Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Saturday, January 22, 2011 | By: Zachary Bartels

Topical vs. Expository Preaching

This past week, I had a fun and lively exchange with some friends over the issue of topical preaching. As I read through it, I see that I harden my stance against topical as I go (a natural debate tactic for me, but not helpful). Ultimately, I do not condemn topical preaching and you can even find a handful of my topical messages on my church's website. I do believe, however, that the best way for a Christian minister to preach faithfully is by giving expository messages that rightly divide Law and Gospel. Below you will find the exchange in the comments section on facebook and also a couple of messages that came afterward.

Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comment thread below!



Zach

I'm finally preaching a "topical" sermon this Sunday! The topic is: the context, meaning, and application of Zechariah 4:1-14.
Wednesday at 2:46pm


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Joshua
I'm doing the same thing! Only my topic is: the context, meaning, and application of 1 Peter 3:1-7. It's like we learned preaching from the same school, professor and everything.
Wednesday at 3:10pm

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Zach
What are the ODDS?! :D
(God bless Bill Brew and Jim Carlson for bringing us up right!)
Wednesday at 3:11pm - 1 person likes this

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FrankFusion

I am interested in your writings and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
Wednesday at 3:18pm

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Pastor Frank

Maybe topical sermons aren't so bad after all...love it!
Wednesday at 3:23pm

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Cory

So, I'm a little afraid to ask, but what's wrong with a topical sermon, that's, you know, topical?
Wednesday at 5:23pm

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Josh M

I'm guessing the constant flipping back and forth between a dozen or so different passages can get distracting and less coherent as the sermon goes on.
Wednesday at 5:34pm

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Zach

Topical sermons are not always horrible, they're just almost always horrible. They put the preacher in control of the content of God's Word to God's people. It doesn't take much experience with the Scriptures to realize how easily one can mine the text for quotes and then make it say whatever I want it to say.. Preaching God's Word, a portion at a time and letting the text itself determine the content of the sermon is a safeguard against the preacher usurping the role of God's Holy Word, inspired by God's Holy Spirit...
Wednesday at 5:49pm

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Josh M

Ok, your answer was better.
Wednesday at 5:52pm

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Zach

No, yours was classic. But, in the case of Rick Warren and the seeker/purpose crowd, dont forget that the dozen or so passages are in a dozen or so translations to make them further sound like they're saying what I want them to say.
Wednesday at 5:53pm

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Cory

That's a good point that the text itself can serve as a safeguard against finding what we want the Bible to say. On the other hand, our selection of the text to preach can lead to the same problem.
I see expositional preaching as the homiletical extension of biblical studies and topical preaching as the homiletical extension of systematic theology. Since I think both the "narrow-angle" and "wide-angle" scholarly approaches to Scripture need each other, I use a balance of expositional and topical preaching to achieve this on Sunday mornings over time.
Wednesday at 6:00pm

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FrankFusion

I don't know. I know John MacArthur does topical stuff on Sunday nights. Exposition is for the morning.
Wednesday at 6:07pm

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Zach

FrankFusion: John MacArthur also teaches all sorts of dispensational nonsense, so you're not really helping the case for topical there...

Cory: Selecting your text can't lead to selective preaching if you preach THROUGH whole books of the Bible a passage at a time, not skipping anything, and making sure to alternate Old and New Testament and hit every genre. Since I've been at Judson, I've preached through Luke, the Pastoral Epistles, the Johannine Epistles, Jude, Nehemiah, Joshua, the Sermon on the Mount, James and four of the minor prophets. I've also preached a handful of one-offs and topical sermons, which have essentially served as filler between books of the Bible.
Wednesday at 10:19pm

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Cory
That sounds great, Zach. But how long until you preach straight through a book in the Pentateuch, or Hebrews, or 1 & 2 Kings, or the Psalms? The sheer magnitude of the corpus is overwhelming! And you do agree that there is wisdom from those books that you haven't hit yet that your folks need to hear, right?
Wednesday at 11:56pm

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FrankFusion
I'm not dispensational by any measure btw. My point is, that if you teach with a Systematic theological bent you will get topical as systematic theology is topical. Unless you don't preach/teach that way. At least not Sunday morn.
Thursday at 2:59am

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Zach
Cory, no book is off-limits. Took a year and a half to preach through Luke. Hebrews is definitely on my radar. As are the books of the Penteteuch (particularly thinking of doing Genesis soon) and I Kings.

