sunburn red.  It was not pleasant.  So, I used YouTube’s adjustment panel to convert the video to black and white. Fortunately, all the graphics were black and white to start with, so it didn’t change them much.  And I think the end result is at least somewhat more watchable.

But, I’ll let you decide.

 

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Ecclesiology Notes for Weeks 1&2

Three weeks of ecclesiology will bring our Systematic Theology series to a close.  For those of you keeping up with the notes, here’s the material I used for weeks 1&2.

Ecclesiology Weeks 1&2

Audio for Systematic Theology, Week 62 – Ecclesiology Part 1

Audio for Systematic Theology, Week 63 – Ecclesiology Part 2

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Angels and Demons — New Notes!

We are continuing our study of Systematic Theology and here are the notes for the last three weeks:

Angelology Part 3

Demonology Part 1

Demonology Part 2

I appreciate all the positive feedback.  These appear to be subjects that have piqued the interest of our listeners.  And that’s good.  Anytime God’s word make people sit up and pay attention, that’s a positive thing.  Thanks again.

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Angelology Notes for Weeks 1&2

I guess the title tells you what to expect in this post.  :-) Here are the notes for the first two weeks of our teaching on Angelology as we continue our Systematic Theology series Angelology Weeks 1&2 notes And if you’re looking for the audio for these two lessons, just click the players:

 

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