Frank, I didn't suggest that you are dispensational, just that your "But Johnny Mac does it!" argument does not pull its own weight. teaching with a systematic theological bent is just that: teaching. I do that every Wednesday night. The pulpit is for proclaiming Law and Gospel, rightly divided, and showing God's people Christ in all Scripture. It is clear *to me* that expository preaching is by far the best way to make sure this is what takes place. The professors and mentors who taught me to preach bear this out, as do the lion's share of the great preachers throughout the Church's history.
Thursday at 9:01am

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Zach
BTW, Cory, I also failed to mention that, in addition to preaching straight through books, one can also guard against indiosyncratic selection of texts by following the lectionary.
Thursday at 9:01am

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Cory
Good point about the lectionary, Zach. And I'm honestly not trying to change your approach to preaching as God has directed you to do it—he's our Boss. But I just have two other arguments for the validity of topical preaching. First, the Puritans (some of them anyway) were terrific preachers, but their general approach was to take a single verse as their "text" and then go all over the Bible for support for the thing they wanted to talk about. I'm not saying that I think this is the best method in the world (or one that I use), but they preached some very gospel-centric, Christocentric sermons that way. Second, we tend not to see what we would call expository preaching in the New Testament itself. The sermons in Acts don't follow that pattern, nor does the book of Hebrews, which is considered by many to be a sermon as a "word of exhortation" (13:22), unless we look at it as a bunch of tiny expository sermons strung together (which, to me, a good topical sermon usually is). But I'm glad you're striking the balance between wide-angle and narrow-angle by employing one on Sunday morning and the other on Wednesday night. I hope that your folks are coming to both. Okay, I promise I'm done now. Rock out in the Lord on Zech. 4:1-10 this Sunday!
Thursday at 9:22am

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Zach
Do you seriously think God is "talking to" different preachers and telling some, "You preach topical sermons" and telling others, "You preach expository?" I guess I'm way too Reformational to see things that way. I believe God already just ...told us all: "You preach faithfully" in His Word.

We can't use the Apostolic sermons as our models because they did not have a New Testament to preach out of, which is why they were speaking authoritatively, inspired by the Holy Spirit; same reason the Apostolic miraculous signs are not normative. And I don't buy for a second that Hebrews is a collection of sermons.

I also want to be clear that I don't preach one way Sunday morning and one way Wednesday night. I preach on Sunday morning and teach a class on Wednesday night. Topical studies work better as a class because, as you break out a bunch of decontextified verses, you can make sure everyone is familiar with the original context (literary, cultural, circumstantial, etc.) of that passage before moving on... Without that element, topical preaching itself seems to reinforce the very unhealthy view of the Bible as a treasure chest full of gems waiting to be pulled out and "used."

Also, I'm not sure whether you're calling topical or expository "wide angle," but in a good expository sermon, it always begins with the wide-angle (establishing context) and then zooms in, so you wind up covering both.
Thursday at 12:18pm

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Cory
Maybe I need to back up. Do you believe that expository preaching is the only way to "preach faithfully" and is incumbent on all preachers at all times?
Thursday at 4:18pm

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Zach
I believe it is the BEST way to preach faithfully and the only way I know of to present Scripture in a way that communicates Scripture to people in context and in a way that also helps teach them how to STUDY the Bible.

I fear that people who sit under buckshot topical preaching week after week will assume that the way to approach the Bible is to look topics up in topical Bibles or keywords in concordances and mash everything together into a Bible salad. When pastor so-and-so does it, it seems to work...
Thursday at 6:22pm

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Cory
Thanks for your explanation and distinctions. I agree with you that expository preaching is the only way to preach to communicate Scripture in its context and in a way that also helps teach them how to study the Bible. This is one reason that expository preaching is essential.

I also believe, however, that just as good expository preaching models how to study Scripture in context, good topical preaching models how to synthesize the range of biblical teaching on a topos and get the "whole counsel of God" on that issue. I totally agree that "buckshot" topical preaching is terrible. That is taking unrelated Scriptures out of context and using them as mere prooftexts. But good topical preaching isn't like buckshot; it's like raindrops on a spiderweb, all carefully linked. I think that this kind of preaching is important too. One reason is that sometimes the Spirit of God desires a church to squarely face God's word on a certain issue for a week or for a season. The other is that just as Christians can do the prooftext-from-all-over-the-Bible thing to justify what they want, I've also heard Christians be stubbornly dogmatic about an off-kilter dogma they derive from one passage of Scripture that they have failed to compare with the whole biblical witness on that topic. They have no model of how to make that comparison or even awareness that it is necessary to do so.

Our conversation has led me to examine my preaching file. I've found that I occasionally preach a topical sermon, but I often preach a topical series that is composed of a number of expository sermons, and I attempt to connect the dots over the course of the weeks that I preach it.
Thursday at 8:10pm

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Zach
The latter kind of "topical preaching," which is really preaching an expository sermon on a "topical" text is a thoroughly venial sin, even by my estimation. My few topical sermons have been of this variety...

I should also point out that "be[ing] stubbornly dogmatic about an off-kilter dogma they derive from one passage of Scripture" is not a danger of expository preaching, because expository preaching does not involve dwelling on a single passage for more than a week. In fact, I've only ever seen that happen in topical preaching, which frees the preacher to bring up the same text--as one supposedly relevant to the topic--week after week after week...
Thursday at 8:27pm

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Terry H
I am no Bible college or seminary-trained Christian; however, I have learned more scriptural relevance over the past five years under Zach's expository style than I did for approximately twenty-three years under the topical style of a former preacher. I speak as a layman who has seen the misuse of scripture presented via the topical approach of this former pastor who warped scripture to support or perpetuate racial prejudice (to name one misuse).
Saturday at 10:41am

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Message from Adam to Zach
January 22 at 12:55pm

Zach,
Read a few of your blog posts recently. The one about priorities was exceptionally written and illustrated. Nice Job. I've been lazily reading internet stuff recently as I scan and digitize more than 1000 slides...

Anyway, after reading that blog post coupled with a recent fb post you made about topical preaching (and seeming disdain for it), I would think that a message around the issue of priorities, as you wrote about it, would make an absolutely fantastic message using those illustrations around the issue of "no time" for prayer, "no money" for giving, etc. There is scripture galore about prioritizing things in your life towards greater kingdom impact/involvement. Would you ever consider doing something like this? I think topical messages have their place, don't you?

Anyway, just a thought.

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Message from Zach to Adam
January 22 at 1:21pm

Hey, man
Thanks for joining the DOZENS (heh) of people who read my blog... As to your question, "I think topical messages have their place, don't you?" I answer, nope.

Case in point, that stuff about time management is Law (law-lite, but law all the same), not Gospel. It falls under the heading of self-help. Now, only a real smarmy chore of a preacher sends people links to his own blog, but since the subject of your message was "blog," check out this post... I'd be interested to hear your response in the comments section.

Anyway, that do-it-yourself, good-attitude, debt-free, time-management, have-a-great-sex-life, self-improvement stuff has a place as a newsletter article, maybe a Sunday school class, a blog post, or a "thought-for-the-day" at a retreat, but I'd rather be shot in the chest by a high-powered diahrrea cannon than proclaim that as if it were Gospel preaching from the pulpit with my Bible open. That's just me. But it's also the Reformers. (And St. Paul who "determined to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified.")

I mean, sure, a preacher can open his Bible and try to show me what good time management looks like, and I will see how I continually fall short. He can present poor stewardship of time as sin, which it is, and give me hints and tips like the jar of sand thing (from a Mormon's book about priorities and productivity) which are very good and useful tips indeed, but at the end of it all, my question is: WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR A SINNER LIKE ME, who wastes time, often spends it in sinful thoughts and endeavors, and continually falls short? In other words, why is he preaching stuff I could hear on Oprah, Dr. Phil, or read on zenhabits.com, instead of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sin in Jesus name and showing me Christ in all of Scripture? (BTW, please don't mis-read my passion about this as judgmentalism directed at guys who preach topical sermons.)

I've been planning to post the entire exchange from facebook as a blog post to stir up some more discussion. With your permission, I could add your follow-up message above as well...



Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Two Reasons to Obey the Law of the Land


I got a speeding ticket today.


It’s been about eight years since I’ve had the pleasure, and it caught me rather off-guard, as if those flashing lights simply couldn’t be for me. It also brought to the front of my mind the same basic thoughts it always has, including:

  • “Why don’t you go catch some real criminals, hot-shot?”

  • “The speed limit on Oakland is thirty-five?! WHAT? It’s three lanes, one way, all commercial! That’s ridiculous. Nobody goes thirty-five on this street.”

  • “Seriously, you should go catch some real criminals.”

  • “I wasn’t even the fastest one in the pack. I was barely going 50. That guy in the red Mustang was going 60. Plus, he was texting. Why me?”

  • “I guarantee someone in Lansing is getting stabbed right now. Stabbed by a real criminal. And you’re here giving me a ticket for going with the flow of traffic. This is so stupid.”

Of course, I don’t actually say any of this out loud to the police officer. I’m polite to a fault, admit my guilt (bearing false witness in a court of law kind of goes against my conscience, so I won’t be fighting the ticket), and even tell the policeman “thank you” before driving off. (What I’m thanking him for, I have no idea—helping take that pesky $180 off my hands?)

All the same, behind my not-so-righteous indignation, I know the policeman is just doing his job. Part of protecting and serving a community is making sure people drive safely. And one way to do that is hand out tickets to people who break the rules. They give tickets to a few and scare everybody into driving reasonably—and to a degree, it seems to work. Now that I have a son, this makes a lot more sense to me; when people go zipping past my house while Calvin is outside, I’d like to see them get loaded into the backseat of a police cruise—forget the ticket.

And ultimately, I’m not mad at the officer; I’m mad at myself. I should have spotted that speed trap, I think. I should have known he was hiding there, because cops are often hiding there. I’m annoyed with myself for getting caught. I should have slowed down because, if I didn’t, there was a good chance I’d wind up paying the price.

If that sounds a little selfish, I suppose it is. But it’s also biblical. In Romans 13, St. Paul tells us that one reason we should obey the law is because of possible punishment from the civil authorities. He tells us that God has instituted the authorities that we answer to, and that by disobeying them we bring judgment upon ourselves. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?” asks Paul. “Then do what is right and he will commend you.”

Now, I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer so that he or she could commend me for my good driving, but the principle holds. These people are there to do us good. Does that police officer (or magistrate or meter maid or IRS agent) seem like they’re just out to ruin your day? Well, there may be a reason, and it may just have something to do with God. According to Romans 13, the one in authority “is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

So there you have it; if there is a possibility of punishment, we should submit to the civil authorities and the law of the land, so that we won’t bring judgment upon ourselves. But if you know there’s no cops around, blow through that red light. If you’re sure the IRS won’t catch on to you, take that fake deduction. If the DNR is understaffed, then what the heck is a “limit,” right?

Not quite. You see, there’s another reason for Christians to obey the law. Romans 13 goes on to say, “Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:5-7, ESV)

In light of that, it makes perfect sense for me to tell the police officer “thank you” before he drives away. After all, he is God’s servant giving his full time to help uphold the law. He’s there for my good, even when he has to punish me for breaking that law. I owe him respect and so I give him respect.

St. Peter adds yet another reason for Christians to obey the law: so that we will be a better witness to the unbelievers who are watching the way we live. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15)

As we come up on an election—a time when we typically get so tired of our elected officials that honor and respect go by the wayside, let us remember that God has ordained the power of the civil authorities every bit as much as he has ordained the authority of His church. It is often wielded inapprop-riately (just as it is within the church), but that doesn’t negate the authority. Luther called the civil kingdom the “Left Hand of God” and the Church the “Right Hand of God.” We hate to see missionaries and ministers go unappreciated, dumped on, and disrespected. We should have a similar burden for respecting the secular authorities who “bears the sword”—police and law enforcement, judges, governors, lawmakers, mayors, city council, all the way up to the president.

And let’s not forget to keep these men and women in our prayers. Paul wrote this to Timothy: “I urge . . . that requests, prayers, intercession and thanks-giving be made for everyone—for rulers and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

From the Cutting Room Floor... (Weeks 21 & 22, 2009)

I would be surprised to learn that anyone reading this post had not seen the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Most of us have seen it many, many times. But have you viewed the scene in which Dorothy and her three friends perform a choreographed number called “The Jitterbug” as they enter the haunted forest. Probably not. That’s because, despite having taken five weeks to film, the sequence ultimately wound up on the cutting room floor like so many other lengths of celluloid to help shorten the movie. (If you’re interested, you can watch this number here).

It’s actually not very impressive. Compared to classics like “If I Only Had a Brain” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the song is pretty boring. To boot, the dancing is uninspired, the video footage is horribly grainy because the film was not properly preserved, and the scene itself adds nothing the overall story. Sure, we all probably wondered what the witch meant when she said she would "send the insects ahead to soften them up." But did we need to see this uninspired sequence to explain it? Meh, probably not.

And yet, even though they are rarely needed, I love watching deleted scenes from movies and TV shows. I also love buying albums full of “B-sides” or otherwise formerly unknown or unnoticed songs. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because the stuff that doesn’t make the final cut is often better than some material that does. Or maybe I just like the feeling (however manufactured) that I’m “discovering something” that had been "lost" when it was cut because it broke the flow of the show, didn’t fit the theme, or there simply wasn’t time. I also get a kick out of listening to the director’s commentaries, wherein they explain why this is the greatest scene in the world and how much they love it…only to try and explain why they chopped it out anyway.

Depending on your preacher, it might surprise you to learn that sermons—including my sermons—go through the same process if they are properly prepared. Writing a good biblical message on a passage of Scripture requires anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of work. During that time, all sorts of fun and interesting tidbits come to the surface—historical notes, interesting items of Greek and Hebrew grammar, parallels between his text and others (both within and without sacred Scripture.) If a preacher is doing his job, though, most of this material never makes it to the pulpit—only the material that furthers the controlling theme of the message. Even after the sermon has come together, one last sweep is always a good idea to remove any redundant or unnecessary points that might bloat the message excessively.

The past two Lord’s Days, I've been preaching about how the church must be “Gospel-Driven,” not driven by fads, gimmicks, trends, etc. I ranted and raved about how we need to make what God has done (Gospel) the main thing, as opposed to what we should be doing (Law). Law and Gospel are not at odds, but should never be confused. They each have their own function. For example, even though “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a great principle for living, it’s still Law, not Gospel (as it refers to what we should be doing, not what God has done through Christ).

From the feedback I’ve received, the Holy Spirit worked even through my feeble mouth these last couple Sundays to stir up a lot of questions, discussion, and new trains of thought about what church should look like. You can find these two sermons here (part 1) and here (part 2). As always, all of my sermons are available at www.pastorzach.com.

And, just for fun and for further reflection, here are the “deleted scenes” as it were that--for time concerns and flow of the message--did not make it into the final form of the sermon (for your convenience, woven into a somewhat cohesive article):

In his book Prophetic Untimeliness (2006, Baker), Os Guiness laments the current state of the church with these words:

“The faith-world of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Jay, William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Lord Shaftesbury, Catherine Booth, Hudson Taylor, D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Carl Henry, and John Stott is disappearing. In its place a new evangelicalism is arriving in which therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all-consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical
subculture.”


It should be clear to any Christian with a biblical foundation that Dr. Guiness is right on track here. Our concern for maintaining relevance, popularity, and a positive buzz has overshadowed any concern about whether we are presenting the pure and uncut Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sadly, in our re-editing of the church, it is elements of the Gospel that wind up on the cutting room floor, rather than the more human-centered aspects of our churches. The result is that we focus more and more on practical application, life advice, and the person sitting in the pew (Law) than on the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Gospel). We either assume that everyone already “has a handle on the Gospel” (and therefore needs something else, something better and more advanced) or we use the Gospel to further our own social and personal goals.

It is said that Melanchthon one day paid Martin Luther a visit because he was worried for his soul and needed spiritual counsel. He was afraid that he hadn't been a faithful enough Christian to make it to heaven or that the sheer volume of his sin would overwhelm the forgiveness that God had extended. Luther had shared some of the same worries during his days as an Augustinian monk and, therefore, listened to his friend with a patient and understanding ear. After letting Melanchthon go on and on for some time, though, Luther had heard enough and barked, “Oh, stop it, my friend. For the Gospel is entirely outside of you!” This one statement might be the most important thing for our churches to understand today. The Gospel is not something we find within ourselves (not even with the most relevant life advice or the most introspective meditation). All we find within ourselves is Law, which shows us what we do and fail to do and, ultimately, condemns us. The Gospel must come from without. It shows us what God has done for us in Christ and, ultimately, saves us.

Last week, I mentioned the work of sociologist Christian Smith, who did a study of American teenagers, trying to pin down what their religion really was. The findings of this study were heartbreaking. Dr. Smith found that it did not much matter if a teen was a conservative Christian raised in the church or an agnostic with no spiritual training at all—the religion of most every American teenager was the same; Smith calls it “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” Teens tried very hard to keep their beliefs general and avoid anything that smacked of credalism. Under the surface, though, they did have a functional creed and they all stuck to is like moralistic therapeutic deist fundamentalists. Smith identified five points of doctrine in these teens:

  • 1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • 2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • 3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • 4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  • 5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Do you see how this “religion” is entirely built on Law (what we should do) and not on Gospel (what God has done)? It’s completely works-based and me-centered. And this is the religion of most American teens, even those who spend every Sunday morning and Wednesday night in a Baptist, Methodist, or nondenominational church and youth group.

One girl (an active member in her theologically conservative church’s youth group) explained her faith thus: “God is like someone who is always there for you; I don’t know, it’s like God is God. He’s just like somebody that’ll always help you go through whatever you’re going through. When I became a Christian I was just praying, and it always made me feel better.” Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s not just teens, but adults as well, who want to make religion all about making me “feel better.”

I recently saw a video of a popular political pundit explaining why he had become a Mormon. It was heart-breaking to me. He and his wife had decided that they should be attending church in order to pass down a spiritual legacy to their children. For months, they went to a different church every week (see my previous article on “church shopping”), looking for the "right fit" for their family. They had all but given up when a Mormon friend invited them to his church. They sat through the service and, as they left, their young daughter requested that they come back again the next week because the place gave her a “warm feeling.”

Sadly, it didn’t matter to this man that he was bringing his family into a church with a false christ and a false gospel. Just so long as it had warm feelings. This, of course, is how the Mormons are trained to make converts. They give a prospect a copy of the Book of Mormon and tell him or her to read it for a few minutes and see if there isn’t some “burning in the bosom” as they read. If the subject feels any kind of warm feeling, this is attributed to God and the next logical step is to come and join God where he is handing out warm feelings. I’m not mocking Mormons here. I can’t—because evangelical churches have pretty much taken on the same methodology.

It’s sadly true of many in Bible-believing churches—both teens and adults—that they see the chief end of faith as “helping me feel good and live a better life.” It’s all about Law, not Gospel. About me, not God. Such churchgoers can easily explain how they should love others, how they should be tolerant, how they should help the poor and suffering, but cannot even begin to explain the Atonement.

Now, don’t get me wrong. All of that “what we should do” stuff (Law) is good stuff. It is the fruit of the Gospel and the fruit of the Spirit and it should be present in the lives of all Christians. But it’s not the main thing. The main thing is the Gospel. The main thing is what God has done to secure our redemption. The main thing is finding Jesus in all Scripture. The main thing is God in Christ, hanging on the cross, reconciling the world unto himself.

There is a lot of things (even good things) that our churches could lose and still remain Christian churches. Whether for redundancy, focus and streamlining, or plain old time concerns, any number of ministries or emphases could land on the cutting room floor like the Jitterbug song. But there’s one thing that can not be truncated, re-edited, removed, or replaced: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When that happens, the rest of the story has lost all meaning.

Soli Deo Gloria,
             Pastor Zach